This is an invitation to join the Zero TV movement. We cut the cable cord in 2009 and have never regretted it. Our “television” entertainment is limited to Netflix streaming ($8 per month), Amazon Prime (free with my Prime membership), an occasional RedBox rental ($1.20 per movie), YouTube (lots of great TED and music videos) and free over-the-air television. Total cost per month: appx. $10. And we’re not alone.
The Associated Press reports that this Free TV’ers largely opt for Internet streaming of TV shows and movies, either on their computers or through mobile devices such as cell phones or tablets. Subscriptions to online sites like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon are climbing, eliminating the need for traditional viewing habits that require the viewer to follow network schedules and sit through commercials. Last month, the Nielsen Co. started labeling people in this group “Zero TV” households, because they fall outside the traditional definition of a TV home. There are 5 million of these residences in the U.S., up from 2 million in 2007. Nielsen’s study suggests that members of this new movement may have left traditional TV for good. While three-quarters actually have a physical TV set, only 18 percent are interested in hooking it up through a traditional pay TV subscription.
Last year, the cable, satellite and telecoms providers added just 46,000 video customers collectively, according to research firm SNL Kagan. That is tiny when compared to the 974,000 new households created last year. While it’s still 100.4 million homes, or 84.7 percent of all households, it’s down from the peak of 87.3 percent in early 2010. Broadcasters aren’t happy about this development because they only get paid when they send such programming in traditional ways. So if customers continue to drop off their radar, their revenue from Zero TV viewers will be zero.
Perhaps the shining light in TV alternatives is Chromecast. At $35, it is a very alluring proposition although currently the programming options are limited. Another intriguing option that warrants your attention is Roku. The Roku box doesn’t require any monthly fees, but some channels do require a subscription. It offers free movies and TV from Crackle, CNBC, CNET video, Disney, Fox News, Pandora and a few dozen other niche channels. Add Netflix and/or Hulu Plus and sweeten it with an occasional movie from Amazon Instant Video and you’ve got a very nice alternative to cable for far less money. The only gap in your entertainment options will be sports programming. Amazon has come out with its Fire TV which is priced in the same range as the Apple TV but offers a much faster processor (Quad-core), gaming capabilities and four times more memory. Fire TV also offers voice search and Dolby surround sound. A good comparison of the four major streaming boxes can be found here.
Another option available is “Free to air” (FTA) satellite TV which are unencrypted TV signals sent by hundreds of different stations around the world. You won’t get the subscription based sports, music or movie channels because they are encrypted. But you’ll find no shortage of programming — especially from other countries. The cost is in buying the equipment: a satellite dish, an FTA receiver box, and some coaxial cable running between dish, box, and your TV set. The dish needs to be compatible with the satellite at which you’re going to point it; however, most satellites transmitting FTA signals are compatible with the basic DTV dish available online, or at many electronics stores. Check out FTA satellite TV gear sellers like Pansat, Coolsat, and Conaxsat. The receiver box will cost a couple of hundred dollars and up. Prices vary depending on the signal formats supported and various bells and whistles (Ethernet jack, wireless in-home signal transmission, etc.) You can also buy FTA satellite TV kits which include dish, mounting hardware, coaxial cable or wireless transceivers – everything you need to get hooked up. For more helpful information, check out the FTA links and forums at the Satellite Guys website as well as the information at MyFreeFTA. The general estimate for cost of deploying a satellite system is about $200-300, (Amazon sells a system for about $250) but this upfront cost will pay for itself in less than a year compared to the monthly fee you’d pay to Dish or Direct TV.
More ideas about how to reduce your monthly TV bill are offered by Consumer Reports. It suggests:
Downsize. Investigate some of the lower-end cable service selections that offer about 20 channels — they generally cost about $30 per month. Evaluate how many channels you actually watch because you may find that a lower, cheaper tier of service would satisfy you.
Negotiate. Call your cable provider and ask for the disconnect or cancellation department. Tell them that you are considering cancelling and inquire as to whether a promotion will save you money. They’ll give you a customer-retention specialist whose job is to keep you as a subscriber. If you go this route, you may want to explore deals from other providers, as it will help you negotiate.
Switch. There isn’t much cable competition, however, satellite TV an option to explore if you like a large selection of channels. Also, check to see if Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse are serving your locale.
Streamline Hardware. Think about cutting equipment. For example, you can save $6 to $10 per month on box rental. And you may only want a set-top box on one of your TVs rather than all of them.
Bob Rankin has written a useful blog about how to deal with the cable/telco marketing monsters. He has quite a few good tips, including:
- Don’t pay extra for phone service with 700, 1400, or “unlimited” minutes if you only talk a few minutes a day. Check your bill each month to see if any new or unnecessary services are listed. You might be paying for 3-way calling, call blocking or other upsells you’ll never use.
- Don’t buy the 500 channel package with HBO/Showtime/Cinemax. You probably only watch 3 or 4 channels anyway. Check out Hulu to see all the TV shows you can get online for free.
- Don’t pay extra for “Multi-room DVR” or other optional set-top box features if you won’t use them. These extra services can tack on $10-30 a month.
- Don’t “rent” movies on demand from your Internet provider. You’ll almost certainly get a better deal and a wider selection by using a ROKU box to stream movies from Netflix or Amazon Prime. See my article Can Roku Replace Cable TV Service?
- Check to see if you can combine your monthly landline and cellular bills. Some companies offer a discount for doing so.
- Find out if there’s a discount offered to employees of your company. You may be able to save 10 to 25% on your bill.
Bob is one of our favorite tech-savvy bloggers, so check out his strategies. The Zero TV Movement is sending an important message to those companies: “we’ll pay for information but only if it is meaningful fare at a fair price.”