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If you’ve been paying attention, you will know cord cutting is all the rage around the world. Cable television companies are losing subscribers at a rate never seen before in history—and it has nothing to do with illegal services like Popcorn Time.
The growing popularity of apps such as Plex and Kodi, combined with the affordability of Netflix and Hulu, has made it easy than ever for users to watch locally-saved video and on-demand TV shows and movies. People’s reliance on traditional TV for their entertainment needs has never been lower.
But cutting the cord isn’t right for everyone, especially in the United States. As a result, a new phenomenon—termed “cord shaving”—is starting to gain traction.
What’s Wrong With Cord Cutting?
According to eMarketer, at the end of 2017, 22.2 million Americans had canceled their cable TV subscription. It marked an increase of 33 percent from the 16.7 million that canceled in 2016.
However, for many more Americans, there’s a catch. Unlike lots of countries, the biggest cable TV companies are also responsible for the broadband networks in the United States. Worse still, there’s barely any broadband competition. Unless you live in a large metropolitan area, you’ll be lucky to have a choice of two.
For cord cutters, this is problematic. The web is littered with stories from people who were strong-armed into keeping their cable TV subscription under the threat of a higher monthly cost for an internet-only package.
So, what’s the solution? For many people, the answer is to try cord shaving instead. But what is cord shaving? Who is it appropriate for? And how much money can it save you each month?
What Is Cord Shaving?
In its most basic form, cord shaving is the idea of keeping your cable TV subscription but canceling all the costly channels, packages, and add-ons. As a result, your bill drops significantly, but you still retain some of the essential basic channels, along with your internet connection.
However, the term is increasingly applying to companies that offer “skinny bundles.” A skinny bundle typically refers to a lower number of channels, but greater choice and lower cost. The best examples are Sling TV, DirecTV Now, and PlayStation Vue.
How Is This Impacting Pay TV?
The practice is starting to cause a headache for pay TV networks. Channels such as ESPN, Disney, CNN, Nickelodeon, and Food Network have seen their viewer numbers plummet since the turn of the decade.
The same story is reflected across the top 40 distributed cable channels. Estimates suggest that when combined, the top 40 channels have lost more than six million subscribers since 2010. And the rate of decline is increasing. ESPN, for example, reached 7.4 percent fewer American homes in 2017 than in 2015.
Cord shaving is rapidly gaining traction. In 2012, basic cable plans accounted for just eight percent of all paid TV subscriptions. Today, the figure is creeping towards 20 percent.
Who Should Consider Cord Shaving?
Sport has traditionally been one of the biggest attractions of cable TV. But it’s starting to lose its stranglehold.
ESPN, for example, managed to grow so large through a lack of competition. It was the only channel offering the sports games that people wanted to watch and could thus charge cable TV companies a significant fee. Furthermore, it prevented cable TV providers from offering the channel on a “sports” package. For viewers, subscribing to cable inevitably meant receiving, and absorbing the cost of, the network.
To the delight of cord shavers, the situation is changing. More and more sports leagues are cutting out the middleman and selling directly to viewers. The WWE is setting the trend.
Additionally, companies such as Amazon and Facebook can now outbid TV networks for broadcast rights. There’s even speculation that Amazon and Facebook will bid for the most expensive sports broadcast package in the world: the English Premier League.
Another group of people who stand to benefit are news junkies. Often, channels such as CNN and Bloomberg are included in one of the cheaper packages.
People who enjoy having 24/7 rolling news in the background could forfeit packages that include channels with content that will ultimately make its way to Netflix or Hulu while retaining the ability to stay abreast of world affairs.
People With Poor Internet Speeds
The final group who can benefit from cord shaving rather than cord cutting is anyone who suffers from a slow internet connection.
The nature of cord cutting means you’ll need to use your web connection to receive all of the content you watch, both live TV and video-on-demand. And while a slow connection shouldn’t impact your ability to watch video on demand (you can just wait for it to buffer), it will severely affect your ability to enjoy live TV.
Cord shaving can leave you with some live TV options while relying on Netflix and such for the more popular shows.
How Much Money Could Cord Shaving Save You?
The amount of money you can save depends on how you plan to shave the cord.
As detailed earlier in the article, there are two primary ways to shave the cord. You can either reduce your cable TV subscription down to the cheapest and most basic package, or you can cancel your TV subscription and subscribe to a service like Sling TV, DirecTV, or PlayStation Vue.
Keep in mind that the average cable TV bill in the United States was $103 per month in 2017.
Reduce Your Cable Package
It’s impractical to look at every TV package on offer in the United States, so let’s just review some headline figures.
If you’re a Comcast customer, you can shave your package down to $39.99/month if you’re willing to accept an internet speed of 25 Mbps and no TV. If you want to keep 10 channels, you’ll have to pay $49.99/month.
However, the 10 channels will fail to excite. You can expect the usual litany of over-the-air networks (which are free to receive if you have an antenna), government and educational channels like C-SPAN, and ad-laden trash like the Home Shopping Network.
Another one of the major networks, Charter (formerly Time Warner), uses the tactics we mentioned earlier. Its cheapest internet package is $29.99/month, but it includes 125 (mostly junk) channels. An internet-only subscription will cost you as much as $64.99/month.
Add a Skinny Bundle?
If your internet speed is fast enough, you might decide to invest in a web-based skinny bundle.
The cheapest Sling TV package is $20/month, the cheapest DirecTV Now bundle is $35/month, and the cheapest PlayStation Vue price is $39.99/month.
— Jonathan Barta (@JonathanBarta) January 9, 2018
Using these figures, we can conclude the average price of a basic cable TV is about $30, as is the cost of a basic skinny bundle. You can throw in a Netflix subscription and a Hulu subscription and still pay less than $80/month. It’s at least a $25 saving compared to the average American bill.
For the best savings, however, sacrifice a skinny bundle. Reduce your TV package down to the minimum and buy an antenna. You could save more than 50 percent of the average bill.
Are You a Cord Cutter or Cord Shaver?
Now we want to hear from you. Do you prefer the idea of cord cutting or cord shaving? What do you perceive to be the pros and cons of the two different approaches? Perhaps you’ve even become a cord shaver yourself. If so, what advice can you give others considering doing the same thing?
Image Credit: BonNontawat/Depositphotos