Mel Normoyle seems like your typical Long Island cable TV cord-cutter. She's 30-something, wants to save money, and has zero loyalty to the cable industrial complex.
Before moving from Holbrook last year, she shared the monthly cost of a Verizon Fios hookup with her landlord. But after relocating to Selden, she decided to cherry-pick exactly what she wanted to watch — Max, Disney+ and Crunchyroll (a streaming service for animé aficionados).
She now splits the broadband bill with her new landlord, for a total monthly cost of $88.98, and monthly savings of $40.
The verdict? "Honestly, this works perfectly for me," she said. "I have access to any and all the shows I enjoyed in the past and a lot of new ones I might not have seen otherwise."
Normoyle, 39, is what's called a "jump ball" in cable TV industry circles, meaning that when a subscriber moves to another home, it's literally a jump ball (toss-up) as to whether he or she will continue to subscribe. Because of her age, she's a member of a cohort that increasingly will not, say industry experts. Most younger people (in their 20s) have never even had a cable hookup, and there's a term for them, too: "cable nevers."
Cord cutting has been around for as long as there's been a cable TV cord to cut. The practice gathered force in the mid-'90s when cable TV subscription prices first began to soar, then reached a milestone year in 2013, when a quarter-million homes in the United States cut the cord, marking the first year-to-year decline for cable and satellite TV subscriptions, according to industry figures.
So far in 2023, the major pay TV services, which include cable, have lost 6.7 million subscribers while the big internet-based services, like YouTube TV and Hulu+ Live TV, have added 1.25 million, according to Durham, New Hampshire-based Leichtman Research Group, which tracks entertainment industry trends. A widely cited statistic by accounting firm PWC says the total number of homes paying for cable and satellite TV will drop below 50 million by 2027, from 64 million today (100 million in 2016).
The reasons are complex, but also painfully simple. The full price of a cable or satellite subscription, with a few premium services attached along with a broadband connection, can approach (or exceed) $300 per month per household.
Fueled by outrage, but also motivated by opportunities, cord-cutters now have more options than ever before. Jared Newman, a Cincinnati, Ohio-based tech journalist, has produced a newsletter for cord-cutters since 2016, or eight years after he took the leap himself. Most of his Cord Cutter Weekly's' 30,000-plus subscribers want to know the same thing — how to save money — but are surprised at just how complicated the answer to a simple question can be.
"I start off by saying what I've always said, which is that cord cutting is not this magic solution that gives you every single thing that you would ever want to watch for a fraction of the cost.
It's a series of choices that you can make and the shift here is that you have to decide what's worth paying for and what's not.
-- Jared Newman, editor, Cord Cutter Weekly
Indeed, cord cutting is easy, but also complicated. There's some trial and error involved, but patience is important, too. Most of all, you must be vigilant. All those streaming subscription bills you're juggling have a stealthy way of hitting your bank account when you least expect them. (And, they're getting pricier, too.)
If you've given some thought to finally cutting the cord yourself, here are 12 frequently asked questions to help you get started.
Which broadband service should I use?
Starting off with the obvious — what internet service should I use to get all those wonderful programs I plan to watch someday? — still has the obvious answers: Optimum and Verizon home internet. For new customers, both come with fixed costs that increase with add-ons, like internet speed. But Newman says 300 megabits per second (Mbps) is more than enough for streaming TV.
BOTTOM LINE For now, choices are limited on Long Island, but that will change within the next two years as 5G home internet becomes more widely available.
What is 5G home internet, by the way?
The fast 5G — or 5th generation — is the successor to 4G, and offers speeds more than sufficient for streaming. This quicker generation of home internet is a wireless service — no cords at all! — but you do need an indoor or outdoor receiver to get the signal from the provider. Ads for 5G are everywhere, but that doesn't mean 5G home internet is (yet). Yes, it's rolling out but you need to check with the individual suppliers (Verizon, Starry, AT&T) to see when it will become available in your neighborhood. Another caveat — while 5G is fast, it's also susceptible to interference.
BOTTOM LINE A little early to get excited about 5G home internet, but it's coming.
YouTube TV or Hulu + Live TV or Sling or …?
Here we come to the next big decision you may have to make. These services are saddled with an ungainly acronym — vMVPD, which stands for "Virtual Multichannel Video Programming Distributor" — but they're also among the most important resources in the cord-cutter's toolbox. There are quite a few, including DirecTV Stream, FuboTV, Philo, Spectrum on Demand, Xfinity on Demand. The so-called FAST's — Free Ad-Supported Television — like Pluto TV are also considered vMVPD, and best of all, they are indeed free.
So, what is this vMVPD? It's a streaming service that essentially mimics what you are getting on your cable or satellite service. Most, but not all, include local broadcast TV channels like WABC/7, WCBS/2 and WNBC/4. Each is also fighting hard for your subscription. That means price breaks, but beware the asterisk: You might get a low price to sign up, which invariably goes (way) up a few weeks, or months later. The average cost should eventually run you somewhere between $70 and $80 per month.
All offer vast amounts of programming, yet each also has a different pitch. For example, Sling, the oldest (launched in 2015), claims to be the "most affordable"; FuboTV is sports-heavy; Philo says it's even cheaper than Sling; The Roku Channel is huge (and free). The giants, meanwhile, are YouTube TV (5.9 million subs) and Hulu + Live TV (4.3 million).
BOTTOM LINE YouTube TV has an eye-popping live TV grid while Hulu has bundled Disney+; advantage Hulu because it has more programming overall. But do check out the others — the differences can be critical, depending on what you want.
What kind of TV should I use?
Smart TVs — which connect to the internet — arrived in the late aughts, then took over by 2015. Most new models are fully loaded with every conceivable vMVPD or FAST app you could imagine — most of which come with a separate cost. They're also plug-and-play, while the internet (or Wi-Fi) hookup self-loads. Put another way, smart TVs were designed with the cord-cutter in mind. According to Newman, any recent model should work fine and those with outdated programs can easily be remedied with a streaming device.
BOTTOM LINE The TV you already have is (most likely) perfect for streaming.
What kind of streaming device should I use?
This is simply something you plug into the back of your set in the HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) port to help you access various streaming services. There are dozens of models, and cord-cutters typically prefer them to what their TV may have come loaded with, mostly because they're faster and offer many more functions. Major caveat: Some viewers buy (or convert) a so-called "jailbreak" device — offering third-party apps for hundreds of streaming services and channels — but they are not always safe (apps that come with malware) nor legal if the app has been pirated.
Newman — who has sampled dozens of devices — really likes Apple TV because "the interface is clean and there are no banner ads," he says. "Plus, it's fast." But he adds that it's expensive (over $100), which is where the budget models come in. Newman said that Roku — the king of streaming devices, with numerous models and prices available — "is good, very simple and affordable [but] I find the [Amazon] Fire TV Stick interface to be chaotic."
BOTTOM LINE Go for the cheap models — between $20 and $30, like Roku Express or Premiere, Google Chromecast, TiVO Stream, Fire TV Stick — then upgrade if you so choose.
If I drop Optimum or Fios, do I lose News 12 Long Island?
Since its launch in 1986, News 12 has been one of Optimum's biggest draws — and not just on Long Island, but in Westchester, New Jersey and Connecticut. But to answer the question, yes — if you cut Optimum and Fios, say goodbye to News 12. There is, however, an option — a new streaming service called "News 12 New York," which is an aggregation of feeds from the News 12 stations in the Tri State area.
BOTTOM LINE Yes, you'll lose News 12 LI but the free app "News 12 New York" does offer some Long Island content. (And I would be remiss to overlook this option for local TV news — Newsday TV, available via the Apple TV, Roku, Amazon and Google TV streaming services as well as on the Newsday website and app.)
What about sports and cord cutting?
Depending on how much sports you consume, and the teams you follow, cord cutting can offer challenges, but they are not insurmountable. Newman says "it's kind of a mess right now but I wouldn't say it's cheaper to stay with cable." One reason is that the vMVPDs offer both live TV channels and an enormous number of other sports feeds, including the suite of ESPN channels. But in most instances — not all — you'll need to pay extra for streamers MSG+ ($30 per month for Knicks, Rangers and Islanders games) and YES ($20 per month, which includes the Yankees and Nets.) Hulu has SNY, but not YouTubeTV. Fubo ($75 per month) is considered the most sports-rich of the vMVPDs. But you'll still need to pay an extra monthly $11 to get any of the various regional sports streamers, including SNY, on Fubo. Another caveat — you won't get everything on MSG+, for example, but only those games that (per MSG) "are telecast on MSG Networks in your Home Territory."
BOTTOM LINE You'll usually need to pay extra to watch your favorite local sports teams.
Can you still DVR when you cut the cord?
If you like to DVR (to skip the commercials or watch at your leisure) then streaming services have deals for you. Lots of them, and in lots of flavors. All the streaming services (vMVPD) have so-called "Cloud DVR" but some offer limited amounts of storage, others "no time limits" on how long you can store the shows; some append extra costs to the DVR function (although there's really no reason to pay for the DVR). Nevertheless, if the DVR function is really important for you, you'll need to go shopping. Hulu, for example, doesn't allow you to record every show (live TV news, for example, is especially limited). YouTube TV seems to offer the most flexibility, and ease of use.
BOTTOM LINE Get a service that actually lets you record lots of shows. YouTube TV may be the best for that.
How do you actually save money with all these streaming services?
"Streamflation'' has become the bane of cord-cutters and it's easy to see why — every month (it seems) comes with price hikes for favorite streaming services. How to fight streamflation? The answer is both complicated and remarkably easy. If there's nothing on Max ($15.99, without ads) or Paramount+ ($11.99 without ads) that you want to see, then why in heaven's name would you subscribe to either? Don't. And here's another easy option — check with your mobile phone provider to see what free streaming services they offer. On that point, make certain you have an unlimited data plan, because otherwise these can run up your phone bill.
Then there's this — Verizon started offering a $10 bundle of Netflix and Max (with ads) for customers of its so-called "unlimited" plans starting Dec. 7.
BOTTOM LINE Cancel what you don't watch.
How easy is it to cancel?
Just as the streamers have made it easy to sign up, they've also made it easy to cancel. No need to get to someone in a call center: Just hit the cancel button. Seasoned cord-cutters are adept at so-called "subscription cycling" and do not hesitate to hit that cancel button — over and over and over. It's called binge-and-bounce: You sign up for a service because there's something you really want to see ("Stranger Things" on Netflix, for example) then cancel once seen. If something else comes along in a few months, then you resubscribe. And so on. There are even tricks to this particular line of work, like signing up and canceling the same day — which in some rare instances, actually gets you a full month free for certain services. At some point, the streaming services will begin to put the brakes on this, because it's contributing to an enormous amount of churn.
BOTTOM LINE For the moment, "binge and bounce" is the single best money-saving option.
What about an antenna?
Once, long ago, TV was for free and, in fact, still is, but you will need an antenna (surely you remember them?). Some cord-cutters on Long Island have simply attached a small, cheap, flat antenna on their window or wall to receive New York stations, then subscribe to a streaming service of their choice. This cuts out the middleman — or those expensive vMVPDs offering streams of live TV. The cost of a so-called "amplified" antenna — which boosts the power of a distant signal — runs around $100 (but there are cheaper models) while non-amplified ones run anywhere from $20 to $40.
BOTTOM LINE A valuable (and cheap) option.
What's in the future for cord-cutters?
That's "the billion dollar question" said David Bloom, a Santa Monica, California-based writer and tech industry consultant, because billions are on the line. "I know this isn't a good headline, but it's nuanced," said Bloom. "The reality is that the traditional cable bundle was wildly overpriced because of practices that had been allowed to chug along for decades, and then Netflix came along. It's nuanced but it's also better. It's not necessarily a lot cheaper to cord cut than it was, nor will it stay that way, but it is better for consumers because they have more choice and they can cancel or renew services whenever they want — or stop watching altogether and go back to reading a book."
BOTTOM LINE Costs will go up, but at least there are options — excellent ones — that can help manage them.
How cord cutting has impacted cable and the entertainment biz
Cord cutting is leading the revolution that has convulsed the entire entertainment ecosystem, including Hollywood studios desperate to turn a profit for their new streaming services.
Altice, the largest cable operator on Long Island (2.4 million total video subscribers nationwide) and owner of Optimum, lost about 210,000 subscribers the first eight months of this year across all its systems, and Verizon Fios about the same, according to Durham, New Hampshire-based Leichtman Research Group. (Janet Meahan, an Altice spokeswoman, declined comment but said in an email, "I would refer to our previous earnings reports" which specify losses.)
During a 2021 interview with CNBC, then-CEO of Altice USA Dexter Goei was asked if he could "envision" a time when a cable TV service like Optimum no longer exists. "Yes, for sure," he said bluntly, "because the economics get worse and worse every year.
"Name me one person under 30 years old who has a cable video connection," he added.
Last year, Goei was succeeded by Dennis Mathews who recently told analysts that “video is an important part of our product portfolio [but] the model is broken."
. Subscribers, cord cutters and (yes) even the operators are subject to the whims of studios that have just now emerged from two punishing strikes, and have vowed to cut costs and raise prices. That could trigger the law of diminishing returns for cord cutters who will find those savings a little harder to find going forward, according to Jared Newman of Cord Cutter Weekly and other experts.
To cord cutters, cable's woes may sound like a they-got-what's-coming-to-them story, wrapped in a comforting embrace of schadenfreude and consumer vengeance. The truth, however, is more complicated. Even with annual cord cutting losses in the millions, industry leaders Comcast and Charter remain profitable because their broadband and mobile businesses are booming.
Bruce Leichtman, president and founder of the Leichtman Research Group, which tracks entertainment industry trends, explained that "what's happened the last few years is that they [cable operators] are not going after the video subscribers they used to go after [because] they simply don't make as much money from video as they used to."
Leichtman says cable companies have added many millions more in broadband (internet) and mobile phone hookups, which is where the real money is right now, he said.
Cable began in the late 1940s as a way to bring TV reception to people living in rural areas, but soon enough the nascent industry realized it could do much the same for those living in and around cities. The benefit was better reception, but eventually more channels were added alongside ABC, CBS and NBC, including pioneers like CNN, ESPN and News 12.
As cable grew, so did those channel offerings, because each time a studio like Disney renewed its so-called "carriage" agreement with operators, it demanded that they carry more and more new channels in a practice called "bundling." As bundles grew, so did the cable operators' costs, which were then passed on to the consumer.
Fast forward to the launch of Netflix's streaming service (2007) followed by a score of others. More recently, YouTube and Hulu refined their models to essentially mimic cable TV by streaming live TV channels.
The result: A cord cutting boom.
Meanwhile, there has been that parallel upheaval in the entertainment industry. Beset by labor strife and transformative viewer habits, the major studios no longer have a clue how to hold on to existing customers, says David Bloom, a Santa Monica, California-based tech industry consultant.
This September, after cable giant Charter threatened to dump Disney and its dozens of networks altogether, ESPN included, the studio caved by agreeing to let Charter drop eight lesser-viewed networks. Charter's Spectrum also now gets to carry streaming service Disney+ and ESPN's full-scale companion streaming service when that launches within the next year.
Bloom says this could be the first of many such deals as other studios also "migrate" their expensive (and so far, unprofitable) streaming services to cable as well.
If that happens, it doesn't take too much imagination to see what comes next — the much-exalted "streaming revolution" comes to a thudding stop, as streamers merge with the cable giants. — VERNE GAY