March 2, 2018

A Detour on our Cording Cutting Journey

I wonder how much data we have used this period? I asked my wife as we were streaming Premier League football on YouTube Tv at 4K resolution on Saturday morning. A few minutes later I had found the right page and was staring at a bright red bar graph that showed I had already used 60% of my 999 GB limit with 66% of the month still remaining! Maybe this cord cutting idea isn’t really going to save us very much money after all I thought.

We got to this point because a few weeks ago I saw an ad for Hulu Live. We watch most of our TV on Hulu because I love that for just a few bucks a month I don’t have to even fast forward through commercials. For $40 a month we could get Hulu Live which promised us live streaming of all the major networks as well as NBC Sports Network – the channel that account for 90% of our live viewing. So, we looked at our DirecTV bill of $170 per month and thought wow we could really save! So we signed up for the free week and gave it a try. It was the last week of the Winter Olympics so it was a great trial of live streaming, but less so for watching network series. I’m not a huge fan of the Hulu interface as it seems to go out of its way to make it hard to find the live shows you want, unless its something you watch very regularly.

The challenges started when we considered how we could best use the Hulu service at our lake house over the summer. It turns out that Hulu is more like your cable company than you might think. Smart TVs, Apple TVs, and gaming consoles are all considered “living room devices”. This means that they will use geolocation to update your home market. Something that Hulu only allows you to do 4 times per year. I’m not sure what happens after that, but I’m guessing you are locked into whatever that location was. So we would really need 2 subscriptions, one for each home. Not quite the savings we anticipated but not horrible.

The next challenge came with the end of the Olympics. While Hulu had tons of NBC Olympic coverage, as soon as the games were over we lost our access to any live NBC programming. This turns out to be because we happen to live in Northeast Iowa and Hulu does not have a deal with KWWL, our nearest Iowa NBC affiliate, and the same for CBS. So much for the live streaming of network television in Northeast Iowa. This might not be a big issue except that Jane likes to have the today show on in the background when she is at home in the mornings!

I started looking more closely at DirecTV now (same problems with the affiliates) as well as YouTube TV. YouTube would at least show us the Chicago local stations. But after some investigation and experimentation it seems that YouTube TV has two pretty big advantages. First it just lets me set a home address to whatever I want. And second using the address of our lake house we get the Minneapolis affiliates! This is really perfect as we’ll be Minneapolis residents in September and this will let us get a jump on the local news. Not to mention we can watch the Minnesota United away games on Fox North! At the lake we are also used to watching the Minneapolis stations as we get them with our antenna.

So, YouTube for live TV and back to just using Hulu with the no commercial option for watching our favorite shows.

This brings us back to the data usage. Having used 60% of the data in only 30% of the month would make one think they are going to need more data. So I go online to chat with a Mediacomm representative to see how much that is going to cost me. The first suggestion would have cost me another $64 / month. But that package included Gigabit speeds. Much as I would enjoy having that badge of honor, I don’t need that kind of bandwidth at home. But they must be trained to go there first. Only after I asked about the 200 MB and 2TB package was I told that that would cost me an additional $24 per month. Then, after a short pause I was told that if I BUNDLED CABLE along with my Internet and the phone service (that I already don’t use) I would be even less than what I am paying now! Ok, so I can hook up to cable and double my bandwidth and limits!

Oh, the agony! I can’t tell you how little I like Mediacomm! Yet I can save money and get better service by becoming their cable customer again. And, best of all I don’t even have to sign a contract, I’m free to cancel at any time, or check on the latest package deals in a year when my subscription would be slated to increase by $20 per month. No worries there as I won’t be a customer in a year.

So I’m going to save money and get better service, why do I feel so dirty? We started this exercise as a way to cut the cord to save money and stop supporting crazy TV providers. Along the way we found out that online providers are learning the tricks from their predecessors, and then we come full circle to having a cable box in the house. I’d like to put it in a corner and not even connect it to a TV but my dear wife keeps reminding me that we can save another $35/month because we won’t need YouTube TV if we have that cable box. We’ll see, I don’t know how many channels we’ll get and whether our package will include NBCSN…. Time for a shower.