Cable vs. Cutting the Cord

Back in 2011 I decided to go through all my TV viewing shows and compare what it would cost if I decided to “Cut the Cord” by getting rid of cable and go “all in” with digital subscriptions and/or purchases. The results were pretty disappointing to me…

The cable option was $472 and the online option was $574. Cutting the cord was way more expensive that I had previously thought. These results might not be perfect but they show that, despite all the marketing and news reports about customer subscription rates dropping, this technology just isn’t up to par with my old fashioned cable subscription - yet!

So, now it’s 2014 and it’s time to once again re-evaluate the cord cutting option. I’ve seen quite a few friends go cable-less over the years and I myself have had a love-hate relationship with Comcast. Oddly, in 3 years, the same players are still the only ones on the field - iTunes, HuluPlus, and/or Amazon. I could make a case for Netflix being new to the party with it’s original shows like House of Cards though.


Assumptions & Rules

  • HD video only
  • Current seasons only
  • Hardware already purchased (ROKU, PS3, AppleTV, etc.)
  • Promotional cable rate doesn’t change for the entire duration of your TV season

Disclosure: For what it’s worth, I work in the TV industry and have worked at major cable networks.

I set about first listing1 all the shows I watched in the last 7 months. I use a service called Trakt in combination with a few different mobile apps, which helps me stay up to date on which episodes of which shows I’ve seen or have yet to watch.

The show I started this year’s data set with was Sons of Anarchy. Season 6 started in September of 2013 and I carried it through till March of 2014 - 7 months. There’s a detailed listing2 of shows in the annotations at the end of this article. The next thing I needed to do was breakdown the costs associated with my current setup at Comcast so I had a baseline of comparison.


The Current Setup

  • Premiere Digital Plan (includes HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, & Starz)
  • HD DVR
  • Internet (Blast3)

Total Bill: ($1534/mo. x 7 mo.): $1071

Last time I wanted a direct comparison of what it costs to consume content from Cable vs Internet, so I subtracted out the internet fees over the course of the experiment.

Then, I wanted this comparison to be apples to apples so the figure had to represent JUST the cable package and NOT cable plus internet.

These days though, some shows I watch are internet only, thereby making the internet part of the entire viewing experience across the experiment; so I felt it fair not to exclude the pricing this time.

Next, I needed to find digital equivalents of all the shows2 I was currently watching through my cable subscription with services like iTunes, HuluPlus, etc. Fair warning, because of my job (and the fact I love TV) I watch A LOT of TV. My list is probably going to be twice as long as yours. You can find the list at the bottom of this article in the annotations2. I found that all shows were available through HuluPlus or for purchase on iTunes.


Online Only Setup

  • NETFLIX - Streaming $8/mo. = $56
  • HuluPlus - Streaming $8/mo. = $56
  • iTunes - 9 Shows = $337
  • Internet - (Blast3) $80/mo.5 = $560

Total Bill: $1009


Analysis

Obviously the most striking points from above are the fact at how expensive Internet service is and how much content I had to purchase (not rent) from iTunes to complete my list. Knowing now which shows I liked & which shows I could live without or delay viewing, I’d make very different choices. And while I might try the lower internet tier from Comcast (Performance6) I don’t think going with an “internet only” plan I’d be happy with those speeds.

One point that’s not obvious is that I loose the option for all the Premium channels (HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, & Starz). That means no True Detective, Game of Thrones, The Newsroom, House of Lies, Episodes, Ray Donovan, Banshee, Strike Back, and many, many more shows that I LOVE. Faced with waiting for DVD’s or worse, BitTorrent, I’m sure I’d have to find some option7 to scratch that itch.

All in all, the price difference was minimum. And I still feel the availability of VOD, a very reliable connection & quality of signal, along with other perks such as Comcast’s many mobile apps allowing for control; outweigh all their downsides. Although, I’m really not sure how long that’s going to last. If I were in a bind financially, I could easily scale back my TV viewing habits by cutting down the iTunes purchases and going with the lower tier internet service. Hmmm…what would that look like?

  • NETFLIX - Streaming $8/mo. = $56
  • HuluPlus - Streaming $8/mo. = $56
  • iTunes - 4 Shows = ~$170
  • Internet - Performance6 $40/mo.5 = $280

Total Bill: $562

Wow. Compared with $1071, that’s something I might be very interested in over the next year or so.

Cover Photo: Getty Images


  1. https://www.evernote.com/shard/s223/sh/fa73dc2d-2e5a-4df6-a648-534c62dc5fbc/378479fb0ebdfe0950ccbd8ebb316f71 

  2. https://www.evernote.com/shard/s223/sh/350e906f-f6aa-4b63-93e1-63787f9a7740/c48b5877e588c0777404183245404a84 

  3. Blast High Speed - http://www.dslreports.com/faq/15643, Blast: 50000 Kbps / 15000 Kbps (DOCSIS 3.0 tier), Downstream: 55000 Kbps , Upstream: 16500 Kbps, This translates into about 6875 KB/sec maximum transfer rate when you are downloading and about 1875 KB/sec maximum transfer rate when you are uploading. 

  4. Ironically this is less per month than 3 years ago when I did this 

  5. Cable companies give you a break when you package your internet with your cable subscription. If you decide to go Internet only, they’re going to charge you more. And if more and more people start to cut their cable subscriptions, then the cable companies will have no choice but to raise rates on their internet packages. 

  6. Listed on Comcast’s website as $40/mo. for 12 months. http://www.comcast.com/internet-service.html 

  7. http://techcrunch.com/2014/01/20/hbo-doesnt-care-if-you-share-your-hbo-go-account-for-now/ 

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