With the pace of technology moving so fast, it is hard to keep up and it doesn’t take long before “the next big thing” is seen as a blast from the past. But while hardware quickly becomes obsolete, from smartphones to games consoles, other inventions go from strength to strength.
Cord cutting entertainment services aren’t showing any sign of slowing in popularity – the number of households using only streaming services for entertainment, with no traditional cable and analogue TV services at all, has tripled in the last 5 years in the US alone. In the UK, there are now more people using streaming services than there are subscribers to ordinary pay TV.
The concept of “cord cutting” may be fairly new, but it refers to something that many of us have been moving towards for some time. If you’re unfamiliar with the territory, here are the facts on what it is, how it works and the pros and cons of cutting the cord.
What exactly is ‘cord cutting’?
The term ‘cord cutting’ refers to entertainment services which rely on your internet connection rather than a fixed satellite dish or aerial. This includes online streaming of entertainment, through services like Chromecast, Amazon’s Firestick and Roku. As well as plug-and-play streaming tools, subscription streaming channels like Netflix, Hulu and NowTV also fall into the cord cutter category.
For anyone who owns a smart TV, you may have a Netflix button on your remote control and apps like this and Hulu pre-installed. If you have an older LED TV, you won’t have cord cutters built in, but can easily invest in a streaming box so that you don’t miss out. Services tend to fall into two categories; video-on-demand (which covers Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and similar services) and live TV streaming (through things like NowTV, Sling TV and DirecTV).
The concept is simple: instead of having to watch TV at the prescribed broadcast times and only from the address where a cable package or TV aerial is set up, streaming services allow you watch what you want, when you want, where you want. Video-on-demand providers often boast exclusive or original movies and TV series that you can’t watch on any other service, while live TV streamers give you the channels you’re used to, but accessible wirelessly over a range of devices, and from any location.
The pros and cons of cutting the cord
So I can have everything I had before, and more, and I can watch shows whenever I want to – and even tune in from a train journey, or from a friend’s house… what’s the catch?
Cord cutters offer a host of major benefits, but there are plenty of things to consider when you’re deciding whether to make streaming services an add-on to your usual entertainment packages or whether to cut the cord entirely and do away with traditional TV. Here are a few of the highlights and hindrances.
One of the main selling points of cord cutting is portability. Whether it’s video-on-demand or live TV, streaming services allow you to access entertainment across smartphones, tablets, TVs, and laptops all from the same account. Provided you have a WiFi connection, you can tune in from anywhere – no longer limited to the household, you could watch the latest blockbuster while waiting to catch a flight, or catch up on your favorite series from a coffee shop. Better still, many video-on-demand services allow downloading for offline viewing.
- No need to schedule recordings
Flicking through the TV listings to work out which bits of a scheduling clash with your social life and work shifts is a serious pain. And even worse, many cable TV packages don’t allow you to record several things at once – so if you’re out for the day and there are two or three shows on that you want to watch, you have to decide which one to miss. Not so with cord cutters, which allow you unrestricted access to catch-up TV and a constant library of content, whenever you have the time to watch.
- No long-term contracts
While there are basic freeview options for standard TV, people hoping to watch sports and movies, or to simply have a wider range of channels, often find themselves tied in to lengthy contract commitments. With cord cutters, the vast majority work on rolling monthly subscriptions, meaning that you can cancel any time you like without incurring extra fees.
Pay TV contracts can get seriously expensive, particularly if you’re planning to watch a lot of sports or want to tune in to movie channels. While you will need to pay for a home internet connection in order to use cord cutters, most of us are already doing this in addition to paying for TV.
When you look at the monthly or annual cost of streaming services in comparison to traditional connections, it quickly becomes clear that even combining three or more streaming services can work out cheaper than paying for just one ordinary TV package each month.
- You need a reliable connection
While cable TV can fall victim to poor signal issues in bad weather, streaming services can be affected by a generally poor internet connection. If you know your broadband provider often leaves you wanting more, with YouTube videos buffering endlessly and web pages that are slow to load, it may be that they also impact your ability to stream. Double-check the connection speeds on offer so you know if your internet service can keep up.
- There are geo-restrictions
Some streaming services are only available in certain countries, while others offer different catalogs of entertainment to different parts of the world. You can bypass these restrictions in many instances by using a VPN to spoof your location, but some services would rather you stuck to the shows in your own country’s catalog. Of course, pay TV doesn’t give you the option of watching international cinema and TV either – so this hindrance isn’t unique to cord cutters.
- Some sports are limited to certain services
If you’re a big sports fan, you might find that some matches are occasionally blacked out on cord cutter services for licensing reasons. Additionally, it’s highly likely you’re going to want to watch big games as they happen rather than catching up later – meaning you’ll need to make sure you have live TV streaming as well as video-on-demand, so you don’t miss out.
They may not be totally perfect, but cord cutting is definitely worth exploring, particularly if you’re bored of flicking through TV channels playing the same old shows time and time again. With many new series being broadcast exclusively on apps like Netflix and Hulu, it’s safe to say that even if you aren’t getting rid of cable TV entirely just yet, the time has very much arrived for combining your usual package with the easy-come, easy-go world of online streaming.
Are you a traditional TV user or only online streaming services? Let us know in the comments!
Visual journalist/Graduating student, University of Missouri-Columbia. Lover of everything in the gaming industry and an avid fan of all films!