Tips for cutting cords and cheaper alternatives

Your cable bill will likely go up again. TV providers from AT&T to Comcast have increased their prices over the past year. In Philadelphia, Comcast’s increased costs will begin on December 20.

That has led some people to want to ditch traditional TV in favor of online streaming. But saving money by “cutting the cord” isn’t as easy as it used to be. Movies and shows are fragmented across a growing number of streaming services. Those providers have also increased their prices as they face higher programming costs just like the Comcasts and Verizons of the world. And the potential savings shrink when you need live sports.

“Cable cutting calculations have changed dramatically in recent years,” said James Willcox, who follows the TV industry for Consumer Reports. “Very few people will be fully served by a single service. And that means you have to go out now and find out how many services are going to offer you what you want.”

There are still ways to save on your TV and Internet bill, from switching ISPs to buying digital copies of your favorite shows. It just takes a lot more work, experts said.

Before you flee pay TV, write down which shows you need. You can look for a service that’s close to that and then add streaming apps to fill in the gaps, Willcox said.

There was a time when you needed Netflix, the industry leader in video subscription streaming. Media companies have licensed their content to Netflix, giving it a huge library of much-loved TV shows.

Now those companies track content to incentivize subscriptions to their own streaming services. That’s why The office, the NBC sitcom that was once Netflix’s most-watched show is now exclusive on NBC’s streaming service Peacock.

One strategy is to subscribe to one app at a time. Sign up to watch the show you want, then cancel when you’re done. Unlike cable packages that can lock you into annual contracts, there are no cancellation fees for the major streaming services, experts say. This way you don’t pay for different services at the same time that charge anywhere from $5 to $15 per month.

Another hack is: buy your favorite programs directly, skip the monthly service altogether. Apple, Amazon Prime and others sell digital copies of entire seasons that you can keep permanently. They usually cost between $25 and $35, said Dwight Silverman, a longtime tech columnist who produces an annual guide to cord cutting and now writes for the Houston Chronicle. For example, if you plan to watch 10 series a year, that will cost you about $300. Some people pay that much monthly for cable, he noted.

“The point is you want to think about the shows you want to see, not necessarily the services you want,” Silverman said.

If you need live sportsSaving money is harder.

With an antenna, you get most Eagles games on FOX, CBS, and NBC over the air for free. But an aerial won’t catch NBC Sports Philadelphia, home to the rest of the city’s professional teams.

Current streaming options for NBC Sports Philadelphia are fuboTV, YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV, according to Brian Potter, a spokesperson for the regional sports network.

These “skinny bundles” give you dozens of live channels streamed online. But they also have increased their prices in recent years, cutting the savings you could get by ditching regular TV.

For example, YouTube TV’s monthly price has increased from $40 a month in 2019 to $65 today. During the same period, fuboTV increased rates from $45 to $65. As of Tuesday, Hulu + Live TV will charge $70, up from $45 it charged in 2019.

These services have said the same rising programming costs that cable companies like Comcast are blaming the price hikes. And these new entrants also find themselves in similar transportation cost disputes as legacy providers. YouTube TV warned customers this week that it could lose access to Disney channels if left unchecked.

“You might get a better selection of channels you really want to watch,” Consumer Reports’ Willcox said of the live TV streaming providers. “But the cost savings will not be great. And at any given time, we’ve seen some of those services take entire networks out of their lineup.”

For example, Verizon Fios’ cheapest Internet plan paired with YouTube TV costs $120 per month, which includes equipment costs and excludes promotions and taxes, according to the website. In comparison, Fios’ cheapest internet and TV bundle with NBC Sports Philly was $132 per month.

Unlike cable, you can: easily pause or cancel these subscriptions and resume months later. So if you watch the Sixers in the winter, but don’t care about the Phillies in the summer, you can save on your TV bill in those few months, said Silverman, the tech columnist.

You cannot escape completely from the cable company. You still need an internet service at home to stream movies and shows.

Most households today probably need download speeds of minimum 50 megabits per second (mbps), Willcox said, depending on what’s going on at home. That might not be enough bandwidth if two people are streaming shows in 4K Ultra High Definition at the same time, while a third person is playing video games. Silverman suggested 150 Mbps for a family of three.

One way to save on the internet is: own your own router. Comcast and Verizon charge $14 and $15 a month respectively to rent one. If you buy one, you can recoup that cost within a year, Willcox said. Make sure it is compatible with your ISP.

Then there’s the old-fashioned way to lower your bill: negotiate with your cable company, or switch providers to get offers for new customers.

Comcast’s Xfinity, for example, will charge $99 per month for download speeds of 200 mbps starting Monday, according to a Philadelphia and Delaware County rate card. But new customers can get those same speeds for two years for $30 a month, according to a promotion on Xfinity’s website. That also includes a subscription to Peacock and a “Flex” streaming box that allows users to access their streaming apps.

“People tend to think they can’t negotiate,” Willcox said. “But it won’t cost you anything to try, and we’ve seen that the majority of people can actually get something for it.”

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