Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Joy of Cord Cutting & Why Youtube TV Rules

I ditched cable and it feels so good
Feels exactly like I dreamed it would
That big bill's in the past
And I'm having a blast
Now I've totally scored just by cutting the cord, hey, hey

Note: Yes, this is to the tune of Reunited by Peaches & Herb and no, I don't remember anything about that song except the chorus and neither do you. 

I finally freakin' did it! I got out from under a huge cable bill and experienced the delight of telling Charter "See ya, wouldn't wanna be ya!"

Net savings even after adding Youtube TV (a top-notch cable replacement if ever there was one) and Showtime to fill the cable-shaped hole in my heart: $108 sweet, sweet dollars a month. Suck on that, Charter!

(Note: We still have Epix, which costs us zero dollars because it comes free with Charter/Spectrum Internet, though most of their reps fail to mention it. We probably will add HBO Max when it launches, but we'll still be saving big bucks over Charter's villainous rates. And we probably were going to add that even if we kept cable. We also have several streaming services Netflix, ad-free Hulu, Amazon Prime Video – but those aren't part of the cost of cutting cable because we already had them in addition to cable for years.)

I'm going to admit something here, something I typically prefer to keep mum about. I'm going to tell you what my last bill was before I cut the cord. This is risky business because some people love to get snotty about it if they get a better deal than someone else on just about anything, even if the deal isn't readily available to everyone or is comparing apples and oranges with vastly different services and viewing preferences. But screw those people, I'm willing to share for anyone that's in a similar dilemma with crushing cable costs.

So, no judgment folks, but here's what we used to pay in my household: $241.30 a month. Yep, two hundred and forty-one U.S. dollars every month for the top tier level of channels, all the premiums, two DVRs, Internet access, and home phone. I only paid that rate for one month – it had been $220 for a long time, which was already outrageous, then jumped to $241 (and change) in what would become my final freakishly high bill. That number rattled my cage enough to make me grab the cord with both hands and yank it out of the wall, so to speak.

Charter bill after cutting the cord
My new bill is a thing of beauty.
For many years I'd played the game of calling in annually, asking to cancel, and being offered a discounted rate that lasted exactly one year. The dismal discounts got more pathetic over time while rates kept rising. But the viewing options we wanted, like certain shows we like that aren't on Hulu and also a DVR so we could both watch when we want and skip commercials, weren't available elsewhere without the hassle of switching to AT&T (which many rate worse than Charter in my area and requires a two-year contract). There were plenty of online services that offered live streaming or On Demand (which has commercials you can't skip), but if I wanted to watch TV like that I'd get in a time machine and set it to lame. I bought my first VCR in high school and ever since then I've recorded shows and skipped commercials, eventually using a DVR as time moved on. That's been a long time with the pleasures of pause/rewind/fast forward AND skipping commercials, and I'm not turning back now.

Charter (now known as Spectrum, but they'll always be Charter to me) reduced the discounts each year while also decreasing what channels came with our package. Throughout it all, the process of dealing with customer service remained extremely unpleasant. Note to cable companies: people like products that tell them on the website exactly what the costs are to add or remove services, and that let you make changes or cancel online. Calling repeatedly until you find a customer service rep who gives you a better deal is bullshit.

The last time I called to "cancel" before I really meant it in earnest was a couple of years ago. After an hour on the phone involving several long holds, I was offered $20 off. I decided to give up the fight and just take it, as it was easier than switching providers or actually cutting the cord (and at the time I didn't know of a replacement for cable that met our wants). When I got the next bill, however, it was only five measly bucks less than the previous bill. I'd already spent an aggravating hour on the phone, and decided screw it, I won't call and dispute this. Next time I call, I'll be cancelling, and I'll damn well mean it.

So when I called again this September, I damn well meant it. A combination of things led me to that point. One was sticker shock of that $241 bill. Another was we'd just signed up for Disney+, three years worth of it, thanks to an offer for early subscribers to save $23 a year. That was one more atop several other subscription services we already have, and served as a reminder of how little we actually watched through Charter.

Another factor was that because we watch shows from so many sources – Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Showtime, etc. – I'd begun making a list of what we watch so I could glance at it each night, kind of like my own personal TV Guide. This list revealed we weren't watching much on our Charter DVR anymore. But for a time we were willing to pay Charter to keep access to those few shows we needed from them and DVR service, and to not have to bother with whatever mess we imagined it would involve to actually switch TV providers.

Youtube TV Smashes Cable!

Why Youtube TV Rules

BUT THEN. Sparked by that horrifically high bill, I looked into cord-cutting options once again and discovered Youtube TV (henceforth referred to as YTTV). It's an absolute game changer! It's like having traditional cable and a whole-home DVR, without needing a physical device and the accompanying fees, without having to pay taxes and surcharges, and without having to deal with merciless and unpleasant cable companies. And you better believe those extra taxes and fees add up. With Charter Spectrum, I paid $34.99 a month for rental of two DVRs and DVR service, $11.99 broadcast TV surcharge, and $9.35 for taxes and fees – grand total: $56.33 a month! There are zero taxes and fees added to YTTV, nor does Charter charge any when all you have is Internet and phone.

I could've saved another $9.99 by dropping the home phone (I have an unlimited cell plan, after all), but I like having a home phone for various reasons specific to me, plus I like Charter's online voice manager and Nomorobo. Yes, I know I could ditch it altogether, and I also know about alternatives to keep the home number in addition to the cell if I wanted to for less than $10 monthly, but for now the price tag is fine by me and I'm happy to leave it as is.

What really tipped the scale for YTTV was they added the option within the past year to let you fast forward commercials on most channels if you'd recorded the show on its cloud DVR, even if the show was available on Video On Demand. Previously, many more shows used to send you directly to the VOD option even if you'd recorded the show. This upgrade was a BIG selling point for me.

Side Notes on Youtube TV & Selecting Streaming Services

I love the cloud DVR on YTTV! At first it felt confusing coming from my cable company's DVR, but as I got used to it I liked it far better. Say I record the entire series of an old show, with several seasons and episodes. On my old DVR I had to scroll down, down, down, to get to the first episode. On YTTV, it's divided into seasons, so I just pick Season 1, and go to the first episode. When I'm done, the thumbnail for that episode says "Watched" and has a red bar across the bottom.  The fact you can't delete shows on YTTV seemed like it would be a hassle compared to my old DVR experience, but I realized it's no problem. I even like the way it fast-forwards better than my Charter DVR.

FYI, the few channels that still default to the VOD version if one is available are CBS, CW, Pop, and Smithsonian. I watch little on those channels, and discovered, at least on CBS, if I watch it the night a show records I can access the recorded version. Other than on those few channels, if I add a show to my DVR I can watch the recorded version anytime within nine months of recording, with unlimited recording space.

If you watch a lot of CBS shows, can't view them all the day they air and refuse to watch VOD, you'll probably still save a packet over cable fees by getting a CBS All Access subscription ($9.99 for the ad-free version) to complement YTTV. You could also get an indoor HD antenna for local channels like CBS and, if you're a DVR lover like me, spring for a DVR like Tablo or Fire Recast and record the shows there. Also, some YTTV users add Philo for $20 a month to catch channels that aren't on YTTV, or they get the more streamlined Frndly TV at $5.99, but I don't need those. I watch one show on TV Land (which isn't on YTTV) that doesn't arrive on Hulu until months after airing, but I can wait or else buy a season pass on Google Play, which will come to a lot less than keeping cable or getting Philo just to watch that one show.

I point all of that out to illustrate there are options to mix and match streaming TV services if you want to, or you can opt to buy digital passes to a few shows each year on Google or Amazon to get what you want viewing-wise and still come out big $$$ ahead of keeping cable. It'll require a little research into the competing services, what channels they offer, what their DVR service is like (if that's important to you), and so on. Make a list of key points about each one you investigate (because by the time you've read up on several you won't recall which one had what), add up the cost to get the one or more services you need to maintain the channels and features you want, and compare that to your cable bill. It'll be obvious right away whether or not you're better off cutting cable, and those totals will differ for everyone.

My Costs after Cutting the Cord

Canceling cable was liberating! Here's a breakdown of my costs to replace it. Subscriptions I already had weren't part of the cost of replacing cable because I had them in addition to cable for years, so they aren't listed below. (Those services are Netflix, ad-free Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video). Also, we used to have all the premiums channels via our cable package, and now we're just getting the ones we use most.

Current Monthly Costs

Youtube TV - $49.99
Showtime - $7 (purchased through YTTV as an add-on)
Epix - $0 (free with Charter/Spectrum Internet)
Internet/home phone bundle - $75.98
Total: $132.97
Savings over cable: $108.33 

Any way you slice it, I'm saving money cutting the cord. Even if we add HBO Max later, even if YTTV increases fees a bit over time, we're much better off.

I'm thrilled with the change every single day. My husband teases me because I'm so enamored of YTTV, but I don't care. And believe me, he's impressed that I saved us more than $100 a month.

Time on the phone dealing with Charter to get information as I figured up costs and later cancel, as well as time spent on research into cable alternatives, was well worth it (if frustrating at times). It scored me savings of nearly $1,300 a year. It also freed me from the unpleasant and sometimes infuriating experience of negotiating prices with cable company reps. There's never been a better time to cut the cord!

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