by Sylvia Blair
As cable TV prices creep up and streaming options expand, more and more people are exploring the idea of cutting the cord to traditional TV services.
A projected 32.8 percent of U.S. TV watchers are driving the “cutting the cord” movement, according to Mashable.com, creating a paradigm shift in how we view TV shows and movies.
Some TV viewers who are tired of paying cable fees are switching to streaming services. For many people, streaming offers lower costs and a wider array of viewing options. But the switch often involves research and planning — and might mean losing access to local content.
‘Prime time is now’
To begin with, many people can’t completely sever ties with their cable company, because that’s the source of their internet connection. And in order to use a streaming service like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon, you need a reliable internet connection. But it can often be the case that the cost of internet service alone is a small fraction of the cost of paying for internet and cable services combined. Then, with decent internet, viewers can choose which streaming services to use based on what suits their needs.
“Competition, new distribution technologies and changing consumer behavior require traditional companies to innovate or become obsolete,” said Richard Turner, executive director of the Community Media Center of Carroll County. “What is clear is that viewers want content and convenience options and are increasingly dissatisfied when those options are limited. Gone are the days of everyone rushing to finish dinner, then cozying up to the TV. Today, prime time is right now, whenever you want it.”
Looking for control
Frustration with cable TV is often cited as a reason to make the change. Joseph Shields of Westminster was irritated with traditional cable because his account kept changing — without his knowledge.
“When I first moved here and transferred my account, somehow the previous owner’s account was merged with mine. I became responsible for their equipment, service and balance, in addition to my own account,” he said. “It took a few weeks to get that resolved.”
But Shields had a lucky break. Westminster is currently in the processing of installing high-speed fiber optic internet in the city, which is operated by internet provider Ting. When Ting became available to Shields in the fall of 2017, he switched to the local provider and started using streaming services for his viewing entertainment.
Shields said he is enjoying some savings from the switch. He purchased Roku streaming devices for $29.99 — a one-time cost that carries no monthly fees. His monthly fees include Ting, which costs $98.54 for gigabit internet (1,000 mbps) and a router; and he streams Hulu Live for $39.99 for 50-plus channels. Currently, his monthly bill is $138.53, compared to the $182.75 he was paying for cable each month.
“Ting internet is far more reliable and faster, and, [streaming] TV costs much less, and we can watch it in more rooms,” Shields said.
He added that he likes being able to access full seasons of TV shows through streaming rather than only being able to watch what is programmed on cable at any given time.
Stephani Ciarrocchi works in Westminster and recently moved to Baltimore. She made the switch to streaming to reduce costs, and to increase the variety of shows she and her husband can access.
With traditional cable, the couple had to buy the largest cable package to get the specific channels they wanted. But they did not need or want the 500 channels offered in that package.
“I buy internet service from Comcast, but we stopped subscribing to TV channels through the traditional pay cable TV provider,” she said.
Now the couple pays $7.99 for basic Hulu TV (and sometimes a bit more when they upgrade their package to get access to their favorite sports programming) and $10.99 for Netflix. The cost of their internet service is $39.99. Altogether, they’re generally paying less than $60 per month.
“I really enjoy a cooking show called “Nailed It,” as well as original movies,” Ciarrocchi said. “I also support smaller TV production companies whose shows are available through streaming, including independent films and shows.”
She says such content is more directed towards audiences that are underserved by broadcast network TV, like women, local community viewers and minority populations.
And for those who crave live sports — there are options. Ciarrocchi subscribes to Sling TV for that.
“This service has a good grip on broadcasting live sports, with good reliability and transmissions,” she says.
Focus on localism
Of course, there are downsides to going the all-streaming route. Live TV and hyper-local programming can cost more, or be impossible to get, through streaming services.
“Streaming services often don’t include all the local broadcast television options and never include local cable television like the channels from the Community Media Center of Carroll County,” said Turner, the media center’s executive director. “One has to wonder about the impact on localism, when more and more content equals less options to be informed about what goes on in ‘my hometown.’”
Of course, just about anyone can get access to local network programming, such as ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and The CW, with an antenna — no internet, cable connection or streaming service required. Beyond that, there are streaming services that offer live TV for sports and channels including TBS, AMC, Bravo, ESPN and dozens more, but those services typically cost more. Hulu TV is $39.99 per month, Sling TV packages start at $25 per month and YouTube just launched live TV service for $40 per month.
And even though individual streaming services may be cheaper than a cable package, the costs start to add up for those who pay for multiple services. And those costs go even higher for those who pay for specific channels — for example, an HBO Now subscription costs $14.99 per month, an ESPN+ subscription costs $4.99 per month, and Starz is $9 per month.
Clearly, customers should to do some research to find out what channels they would subscribe to and decide how to access those channels, then assess the costs and find out the best streaming device for their needs before they take the leap.
Cable’s new tricks
So what are traditional pay TV providers doing to stem the tide of people fleeing their services?
According to Jeff Seidenfaden, regional vice president of marketing and sales for Comcast, the company is offering options to maximize customer engagement and satisfaction.
“The way people consume video is changing faster than ever. We are evolving with flexible options that provide more choices,” he said.
“For example, our Xfinity X1 platform uses IP technology and the Cloud to integrate the largest collection of videos. We offer social media features and an ever-expanding selection of interactive, tailored-for-TV apps like weather, traffic, sports, Pandora, Twitter, Facebook, Netflix, YouTube, iHeart Radio and more,” he said.
The company will also be adding Amazon Prime Video to the X1 platform before the end of 2018, Seidenfaden said, which is expected to complement the overall viewing experience.
Mix and match
While some Carroll County residents choose to keep paying for traditional cable TV exclusively, others do both — paying for cable and subscribing to streaming services. This arrangement can be more expensive, but proponents say it’s worth it to get the best of both worlds.
Patrick Flaherty, video production manager for Carroll County public schools, has worked in TV production for 30 years and has witnessed a paradigm shift in how people access entertainment.
“I use both traditional pay TV and streaming. I personally watch a lot of different TV shows, so for me it is worth the higher costs to receive the variety and depth of programming. That’s because my professional craft is TV production,” he said.
Mary Ann Davis of Westminster has continued to use a traditional cable TV provider and has added streaming services through Netflix and Amazon Prime.
“After crunching the numbers, we realized there was not much of a savings. There really aren’t very many good competitors around here offering the same high-speed service for less money,” she said.