Can You Live Without Cable?

The prospect may seem appealing, but ‘cutting the cord’ may not be for you.



Brian Nutt

Thanks to Netflix, huge con-tent libraries on Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3, and inexpensive media streaming devices like the Roku player and Apple TV, it’s easier than ever to sever your ties to cable or satellite TV and the $100-plus monthly bills that come with them. But before you “cut the cord,” consider if the cable-free lifestyle suits your viewing habits.

Here’s the easiest way to figure out if ditching a subscription TV service is right for you: Do you watch a lot of live programming, particularly professional sports? If so, you can’t live without cable or satellite TV. Live TV is the great divide between cable and Internet-based content. For example, ESPN’s Monday Night Football remains cable’s most-watched program, and there’s no way to access ESPN’s live broadcasts without paying for cable or hanging out at a sports bar every time you want to watch a game. And channels like the NFL Network and MLB Network are showing more live and exclusive games, while playoff games in baseball, basketball and hockey are largely televised via cable services, too.

Beyond live sports, your cable-cutting options are somewhat greater. Broadcast networks—CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox and the CW—are viewable for free, over the air, with a digital antenna like rabbit ears. That means you can watch shows like Two and a Half Men and weekly regional NFL games for nothing, provided you are in front of the TV when they air.

If do you miss a show, most content, including many shows from cable networks like Comedy Central or USA, can be bought through online services like Apple’s iTunes or Amazon Video On Demand. But you’ll usually have to wait a day for an episode to become available. So don’t plan on joining in on the water-cooler conversation about the Glee episode the night before.

If you ditch cable, you’ll also lose out on shows from premium networks like HBO and Showtime, as the most recent episodes are only available to subscribers. If you can wait a year for the latest season of True Blood to hit DVD or Amazon, you’re a cord-cutting candidate.

For the cable subscriber who only watches basic-cable shows like Burn Notice and The Walking Dead, cutting the cord could be both convenient and cost effective. New high-definition episodes of most shows cost $2.99 on iTunes to purchase and keep, and they can be watched on a range of devices, including an Apple TV box plugged into your HDTV, or on the go with an iPhone or iPad.

But if you’re a regular viewer of several cable channels, with a DVR filled with episodes still to watch, switching to the a la carte method likely would cost more per month than cable. Plus, it would be inconvenient.

The decision to cut the cord is a simple numbers game if you don’t watch live TV. Whether the numbers still add up in your favor all depends on your viewing habits.

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