Clark Howard: It’s not so easy to cut cable or satellite TV

Consumer expert Clark Howard’s column appears here each Thursday in conjunction with Deal Spotter, a weekly print section in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Listen to Clark's live radio show 8-10 p.m. weekdays on AM750 and 95.5FM News/Talk WSB.

Listen to Clark's live radio show 8-10 p.m. weekdays on AM750 and 95.5FM News/Talk WSB.

Have you cut the cord from pay TV yet? The latest numbers from Nielsen indicate that 5.1 million households are getting over-the-air reception and supplementing it with Internet-delivered pay programming. That trend is up by roughly 25 percent, according to The Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, the average American household pays about $800 annually for cable and around $1,000 for satellite. It’s a battle I’m waging at our house. We’re with an expensive satellite player and I’ve floated the trial balloon with my wife and kids about cutting the cord entirely — they’re not having it. For me, it would be no big sacrifice because the only thing I watch on TV is the NFL. I would lose a handful of Monday night and Thursday night games, but the rest of the games are on regular network TV. It’s similar to when cellphones became ubiquitous some 10 years ago. There was a lot of talk about people cutting the landline, but it was more like a drop here and a drop there of people doing it. However, now that it’s 10 years later, you have monopoly local phone companies reporting big losses in customer numbers every quarter. I think it will be a similar slow progression with pay TV. For many, the process starts with cutting back on your package. It’s also a great idea to shop your plan. Many people now have access to four providers —  two satellite companies, one cable company and a monopoly phone company providing TV. Pit them against each other and let them slug it out so you can get the best deal. And remember, loyalty hurts. A new customer at any pay TV provider can get an introductory deal with a contract. Find more answers to your consumer questions at Clark’s website. And get more savings tips from Clark’s previous blog posts. — Clark Howard — Save More, Spend Less, Avoid Rip-offs — for the Atlanta Bargain Hunter blog

189 comments Add your comment

none

January 24th, 2013
4:34 am

Matt

January 24th, 2013
5:12 am

We ditched cable TV when we moved and learned that our new neighborhood was served by a single company that we don’t like. Now we pay $14/mo for Netflix and Hulu subscriptions, which gives us about 80% of what we like to watch. It’s been 5 months, so far, and we don’t miss cable – or the outrageous bills – at all. In fact, we haven’t even bothered to get an antenna for broadcast TV. I don’t think we’ll ever go back to cable.

John Powell

January 24th, 2013
6:56 am

Another factor in the migration away from cable — the
steep decline in programming content. The Discovery, History,
and Travel channels, as well as Animal Planet to name
a few, now offer mainly empty-headed crap. I simply
stopped paying when the credit card expired.

LC

January 24th, 2013
6:59 am

We ditched costly TV a year and a half ago and don’t miss it at all. We have an antenna for football games and occasional news and pay for Netflix and Hulu subscriptions also. We watch TV when we want and don’t feel like we are missing anything. We also watch programs on internet sites for free. We would never go back to paying for cable or satellite.

CW

January 24th, 2013
7:43 am

Ditching Satellite TV was the easiest decisioin that i’ve made in a long time. Was spending around $90 per month with Direct TV. Add a digital antenna and you get approx 15 free channels and a lot are broadcast in 1080p. Netflix and Hulu Plus(you get almost everthing on satellite but broadcast a day later than it originally aired)combined costs $15.98 per month. No brainer.

Bill

January 24th, 2013
7:52 am

We dumped cable two or three years ago. I felt like I was paying $60 a month to watch reruns of Law & Order. We get all we need with an antenna and Netflix.

WK week

January 24th, 2013
7:53 am

Here’s where we struggle: we currently have the very basic cable with comcast, and they also provide our internet. We tried to cancel our cable, but the cost to have internet alone would end up costing us something like $23 more a month than we currently pay for both internet and cable. We have to have fast reliable internet since my husband works from home. So for all of you who got rid of cable, what do you do about internet?

Pablo

January 24th, 2013
7:56 am

The only reason I have cable at the house is because my wife and kids. If you ask me, there is very few things worth watching anymore. I am going to have the conversation at the house to drop cable. Truth is, the channels that are (almost) worth watching are in the most expensive price tiers, while the basic package leaves you only with ash and trash.

Canman

January 24th, 2013
8:00 am

Ditching satellite is not so easy when you live in rural areas. Antenna will pick very little.

Atlanta Mom

January 24th, 2013
8:03 am

College football season ended and we dropped cable. May pick it up again next September for 4 months.
WK–I had that same experience. But what I discovered was I could live with a slower download speed. I don’t know the jargon, but we had been at 12 whatevers for download, now I’m at 6. That dropped my internet cost to $50 a month. We use netflix with no problems.

RH

January 24th, 2013
8:14 am

If your home or apt is wired for cable you dont always have to have an antenna (unless you do live in rural areas), however, just plug your tv into the wall as you normally would go to the menu/tuner and search for channels in the cable mode not antenna. I got over 40 channels this way. 1080HD for the network channels!

a_mom

January 24th, 2013
8:14 am

My husband works from home a few days a week and has to have high speed internet for work. We have the same problem where, if we drop cable, they’ll jack up the internet price. Clark, do you have any solutions for this?

bravometmasher

January 24th, 2013
8:14 am

You can watch a ton free stuff at cable providers websites. For instance USA shows theirs for free. And for sports often espn3.com is a fix or check out justin.tv or stream2watch. About 60% of the time I can watch the sporting event I want to. And it is all free.

Whatever

January 24th, 2013
8:24 am

We cut cable about 7 years ago and don’t have an antenna. For a long time it was just DVDs. Now we do Netflix which is a great way to provide appropriate content for the kids without having to worry about inappropriate shows and commercials.

I love how quiet our house is most of the time.

Astropig

January 24th, 2013
8:34 am

“College football season ended and we dropped cable. May pick it up again next September for 4 months.”

I haven’t had cable or dish for 6 years now and watch any college game that I want. JustinTV, The RTV and http://atdee.net/index.html/index2.php give me all of the free games that I can handle. It’s not unusual to watch 12 straight hours of CFB on Saturdays in the fall. I have a DSL line and the picture is good (but there is the occaisonal reboot or freeze,but hey…The price is right).The cable monopoly won’t sell me what I want to buy,so I’ve found a workaround. I’ll be glad,no, ecstatic,when they go out of business.

Aunt Pittypat

January 24th, 2013
8:41 am

I watch cable news, not fox, and espn most of the time. Is there any way to get those networks without cable or satellite?

louie

January 24th, 2013
8:46 am

for those who need high speed internet and do not want to pay for internet… Make your cell phone a hot spot and your husband will have it anywhere he goes… we do this thru our cell phone provider…

Bikerchick

January 24th, 2013
8:50 am

We dumped cable TV over two years ago and have not missed it. With an antenna, we pull in about 40 local channels, in true, uncompressed high definition, for free. Much,much better picture than cable! We kept our internet connection and purchased a Roku box for a one-time price of $59.00. Through the Roku, we get Netflix ($8.00 a month) and a host of other free movie channels like Crackle and Popcorn Flix, along with internet feeds for FoxTV, CNN and 100’s of other sports, home and garden, news, etc. shows. If you purchase Hulu Plus, ($7.00 a month), you can also watch most of the network and cable channel shows on your Roku as well. Just recently, the Hallmark Channel became available on the Roku for about $3.00 a month.

This is where I see cable TV going….cable networks will begin testing the “pay for channel” market, allowing customers to pay for one channel at a time, viewable over the internet through a set top box like Roku, Boxee, GoogleTV, etc. Finally, we will be able to watch the channels we like and not be forced to also purchase the ones we don’t like by the cable companies. Bottom line, is that we watch a little less TV than we used to (a good thing), but when we are ready to watch, there are a ton of movies, tv shows, sports and news options without the high cost of cable.

mystery poster

January 24th, 2013
8:53 am

Dropped cable 3 years ago. We made the decision 4 years ago, but when we called to cancel they said they’d hate to see us go and offered us $40 a month for a year with free HBO. So, we kept it for the year. I don’t think I’d mind paying $40, but I think ours was up to about $70 when we cut it. That was before everyone went to bundling.

As far as Internet, we have AT&T U-verse. I’m not sure what speed, but it costs $38 a month. We had regular DSL but switched about 18 mos ago. Since it’s u-verse and not over the phone line, there are no added fees like the FCC charge, line charge, taxes, etc. It was $24 a month for a year, but that ran out. It’s fast enough to do everything we need, which is pretty much just stream Netflix and surf the ‘net.

We have an antenna which is attached to the cable input on the house, then the TVs are plugged into the regular cable outlets.

I can’t believe we didn’t dump cable years earlier, we don’t miss it in the least.

We dropped the land line when AT&T started charging us $4 a month for NOT making long distance calls. How crazy is that?

Beth

January 24th, 2013
8:54 am

We ditched satellite last year. Have a ruku and subscribe to Netflix and also bought a lifetime membership to PlayOn. Also you would be surprised how many networks offer their own apps to watch TV on. ESPN has an app ESPN3 that my husband pulls up on his iPad and then connects the iPad to the TV via a dongle. Free ESPN live on the big screen!

Bikerchick

January 24th, 2013
8:56 am

By the way, the antenna we have is a $14.00 “bat wing” antenna that we picked up at Walmart. We hung it from one of the rafters in our attic and ran the coaxial cable line up there to connect it to our main TV downstairs. The kids each have a TV with the same type of antenna in their rooms. The signal is digital, uncompressed, high def and we get all of the networks, Peachtree TV, three ION TV channels, MeTV (classic television shows, kind of like Nick at Nite), a weather channel, UPN, four PBS channels, Bounce TV (black entertainment channel) and Antenna TV (classic TV shows and movies) among others. This is all free.

mystery poster

January 24th, 2013
9:00 am

@Bikerchik
I agree about the direction that pay for channels are going. People should be able to buy ala carte channels for the Roku without having a cable subscription. I predict more networks will begin testing that delivery model.

The advertising on television has gotten crazy. Not only is 1/3 of a network show ads, but there are popups when the content is on. You don’t get any of that on Netflix.

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Kev Hayes

January 24th, 2013
9:05 am

I dropped cable, slapped a antenna on my HDTV and ordered Netflix (which I’m about to drop because of the poor offerings). Basic HULU is free and it helps fills the gaps. I also dropped the landline and rely solely on my iPhone. The only thing I use the cable company is internet services; otherwise I don’t need them.

Hmmmmmmm

January 24th, 2013
9:06 am

Dropped the land line years ago.. Haven’t looked back…. Clark doesn’t help much on the pay TV issue… Hopefully there will be more competition or better technology to make cutting the cable out easier…

mystery poster

January 24th, 2013
9:09 am

They say the first cut is the deepest. I recommend you just cut it. It’s not permanent, you can change your mind if you want to.

My experience is that people who cut the cord always wonder why they didn’t do it earlier.

mystery poster

January 24th, 2013
9:11 am

Oh, by the way, it’s illegal for any homeowner’s association to ban outdoor TV antennas.

Atlshopper

January 24th, 2013
9:11 am

@Bikerchick…I kinda did the same thing at my house. I have 4 roku box sets. Love most of the programming and am satisfied with the antenna channels. I love the new “Nowhere.tv” channel which provides 60 minutes and the latest episodes of 48 hours kinda like ID on cable. Love saving the $90 bucks every month.

Gary

January 24th, 2013
9:11 am

There are still a lot of shows on Hulu/Hulu +, Fox, ABC, etc. that are “Web Only” meaning through a PC only, i.e. not Roku, or smart TV or DVD player, etc. Hooking up PC (with a remote like a Firefly) to the TV solves that. If your PC has Windows Media Center, you have a free full fledged DVR built in (10 days of guide info), just need a usb TV tuner and an antenna for local channels and you are completely set.

BuckeyeInGa

January 24th, 2013
9:11 am

You can watch college games other ways as some suggest but the quality isn’t up to par. Also there are a lot of channels that you can’t get with a OTA such as NFL Network, Lifetime, etc..

Glenn

January 24th, 2013
9:13 am

And Directv is raising their rates 5 percent starting next month . The problem seems to be the communication company’s that own the stations . Viacom has no problem charging satellite & cable co.’s more even though their programming has gotten worse . I wish there was a system where you could just pick the twenty stations of your choice and just get charged for that .

Ursula

January 24th, 2013
9:24 am

How do you provide antennae service to more than 1 TV ? We have 6 TVs in different areas of the house — that’s why we’re stuck with the cable. Any suggestions?

Ernie Johnston

January 24th, 2013
9:25 am

NFL Games are only on cable / satellite channels, not the regular broadcast channels, from September thru December. Same for the college football games thru the first week in January, because you are limited to ESPN. I get High Def during those months, but afterward, back it goes. Savings $20 per month. OK, I did get the box early this season for the Olympics, but that is rare.

Bought a new TV during Thanksgiving because it was almost a cheap as adding a High Def tuner. Going to experiment with cutting the cable TV entirely (but keeping Internet access) and hooking to an antenna in the attic soon before actually pulling the plug. If we do, when football season arrives in the fall, I’ll see what options I have. I suspect to get ESPN for 4+ months, it will be cheapest overall to pay an installation fee for cable that I can cut again in January.

ObtW: For those of you who don’t want sports at all, Verizon FiOS, in the Northeast and Tampa though not here, announced this week that they will offer a HD package without Sports except for what is on local broadcast channels (most NFL games) and TBS for $50, $15 less than with it. (from MultiChannel dot Com) That is quite a difference!

SZQ

January 24th, 2013
9:27 am

I have used the antenna for the last 6 years or so. If I want to see a football game that isn’t on the ‘regular’ stations, I’ll head to a bar. I must admit that when traveling, I soak up the Food Network, but other than that, Hulu and Amazon Prime give me more than enough.

Where's the Internet Service?

January 24th, 2013
9:28 am

Ok, how do you still get the internet once you drop the cable?

Ed

January 24th, 2013
9:32 am

Very insightful comments here. I was struggling with the cut/don’t cut decision but I think with the plethora of options i’ve found here i will go with the cut decision.

Like everyone else, i have ATT u-verse. Monthly bill is around $95 for internet and cable. My fiance and I work FT, which means on most days we dont watch TV after getting back from work and working out..If and when we do watch TV, its never more than 2-4 channels at the most.

Question I always find myself asking everynight is WHY am I paying $95/mth and oly find 5 watchable channels every night??

Luke

January 24th, 2013
9:32 am

I cut off cable about 4 years ago and haven’t looked back since. And it’s not that I replaced it with internet TV, I just decided to stop participating in the whole “stare blankly at a screen for hours a day” culture. Other than work or reading the news I just stopped using screentime as my primary leisure activity and slowly replaced it with other, more fulfilling activities and hobbies. I highly recommend it.

CDW

January 24th, 2013
9:33 am

We ditch cable 6 months of the year. I turn it on for the 6 months of football season (consider it an investment in marital harmony) and as soon as the Super Bowl is over, I turn it off. After 6 months, just in time for football again, Comcast considers me a “new” customer and I get the $20/mo introductory rate for….6 months! We really don’t miss it for the 6 months that it is off.

Hmmmmmmm

January 24th, 2013
9:41 am

@Ed

I agree 100 percent… If it weren’t for my wife who insists that my child needs to watch spongebob, I wouldn’t spend the 100/m ..

Gary

January 24th, 2013
9:43 am

Ursula,
The round coax cable that carries the cable TV signal can carry any TV signal. If you want just one antenna, you need to find where the cable TV coax cable come into your house, there you will find a splitter, that splits the TV signal to each TV/Room. On the splitter there will will be one connection labeled IN. Unscrew the current cable and hook up the antenna to it. Now you are sending your antenna signal to the different TVs/Rooms.

cord cutter

January 24th, 2013
9:45 am

Cut the cord 3-4 years ago. Best thing we ever did. Bought a computer and use it as a media server. This year ESPN360 required me to have a cable subscription. When I want to watch a game I go to a pizza place and watch it instead of at home. While it isn’t free, it is cheaper than the cost of regular cable. Between Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, TV.com and a large stack of DVD’s I can watch just about everything I did in the past. I don’t even pay for Hulu Plus.

Our college daughter said the best thing we ever taught her was how to find tv shows on the internet. With her class schedule she can watch what she wants, when she wants.

Sally

January 24th, 2013
9:45 am

Cut the cord 2.5 years ago. Have not looked back. I don’t regret it. I do however still have a landline and cellphone.

OK, it seems to me that the biggest issue for most people who might give up Pay TV is sports. If you like to watch alot of sports TV, you may be unhappy without Pay TV. And, it seems like they’ve figured that out and that’s how they are hanging onto people. When I first gave it up I thought, no big deal, all the big games are on a network. Which I get through an antennae. But, the Alabama / Notre Dame game was only on ESPN. I listened to some of it on the radio, but obviously it wasn’t a good game anyway. So I didn’t really miss anything.

The other thing I thought I would miss was 24 hour news. Oh my. What actually happened was that once I was off that cycle, I have found that I can hardly stomach the news anymore.

I don’t intend to go back. If there is a big game I want to watch and can’t get it at home I can find a place to watch. But, I was never a big sports TV watcher anyway.

Ernie Johnston

January 24th, 2013
9:51 am

Ursula, find where the cable comes into the house and follow it until you reach a splitter or amplifier. Disconnect the cable there and connect your external antenna (pointed at downtown Atlanta) to that open connection. Go to each of your TVs and scan for channels. You should be good to go.

ObtW: AntennaWeb dot Org will give you the best map of where the stations are. Just plug in your Zip Code, Most are downtown ATL but one is on top of Stone Mountain (8-GPB), one in Norcross (47-Spanish/Korean) and one east of Woodstock (41-WATC). If you point the antenna at ATL you may STILL receive these other stations, just not as strong, but possibly good enough.

mystery poster

January 24th, 2013
9:58 am

@Ursula
Another idea: Find where the cable enters your house. Unplug it and plug in your outdoor antenna. Connect the TVs in your house to the current cable outlets.

Trizzle

January 24th, 2013
10:07 am

Just a little hint, if you have Comcast and a digital tv (within the last 3 years) and you only have internet thru them, you can get a splitter and plug a cable into the tv and you will be basic channels for free. There isn’t anything they can do to filter out the tv signal out of the internet. I’ve been doing it for years. I get about 30 channels. The other thing is you can call them periodically and tell them you are thinking about discontinuing your service to go with someone cheaper. Ask them what they can do you for you. THey will come up with some special promotion that will last either 6 months or 12 months. Make sure you tell them that you DO NOT WANT a contract. After your “promotion” ends, wait a month and do it all over again. I switch between doing that and the “free” version. This is not illegal in any way. I’ve spoken to them, told them the signal was still going and they said there wasn’t anything they could do about it. I still subscribe to Netflix. So when I’m on the “free” version, I have more options. Plus, I like I can watch movies anywhere on my tablet. Good luck!

blackbird13

January 24th, 2013
10:08 am

We are 6 months into our no-cable experiment. We cut the cord not so much for the savings (though the extra 85 bucks a month is nice) but because we were spending too much time watching crap. We already had Netflix, so we added Hulu and now are more selective about our tv watching (no more stupid reality programs for my wife; no more endlessly bickering cable news pundits for me). The biggest issue for us has been the poor local channel reception we get (can’t do an outdoor antenna). We can’t get NBC or PBS at all, and WSB and FOX can be iffy. This mostly affects our football watching. Thankfully, most of the big SEC games are on CBS. We were very annoyed, however, that the national championship was only on ESPN. So far, that’s the one time we had to head out to a bar to watch a game.

justme

January 24th, 2013
10:10 am

I just now cancelled Dish. What a horrible experience!! Absolutely the RUDEST customer ’service’ I have encountered. I will NEVER do business with them again in the future.
I am already paying for NetFlix and Vudu..I will add Hulu Plus and be MUCH happier!

Praveen

January 24th, 2013
10:11 am

COMCAST and others have failed very badly at being gatekeepers for the programming delivered by their content suppliers. We have hundreds of channels. But lately, most of them have become reality show and old 80s movies channels. MTV has 6 or 7 music channels , each new one promising 24 hour music to get an entry point into the channel lineup, and then once they are secured a spot, they abandon the music and get a higher rated program like a movie or some reality show. Same with Discovery Channel’s many other sister channels or The Learning channel. Even the weatehr channel was showing movies. The HISTORY channel once showed a movie that had LITTLE to do with history.

One might say “well, if the replacement programming on these niche channels is higher rated, all the companies are doing is giving th econsumer what they want.”
NOT REALLY. Because it gives a small subset of consumers MORE programming to watch while depriving the other consumers of the VARIETY of programming they crave. Maybe a subset of the consumers will watch a lot more TV with the junk provided. But guess what, those losers will be subscribing to cable TV anyway because they are TV addicts. All the higher ratings go for individual cable channels is give them more leverage to charge the cable company higher rates but the average consumer for the cable company feels less satisfied because the variety of programming is down. Instead of having movies on a few channels, reality on some, music on some, real educational programming on some, you have reality and overplayed old movies on a bunch of channels. That is a bad deal for the cable consumer even if it is a good deal for individual niche channels that wouldnt have gotten a place in the lineup in the first place if they started off with higher rated reality shows. 5

Praveen

January 24th, 2013
10:11 am

COMCAST and others have failed very badly at being gatekeepers for the programming delivered by their content suppliers. We have hundreds of channels. But lately, most of them have become reality show and old 80s movies channels. MTV has 6 or 7 music channels , each new one promising 24 hour music to get an entry point into the channel lineup, and then once they are secured a spot, they abandon the music and get a higher rated program like a movie or some reality show. Same with Discovery Channel’s many other sister channels or The Learning channel. Even the weatehr channel was showing movies. The HISTORY channel once showed a movie that had LITTLE to do with history.

One might say “well, if the replacement programming on these niche channels is higher rated, all the companies are doing is giving th econsumer what they want.”
NOT REALLY. Because it gives a small subset of consumers MORE programming to watch while depriving the other consumers of the VARIETY of programming they crave. Maybe a subset of the consumers will watch a lot more TV with the junk provided. But guess what, those losers will be subscribing to cable TV anyway because they are TV addicts. All the higher ratings go for individual cable channels is give them more leverage to charge the cable company higher rates but the average consumer for the cable company feels less satisfied because the variety of programming is down. Instead of having movies on a few channels, reality on some, music on some, real educational programming on some, you have reality and overplayed old movies on a bunch of channels. That is a bad deal for the cable consumer even if it is a good deal for individual niche channels that wouldnt have gotten a place in the lineup in the first place if they started off with higher rated reality shows.

Gumby

January 24th, 2013
10:23 am

Two years ago my wife and I did away with not only Dish Network but also our home phone. We now use Clear which is a wireless interent provider (I believe their basic unlimited home plan is $50 a month), we had a wireless communicator hooked up to our alarm system, put an external antenna outside our house to get the basic local stations, and we us Netflix and Amazon for our streaming video. We already had the the Amazon since we subscribe to their Prime service to get free shipping.

This works for us because we are not big on sports or many of the current television shows but we aloways have something to watch and I believe that the Netflix content will only improve with time. We may end up waiting until a year after a season has ended, such as Army Wives (my wife likes that show) but we don’t need a DVR. We use our BluRay player for our streaming video. One suggestion would be to invest in a good wireless gateway router if you are going to connect your streaming device via a wireless home network. I put in a dual band router and it made a big difference for me.