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Running With Scissors: 7 Myths About Cutting the Cable Cord

If cord-cutting is on the rise, why are there more cable subscribers than ever? We're busting the cord-cutting myths everyone takes for granted.
Updated

My household cut the metaphorical cable cord about five years ago, so I've watched this idea evolve in the media from "insane notion" to "trending trendy trend" to "cable industry crisis." If the headlines are to be believed, consumers are abandoning traditional TV in droves, embracing ever-easier-to-use streaming gadgets and apps, and watching their favorite shows mere minutes after they hit the usual airwaves.

But the truth is actually a lot more complicated than the news has led you to believe. In an effort to help you decide whether cable abandonment is right for you, we're tackling seven major cord-cutting myths. To that end, we've borrowed some official Mythbusters terms, labeling each myth either busted or plausible. (None of them were confirmed.) Read on to find out whether all cord-cutters are pirates, how much money you could actually save, and more!

Myth 1: Cable-Cutting is on the Rise

Status: BUSTED

This is probably the biggest myth of them all, that millions of cable subscribers are abandoning their post. Cord-cutting proponents and industry doomsayers alike point to big losses at Comcast and Time Warner.

"Focusing on the travails of the biggest cable companies obscures the reality that ... the total number of pay-TV subscribers is slightly higher now than it was at the end of 2008 and that there were probably more people paying for television subscriptions at the end of 2013 than at the end of 2012," writes Bloomberg. The article points to subscription gains at AT&T's U-Verse and Verizon's FiOS services, as well as an increase in satellite subscribers. For now at least, the paid-TV model doesn't seem to be under that much of a threat.

Myth 2: All Cord-Cutters are Pirates

Status: BUSTED

Of course, I've never pirated any media for any reason ever. (Stealing is wrong, kids!) But hypothetically speaking, there may have been a time when getting your favorite TV shows and movies without cable involved a trip down BitTorrent lane. (Stealing is wrong, kids!)

However, there are way more legal options around nowadays. Amazon Prime members get free streaming, Netflix lets you binge-watch to your heart's content, Hulu Plus grants access to the latest TV episodes, and some networks will let you watch episodes of popular shows on their websites for free.

Are all of these options free? No, but neither is piracy. Even assuming you never get caught (and therefore dodge any legal fees and fines), you'd still have to pay for a VPN at the very least.

Myth 3: Cutting Cable Will Save You a LOT of Money

Status: PLAUSIBLE

Cable is expensive, especially if you're paying for a premium package. But don't assume that cutting the cord will automatically save you a bundle.

For one thing, there's the start-up price. The initial hardware costs can run anywhere from $30 (for a streaming stick like the Chromecast) to $99 for a media receiver (like a Roku or Apple TV) to almost $500 (for an Xbox One). If you're the DIY sort, you can build your own HTPC (home theater PC) and the only limit on price will be what you can stomach. Don't forget your Internet bill — if you're not bundling cable and Internet anymore, your ISP will probably charge you more.

Once you've got the hardware, you'll start getting your media à la carte from the streaming service(s) of your choice. As mentioned above, each service offers a little something different, so you might end up with multiple subscriptions, each costing $7 or more per month. If some movies or TV shows aren't offered by your favored streaming service, you can always rent them from iTunes or Google Play for about $1 to $3 a piece. For sure, all of this is probably still cheaper than paying the cable company hundreds or thousands of dollars a year, but it's easy to lose track of all those little purchases.

Myth 4: Cutting the Cord is Your Only Option for a Cheaper Cable Bill

Status: BUSTED

If you're not the dickering type, this myth is awfully hard to bust. But walking away from cable entirely is not your only option for a cheaper bill, because bargaining for a lower price from the cable company works fairly often. However, we suggest you consult one of the many guides to negotiating a better bill that are available online before calling them up and asking nicely.

In general, you'll have a better chance of lowering your bill if there's at least one competitor in your area. Also, be aware that simply choosing a cheaper plan with fewer channels could be the right option for you.

Myth 5: You'll Still Be Able to Watch All Your Favorite Recent Shows

Status: BUSTED

The key word in this myth is "all." If you want to see the very latest episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., then follow that link and enjoy. But if you want the latest episode of Game of Thrones, then you're legally out of luck if you've cut cable. Of course, even if you're one of the naughty people who've "borrowed" an HBO Go password, you're probably not going to see the show on the night it airs. When it comes to cable-exclusive content, cord-cutters just have to avoid spoilers until the Blu-ray release ... or become pirates.

Myth 6: It'll be Easy to Watch Live Sports

Status: BUSTED

Have you ever watched the ESPN website's football play tracker while streaming a radio broadcast of the game and trying to follow the action via tweets? Don't bother, it's depressing. For someone who grew up obsessively watching football, missing my games has been the worst part of losing cable. Yes, you can buy a streaming pass from the NFL, NBA, NHL, or MLB to watch out-of-market games, but that's essentially useless if you root for the home team.

"Home games are blacked out in the first place to protect local cable stations from losing viewers," TechHive explains. "More television providers are becoming willing to provide streaming access to live video ... so long as they are accessed by paying subscribers, not cord-cutters."

It's worth noting that casual sports fans may be able to pick up a few local games with an antenna, but your reception results will vary. For now, sports remain the Achilles heel for cord-cutters.

Myth 7: Cutting the Cord is So Easy, Anyone Can Do it!

Status: PLAUSIBLE

We're calling this myth "plausible" because it's absolutely true that anyone can give up cable and go digital — but it is by no means easy. Our very own Jeff Somogyi had some trouble setting up the Google Chromecast, and was initially underwhelmed by its features. (He's since gotten used to the device and sings its praises to anyone who'll listen.)

The keys to cutting the cord seem to be perseverance, practice, and time. Giving up cable can be a scary thing, but it isn't a bad thing. (I've certainly never looked back!)

However, if cutting the cord seems too complicated for you right now, give it a few months. More apps and media streamers are being invented all the time, so the right device for you could just be waiting in the wings. If you are ready to cut the cord, then make sure you know what you're signing up for — before you break out the scissors.

Looking for more details on how to take the plunge? Be sure to check out our guide to streamers, as well as Gizmodo's fairly thorough cord-cutting walk-through.


Features Writer

Marcy pens consumer news stories of all sorts, in addition to adding pithy prose to many of the roundups you see every day. Her work for DealNews has appeared on sites like Lifehacker, the Huffington Post, and MSN Money. She is by far the most metal member of the DealNews staff, and you can see why by following her on Twitter @ThatBonebright.
Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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29 comments
weiliwang
Who wouldn't want to cut the cord assuming we can still get AT LEAST what we currently get at a lower price? I tried cutting the cord a few months ago but failed.

I watch on average 10 shows at any given season and almost never watch them as they are aired but would sometimes watch it later that night or the next day. However, between Amazon, Hulu and Netflix, I simply can't get all the shows I watch in one place ready for me when I want to watch them.

For the most part, cutting the cord only makes sense for people who don't already watch TV shows as they are aired or don't mind searching for their favorite shows across different services.
Ricochet-Rabbit
I bought a DirecTV kit from Wards when the service first came out. Started off at $25 a month and was over $70 when I canceled 6 years ago. No movie channels, just extended basic plan. Watched maybe 4 channels, the rest were garbage.

When digital broadcast TV began, I installed a high quality Winegard antenna with a remote rotator. I get over 60 channels from 3 major cities. Plenty of free entertainment there.

Next is my FTA satellite dish. 1 meter Ku dish, rotator and receiver. I get about 1,000 TV and radio channels from all over the planet. There is always something interesting on plus live feeds of news and sports. The programming is free and legal. Equipment can be had for under $300 but you need a brain to install and set it up.

Two Roku boxes and two Logitech Revues get me everything else I need. Only thing I pay for is Netflix. JustinTV and Youtube are never ending sources of TV shows and movies.

With all equipment + Netflix, I'm over $4,000 to the good and counting.
ShastaJones
I cut my Directv and later my cell phone and got a prepaid. I buy $30 of airtime every two months. I subscribe to Amazon Prime and there is a lot of free stuff for me to watch. Sometimes I rent or buy a movie but I'd do that anyway. Hulu has free stuff. YouTube has free stuffI don't have to see the latest. I also get shipping of items. I subscribe to MLB.TV. The Tigers rarely play the Dimondbacks or Rockies so most of the games are available and I can always watch games when they are archived. I had Amazon Prime and MLB anyway. I've been able to cut my bill from $135 a month to $70 a month. Movies and TV shows are after all....entertainment.
hutuka
Well, pirates get the best deals FYI.
DurkinM
You article mentions nothing about broadcast television. That is free and can be accessed with an inexpensive antenna. Even in rural Georgia I am able to pick up about 20 channels including PBS, NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, The CW, and some independent channels. Paired with hulu, amazon or Netflix and you're in business.
tradderjohn
cut the cord, saving 70 a month.
puggsly
Not a bad article, but you WAY understate the savings to cord cutting. The difference between bundled data/TV and just data is only about $10 and the average cable bill for just TV is $80-$100 so we are starting with a $70+ savings. That should pay for the streaming box in the first month or two even if you subscribe to Netflix, hulu and amazon prime. (about $8 each).

As for not having access to "everything"! I think you over state that too with the exception of sports. OTA antenna helps with local broadcasts, and many sports allow for subscriptions (just not the NFL...yet)

Lastly cord cutting is on the rise, but you are correct it is not going to put cable companies out of business any time soon. The real threat is how quickly the barriers are coming down. It will be common place 3-5 years from now!
jmackinac
I tried the aforementioned wiziwig.com to see how easy it would be to stream sports live and let me tell you....it is a total piece of $h!T.
jmackinac
I am about to cut the cord. I already have Amazon Prime for $100 per year on now they will carry HBO content. All I need is an HD antenna and to add a TV card to computer tower to use it as a DVR with Windows Media Center. I'll have broadcast networks, plus Amazon Prime, plus movies from youtube and other movie sources. I'm good.
jmackinac
For those with a bundle with phone service, try the MagicJack Plus...that is if you even need a homephone beyond your cell service. The MagicJack Plus (if it works for you) is SO cheap and works great. I don't even talk on that phone, but I have younger kids, so we need a home phone. What I love about it is that when we do get a call and the person leaves a voicemail, I get an email on my smartphone with a recording of the voicemail, so I can callback right away.
TheOracle
I haven't had cable TV in years. We only get cable Internet service. I have a digital antenna (~$25 I think) and we have a Netflix account. The digital antenna comes in really clear, and I can watch Bones on Fox every week. My 8 year old daughter watches lots of stuff on Netflix without commercials. So, we're good! :)

Had a DirectTV guy stop me in Sam's Club one day & asked who I currently had for cable TV service. Told him I had antenna & Netflix. He laughed and said "Well, I guess I can't save you any money then." That's right, you can't! haha
ecartailler
For all sports, worldwide, try wiziwig.com

For movies, veetle.com

Peer 2 peer broadcasting, watching is not pirating !

Hence, enjoy free online sports and movies....

If you dig a little on peer to peer broadcasting, you will discover some many sources to watch free programming you will not believe how stupid we are to pay comcast and verizon big $$$ for junk programming !!!!
Allyson
As long as we can watch TWD, we're okay! :D
tomdew
Marcy is works for Comcast.
I've never heard such lame excuses for not dropping CATV.
It's the biggest rip-off utility in the 21st century.
I pay more a month for cable than my electrical power bill.
stonefire
depends on your market, where I live Cable is the only way to get decent high speed internet so that is one cable I cannot cut or i will be watching over the air stuff only (and not posting here :) )
Ardbeg
The Roku plus the WatchESPN app (plus an HD antenna) gets me most college football. Now can you get WatchESPN? That's the question. Most universities have it for free, so we used to use my wife's VPN when she was in school. With some cable companies, you'll get access if you use their Internet (without having to enter login credentials, even if you don't have cable). You can test this by trying watchespn.com on a computer. Lastly, maybe you have a close friend that doesn't watch ESPN that will share their credentials...
moremiles
Sponsored by the cable company Marcy? Most people already have computers that can stream videos with no start up cost. We use to have 200+ cable channels with nothing to watch paying over a $100/month. Now, with free over the air to a dvr on my computer, Netflix and Dramafever we have more than enough to watch. One month of cable pays for a year of Netflix. Also gradually stopped watching as much sports. I can go to a brew house and get good beer and food if I really wanted to watch a game but gradually have less desire to. The biggest impact will come from the younger generation. None of my kids watch TV and only stream videos and play games off the computer. They also don't watch sports like the older generation maybe because of other interests or they are only available through ESPN/cable. I can see sports interest will drop dramatically with the next generation.
kyungone
I like watching sports (ESPN) and my wife like to watch home/cooking channels (HGTV, Food Network).

We thought we could never give up the cable but decided to quit it and give Netflix a chance. I am not saying Netflix is a alternative to cable but hey it definitely helped.

When I had triple bundle I paid almost $120 a year but with cable only and Netflix I've been paying around $60. That's a $700 saving a year. It may not sounds a much but every penny helps.
from50613
The cost savings was not that great for me. By time I lost my discount for bundled services, completed start-up costs, paid fees for 2 services, added in movie rental costs, I ended up saving about $12-15 per month.

I am fortunate where I live as the cable company is a co-op that has not start/stop charges. What I do is alternate between full cable/DVR in the cold months, and stream in the spring/summer watching almost exclusively movies. Not for the savings but for the viewing options.
deanjott
How about this for an alternative: if like me you don't watch sports just give up TV all together. It's hard for a few months but then I now have so much more time to enjoy life. I'm not a vegetable in front of the tube now.
codelemur
If you're a college sports fan, there's really no way to cut the cord because most college games are still carried on cable (the ESPN family, the Fox family and the new conference networks). You may get a few really big games on the major over-the-air networks, but the majority are still carried on cable.

As soon as someone figures out how to get college games on the Internet, even if I have to pay a separate service to stream them to my AppleTV, I'll immediately cancel my cable subscription. I don't need the 50 billion reality TV channels I don't care about.

But the cable companies know this which is why they pay mega money to keep ESPN and friends happy.
thebigtverberg
Marcy,
Yup, and my fingers are crossed but the pessimist within me knows the results of a legal battle consisting of a start-up company vs. a trillion dollar conglomeration.
kmartin173
I'd have to disagree somewhat about sports, I can get all of my local channels with my over-the-air antenna and the picture is even better than HD through cable or satellite. You won't get all of the ESPN events but there's plenty of NFL, MLB, NBA, NASCAR and PGA golf to watch.
dealnews-mbonebright
thebigtverberg --
Funny you should mention Aereo. The Supreme Court is hearing a case today to decide the company's fate:
http://gawker.com/...e-court-weighs-the-1565679614
thebigtverberg
Also, (for as longs as it's still alive) for those people whom don't get good local signal, and love the idea of Tivo and watching local tv on your mobile, check out aereo.com.
thebigtverberg
I hate ads/commercials...much more than the average consumer I presume. I can put up with them when the content is free, but I will kill/skirt them when possible, (Ad-Blocker, Public Radio, Grooveshark). Though, I cannot fathom how anyone could endure paying to watch them. Over 30% advertisement! If cable was Ad free, I'd be tempted, but until then we will be watching mostly Netflix and Prime. I realize we are missing some great shows, and are two seasons behind everyone else, but I just WILL NOT PAY to watch advertisements. Luckily I have little interest in sports, "reality TV", nor whatever it is the History Channel calls their content nowadays.
Dodol
I cancel the cable about 4 years ago, now with netblix and redbox. It's not just about saving money, I just can't stand reality show.
nimer
I think it boils down to how much TV do you watch, you have to be honest with yourself to decide if cord cutting is good for you. For me, I used to watch a lot of TV but in 2007 made the decision that it's taking a lot of time, so cutting the cord was a theraputic way of controling that. At first it was hard, I would rent many TV shows from iTunes and others, but then I think it balanced out.

Now I only watch TV via digital antenna, and if I miss it, I use Hulu. I also have Netflix, and if I want the latest movies rent one from RedBox or ExpressDVD, both of which have boths within 5 blocks from where I live (I live in a very walkable city).

My 'TV' bill does not exceed $15
johnnylately
Every year or two me and my family talk about dropping cable TV (when our 1 or 2 year contract runs out). When I call Charter they will offer a better deal and I just get another contract. This year we are talking about dropping TV and phone, so I'm hoping to save quite a bit, enough to cover a Hulu subscription (we already have Netflix and Amazon Prime). Since we rarely watch cable TV anymore I think we'll be able to pull the plug this year.
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