I’d like to cut the cord. It sounds fun! I picture myself wielding cartoonishly large gardening shears, poised to sever the nearest coaxial cable. I rejoice in the thought of my newfound freedom, of sending my Charter Spectrum account to that great big cancellation form in the sky. And then, the very instant I allow myself to picture what life looks like after that figurative snip, my reverie comes crashing down.
The long-promised future of television is becoming the present at an ever-accelerating pace. Last week, Disney announced it would launch an ESPN streaming service next year, and another for Disney-prime in 2019. This week, YouTube trumpeted a major expansion of YouTube TV, its live-streaming offering. At this point, you can also get live television from Sling TV, Hulu, DirecTV Now, and PlayStation. You’ve already got Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. You can watch specialized content from Crunchyroll (anime), Screambox (horror), and the WWE (wrasslin’). You can even mess with whatever’s going on in those third-tier Roku channels.
Unless you’re a rabid Seeso fan—NBC will shutter the comedy-focused streaming service by the end of the year—the choice part of the future of TV has shaped up quite nicely. You can get HBO with out cable. Also CBS, for reasons still unknown. Soon you’ll be able to get ESPN. And then Disney itself will go streaming in 2019. You can subscribe to so many things! And then, the flip side: You have to subscribe to so many things!
What I mean to say is this: Cutting the cord is absolutely right for some people. Lots of people, maybe. But it’s not that cheap, and it’s not that easy, and there’s not much hope of improvement on either front any time soon.
Follow the Money
Not to turn this into a math experiment, but let’s consider cost. Assuming you’re looking for a cord replacement, not abandoning live television altogether, you’re going to need a service that bundles together a handful of channels and blips them to your house over the internet.
The cheapest way you can accomplish this is to pay Sling TV $20 per month, for which you get 29 channels. That sounds not so bad, and certainly less than your cable bill. But! Sling Orange limits you to a single stream. If you’re in a household with others, you’ll probably want Sling Blue, which offers multiple streams and 43 channels for $25 per month. But! Sling Orange and Sling Blue have different channel lineups (ESPN is on Orange, not Blue, while Orange lacks FX, Bravo and any locals). For full coverage, you can subscribe to both for $40. But! Have kids? You’ll want the Kids Extra package for another $5 per month. Love ESPNU? Grab that $5 per month sports package. HBO? $15 per month, please. Presto, you’re up to $65 per month. But! Don’t forget the extra $5 for a cloud-based DVR. Plus the high-speed internet service that you need to keep your stream from buffering, which, by the way, it’ll do anyway.
That’s not to pick on Sling TV, specifically. But paying $70 to quit cable feels like smoking a pack of Parliaments to quit Marlboro Lights.
You run into similar situations across the board, whether it’s a higher base rate, or a limited premium selection, or the absence of local programming altogether. It turns out, oddly enough, that things cost money, whether you access those things through traditional cable packages or through a modem provided to you by a traditional cable operator.
In fact, it’s worse than that. Even things that are supposed to be free, namely broadcast television, somehow wind up costing extra in 2017. CBS wants you to pay $6 per month for CBS All Access, a streaming service that largely comprises the same shows you can watch on CBS itself for free, either through your cable company or with an antenna. It’s able to do so because it’s hiding shows with devout fan bases—a new Star Trek series and a spinoff of The Good Wife behind a paywall instead of sending it out over the airwaves.
If television today is an à la carte menu, All Access is tap water that costs extra because a bar back dropped a lemon in it. I do not want to eat at that restaurant! I’ll stick with the buffet.
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