Teresa McUsic

What to know before you cut the cable TV cord

A Pew Research Center study showed that almost one in four Americans don’t have cable or satellite TV.
A Pew Research Center study showed that almost one in four Americans don’t have cable or satellite TV. AP

Cable and satellite television bills went up across the board in January, which has more Americans taking a hard look at cutting the cord to save money.

Comcast, Time Warner, DirectTV and Dish Network all announced price increases before the holidays.

Around that time, the Pew Research Center came out with a study that said almost one in four Americans don’t have cable or satellite TV. Fifteen percent said they were “cord cutters,” and 9 percent said they never had a subscription at all. “A shift in how people watch TV is underway,” the study said.

Millennials lead this change, and not just for the cost savings.

“Some 75 percent of young adults without a cable or satellite subscription say they can access content they want to watch either online — perhaps by binge-watching their favorite shows through an online service like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime — or via an over-the-air antenna,” the study said.

Savings can be serious. According to Leichtman Research Group, the average cable bill was around $100 a month. Using alternative solutions can cut that bill by half or more.

But if you don’t know a Fire Stick from a Hulu, the idea of cutting the cord can seem daunting.

Fortunately there to are many tools and guides that can help.

Here are seven ways to get started.

1. Buy a digital antenna. DFW ranks seventh in the country among markets with over-the-air high-definition television with 18 channels. (New York is No. 1 with 27 channels, and Los Angeles has 23.) Many of us forget that the major networks, along with PBS, Fox, CW and Telemundo, can all be accessed for free with a digital antenna that can cost as little as $23.

“I don’t think people are making as much use of their HD antennas as they could,” said Marshall Honorof, senior writer for Tom’s Guides, a free online how-to guide provider. “In an urban area, you can get a lot of programs along with local news and sports.”

While local sports over the air are limited, CBS did broadcast last week’s Super Bowl, and the major networks do include some local games. TXA 21 will broadcast the first round of the NBA playoffs if the Dallas Mavericks make it, according to a spokeswoman. The station also typically runs about 20 FC Dallas soccer games, high school football and some Texas Rangers spring training games.

In addition to HD channels, DFW has around 65 other channels available over the air for free. For a list of available channels and programming, go to www.titantv.com.

2. Check for favorite shows. Honorof suggests you make a list of your favorite television shows, then find which service carries them on a website called www.CanIStream.it. The free service allows you to search for a movie or television show among the most popular streaming, rental and purchase services to find where it is available.

3. Internet speed. Before you cut the cord, make sure you have fast enough Internet access to stream your programming online using apps or websites. To check your Internet speed, go to www.speedtest.net. Most guides suggest you need at least 5 megabits per second (Mbps) for full high-definition streaming, which most homes have. Be aware, though, that Ultra High Definition televisions and content are coming, which will require 15-25 Mbps.

4. Find a guide. To learn more about streaming services and devices, find a good guide to walk you through it. One of the best is Tom’s Guide at http://www.tomsguide.com/us/cord-cutting-guide,news-17928.html. In addition to step-by-step instructions, it has a nice graphic to show the different paths you can take. Other guides to check out are CutCableToday.com and Consumer Reports, which has both a YouTube video and extensive free articles on cable alternatives (just search YouTube and www.ConsumerReports.org.)

5. PC or gaming system. Honorof said many streaming devices limit users to a certain number of channels while your home computer will provide access to all the streaming video services available (although you will still have to pay a monthly fee.)

“It’s pretty simple. Most TVs and computers have an HDMI port to hook them up, and you can get a wireless keyboard and mouse,” he said. His favorite streaming device is the PlayStation 4, but he said don’t buy one unless you are already using it for gaming. If you are looking for a streaming device, he recommends Roku 4 and Google Chromecast 2.

6. Try one out. Most streaming video services, from Netflix, Amazon and Hulu to Sling, CBS AllAccess and HBO Now, offer free trial periods and no contracts. So it’s easy to try one and see how you like it before committing any money.

Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime are the most popular streaming video services, Honorof said, costing $8 to $12 a month.

For the sports fan, every sports organization offers a streaming package, Honorof said. The passes are all inclusive and cost $100-$200 a year.

7. Retie the cord. If you don’t find cutting the cord is giving you the television experience you want, you can always call your service back and get another contract. And they’ll probably give you a nice introductory deal.


Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays.