The days of saving money by cutting the cord from cable TV services may be ending.
Consider two events from this week. AT&T, which just got approval from the Justice Department to swallow up Time Warner, quietly jacked up the starting rate of its DirecTV Now cable alternative TV service to $40 monthly, from $35.
And Netflix, which dominates video streaming, began testing a new higher priced tier in Italy for watching 4K programming on 4 screens. The trial cost in Europe was 17 euros, which works out to be around $20 monthly. The four screen plan (like 2 TVs, an iPad and iPhone) costs $13.99 here.
And Saturday happens to be National Cutting the Cord Day, at least according to TV manufacturer TCL and antenna company Mohu, which say they are celebrating with a sweepstakes to give away 103 TV/antenna combos, as $103 is national average for the cost of monthly cable TV service.
Oh, if only we could pay $103 for cutting the cord services. Those days seem so long ago.
The original notion of cutting the cord was to ditch expensive cable TV service, which offers hundreds of channels, many of which we never watch, and to just connect the TV to the Internet for entertainment.
With a streaming player like an Amazon Fire Stick (which starts at $39.99) and a subscription to Netflix (we pay $10.99 for the two-screen, non 4K option) plus internet access, you theoretically could be paying half as much as cable TV.
But here's the fine print. Cable companies have gotten savvy to cord cutters and make it against their economic interest to cancel pay-TV. I pay $111 monthly for cable TV and internet access with Frontier Communications. When I called to ask about having just internet, I was quoted $70 monthly. (New customers get the same service for $30 monthly, for what it's worth.)
So say you don't want to go to the bother of switching services into your partner's name, and you start with $70 monthly for Internet. Add $11 for two screens of Netflix, and choose from one of the various cable TV alternatives to get access to local TV and cable TV channels. DirecTV Now and YouTube TV are both $40 monthly. So now you're pushing $121 monthly, and you haven't even started adding Hulu, HBO Now, CBS All Access or any of the many, other TV subscription services.
Rich DeMuro, the author of the new "101 Handy Tech Tips for the iPhone," and a consumer tech reporter for KTLA-TV in Los Angeles, says there's only one sure fire way to cut the cord and make it affordable. "Get an antenna."
You'll still pay for internet access, but will save on the TV service (YouTube, DirecTV) fees. "Most people only watch the broadcast channels, and if they want more and want to see a specific show somewhere, they can always just buy it." Apple's iTunes offers season passes on most TV shows for $29.99.
DeMuro likes the Mohu Glide antenna ($89.99), which worked well in his home and the Tablo DVR, which starts at $139.99 which allows for viewing of the broadcast channels and a slew of digital networks as well.
"The fact is, cutting the cord now costs as much, if not more than cable," he says. "The reason to do it isn't to save money, but to have a better TV viewing experience."