Is your cable bill going up? Here’s how to save on TV and internet.
Saving money by “cutting the cord” isn’t as easy as it used to be.
That has some people wanting 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 hiked their prices, too, facing higher programming costs just like the Comcasts and Verizons of the world. And the potential savings get slimmer if you need live sports.
“The calculus of cord cutting has changed dramatically over the last couple of years,” said James Willcox, who follows the TV industry for Consumer Reports. “Very few people are going to be completely served by a single service. And that means that you need to now go out and figure out how many services are going to provide what you want.”
There are still ways to save on your TV and internet bill, from switching internet providers to buying digital copies of your favorite shows. It just takes a lot more work, experts said.
Focus on your favorite shows
Before you flee pay TV, write down what shows you need. You can search for a service that comes close to fulfilling that, then add streaming apps to fill in the gaps, Willcox said.
There was a time when you just needed Netflix, the market leader for video subscription streaming. Media firms licensed their content to Netflix, giving it a vast library of beloved TV shows.
Now, those companies are keeping content to drive subscriptions to their own streaming services. That’s why The Office, the NBC sitcom that was once Netflix’s most-watched show, is now exclusively on Peacock, NBC’s streaming service.
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 in to annual contracts, there are no cancellation fees for the major streaming services, experts said. This way, you are not simultaneously paying for several services that charge anywhere from $5 to $15 per month.
Another hack is buying your favorite shows directly, skipping 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 to $35, said Dwight Silverman, a longtime tech columnist who produces an annual cord-cutting guide and now writes for the Houston Chronicle. If you plan to watch 10 series a year, for example, 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 watch, not necessarily the services you want,” Silverman said.
The cost of streaming sports
If you need live sports, saving money is harder.
An antenna will get you most Eagles games on FOX, CBS, and NBC over the air for free. But an antenna won’t capture NBC Sports Philadelphia, home of the rest of the city’s professional teams.
The 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” will give you dozens of live channels streamed online. But they’ve also raised their prices in recent years, cutting into the savings you might get by ditching regular TV.
For example, YouTube TV’s monthly price has jumped from $40 per month in 2019 to $65 today. During the same period, fuboTV raised rates from $45 to $65. Starting Tuesday, Hulu + Live TV will charge $70, up from the $45 it billed in 2019.
These services have cited the same rising programming costs that cable companies like Comcast blame for its price hikes. And these new entrants are finding themselves in similar carriage-fee disputes as legacy providers, too. YouTube TV warned customers this week that it may lose access to Disney-owned channels if there’s no resolution.
“You may be getting a better selection of channels you actually want to watch,” Willcox, of Consumer Reports, said of the live TV streaming providers. “But the cost savings aren’t going to be great. And at any given time, we’ve seen some of those services pull whole networks from their lineup.”
For example, Verizon Fios’ cheapest internet plan paired with YouTube TV costs $120 per month, including equipment fees and excluding promotions and taxes, according to its website. By comparison, Fios’ cheapest internet and TV bundle carrying NBC Sports Philly was $132 per month. In April, Verizon notified Philadelphia officials of a TV price hike for some customers.
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 for the Phillies in the summer, you can cut your TV bill during those few months, said Silverman, the tech columnist.
Negotiate a better deal
You can’t escape entirely from the cable company. You still need home internet service to stream movies and shows.
Most households these days probably need download speeds of at least 50 megabits per second (mbps), Willcox said, depending on what’s going on at home. That might not be enough bandwidth if two people simultaneously stream shows in 4K Ultra High Definition, while a third person plays video games. Silverman suggested 150 mbps for a family of three.
One way to save on internet is owning your own router. Comcast and Verizon charge $14 and $15 per month, respectively, to rent one. If you buy one, you can recoup that cost within a year, Willcox said. Just make sure it is compatible with your internet service provider.
Then there’s the old-school way of lowering your bill: negotiating with your cable company, or switching providers to get new customer offers.
Comcast’s Xfinity, for example, will charge $99 per month for 200 mbps download speeds starting Monday, according to a rate card for Philadelphia and Delaware County. But new customers can get those same speeds for $30 per month for two years, according to a promotion on Xfinity’s website. That also includes a subscription to Peacock and a “Flex” streaming box that lets users access their streaming apps.
“People tend to think that they can’t negotiate,” Willcox said. “But it doesn’t cost you anything to try, and we’ve seen the majority of people actually be able to get something for it.”