Q: What Is Cord Cutting and What Are My Options Afterwards?

A: Cord cutting is a popular term describing the consumer movement away from traditional cable services. For those of you who enjoy your local news, tons of sports via ESPN, PBS shows, and have finally gotten the hang of recording regularly scheduled programming on your DVR/TIVO, 'cutting' that cable cord may not be for you. For the rest, cord cutting may result in one of the following structures.

Bare bones: For some of us on fixed incomes, eliminating cable may have become a financial necessity. After all, decades ago, people just watched broadcast TV in their homes for free, with rabbit ear antennas and networks putting out content and commercials each evening. Stations would go off the air late night and resume broadcasting in the early morning starting with the national anthem. 


Since 2009, analog signals were replaced with digital feeds, but you can still get free 'over the air' programming by investing in a digital antenna/box (similar to the 'rabbit ears' setup). Inputting my residential address to a website like www.tvfool.com tells me that I can receive almost 20 stations by using a set top box antenna, and if I had the DIY knowledge to install a rooftop antenna, another half dozen stations are possible. Another website, www.AntennaWeb.org, provides a wealth of information on antennas.

If you have a DVD player, local libraries may have a nice DVD collection; ours charges $1 for borrowing each DVD. An entire season of your favorite TV show usually fits on 3-6 DVDs, so you can view one to two dozen episodes, depending on the show, for $3-6. Of course, you'd be viewing older seasons on DVD, and sometimes out of sequential order if someone else has borrowed a disk out of the set.

Meal: A second category of cord cutters are those looking to decrease their total monthly budget from the typical $100-150 cable bill to around $75. This may mean negotiating with your provider for a plan which provides only internet data access. Depending on your location, this type of plan might be provided by a 'dish' satellite company, 'DSL' or 'fiber' telecommunications (cellular) carrier, or 'cable' via conglomerates like TimeWarner or Comcast (which might include some 'basic' stations with that package).

Once you have internet access that is hopefully 'unlimited' and fairly speedy, you can stream TV shows and movies to video playing devices such as your laptop, tablet or smartphone.

A glance through the Apple App Store tells me that the ABC, A&E, CBS, CW, History Channel, Lifetime, NBC and USA networks all have apps from which you can 'on demand' view full length episodes of selected shows. Some networks will give you certain older episodes for free, but charge you a monthly subscription fee to see entire seasons or the most recent episode. A lot of these apps seem to stream video to U.S. viewers only.

Additionally, there are websites available through desktop and laptop internet browsers that provide no-cost movie and TV show content, such as the 'free' version of Hulu.

Fine dining: Finally, there are those who have cut their cords not necessarily for financial reasons, but to better personalize their viewing options through 'a la carte' offerings, and/or to make a point to cable monopolies providing overly expensive packages and poor customer service.  When you add up all of the options below, your overall cost may end up being similar to your currently bloated cable bill, but you'll have more flexibility and control.

First, with a high-speed internet data plan and home media hardware (TV, speakers), you can hook up little set top receiver boxes, such as Roku, AppleTV, Chromecast, or Amazon Fire players. All of these boxes will stream onto your TV the internet content provided by common providers such as Netflix and HuluPlus (the 'premium' version), while various players will offer different content. If you already own a large video collection purchased through Apple's iTunes Store, then the AppleTV box might be your preference. If you have Amazon's Prime Service, the Amazon Fire player may be a better choice. If you like YouTube videos, make sure your box selection accommodates that platform. Google's Chromecast is useful for 'casting' content from your mobile device onto your big screen TV. The prices and features of these boxes vary, so you'll need to do some research on which one(s) best meet your needs.

Finally, you'll add on your monthly subscriptions, including HuluPlus for $8 a month (mobile device streaming, Korean dramas, and full TV seasons), Netflix for $9 (movies, TV seasons, documentaries), and/or Amazon Prime (where your annual $99 membership fee for expedited shipping includes free video streaming offerings, go figure).

With so much available content, hardcore TV addicts have started to 'binge watch', for example, an entire past season of their favorite show over a single weekend, yikes! As cord cutting becomes more predominant, content providers are starting to create their own productions, such as Netflix's 'House of Cards', in order to entice viewers to their service. Even HBO, who has been sensitive about alienating their decades old cable partners, recently announced that they'll provide standalone subscriptions next year, though pricing was not specified. 

We're interested in seeing how long it'll take before the 'new' medium is commonplace, and whether Netflix and HuluPlus' original programming will generate buzz and Emmy awards.