2020 Cord Cutting State Of The Union

TV

My fellow Earthlings,

It has been a little over 7 years since we ditched cable, and it’s been interesting to watch the evolution of Cord Cutting. It has gone from a back-room whispered, almost hush-hush dirty little secret to a mainstream topic of conversation and a valid choice to consider. In September of 2019, PC Mag reported that the majority of US households – a whopping 74% – have a streaming service.

Over the years, there have been some attacks against Cord Cutting – many of those attacks coming from cable service providers themselves. The leading criticism being that you can’t actually save money, and may actually end up paying more than just holding onto your cable or satellite service. I won’t go into all of the details and the math here, but this is fundamentally false with a few exceptions – the biggest being consumers who feel driven to sign up for multiple streaming services.

It also brings me back full circle to I point I have repeated over and over again, and will continue to repeat. That is, saving money isn’t as much of a driving factor as is choice and quality of programming available. The fact is, perhaps the greatest outcome of the growing popularity of Cord Cutting has been what I like to refer to as The Split Off Effect, in which networks have decided to create their own streaming channels with their own content and original programming. Perhaps the highest profile example of this has been the successful launch of Disney+ as well as the highly anticipated launch of NBCUniversal’s peacock.

We have literally gone from “how in the world will I make this work?” to the point of having a dizzying amount of choices! Which, in my opinion, is a good thing. We are no longer pigeon holed into having to accept bloated, over-priced cable bundles with little to no choice in what programming we receive, to an almost overwhelming amount of cable free choices.

So how do you make sense of it all? How do you choose from the hundreds, even thousands, of streaming channels / services you may see in the channel store of your device of choice? A great place to start is Consumers Advocate’s in-depth reviews of some of the more prominent, well known content providers as well as others many may not be familiar with. The team of researchers there have taken the time to analyze each service based on criteria such as Plans & Trial Periods, Supported Devices, and so on. You may want to do yourself a favor and bookmark this site, as the team keeps it updated (last update as of this writing was February 15, 2020). Also, don’t forget to visit my Bare Bones Cord Cutting article, in which I highlight what I still consider to be some of the best FREE options available.

As always, please feel free to reach out with any comments or suggestions and stay tuned for more reviews and picks as the world of Cord Cutting continues to grow!

Bare Bones Cord Cutting

free

Nowadays there appears to be an over abundance of streaming channels and services for Cord Cutters to choose from. Though competition historically means more choice for consumers, it can also lead to confusion for those considering cord cutting. From choices like Sling, YouTube TV, and Playstation VUE to the flurry of newcomers like the much anticipated Disney+, it can all get to be overwhelming and quite frankly expensive for those who are unsure of what their best options are. This has also lead to the continued stream of misinformation from networks and cable providers alike telling consumers that cord cutting is actually more expensive than simply sticking with cable. See Cord Cutters News’ recent rebuttal to NBC’s recent anti – cord cutting story here.

But what if you truly want to break free from pay TV altogether? Let’s face it – almost all streaming services that are in use today are nothing short of pay TV. And the fact that so many networks are breaking free and pulling their content from the likes of Netflix in favor of launching their own pay to stream services has even lead some to believe that this is all part of a clever tactic by the networks and cable providers to scare consumers back to cable or, worse yet, to set the cable providers up for future offerings of “bundled” streaming content much like standard cable packages.

So is there truly a way to still enjoy quality content without paying for any streaming service? The answer is OF COURSE YOU CAN!!

Start With The Basics

I’m sure by now you’ve heard it time and time again, from myself or any number of online sources, that the very foundation of your cord cutting setup should be an antenna. There are many to choose from, and what you buy depends primarily on your location, as well as simple cosmetics. Check out Channel Master’s extensive list of antennas here. Another recourse I like to suggest is this handy tool from Antenna Web that helps you pinpoint signal strengths of the over-the-air channels closest to you, thus giving you a general idea of the number of channels you can expect to receive. I personally receive 42 over the air channels with my antenna.

Expect Change

Back when I first decided to end our ties with cable, one of the first things my wife and I considered was the fact that we would be willingly giving up on some shows and specials that we had become accustomed to watching – primarily those on premium channels like HBO. We asked ourselves, “do we absolutely HAVE TO have those shows?” as well as, “are these shows worth it?” Obviously the answer for us was ultimately “no”. Moreover, we also wanted to change TV viewing habits in our household overall – from reducing the amount of TV consumed overall, to the type of content available in our home. Simply put, we wanted change. As such, if you want to take on a bare-bones, free approach to Cord Cutting, be ready for change. I believe that you will find it to be a refreshing (and of course cheaper) change!

And Now, Without Further Ado…

Here is my list of what I consider to be some of the best free options available today. Keep in mind, these aren’t the only free streaming channels available, and results will vary. However, I suggest anyone who hasn’t tried them yet should at least give them a test drive.

PlutoTV

Up first is considered by many to be the champion of free streaming services – Pluto Tv.

Pluto Tv offers a traditional, grid style guide setup with 100+ channels available, including some of your own local channels (my Pluto includes 6 local channels). There are also hundreds of on-demand movies and TV shows available. Although its interface is pretty straight-forward, it can be a bit clunky at times but folks at Pluto TV keep a very regular update cycle so the app continues to improve. One other notable criticism is the sometimes ill-placed ads (commercials) but Pluto seems to be getting better with that over time as well.

SonyCrackle

I surprise myself including Sony Crackle on this list, but the fact is it has done nothing but get better over time. Before it’s re-branding, I had used Crackle before but found it to be simply atrocious. Poor content offerings and HORRIBLY ill-placed ads while viewing were my major reasons for hating it. But since Sony’s acquisition in 2006, it has seen some much needed improvements on both of those fronts as well as others. However, it is worth noting that it has been sold off once again, this time to Popcornflix owners CSS Entertainment, with an announced re-branding to “Crackle Plus”. It’s not clear at the moment if the “Plus” will mean “no longer free”, but for the time being it’s still a worthy free option to consider. You will also find many reviewers still rank Sony Crackle anywhere from “poor” to “don’t even bother”. Perhaps I’m a bit more forgiving by considering the fact that it’s FREE, it is at least worth having.

XumoTV

What would happen if Panasonic and MySpace had a baby, you may wonder? It would be Xumo. Dad jokes aside, that’s truly what Xumo is – a joint venture between MySpace parent company Viant and Panasonic, started in 2011. Xumo offers over 160 live streaming and on-demand channels (my personal favorite being the “This Old House” channel). It also offers the ability to create favorite channels, so that you don’t have to keep going back to the guide to find the channels you watch most. The interface itself is clean and well laid out, although I find it to have a very sluggish response time. Hopefully that will continue to improve with subsequent updates.

tubi

Launched in 2014, tubitv is nothing short of a “must-have” in any Cord Cutter’s arsenal of free streamers. With lucrative deals with the likes of NBC Universal, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Lionsgate, Warner Brothers, and Paramount Pictures, it touts a hefty library of over 7,500 movies and TV shows. The interface is well organized, and the app itself streams well without sluggishness or buffering.

STIRR

Sinclair Broadcast Group’s streaming offering STIRR is more of a local-focused service, with a focus on local news and sports. with additions such as Dove Channel , Dust Anthology and Cheddar News sprinkled in. Its most interesting feature is Stirr City, from which you can select the primary city you want to view content from. Select your closest metro location (if available) to view content from that area. These cities are divided geographically by East, West, Midwest and South with major cities in each area being added over time.

kanopy

Lastly, and certainly not least, is kanopy. Kanopy is an on-demand streaming video platform for public libraries and universities that offers viewers a large collection of award-winning films and documentaries. Kanopy includes children’s programming with its subdivision Kanopy Kids. To use Kanopy, you simply need a library card. Once you setup your account, you will have access to thousands of titles available at your local participating library. If your local library isn’t a participant, chances are a library near you is. You can change libraries from within the Kanopy account setup page to a participating library near you. For the most part, all libraries have the same content because Kanopy licenses the films for distribution directly from the owners. Sometimes the distribution rights differ in markets so that public libraries may have access to fewer or more titles than the academic libraries. Kanopy currently touts a selection of a whopping 30,000 titles. What sets it apart from the other free streamers is the lack of ads. The service is dependent on libraries subscribing on behalf of their members, so library members are not charged directly for using the service. The libraries provide the service through tax dollars or tuition.

And Finally….

As I mentioned earlier, these are of course not the only free streaming services available. Rather, I believe these are good starting points for those looking for free alternatives to the continued onslaught of pay services.

One important factor to keep in mind is the old axiom of finance – “there is no such thing as a free lunch”. As such, these content providers have to pay licensing fees in some way, so as one might imagine it boils down to advertising. Yep, commercials.

And finally, don’t forget to check the channel store of your streaming device of choice for your local news and weather stations’ own streaming channels. On my Roku TVs, each of my local providers offer their own streaming channels with on-demand news content as well as live streaming during their respective broadcast time slots.

If you’ve decided to go all-in with free services only, let me know what you think about these choices once you’ve tried them out. Or, if you have others you believe deserve mentioning, please feel free to comment below!

free

YouTube TV Adds To The Doubt About Cord Cutting

An audible “gasp!” could be heard across the Cord Cutting universe as YouTube TV announced it will be joining the $50 per month club. One by one, it seems more streaming services are hiking prices nearly to the point where some would consider simply keeping their cable or satellite service.

As I’ve tried to be clear over the years, it is important to remember that Cord Cutting may not be the cost effective alternative for everyone, primarily because everyone’s viewing needs are different.

But what if you are serious about Cutting The Cord in order to save some cash, yet still want to retain some of your favorite cable channels? I’m always asked for recommendations, so in light of YouTube’s hike, what service would I choose for the budget conscious?

You’re in luck, because such a service still exists! How does $16 per month for 45 channels, with unlimited recording and available on all of your devices sound?

Check out Philo ! Not only is it budget friendly, I often recommend it as a “get your feet wet” experience for many first-time Cord Cutters. As with all streaming services, Philo of course may not offer every channel that you may want, and there is a notable lack of any sports content. But for $16 per month, it is definitely worth considering in the current climate of streaming providers edging more and more toward cable subscription pricing models.

 

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Plex Channel Guide Update

Glad to see Plex FINALLY got the channel guide right in the Roku channel. I had stopped using the Live TV section because of how it was, so I’m not 100% sure exactly which day this update occurred.
I’ve also noticed that the channel is launching faster than it was initially after the last major update/ makeover.

HDHomerun Premim TV Via Plex

I originally reported that it appeared the only way to get the HDHomerun Premium TV content to play on Plex was via HDHR Viewer 2.

However, it appears Lon Seidman over at Lon.tv has found the solution! Check out his solution below. I followed his steps, and all works well for me! Thanks Lon!

Keep in mind, this solution isn’t without its flaws as well (as Lon points out). Some channels may need to be manually mapped to the Guide, and even then I have found that even some of those continue to show incorrect channel content.

Either way, at least we have a couple temporary solutions!

HDHomerun Premium TV Is Now Live! However….

The HDHomeRun Premium TV feature is now live. I have signed up for the service ($35/month beats the socks off of what I’m paying for PS View at the moment!).
However, Plex will not show these channels (yet?)

To be clear, under Server Settings > Live TV & DVR the channels are listed there under Device Channels, but not under Guide Channels. If I check each of them off under Device Channels and then Save, unsurprisingly they still do not show up for viewing.

As was the case previously when trying to view HDHomeRun channels before Plex made viewing more robust, the trusty plugin HDHR Viewer 2 plays ALL of these new channels just fine! So for those of you you may have signed up for this new service from Silicon Dust, please note that all of the new channels currently work PERFECTLY through the HDHR Viewer 2 plug in.

Hopefully, Plex will get this straitened out soon (which I’m confident they will!)
Unless of course, I’m missing something – anyone else tried this out yet and have actually gotten Plex to play these new channels natively?

SiliconDust’s Game Changer

Well fellow Cord Cutters, it looks like there may be yet another option on the block – especially for those of us who already own compatible devices.

I happened upon this while checking into other settings and such on my setup. Sites such as cordcutters seem to suggest it’s already available on devices such as my HDHomeRun Extend, yet as you see here SiliconDust still lists it as “Coming Soon”.

In either case, this could be a huge game changer for me, especially if these channels will work through Plex Media Server as SiliconDust hints that “it should”. Not to mention, if this channel lineup stands, this offering threatens the likes of YouTube Tv and philo, as it includes such heavily demanded channels such as Hallmark (which is notably missing from YouTube TV and philo alike), and HGTV.

I’m going to continue to check for the firmware update, and as soon as it drops I will subscribe and provide a review.

UPDATE: I checked for firmware update this morning (8/18/2018) and Firmware Version 20180817 was available. Upon applying this update, the Demo Channels are now available! However, they only appear to be available via the HDHomerun Beta app (Android) as well as through the HDHR Viewer 2 plug in for Plex. 

Stay tuned, because it appears SiliconDust will be rolling out the full service soon!

12/10/2013: A date which will live in Cord Cutting Infamy

Back in August, I blogged about  my first weekend with Chromecast, in which I shared my feeling that although Chromecast has a very attractive $35 price tag, the actual content left a lot to be desired. Sure – there were the usual suspects: YouTube and Netflix. But that was about it.

Being a lover of pretty much all things Google, I knew that (based on Google’s track record) it would only be a matter of time before this changed. Well that time came yesterday, 12/10/2013.

A date which will live in Cord Cutting Infamy

In fact, there were 10 new apps announced on this day for Chromecast. But keeping in line with my continued support (and often trumpet blowing) of Cord-Cutting, the most significant of these is Plex.

If you would like a recap, or if this is your first time viewing my blog, please feel free to check out The Truth About Cutting The Cord – Part 3: Suggested Software as well as The Truth About Cutting The Cord – Part 4: Optimizing Your Experience. These 2 entries will explain what Plex is as well as how to set it up to better optimize your Cord-Cutting experience.

Now back to the matter at hand. Plex and Chromecast. Needless to say, I (like many) have been waiting and hoping for this. I’ve told many people that if Plex made its way to Chromecast, this would be a game changer in my opinion when it comes to endorsing Chromecast for Cord-Cutting.

  For the most part, provided that you follow my setup suggestion, I can most certainly endorse Chromecast with this welcomed addition that adds more choice and more content. As the picture above illustrates, with the Plex app installed on your mobile device, you are able to “cast” all of your Plex content.
   Unfortunately, however, at the moment you have to have a Plex Pass subscription, which costs $3.99 a month, $29.99 a year, or (the option I paid for some time ago) $74.99 for life. So if you’re new to Cord-Cutting and you’re looking into this option, be prepared to spend a little to get this to work.
  One other factor to consider is that the only way to use it with Chromecast, you will have to do so from a separate device. Unlike the Roku, and most other streaming devices, there is no physical remote control. This could present an issue if your household is similar to mine – simply put, I’m the only one in my house interested in the “techy” stuff. My wife and children simply need to be able to turn on the TV and select what they want to watch. My children are too young for mobile devices, and my wife has no interest in installing the Plex app on her phone. As such, when I’m not home, there is no way for them to use Plex via Chromecast.
 Perhaps one of the most awesome factors to consider is travel. If you’re a business traveler, on vacation, or simply travel frequently for other reasons, you can take your Chromecast with you and have access to all of your content on your Plex wherever you go! (provided, of course, there is WiFi available and a TV with an open HDMI port).
 Overall, Chromecast is slowly but surely taking its place in the growing arsenal of Cord-Cutting gear.

My First Weekend With Chromecast

The dust has settled. The fan fare has subsided. The ticker tape has been cleaned off the streets. The reviews are in. Chromecast has (sort of) settled into its spot on the couch amongst the other streaming devices in the market.
When it was first released, everything I saw about it left me filled with a bunch of “but, what about?” questions. Sadly it seemed I couldn’t get any concrete answers to those questions, so my only logical choice for answers was to get one for myself. Off to Amazing Prime I went to order one!
But alas, none available until August 15, 2013. That’s OK… I can wait. Then came a couple of interesting emails from Amazon –
We have no estimated delivery date
         followed a few days later by
We now have an estimated delivery date of October 19th thru the 29th
Oh well. No big deal. I mentioned this on Google Plus, and a fellow Geek by the name of Tim Martin came to the rescue. Seems Tim purchased about 4 of them, using at least 2 to integrate at the office, and had one extra. Awesome – just give him the one from Amazon whenever it comes in. A quick H.I.R.L. (that’s Google Plus talk for Hangout In Real Life for those of you who don’t do Plus) with Tim to pick it up, and to talk all things Geek, then back home I went to see what this little powerhouse can do!
OK. Into the HDMI port, download the app, add to my network. Simple – in about 3 minutes flat the Chromecast was ready to go. But ready to go do what? Well, there in lies the disappointment in my opinion. Fact is, as of yet, it only does 2 things that can’t be done on any other streaming  device. And one of those two things isn’t really extraordinary.
The Netflix app is simply that. No real surprises there. Unless you are of the relatively small percentage of the population who’ve yet to experience Netflix, it is exactly what’s to be expected.
The two things that are unique to Chromecast are Play Movies/TV and desktop casting. Yes it’s cool that Google even has Play Movies/TV, but for me it begs the question – “if it already has Netflix, what’s the point?” Maybe it’s just me, but I have yet to find anything in Play Movies that I can’t also find in Netflix. TV shows, maybe – Netflix is usually a bit behind when it comes to television shows.
To me, the not-so-extraordinary feature is desktop casting. Many people seemed pretty excited about this, but I personally see no “wow factor” in it. The fact is, if you have your PC (but more than likely laptop) with you in front of the TV, and cast your Google Chrome browser content to it, you’re still sitting in front of the TV using your computer system. Only now, you’re essentially looking at 2 monitors showing the same thing. You still have to look at your computer to point/click for the most part. I guess this is awesome if you want to share what’s on your browser with the rest of the family in the living room. But, how often does that happen?
My afore mentioned friend Tim showed me what IS awesome about desktop casting though – using it in the office for presentations. Especially if you have multiple parties who have individual content to share at the same presentation. Each party can add their content to the Chromecast queue, and it will broadcast in that order. Now THAT is pretty awesome! But if Chromecast is to be your media streaming entertainment device at home, what good is this?
Look, I get it – this little $35 nugget is poised for the future of online streaming. And there is no argument that the price point is unparalleled. My problem is that it simply seems unfinished. Maybe that was Google’s plan all along – release it now, bring developed apps later to keep the price down. I don’t know. I don’t work for Google. I just think that maybe they could have waited until there was more to it. After all, Ford didn’t release his first car with no wheels with the promise that it was only going to get better as each wheel was added.
Would I recommend the Chromecast to someone looking to Cut The Cord? Probably not, especially if they are looking for a more robust experience. But again, the $35 price point is its saving grace.
As for my first weekend with Chromecast, I can’t lie – it was more like a couple of hours. My wife asked, “so what’s so special about this thing?” Sadly, I had no answer for her. But I did say the same thing many others have said in other reviews – Hopefully new content will get added soon

Yes – your Roku CAN do that

As I mentioned in the series “The Truth About Cutting The Cord”, your Roku device can stream or “cast” content from your device(s). I mentioned an app called PlayTo in Part 4. However, to clear up some questions that arose about how to use it, I’d like to present a similar app called Twonky Beam.

Twonky Beam works essentially the same as PlayTo, but I find it to be a bit more stable. Please note that I’m not one to normally do video reviews and demonstrations, so this video is a bit clunky! But I wanted to offer a real-time demonstration, so please forgive my noob-ness!

Download Twonky Beam from Google Play