Cutting the cord on your cable service is probably something you’ve thought about, if you haven’t done it already — statistics are showing that pay TV services are losing customers by the millions, and will probably continue to do so.
But before you cut the cord to save yourself some money, there are a few things you should be aware of. You’ll decrease your cable bill, but there are still costs — some in cash, and some in convenience.
Here’s what you need to know.
You’re Dependent on Your Internet Connection
Not too long ago, I had a strange issue with my Internet connection — it would go down for about four hours every afternoon starting between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. There was no precipitating event, I had perfect service throughout the rest of the day, and it seemed to be only in my apartment, because public hotspots from other Comcast customers were still available.
If you’re not getting TV through your cable provider, that means you need to get it from the Internet — which means you need a good, stable Internet connection. You might think that getting cable TV and Internet service from the same provider means you’d have the same quality of service on both, but that’s not necessarily true. Even with solid cable service, you’ll sometimes have an Internet blackout.
And while this isn’t usually a huge deal, if you’re watching the World Cup, the Super Bowl, or a season finale of Doctor Who, you really don’t want your connection going down. If there are certain shows or events that mean a lot to you, this is something to consider.
You’re Much More Likely to Hit a Data Cap
Data caps are really annoying, especially because there are good arguments that they only exist to make cable companies more money.
If you’re streaming a huge number of gigabytes through Netflix, YouTube, and questionably legal streaming sites, you could be consuming a monumental amount of data (especially if you’re streaming in HD), and that could slow your connection or cost you more money.
In fact, one of our own readers reported that he went over his cap because he accidentally left some YouTube videos playing while he fell asleep — he hadn’t had trouble previously with watching movies on Netflix, but these constantly running YouTube video did him in. It’s not hard to imagine that going on a serious TV binge could run you up against your data cap and get you slapped with extra charges.
There certainly are ways around this, but the two most effective are streaming less content and not watching in HD, two strategies you wouldn’t have to use if you just kept your cable subscription.
It’s Harder to Watch Sports and Live Events
Illegal streaming is an increasingly big business, and there are tons of options out there for watching sports and live events, but it’s not always going to work very well.
If there are hundreds of thousands or millions of people watching the same thing, you could have trouble finding a streaming service that will not only give you a good quality picture, but also be able to handle the traffic.
The World Cup, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, US presidential debates, reality TV shows, and other hugely popular televised events are going to put a big strain on illegal streaming servers. You may get a high-quality stream in HD, or you could get an SD stream that skips and hangs. Depending on how committed you are to watching a particular event, whether it’s worth the risk may change how you feel about paying for cable.
It’s Hard to Get Live News
If you’re a news junkie, cable TV is almost a necessity. Sure, you can get a lot of great news online, but if you want the cable news experience, that’s pretty much the only place to get it. You can get news from free local stations, and you might be able to find a way to stream things like CNN, FOX, or MSNBC, but it’s much easier to get it on cable.
This is especially true if you like to flip between different news stations to get different views and types of news. Which brings me to my next point…
Channel Surfing is Hard
Whether you like to channel surf or not, it’s hard to argue that it’s not a good way to discover new things, especially if you have a cable or satellite package that has hundreds or thousands of channels. You just never know what you’re going to find — new shows, weird movies, interesting people, fascinating documentaries; the list of things you might come across seems infinite.
As with many of the other points in this list, this is only going to be an issue for some people. Many — including myself — don’t like to channel surf, and aren’t bothered by the fact that it’s a lot harder to do when you don’t have cable TV.
Netflix and Prime Have Terrible Movies
Yes, I know they also have good movies. And the selection changes all the time. Using a VPN or another way to trick Netflix into thinking you’re logging in from somewhere else increases the selection, and there are tools available to help you find hidden gems. I know all that.
But after you’ve watched the best movies available — which doesn’t take a long time — you’re left with a lot of stuff that’s just not very good. Even if you have both Netflix and Amazon Prime, if you tend to watch a lot of movies, you’ll run out of good ones sooner or later.
Obviously this issue will only apply to certain people, and many won’t have an issue with this at all. But it’s something to keep in mind.
The Cost Savings Might Not Be as Much as You Expect
If you’re paying a lot for a package cable subscription, you might think you’ll save a fortune by cutting the cord and streaming all of your content. And depending on how much you’re paying and how you go about it, that might be true. But there are a number of expenses that you need to be aware of.
For example, you’ll probably want at least two streaming services, like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, HBO Now, or YouTube Red. That will likely run you a couple hundred bucks. You’ll also probably want a device that makes it easy to send video from your computer or tablet to your computer, like an Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, or Roku. Probably only $20 or $30, but still an expense.
You might need to upgrade your Internet service to provide the speeds that you need to get high-quality streaming, if you don’t have them already, which could conceivably add $100 or $200 per year to the cost.
How much money you’ll save depends on how many of these things you decide to pay for, but when you add it all up, you’ll see that it might not save you as much as you expected, and the sacrifices may not be worth it. Cutting costs and saving money, no matter how little, is always a good thing, but if you’re not saving as much as you expected, you may want to reconsider the convenience value of cable.
Slate has a good calculator tool to estimate your savings.
Is It Still Worth It?
Have you cut the cord? Or are you thinking about it? We want to hear about your experiences — do you find it worth the expense? We have some strong supporters of cord-cutting at MakeUseOf, but we also have some skeptics.
Help us hash it out in the comments here; tell us how much money you’ve saved, how much of a pain it is to watch sports online, or why you’ll never go back to cable!