Cutting the cable cord: Streaming services offer options

By Mallory Miller, NewsNetNebraska

Derek Augustine is among the 3.7 million people who have cut the cord on cable subscriptions in the last four years.

Augustine, a 2009 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, decided to dump cable when Time Warner Cable raised its prices after adding several HD channels.

“I think the price jump was around $20 per month,” he said. “At that point I really thought about if cable was worth the money I was paying for it and decided it wasn’t, so I ditched it. They offered me special deals when I turned my stuff in, but my mind was made up.”

According to a MediaLife Magazine report on a study done by the Convergence Consulting Group, the downward spiral for cable subscriptions continues. Last year, 1.08 million customers canceled the service.

What is driving the cord-cutting trend is the fact that video is available in a variety of places on the Internet. People do not need to pay for a monthly cable subscription in order to get the programming they want.

Video: UNL students discuss their television viewing habits

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In recent years, streaming giants Netflix and Hulu have amassed a combined total of more than 36 million subscribers. This excludes the number of people who use only the basic online service from Hulu for free. Many other services are also available.

While streaming does not offer the chance to watch shows right at the time they come out on TV, many shows are available the next day. Streaming services have also begun adding original programs. Netflix recently achieved success with the political drama “House of Cards.”  Hulu has distributed 25 original and exclusive series in less than two years. These offerings are made of shows produced by Hulu and purchased from international TV channels.

Time Warner Cable representatives did not respond to attempts by NewsNetNebraska to seek comment on the trend and a Cox Communications spokesperson in Omaha declined comment.

Live sporting events

For some, though, cutting the cord is difficult. And a big reason is live sporting events.  Recent college graduate Michael Goeller, 29, of Orlando, Fla., says that he keeps his cable subscriptions for the sports package and the ability to watch live shows.

“I like to watch sports as they are being played,” Goeller said. “Most regular shows I don’t mind waiting a few weeks to see, but a whole season is a little much. The ones that people spoil for you like “The Walking Dead,” “Once Upon a Time,” etc., I just don’t watch because I have to see it as it is happenings. I also have to avoid Twitter when I wait to see certain shows.”

Chase Tanner, 22, a University of Nebraska-Omaha student, doesn’t like to wait for shows and likes the variety that cable offers.

“I don’t have to know what I want to watch (with cable),” Tanner said. “I can surf through channels until I find something. With streaming, sometimes, you have to know what you want to watch.”

Tanner uses Netflix in addition to his cable subscription, but says the service has its downfalls.

“The biggest con with Netflix is that brand new shows are not available. With cable I can watch as they premiere.”

Adding it up

Cable hit a peak in subscribers in 2001 with 66.9 million and has been decreasing ever since. In 2011, the most recent figure available, there were 58 million sable customers in the U.S. The average cable bill is $86 per month. Subscribing to Internet services can be much cheaper.

Netflix costs $8 per month. Hulu Plus, which allows subscribers to stream to mobile devices and TV, also costs $8 per month. Amazon Prime Instant Video costs $79 per year, or about $6.60 a month.

Both Amazon Prime and Vudu will allow customers to rent recent movie releases. Prime offers a TV Pass for entire seasons of new shows. This pass allows customers to get new episodes of series like “Mad Men,” which aren’t available to stream free in other locations, the day after they are aired. With the exception of its originally produced content, Netflix does not offer new episodes of series until after the season has ended on TV.

Once a customer subscribes to one of these services, he or she must also purchase a device  to get the shows on TV. Some TVs will already be equipped, but there are also a variety of streaming boxes available. These range in price from about $50 to about $100.

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Augustine streams through his PlayStation3 and a Roku device. Netflix and Hulu are available through both devices, and he uses Amazon Instant Video to rent new movies.

“Sporting events are the only thing I feel I really miss,” Augustine said. “But if I really want to see them, it’s not too hard to find a sports bar with them on, and occasionally they’ll be on ESPN3. I’m also more of a baseball fan and MLB.tv offers online streaming of almost every televised game for $130 a year. I haven’t pulled the trigger on that yet but it’s nice to know it’s an option.”

So what choice is right for you? The answer depends on the type of content you want to watch. If having live sporting events available in your home is a must, then a cable or satellite subscription is probably the best way to go. If you find yourself relying on a DVR and mainly watching shows on major networks, other alternatives may be better.

 

 

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