The Beginner’s Guide to Cord Cutting 2020

Streaming tv and remote
If you’re new to the world of cord cutting, it can seem daunting and complicated, especially with so many services and devices competing for your attention. However, now more than ever, consumers are leaving traditional cable providers behind and opting for a streaming service. A recent eMarketer report projects that there will be
45 million cord cutters in the US this year, and that number will increase by 20% by 2022.

Not only are more consumers cutting the cord, but they’re also saving money from the switch. According to a Leichtman Research Group study, the average cord cutter can save about $1,300 per year depending on the services they choose after canceling a cable subscription.

We’re here to help you join the millions who have already cut the cord so you can enjoy your favorite entertainment for less. To help you cross that finish line – and say goodbye to cable in the process – let us show you the simple step-by-step way to becoming a cord cutter.

In this guide

  1. Establish Your Monthly Costs
  2. Find the Content You Want
  3. Choose Your Streaming Equipment
  4. Check Your Internet Speed
  5. Compare Costs to Your Cable Bill
  6. Try Our Team’s Tips and Favorites
  7. Celebrate Your Switch

Establish Your Monthly Costs

To find out if cord cutting is right for you, a good place to start is your monthly cable or satellite bill: How much are you currently paying for the content? When you factor in your monthly costs, don’t forget to include any equipment rentals fees for gear like DVRs or satellite dishes.

Many cord cutters use a combination of services to access the content they love, so if the overall cost is a concern, it makes sense to compare those total monthly costs to what you’re currently paying for cable or satellite. And once you have a rough idea of how much your current service costs each month, you can use that as a benchmark when comparing various cord-cutting options.

Related Reading: The Average Cable Bill Costs More Than All Other Utility Bills Combined

Cord cutting can often offer a more focused, customized viewing experience than the quantity-over-quality approach of most cable and satellite options, but getting the most bang for your buck means knowing what you want to watch.

Find the Content You Want

With a better idea of the content you love to watch, you can make more informed choices about which services to check out and which ones to ignore. You can start with a list of old and new faves you want to keep watching. If sports are a big concern, don’t forget to include leagues or specific teams you like to follow. 

Related Reading: The Ultimate Cord Cutting Guide for Sports Fans

Armed with your list of favorite content, it’s now time to survey the landscape and see what cord-cutting options make the most sense for your personal viewing tastes and preferences. They’re often available to watch in more places, too, with many services supporting a wide range of devices, so you can keep watching your shows on your phone or tablet around the house or on the go. While the world of cord cutting is constantly evolving, there are two key categories to consider: live TV and on-demand streaming.

What are Live TV Streaming Services?

Live TV services let you watch shows, sports, and other programs on your favorite channels in real-time. If you find yourself wanting to keep up with live TV, there are several options out there, many with different packages to help you better customize your options. Instead of tiers that just pile on hundreds of channels (and a heftier bill), many live TV streaming services offer plans that cater to certain tastes, like sports or music.

There are several options to choose from, but the good news is that many offer solid free trials and preview periods, so you can give them a test-drive to see which one best suits your needs. Worried you will miss your DVR? Don’t! All these services offer a built-in DVR option, so you will never miss your favorite show. And if you need more information, we’ve reviewed many of the most popular live TV services.

AT&T TVfuboTVHulu with Live TVPhiloSling TVYouTube TV
Sign up nowStart a 7-day free trialStart a 7-day free trialStart a 7-day free trialSign up nowStart a 7-day free trial
Starts at $49.99/mo.*Starts at $54.99/mo.*Starts at $54.99/mo.*Starts at $20/mo.*Starts at $30/mo.*Starts at $49.99/mo.*
70+ channels99+ channels72+ channels59 channels32+ channels70+ channels
500 hours of DVR storage30 hours of DVR storage50 hours of DVR storageUnlimited DVR storage for 30 days10 hours of DVR storageUnlimited DVR storage
Good for easy self-install set upGood for national and international sports contentGood for live TV, on-demand, originals, and moreGood for entertainment on a budgetGood for for a la carte live TVGood for recording all your favorite shows

*Streaming prices and features are valid as of 4/22/20.

What are On-Demand Streaming Services?

On-demand streaming services let you decide what shows or movies you want to watch and when. There’s no shortage of services to choose from, but it’s a good idea to start your cord cutting journey by taking a look at some of the bigger options out there. And like the live TV streaming services, many on this list include free trial periods.

Amazon Prime VideoApple TV+Disney+HuluNetflix
Start a free 30-day trialStart a free 7-day trialStart a free 7-day trialStart a free 30-day trialStart a free 30-day trial
Starts at $8.99/mo.*Starts at $4.99/mo.*Starts at $6.99/mo.*Starts at $5.99/mo.*Starts at $8.99/mo.*
Enjoy shows like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Expanse, and Downton AbbeyEnjoy shows like The Morning Show, See, and DickinsonEnjoy shows like The Mandalorian, The Simpsons, and The Imagineering StoryEnjoy shows like Killing Eve, 30 Rock, and This Is UsEnjoy shows like Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black, and The Crown
Good for Prime members and those who frequently rent or buy titlesGood for content with a star-studded castGood for Disney, Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar fansGood for those who still want to follow current TV shows, but don’t necessarily need to watch them live as they airGood for a growing library of original titles that rivals major networks and movie studios

*Streaming prices and features are valid as of 4/22/20.

Choose Your Streaming Equipment

Once you’ve figured out which service (or services) you’re interested in, a good next step is finding the streaming device that best matches your needs. If you have a smart TV, check to see if it supports the apps and services you’re interested in. And if it’s lacking support, there are plenty of capable add-on options to choose from.

What Streaming Device Makes the Most Sense?

When deciding what device makes the most sense for you, one of the biggest factors to consider when choosing a streaming device are app support and ease of use. After all, a well-equipped streaming device that’s a pain to actually use may not offer the most pleasant viewing experience.

One of the more popular options is Roku, which offers a variety of streaming devices at several price points. Some are more barebones, for perhaps a secondary TV in the home, while higher-end options are better suited for 4K, HDR-capable sets.

Related Reading: Roku Ultra vs Roku Streaming Stick+: Which is Right For You?

Meanwhile, Fire TV and Android TV are also popular and capable streaming platforms that support a wide range of apps and services. The Android TV-based Shield TV Pro from NVIDIA, for example, is a capable streaming device that boasts some impressive gaming credentials through its GeForce Now streaming support.

If you own a lot of Apple gear or have a sizable content library stored up through iTunes, an Apple TV might be a good fit. In addition to being a capable and approachable streaming device, Apple’s new Arcade service upgrades the Apple TV’s gaming capabilities considerably.

Can I Use an Antenna to Stream Local Channels?

An over-the-air (OTA) antenna is often a major part of the cord-cutting experience since it’s an affordable way to pick up local stations for free. To find out what’s available in your area, and what type of antenna you’ll need, you can enter your address at sites like NoCable.org. They’ll tell you what channels you should receive based on your location and should make it easier to know where to place your antenna.

Simple indoor antennas can be found for well under $50. Meanwhile, outdoor solutions are often more rugged and can receive signals from farther away, but tend to be a bit more expensive and have more involved installation procedures.

Check Your Internet Speed

If you’re planning on cutting the cord, and moving your TV viewing from cable or satellite to the internet, it’s worth making sure your current connection can handle the added traffic. Higher quality video, like 4K HDR, typically requires faster internet speeds, and if you have a whole household of potential streamers, you’ll need to keep that in mind as well. Various services have their own speed recommendations, but it basically boils down to this: The faster, the better. 

For example, Hulu says 16 Mbps should be enough for 4K content, while 1080p (HD) content needs around 6 Mbps. Netflix recommends 25 Mbps for its 4K streams and 5 Mbps for 1080p, but many streaming services offer quality settings that can be adjusted manually or automatically if you’re concerned about speed or hitting a monthly data cap.

Speaking of data caps, it’s worth checking with your internet provider to see if there’s a monthly usage limit for your current plan, since streaming does take up a significant amount of internet data, especially with multiple streams in the same home. Data caps vary by internet provider, and some don’t have caps at all, but a ceiling of around 1TB per month should give you enough room to start streaming comfortably.

Related Reading: How to Stay Under Your Data Cap When You Cut the Cord

Compare Costs to Your Cable Bill

Once you’ve picked your services, selected a streaming device, and perhaps an antenna or other hardware, it’s time to add up your costs and see how cord cutting costs compare to your current cable or satellite bill.

Again, when you’re adding costs up, don’t forget any equipment rental fees and other monthly charges tacked on to your current bill. If the streaming options are too costly, or you’re not satisfied with how much you’re saving, it might be worth re-evaluating which types of content you’re prioritizing and which services best provide them. For example, maybe a $5 add-on package to a live streaming service gets you most of the channels you’d want and makes more sense than adding a whole other streaming package to your arsenal.

Our Team’s Tips and Favorites

Artie Beaty

Monthly savings from cord cutting: At least $100/mo. just on the cable subscription! Even more, if you count in the cost of renting/buying movies or going to the movie theater.

Streaming services I use: Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, Hulu, and YouTube TV

Favorite original show: Stranger Things

Favorite streaming device: My Roku smart TV

Cord cutting tip: Don’t be afraid to try free services! The content may be a little older but there’s still plenty of good stuff.

DeVonne Goode

Monthly savings from cord cutting: I save on average about $200-$300 per month.

Streaming services I use: I currently have Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and HBO Now. I also use a bunch of free services like VUDU, Tubi, Crackle, IMDb, and others.

Favorite original show: It’s a toss-up between The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix) and Undone (Amazon Prime Video)

Favorite streaming device: Roku Ultra

Cord cutting tip: Cut the cord, not your sense of judgment. Cord cutting is about having the freedom to choose your own entertainment ingredients to make your preferred entrée. With so many options out there, beware of getting too sucked into a bunch of the “must-have” lists and opinions of others. You can easily end up spending money based on reputation and not your experience of something. Do as much taste testing as you can and choose the devices, services, and apps that best fit your preferences.

Jess Barnes

Monthly savings from cord cutting: I haven’t had cable since college when I split a bill with two roommates! Since then, I’ve happily skipped the $100+ cable bill every month.

Streaming services I use: I’ve been subscribed to Hulu the longest (since pre-CCN days.) I like to rotate through other services every month and I’m always trying the new ones when they launch.

Favorite original show: Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu, Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime, and I’m looking forward to the new Marvel shows coming to Disney+.

Favorite streaming device: I have a nice little collection of streaming devices but probably use the Roku most often.

Cord cutting tip: Give all of the ad-supported services a try! You’ll find classic movies, TV shows from your childhood, and even some original content – all for free.

Philip Palermo

Monthly savings from cord cutting: I had been paring back our cable package as much as possible until we finally cut the cord, but even compared to the barebones cable plan at the time, we’re saving about $50 to $70 per month these days.

Streaming services I use: At the moment, we mostly use Netflix for old faves and new shows, Hulu for recent episodes, an over-the-air (OTA) antenna for live local sports, and (very recently) Disney + as part of the Disney/Hulu/ESPN bundle.

Favorite original show: Orange is the New Black and Stranger Things were probably among the first original shows we really latched onto.

Favorite streaming device: We’ve used several Roku models over the years, with the Premiere still getting daily use in our home.

Cord cutting tip: If you find yourself subscribing to a service just for a handful of shows you keep coming back to, it might be worth seeking out sales on physical or digital copies to own outright. If the price is right, you might save money over time compared to a monthly fee to watch some old faves.

Tmera Hepburn

Monthly savings from cord cutting: I’ve always been a cord cutter, meaning I’ve never paid a cable bill in my life and I plan to keep it that way! By using streaming services only, I’ve saved upwards of $80 per month for the past 10+ years. 

Streaming services I use: I currently subscribe to all my favorite staples, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video (which is a bonus included in my Prime Membership for that much-needed two-day shipping!). I love Netflix for its vast library of movies and originals, and Hulu gives me my reality TV fix with shows like The Bachelor and Vanderpump Rules.

Favorite original show: The Mindy Project on Hulu. It’s bright and colorful and full of light-hearted humor that genuinely makes me laugh out loud even alone in front of my TV. Definitely one of my favorites!

Favorite streaming device: I’m also one of those people who doesn’t mind watching on my phone It’s convenient and with me everywhere I go. When I need a big screen, I use Chromecast to stream straight from my phone to my TV. It’s the easiest remote ever!

Cord cutting tip: If you’re new and just looking into the world of cord cutting, I would suggest picking a streaming service that already has one or two shows you’re interested in, that way you’ll already have something to watch while you discover new finds. And most streaming platforms offer free trial periods, so be sure to take advantage of them while you’re testing out services!

Celebrate Your Switch

Breaking away from expensive cable bills is a great feeling, and we hope this guide helps you with that process. Once you’ve said goodbye to cable or satellite, you can also put your number on the national Do Not Call list so they don’t flood you with pleas to come back.

Part of the beauty of cord cutting is the different ways you can customize services to your specific needs and while there are lots of options to consider, that’s what we’re here for. You can check out our reviews, how-to guides, and other resources to learn more about different services and streaming devices. And we’re constantly on the lookout for deals and free trials.

For now, though, congratulations on becoming a cord cutter! You’re joining a growing and passionate group of people and we hope you enjoy your new, cable-free experience!

You can subscribe to our YouTube Channel to keep up with all the latest news and tips in the cord cutting world. Every week we have a live Cord Cutting Q&A, and weekly Cord Cutting recap shows exclusively on our YouTube Channel!

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