The term “cutting the cord” used to mean giving up your landline telephone altogether and relying completely on your cell phone. Indeed that process is well underway, with 60 percent of households now without landlines and the cell phone ( or phones) replacing them.
Now, however, the next evolutionary phase of cell, tablet and PC users has been making rapid progress — cutting the TV cable cord and relying on streaming video services for watching TV and movies. Since the major players in cable TV are also internet providers, this worrisome prospect and the speed with which it’s occurring have the major providers in a quandary.
Comcast and Verizon are offering family-sized, entertainment bundles which include cable television, internet access and such extras as free DVRs and packaged, discounted monthly fees.
But the growing 4GLTE wireless Internet protocols are rapidly approaching near universal coverage across the country, and one can always find a way to watch their favorite television shows sans an actual cable connection.
Even cable-only HBO and Showtime, sole purveyors of such hit shows as Game of Thrones, are considering their own mobile streaming services, bypassing cable altogether. And combination Internet devices which receive 4GLTE OTA web access and router capabilities are beginning to hit the market, making it easier than ever to cut the cable TV cord.
Many cable networks also have apps or websites that allow you to stream the latest shows without a wired connection.
Even Yahoo has recently entered the fray with its Yahoo Screen app, which shows clips of such shows as appear on Comedy Central, Saturday Night Live, music videos and movie trailers. This is Yahoo’s first foray into video streaming, and they’ve even offered a full length movie, One Chance, to test the waters so to speak.
But streaming video services are a relatively mature market, and the following is a rundown of the top contenders. They fall into two categories, monthly fee-based models and advertising supported services.
The streaming line up
Netflix: The grandaddy of them all, Netflix is by far the most popular. It is available for just about any platform, including computers, set-top devices, gaming consoles, tablets and phones. It has a vast (probably the largest and best) selection of films and TV series, and you can share a single account among five devices. It is so popular that fully one third of all Internet bandwidth each evening is consumed by people streaming its shows and movies. And it costs just $8 a month. If you have to choose just one, which you don’t, I’d go with Netflix.
Amazon Prime Instant Video: Membership in Amazon Prime, which bestows free shipping on all orders and more recently free Kindle books to borrow, also includes this free video streaming service. You can also rent or buy movies a la carte which means you’ll get a jump on newer movies before they head down to Netflix. Membership is $79 a year.
Hulu Plus: This one is definitely for TV show fans, which posts the most popular cable and broadcast TV shows just days after airing, as well as full seasons of same. Though it charges $8 a month for membership, it also has advertising, just like regular TV. Recommended for those who want to watch their favorite shows according to their own schedule, or those who crave the whole TV experience of ads with their shows.
M-Go: If you’re not a heavy video watcher, this rental and purchase service might be for you. There’s no monthly fee, you just pay for what you want to see. Prices range from $2 rentals to $20 purchases. It also gives you a choice between HD and SD, and is available on Roku boxes, computers and tablets and phones.
Blip: This totally free service likes to describe itself as an upscale YouTube. Its content is more heavily curated, created by individuals, and the service strives, and mostly succeeds, in ensuring professional production values. You can find it on your PC, your mobile device, or your Xbox 360. Give it a try. You’ve nothing to lose.
Crackle: It has a rotating content of several hundred movies and TV shows, original content, and is free. It also is available on mobile devices, set-top boxes and gaming platforms. But be prepared for many commercials, and if that’s not enough my experience is that its carrier signals buffer like mad. I don’t know how many times I’ve installed it, only to find it unwatchable not only because of its many ads, but interminable waits as it buffers. I’ve found no reason for this, and it might not be your experience, but I just can’t use. Try it out, at any rate: your mileage may vary.
MLB.TV: For $130 a year, baseball fans are in for a real treat. It allows viewers to watch nearly every game played during the season, and is available on PCs, set top devices, Xbox 360s and PS3s.
Twitch TV: Very popular with gamers, this service allows you to both watch others play live, or stream your own games as you play. It is free and available on set top boxes, mobile devices, computers and PS4s.
YouTube: There is a telling scene in the BBC’s popular limited run series Sherlock where the epynomynous character is being closely questioned by his blogger and partner John Watson where he learned origami seemingly overnight. Sherlock cites a few obscure references, each shot down by Watson, till Sherlock gives in and admits he watched it on YouTube.
The king of the short form videos, it seems there is no subject too obscure that it doesn’t have videos about it, as well as fan followers. My son watches, and learns, the history and techniques of the ancient practice of slinging (its motto: “Always armed”) as well as broadsword fighting and medieval fortifications.
The temptation is to say that if you can’t find it on YouTube, it doesn’t exist.
There’s not much more to say about this outstanding resource and source of addictive viewing habits other than you already know about it, it’s completely free and available on just about every device known to man.
Plenty to watch
Cutting the cable cord has not reached critical mass yet, and won’t for a while. But should you be looking for ways to save on your monthly entertainment budget, you can rest assured that you’ll find plenty to watch should you choose that route.
Paul Croke, former newspaper editor and longtime Washington DC area freelance writer, has loved gadgets and consumer electronics since he saw his first Dick Tracy watch. He writes about consumer technology.