Tuesday, June 9, 2015

"Cutting the cord" with Sling TV

With summer vacation upon us, here's an idea to try something different and save a few bucks.

“Cord cutting.”

The idea that consumers can live without traditional pay TV service has been bubbling under the surface for years now, but 2015 is shaping up to be the year when the pieces fall in place to actually make it cost effective and easy.

Over six months since “cutting the cord” at the Short household, it is safe to say nobody in my family misses it.  We’ve found out  that when it comes to TV, our household is like a growing number of homes across the country.

The TV we watch comes from a relatively limited number of channels, and the way we watch TV has fundamentally changed with the advent of streaming.

Last year, the ratings people at Nielsen put out a study showing that while the average number of channels in pay TV packages ballooned from 129 in 2008 to 189 in 2013, the average number of channels watched per household only went from 17.3 to 17.5.

Over that same time more and more households have moved a larger portion of their TV viewing to online streaming via so called Over The Top (OTT) services like Netflix.  By the end of 2014 40% of households subscribed to at least one streaming service.

I didn't know it at the time we made the decision to cut the cord, but between those two statistics it's clear our household falls right into that trend.  The fact that we watch relatively few channels and most of our TV content is streamed led to the decision, and it would appear, many more households are coming to that conclusion as well.

For the first time ever, the traditional pay TV industry lost customers in Q1 of a calendar year – losing a net of 31k subscribers.  That was down from roughly 370k net adds last year, or a 400k swing.  That's an ominous sign when one considers 2015 is shaping up to be the year when many of the gaps in the streaming landscape will close.

Those gaps will close with the advent of “skinny bundles” via services like Sling TV which launched in February and the rollout of HBO Now as a standalone product.

In the interest of transparency, I've been given a “reviewer account” from Sling TV for the past few months which means I'm getting it for free.  That account also includes HBO.

So, what do you get with Sling TV?

For $20/month, you get 22 traditional channels including cable stalwarts like TBS, TNT, ESPN, ESPN2, AMC, Disney Channel, History Channel, Food Network, Travel Channel, HGTV, and CNN. The Weather Channel is reportedly also on the way.  For $5 a piece,  you can add on different channel packages containing several channels each in categories like Family, News, Sports and Movies.

The big “get” here though is ESPN.  Until Sling TV launched, the only way to get ESPN was through a traditional pay TV subscription.  For an additional $15/month, Sling TV is also one of the first avenues to get HBO via streaming.

So, what are the trade-offs for lower monthly bills?

A lot has been written about the so called limitations of the platform such as its single stream setup (meaning the account can only be accessed by one devise at a time) and the lack of a DVR.  Those have been a non-issue for my household.

If I'm watching sports and my kids want to watch something else, they are on Netflix anyway, so that limitation doesn't matter.  Also, if I just want the TV on for back ground or to watch something mindless there's always something on TBS, TNT, Food Network, or HGTV that falls into that category.  You don't need  DVR for that, but Hulu Plus basically provides the same functionality as a DVR for most broadcast network shows if that's something you must have.

Another common criticism of Sling TV is that it doesn't have local broadcast channels.  No, it doesn't, but a $30 digital antenna works just fine on the living room TV.

Yes, the channel selection is limited, but remember, most of you are only watching 17 stations anyway.  The only cable channel I personally watch that's not included on Sling TV
Is FX.  For the political junkies out there, there's also no MSNBC or Fox News.

If these things are something you can't live without, then maybe cord cutting is not for you.

Me? I’ll take the $850/year we’re saving off of our old cable bill and put that towards our next summer vacation.

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