Let me first say that I'm not a cord cutter. Really, I'm not. I'm just experimenting. Lots of guys who aren't cord cutters do it.
If the Lakers manage to hold onto their first-round draft pick and sign a good free agent this summer (I like Goran Dragic at point guard), I'll want to re-subscribe to TWC SportsNet come next October.
And unless the Pac-12 Network goes over-the-top, I'm going to need the regional sports network to see the handful of lesser USC conference football games not covered by ESPN for Fox Sports 1. I'm not consuming 4,000 calories at Buffalo Wild Wings to watch the Trojans rout Colorado again.
As it happened, the Lakers currently are trying to lose games to get that high draft pick, so I have no need right now for their RSN as they tank the season away. My pay-TV provider--my "ex" provider, DirecTV--doesn't even carry the Pac-12 Network or the other the other RSN I'm interested in, Dodgers channel TWC SportsNet LA.
DirecTV (NASDAQ: DTV) just upped my bill to over $107, and it's going to be a long spring and summer before I have compulsory sports needs that can only be sated by pay-TV. So I thought I'd give cord-cutting a temporary shot.
Lots of guys do it.
My conclusions after two weeks of unfettered liberation from the tyranny of packaged video entertainment programming: You have a lot of decisions to make based on arcane knowledge, you miss out on some immediate gratification and convenience, and you don't end up saving all that much money.
But hey, I'm sticking it to "the man," which I think is largely the appeal for a lot of tech bloggers and younger consumers who breathlessly boast about not having to pay for the shows they don't want to watch to get to the ones they do
This is a larger topic, probably for another column, but the current economics of the so-called "TV Industrial Complex" have incentivized, coalesced and monetized this oft-described "Golden Age of Television" we all enjoy.
As we disaggregate the bundle and parse what we want from what we don't, it helps to understand that we don't get any of the good stuff--Mad Men, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, The Blacklist, the shows that cost around $2 million an episode to make--if there isn't some system to handsomely compensate the top-level actors, producers, distributors, etc. I mean, away from asking what a legit margin is for media conglomerates to maintain on their programming is the fact that, greedy bastards or no, some excellent products are being manufactured at the head end of the system.
Maybe, through the wonders of the free market, a new a la carte paradigm coalesces that allows enough monetization to take place to sustain all this great art we're currently enjoying. But that's yet to be borne out.
So where was I … oh, yeah, I am a cord cutter, at least for now, and this is how it's going.
As I closed the door on DirecTV, I had to have some mechanism to bring ESPN's SportsCenter into my home. I need to watch it every night so I can go to sleep. The only OTT service available to do that is Dish Network's (NASDAQ: DISH) new Sling TV service, which eats a modest $20 into my $107.56-a-month cord-cutter savings.
So far, I'm enjoying Sling TV--it works seamlessly on my upstairs 63-inch DLP television with a three-year-old Roku device, and it is also works well on iPad. I'm inconvenienced that I can't get it right now on the primary downstairs Sony Bravia, which gets streaming service from our Xbox One. Dish says it'll have a Sling app for the Microsoft gaming console soon, but I can't watch ESPN on my preferred device until that happens … unless I spend more money for another Sling-app-equipped streaming device.
Sling's other limitation is on-demand programming--Dish didn't secure these digital rights from programmers like Disney and Turner for Sling. That means I can't pause or record ESPN, and my kids can't do the same with Cartoon Network. Not having to listen to my boys complain about not having new episodes of Johnny Test available for on-demand viewing via DVR is worth at least $10 a month, but I won't include that intangible expense in my overall cord-cutter savings tally.
I was heartened to hear that Sling TV will soon integrate AMC channels--with on-demand access--into its basic-channel portfolio. Unfortunately, I ended things with DirecTV in the middle of a primary original series run for AMC Network--immediate access to The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul is something I'm willing to pay for, and it will take some time for Sling TV to technologically integrate AMC.
I had already watched the first two installments of Better Call Saul's 10-episode first season. But at $2.99 an episode on Xbox Live, it made sense for me to pay $17 to Microsoft to get the whole season-one campaign. I can now see the final eight episodes of Saul where and when I want, but now my February TV budget is up to $37.
I cut DirecTV with six fifth-season episodes of The Walking Dead still left. I elected to individually buy HD episodes at $2.99 as they were released instead of buying the full season for $27. That will add $6 to my February media budget and $12 in March. And I have to wait until Monday each week to see my favorite show instead of watching it on Sunday night along with rest of the goofballs on Twitter.
My February savings stood at $64.56 when my wife informed me that season five of Downton Abbey would have to be purchased. We had gathered these episodes from PBS on our DirecTV DVR as we binged/caught up with prior seasons of the show on Amazon Prime (still can't believe they killed off Lady Sybil and Lord Matthew in season three).
Since season five of Downton is ongoing and hasn't hit the Amazon Prime SVOD service yet, we paid Amazon Instant Video a $20 fee to buy the full nine-episode campaign, lowering my savings to $44.56.
Since Netflix was an incumbent service that I already had alongside DirecTV, I won't count it in my tally. But I had plans not to re-up Amazon Prime come January renewal time. Since my cord-cutting decision convinced me to keep the service, averaging out the one-time $107.91 payment on a per-month basis comes out to $8.99.
My cord cutter savings have dwindled to $35.57.
Now we get to broadcast channels. My older son, Kellen, likes the CW's Arrow, and my wife watches CBS' The Mentalist, even though it's currently on, like, its fourth shark jump. I added a third SVOD service, Hulu, and my son is pleased that he can watch his favorite show on any device in the house.
Add another $7.99 to our monthly cord-cutter cost, lowering our savings to $27.58.
However, CBS shows aren't available on Hulu, leaving The Mentalist, as well as other CBS shows my wife and I both like--Big Bang Theory, Mom--only watchable through CBS All Access or broadcast HD antenna.
I opted for the latter, a $30 item at Best Buy. This is good to have around for live content on at least one TV in the house. And the broadcast station sub-channels (aka "diginets") have been nothing short of a revelation, sating my need to channel surf and not commit to anything substantial late at night before bedtime. (I've actually re-discovered Bonanza!.)
Stretching this one-time antenna investment out over 12 months, we get $2.50--bringing our cord cutter savings down to $25.08.
Lastly, I acquired TiVo's Roamio OTA DVR as a gift. This lets me pause and record broadcast shows, somewhat negating the need for Hulu and CBS All Access. However, there are limitations. I'd like to make it a whole-home system, and connect it to a client for the upstairs Samsung. However, due to security issues, the $150 TiVo Mini client can only be connected to the Internet via hardwired connection. And my 1923 Los Angeles home has one strand of copper in the whole house that's of any use. I'd have to call out a technician and pay a another bill to hook that up. Not doing that yet.
As it stands, I'm paying TiVo $15 a month for broadcast DVR service to one TV.
My cord cutter savings just dwindled to $10.08.
Oh, and my younger son, Reece, just complained about the Johnny Test thing again. I'm counting that as a $10 hit this time. We're down to 8 cents.--Daniel