There are more ways to cut the cord than ever before. Streaming services are aggressively expanding providing consumers with a variety of alternatives to cable television. However, with so many streaming video options available it can get confusing trying to figure out the best fit for you.
Our 2020 guide to cord-cutting will walk you through the best options available whether you are a cord-cutting beginner or a seasoned streaming veteran. We will cover everything you need to know from understanding what cord-cutting is and choosing the best device and service for you.
- 1 What is Cord Cutting?
- 2 How Do I Become A Cord Cutter?
- 3 Is Cord Cutting Right For Me?
- 4 What TV Channels And Shows Will I Get?
- 5 How Much Do Cord Cutting Services Cost?
- 6 On Demand and Live TV Streaming Services
- 7 Types of Streaming Devices and Equipment
- 8 How much do streaming devices cost?
- 9 Set-top Boxes and Streaming Sticks
- 10 Streaming Device Support List
What is Cord Cutting?
Simply put, cord-cutting means canceling your cable or satellite television service (R). Cord-cutting can refer to any number of methods such as using an over-the-air antenna or a streaming video service such as Netflix or Sling TV. There are some slight differences from what you may have grown accustomed to but for many, the end result of being able to watch your favorite tv shows (live or on-demand), movies, and videos are exactly the same.
How Do I Become A Cord Cutter?
Once you’ve canceled your cable or satellite TV provider you will have to make a few decisions based on your personal viewing needs. Each cord cutter’s personal viewing habits will greatly impact these decisions. You will need to ask yourself several questions such as:
- How frequently do I consume television?
- What channels do I want to have? (locals and/or pay)
- What genres do I watch? (sports, news, sitcoms, movies, etc.)
- Do I need the capability to record?
- How many TVs do I need to be connected?
It may seem like a lot at first but we will be simplifying the process down to just a few steps. Keep these questions in the back of your mind as we continue through the guide and you will likely have other questions that will get answered along the way.
Most cord cutters will need to be the following things: choose a strong internet service, pick a streaming service, and decide on which set-top box(s) or streaming device(s) you will need. You will also have to decide if you will need or want an over-the-air antenna. All of these are covered in greater depth and detail later in this guide.
Is Cord Cutting Right For Me?
For most of you, the answer will be yes, but for some of you, that answer may be no. This will depend upon many factors such as where you live; if you have access to reliable and affordable internet; your budget; your viewing habits; and other things. In this section, we will address this question from the perspective of cost, as well as, a few pros and cons of cable and satellite tv vs cord-cutting.
First off, it is undeniable that in most circumstances, cord-cutting is less expensive and a greater value than cable or satellite TV. Both cable and satellite can have long-term contracts with introductory rates that soon balloon into prices that are sometimes double the original price. With many of these plans, they also include costly monthly fees for all sorts of items such as HD content, broadcast TV, regional sports networks, equipment fees, installation fees, and much more.
According to a study published by Consumer Reports in late 2019 these fees amounted to a 24% surcharge in addition to the advertised price. The study analyzed over 800 cable bills and found that on average these fees added up to $450 per customer per year. Across the entire industry, this amounts to nearly $28 billion from imposed surcharges and fees. For example, Comcast’s Broadcast and Regional Sports Fees (2015-2019) 630% increase in just 4 years from $2.50 to $18.25 per month. For many people, this could mean the difference between making your budget or going over.
Based on the same Consumer Reports analysis, the average monthly cable bill is now $217.42 per month. Only $157 of that was from the advertised price. On the flip side, most live television cable replacement streaming services start around to per month. Some popular names include Sling TV, fuboTV, and Hulu with Live TV. If you don’t want live television at all there are on-demand services such as Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and others that are less than $10 to $15 per month. Many cord-cutters like to rotate back and forth between these types of services. Do not worry we will cover the different types of services more in-depth later on in this article.
You will also need to factor in the cost of your Internet. If you are not streaming in 4K or HDR then the basic broadband packages will be enough to stream throughout your household. If that is not the case then you may need to upgrade. In some instances, bundling the internet with cable TV can be a better deal, especially if you are the type of person that wants the larger packages of channels. The average person in the United States has access to broadband through AT&T or Spectrum that is about $50 a month; however, some rural customers can have internet bills around $100 or more. If you do choose to go this route, we recommend the new AT&T TV which is a hybrid between cable tv and streaming TV but you can bundle with AT&T internet services.
All in all, the industry is rapidly moving away from traditional cable and satellite models. Within the next 5 years, we expect a very strong shift for all television to be consumed via streaming. Most cord-cutters really enjoy the experience because it gives them more control over the content they pay for. Streaming can be unreliable at times, but this is becoming increasingly rarer. For the most part, the days of buffering and slow load times are behind us.
What TV Channels And Shows Will I Get?
This depends upon whether or not you want a live tv streaming service or an on-demand streaming service. Every service also has a different channel offering and/or an on-demand library of TV shows and movies; however, there seems to be a niche for just about everything. You can access every single TV channel that is on cable TV with a cord-cutting service.
There are services that cater to sports, lifestyle and entertainment, news, horror, comedy, international TV channels, and more. Each service has to negotiate rights for TV channels or different types of content. Some services offer traditional channel line-ups similar to cable television and some offer a-la-carte style packages. Some popular services include Sling TV, Fubo TV, Hulu with Live TV, and YouTube TV.
Some examples of popular TV channels available through streaming services are Discovery Channel, National Geographic, ESPN, Disney Channel, History, Comedy Central, Lifetime, HGTV, Food Network, AMC, FX, and many more.
Cord-cutters can also get access to local network channels such as ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox. The availability of local channels depends upon your regional broadcast market and the streaming service you choose. Some services offer live streams and some services only offer on-demand content from these networks. If you are unable to get local channels through your service then you can use an over-the-air antenna. The type and kind of antenna you will need depends upon where you want to put it and how far away you live from the broadcast towers. Antennas have are very sophisticated and unintrusive compared to the old rabbit ears you may have used years ago.
If you are interested in TV shows and movies you should check out Netflix, Hulu, or Disney+. Both services offer tens of thousands of titles of TV shows, movies, documentaries, original programming, and more.
How Much Do Cord Cutting Services Cost?
Streaming package pricing varies greatly depending upon which service you end up going with. The average package price is around $50; however, it can range from as low as ~$5 to ~$100. Let’s look at some of the most popular services.
- AT&T TV: Entertainment ($49.99/month), Choice ($54.99/month), Xtra ($64.99/month), Ultimate ($69.99/month), Optimo Más ($54.99/month)
- CBS All Access: Limited Commercials ($5.99/month), Commercial Free ($9.99/month)
- ESPN+: Monthly Plan ($4.99/month), Annual Plan ($49.99/annual), ESPN+/Disney+/Hulu Bundle ($12.99/month)
- Disney+: Monthly Plan ($6.99/month), Annual Plan ($69.99/annual)
- Hulu: On-Demand With Ads ($5.99/month), On-Demand Without Ads ($11.99/month)
- Hulu With Live TV: Live TV and On-Demand With Ads ($54.99/month), Live TV and On-Demand with No Ads ($60.99/month)
- Fubo TV: Standard ($54.99/month), Family ($59.99/month), Family Plan With Showtime ($64.99/month), Ultra ($79.99/month), Fútbol Trimestral ($19.99/month)
- Netflix: Basic ($8.99/month), Standard ($12.99/month), Premium ($15.99/month)
- Philo: Monthly Plan ($20/month)
- Sling TV: Orange ($30/month), Blue ($30/month), Blue + Orange ($40/month)
- YouTube TV: Monthly Plan ($64.99/month)
On Demand and Live TV Streaming Services
Some groups estimate that up to 9,000 people per day cancel traditional services such as cable or satellite; however, most of them are still watching their favorite content. So, how are they doing it? Streaming services.
Streaming services can be broken down into one of two categories: On-demand and live television. Some services offer one or the other, or both. All of them require no installation, there are no extra fees, and you can cancel anytime. Subscribers can pay monthly.
There is also now a third type of service which is a part cable and a part streaming. This is currently being offered by AT&T and does require a contract similar to a cable TV subscription.
On-demand content usually comes in the form of movies or entire seasons of television shows. Live television is like your old cable subscription where you get access to a channel line-up that plays content such as sports or television episodes live.
Most live TV services offer some form of on-demand functionality. Sometimes that might be a small library of titles to choose from. Some services will offer TV shows on-demand but only for a predetermined amount of time after the show or season recently aired.
Let’s take a brief look at some of the most popular services.
Sling TV is arguably the top choice on the market. Sling TV combines live television streaming and on-demand content. Plans start at $30/month for 30+ channels. This is the least expensive live streaming TV service currently on the market. Sling TV is also one of the most senior as well.
They have a large selection of premium add-ons and have a complete offering of international television packages. Sling TV is compatible with just about any device. It also comes with great features such as cloud DVR and parental controls. Sling also generally offers the best deals on free streaming devices.
fuboTV is specifically designed for sports fans but it has much more than that. The service has expanded and upgraded quite a bit over the last few years. Packages start at $54.99/month for 99 channels. The top package offers over 160 channels for $79.99/month. It is difficult to beat Fubo TV’s amazing value.
Hulu and Hulu With Live TV
Hulu offers both on-demand plans and live TV streaming plans. On-demand plans generally carry recent TV shows and movies. Plans start at $5.99/month making it one of the most affordable options available. The live streaming TV plan starts at $54.99/month for 50+ channels. Hulu also offers parental controls and is one of the best services for the big four local channels.
Netflix offers an on-demand streaming service. With Netflix, you get access to thousands of movies and entire seasons of TV shows. Netflix has also been spending a lot of money developing original content such as House of Cards, Luke Cage, and Tiger King. Netflix plans begin at $8.99/month. They also still offer DVD plans. If you haven’t tried Netflix in awhile it might be worth revisiting because they are constantly updating content and they’ve added some new features such as being able to automatically watch trailers for every piece of content.
Read our full Netflix service review here.
YouTube TV is a live television streaming service. This is one of the newest of all the streaming services and frankly one of the most disappointing. There is no variety or “a la carte” type pricing. Plans begin at $40 for roughly 40 channels making it one of the most expensive per channel plans. Options are very limited but they do offer an unlimited cloud DVR.
Read our full YouTube TV service review here.
Types of Streaming Devices and Equipment
One of the most confusing aspects of cord-cutting and shifting away from traditional cable and satellite services for many in understanding the different types of devices and equipment required. There are several types and versions of each.
Don’t worry. We break it down into an easy and understandable format for you. Choosing a device is actually fairly simple and most of them are fairly inexpensive.
Basically, there are three main pieces of equipment, or devices, that you will potentially need: A digital media player, a DVR, and an OTA antenna.
A digital media player is a home entertainment consumer electronics device that can connect to a home network to stream digital media (such as music, pictures, or video). Examples of digital media players include Roku, Amazon Fire, and Apple TV. Cord-cutters can also use smart TVs, smartphones, and laptops/tablets/PCs.
A digital video recorder (DVR) is an electronic device that records video in a digital format to a disk drive, USB flash drive, SD memory card, SSD or other local or networked mass storage device. Sometimes a DVR is built into the digital media player. Many services include a limited amount of cloud DVR storage eliminating the need for a physical box. Popular streaming DVRs include Tablo, TiVo, and HDHomeRun with Plex.
An over-the-air television antenna (OTA Antenna) is an antenna specifically designed for use with a television receiver (TV) to receive over-the-air broadcast television signals from a television station. OTA antennas pick up local TV stations such as ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS, and others. Antennas can be indoor or outdoor. Many of the indoor antennas are the size of a sheet of paper and unintrusive. These are usually good for up to 50 miles and some outdoor antennas are rated for a couple hundred.
How much do streaming devices cost?
When checking out prices it is important to factor in your needs. A few important things to consider is how many different simultaneous streams do your streaming service offer? How many rooms/TVs do you want to have connected to? Are you traveling with a device? Do you want to stream in 4K or HDR?
Depending on your needs the price of streaming devices can be free or it could also be a few hundred dollars. However, even if you are on the upper end of the scale you are still very likely to come out ahead vs. the monthly fees and installation costs for cable or satellite services. Companies such as Sling regularly offer deals for free streaming devices in exchange for prepaying for two to three months.
Set-top Boxes and Streaming Sticks
The service(s) that you choose to subscribe to will dictate which device(s) are required for you to have. There are several manufacturers such as Roku, Amazon, Google, Apple, and more. Every device has different features, functionality, and compatibility. Even with the same service, there can be slight differences in user experience. Which device you ultimately choose is largely based on personal preference and your budget. So let’s go over some of the most popular options.
Roku is arguably the best streaming player on the market and is one of the oldest in the industry. The company currently produces the Roku Express and Express+, Rou streaming stick and Streaming Stick+, and the Roku Ultra. These devices are a tiny set-top box, a USB style stick, and a traditional set-top box. We cover them in greater detail in our Roku device reviews.
Roku offers users access to over 500,000 TV shows and movies from free and paid services. Roku carries just about every major service and streaming app on the market such as Netflix, Sling TV, and Hulu. Roku is one of the best all-around devices and comes at an affordable price point.
Amazon Fire TV
If Roku is not the most popular then Amazon Fire TV is. Amazon produces Fire TV Stick, Fire TV Stick 4K, and the Fire TV Cube. These devices are a streaming stick, a dongle that hangs from your HDMI port similar to Google Cast, and a small cube-shaped set-top box. We cover them in greater detail in our full Amazon Fire TV device review.
Fire TV similarly to the Roku offers a variety and breadth of streaming channels and apps. Users get access to over 500,000 TV shows and movies and 190 streaming apps. Most prominently featured are Amazon Prime media, Amazon Instant Video, and Amazon Prime Music.
One feature that separates Amazon’s streaming devices from other competitors is the Alexa voice assistant. This feature is built into all devices and allows users to control the device with voice commands through a microphone on the wireless remote. Amazon has even been integrating Alexa into quite a few of the streaming apps.
Google produces the Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra are small dongles that attach to your television. These devices are very popular amongst cord-cutters because they are inexpensive and small. Users “cast” from a separate device such as a smartphone or tablet. We cover them in greater detail in our full Google Chromecast device review.
Chromecast gives access to more than 200,000 TV shows and movies and 30 million songs. Users get access to any streaming service or channel found on the Google Play store. One of the best features is that you can also connect any Google Home product.
Apple’s streaming media player is Apple TV. They currently offer Apple TV 4K (5th gen) and Apple TV (4th Gen). This device is a small set-top box that connects to your TV. We cover them in greater detail in our full Apple TV device review.
Apple TV gives users access to thousands of apps including streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, and fuboTV through the Apple TV App Store. Anything you can’t find can be AirCast from your smartphone. This device is powerful enough to game and has Siri Voice Control.
AirTV, a subsidiary of DISH Network, produces the AirTV 2 and the AirTV Player. One is a network tuner and the other is a streaming player. Both of which exist to make getting local broadcast channels via OTA antenna and using a streaming service easier than ever. We examine them in our full AirTV device review.
AirTV is integrated with Sling TV only but will connect an OTA antenna to a myriad of compatible devices such as smartphones, TVs, and other streaming players. AirTV Player is a small set-top box that connects to Google Play store giving users access to thousands of streaming services and apps while having local channels integrated.
Streaming Device Support List
It is important to choose the right combination of streaming services and devices. Services and device makers all have different agreements with each other. The devices with the most cross-platform compatibility are Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV/Stick, and Roku. Below shows which streaming devices are compatible with the most popular streaming services.