Cutting the Cable Cord: Putting It All Together

All this past week we’ve been looking at the various ways you can continue to access TV programming if you cancel your cable or satellite service. In this post, I’m going to provide a summary of what steps you should take to decide if cutting the cord will work for you. At the end of the post, I’ll provide an example of the costs of doing so.

Are you ready to cut the cord?

To answer this question, make a list of all your “must-see” programs.

Find Shows You Want to Watch As Soon as They Air

If the shows are available over the air (primarily CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, CW, PBS), you can watch them using an antenna if you can get a good signal.

If the shows are on cable networks, you will only be able to watch them if the network makes a live stream of the show available. Check their website to find out. Most won’t be and even some shows that are listed as “live” may be slightly delayed.

Find Shows You Can Wait To Watch

First, see if the shows are available to stream from the network’s website. If they are, try to watch an episode. If you can watch it without being prompted to log into your cable or satellite provider, you can probably watch it for free on TV using a streaming media player (if the player has a channel for that network), PlayOn software, or by mirroring your computer/tablet/phone’s screen.

If you have to log in, the only way you’ll be able to watch it without a subscription is if the show is carried by third-party content providers. Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video will usually have them available the next day; Netflix will likely be a season behind. Check all of their websites to see what they carry. All of them have free trial periods if you can’t see the list of shows publicly.

Note: Depending on the show, some episodes may be available on the free Hulu website, anywhere from several days after the original airing to from previous seasons. However, you’ll only be able to watch them on TV via PlayOn or mirroring; no streaming media devices have the free channel built in. Free Hulu has other limitations as well, including the number of episodes available of each show and how long they stay on the site.

In my case, one of my favorite shows is Major Crimes. TNT does not allow you to access the streaming version without a cable subscription. However, Amazon Instant Video has the episodes for $1.99/$2.99 (standard/HD) the day after the show airs. That would work fine for me.

Choose a Streaming Method

The best experience will be with a streaming media player that has a channel/app for the show providers, whether they’re the networks themselves or a third-party service. So once you know which providers offer your shows, go to the websites for the various players to see if they support those. The main ones are Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Google Chromecast, but some gaming consoles, Blu-ray players, and home theater systems offer them as well. And if you have a smart TV, they may have built-in channels for them.

For more details about the four main players listed above, check out the T4L Streaming Media Players series.

If you can’t find a combination of content provider/player that works for you, you can try the PlayOn software. You will need a Windows computer (or Parallels on a Mac) to run the software on as well as a streaming device, like the Roku or Chromecast, to cast the video to from your computer or mobile device. PlayOn has a 30-day moneyback guarantee, which is good since the only way really to see if it will work for you is to install it and try it out.

Finally, if none of the above works, check out whether or not you have a device you can mirror your screen from (Windows 8.1. PC, Kindle Fire, Android and iOS devices). If so, you can get a streaming player that will accept the mirrored signal. If you think you need this, definitely check out the post about mirroring because this option has the most caveats about whether or not it will work.

Now, once you’ve gone through this entire exercise, it’s quite possible that you will find some situations that aren’t perfect. For example, my normal morning routine is to turn on Morning Joe every morning as sort of “background music” while I check emails and do some blog and social media stuff before I get to my main work for the day. MSNBC has a live video stream but to access it you need a cable subscription. So if I cut the cord, I’ll have to watch something else or stream other content during this time.

Figure Out Whether the Cost Savings Are Worth It

Depending on what all you’ve determined will work for you from the above, you’ll probably have to spend some money up front. For example, here’s what I have in place. I’m putting down list prices for everything, even though I got most of the items with some kind of discount (or, in the case of the hard drive, already had one) and I’m not including cables and other accessories.

Item For Cost
Indoor Antenna The Good Wife, Scandal, The Mindy Project 22.49
Digital TV Converter Box and DVR + External Hard Drive Recording from the antenna 159.99
Roku 3 Streaming Media Player Binge-watching and catch-up viewing via Netflix & Amazon Instant Video, PlayOn, mirroring, non-TV content 99.99
PlayOn Software, Lifetime Use MSNBC 79.99
Verizon FIOS Early Termination Fee 13 months left on my 2-year agreement 130.00
Total $432.47

As for the ongoing cost savings, I currently pay about $160 per month for my Triple Play subscription, HBO, and two set-top boxes and it’s going up to $195 next month as some of the discounts expire. I can get the same level of Internet service by itself for $94.99/month (I have a higher than average speed). I’m not sure what the Voice part of my package will cost (or if I even want to keep it) and I don’t know if I’m going to want to subscribe to standalone HBO streaming when it launches in April, but let’s assume those two things together will cost about $50/month. I’m not going to factor in the $8.99/month Netflix subscription or occasional Amazon video purchases because I buy those now even with a cable subscription. So that brings the new bill to $145, $50 less than my current one, so I’ll cover the upfront costs in 9 months.

Wow… I’m really glad I wrote this post! 🙂

And now if you’ve been thinking of cutting your own cable cord, hopefully now you have a better sense of whether you can make it work for you or not.

Elizabeth Kricfalusi

View Comments

  • If you have an Amazon Fire, the NBC app carried MSBC and you can watch clips of your favorite show. I'm currently watching last nights episode of The Rachel Maddow Show (section by section like you would on the web).

    • Hi Cassidy.

      Thanks for sharing that info. I have also used the NBC app to watch MSNBC but now I usually use PlayStation Vue, which I will be writing about before too long.

      Thanks again for taking the time to help!

      - Elizabeth

  • My roommate is using the Amazon fire stick and wants to know if he can switch back to Direct TV without unplugging the fire stick. Will it cause a problem if he were to just pull the fire stick out of the television?

    • Hi Louise.

      Do you only have a single HDMI port on your TV so you have to alternate plugging in your Fire TV Stick and your Direct TV box? If so, there's no problem taking out the stick and plugging the box back in. The next time you connect the stick again, it will work fine.

      If you have two different connections for the Fire TV Stick and the Direct TV box, then you don't need to unplug the stick at all. Just use the Input button on your Direct TV remote to switch between them. If your Direct TV remote doesn't have an Input button, then use the remote for your TV or there should be a button on the TV itself to switch between inputs.

      If you do only have the one HDMI port and you don't want to have to keep plugging and unplugging your devices, you can get a switch to keep both connected at the same time. Here's a link to a search page on Amazon that shows different options:

      I hope that helps.

      - Elizabeth

  • I need to cut cable cord/costs for limited income. Have a 78 year old living with me who watches TV all day/night. Old reruns are fine - do not need anything "live". It can be last year's shows and older movies. I have flat screen HDTV's, a laptop, desktop, have an antennae in the attic, but believe it got disconnected at some point. I could hire someone to reconnect the antennae, and I have a Roku box (new not yet setup), enjoy Netflix via grandchildren's subscriptions, so know I like that... trying to figure out how to get things set up so a NON TECH (78 year old who doesn't use computers) can view TV in same home as I would if I just use Netflix on laptop. Need FREE TV or via Netflix, cheapest route. Can I have a regular antennae providing some channels, and also use the Netflix/Roku on same TV? And still see Netflix in another room on laptop?

    • Hi Carolyn.

      Yes, you can use a regular antenna to get your local broadcast networks (CBS, NBC, PBS, etc.) for free, assuming you're located in an area that can pick up a good signal from the broadcast towers. You can find more info here:

      Watching Live Broadcast TV with an Antenna

      You can also use the Roku on the same TV with the antenna, since they use different ports on your TV. After you have them both connected, then you use the Input key on your TV remote to switch back and forth between the antenna and the Roku.

      You can still watch Netflix in another room on your laptop but if you want to watch Netflix shows both on the TV and the laptop at the same time, you'll need the subscription level that allows for two screens at the same time. If you go to the Netflix website and login, you can go to your Account settings and it will tell you what level you have now and give you the option to upgrade. If you need to do that, it's an extra $2 a month.

      Note as well that if you've got two people watching Netflix at the same time, you'll be using up a lot more of your Internet data allowance. If you don't have an unlimited plan, you could end up having to pay overage charges. You'll need to check with your Internet provider to see what your current allowance is and how much you generally use right now in a month to see if that's a potential problem.

      I hope that helps!

      - Elizabeth

  • I noticed one person mentioned Kodi. I can stream MSNBC live on Kodi on channel PEAR. Go to All Channels scroll down to MSNBC, it is quite a way down. Save to your SuperFavorites folder. You can access anytime. FREE!!

    • Thanks, Nancy.

      I've just recently heard about channel PEAR but haven't had a chance to really check it out. I'll definitely do so now. (They have a private channel for the Roku as well.)

      Thanks again!

      - Elizabeth

    • Hi Joe.

      I've never been able to wrap my head around Kodi and I haven't had the time to really delve into it. It's one area I'm definitey a Luddite! :) - Elizabeth

  • I'm currently (January 2016) going through a similar exercise and have done pretty much what you've done, except my one disappointment has been how to get MSNBC. I see you note that PlayOn provides MSNBC, although I don't see it listed in their full list of channels. Are you able to get MSNBC with PlayOn and does it show live? Can you watch Rachel M nightly at 9pm eastern using PlayOn? I'd be very keen to hear if this is possible, it is the one channel that eludes me for live TV watching purposes, I've cracked all the other nuts! Thanks for your posting, it was great to read how you did things just like I did, I felt reassured!

    • Hi Ruth.

      I have the exact same problem! I call MSNBC my "white whale" because it's so difficult to access if you don't have cable. (Disclosure: I still have cable but it's an account with minimal channels and does not include MSNBC.)

      To answer your specific questions:

      - PlayOn does not include MSNBC as a built-in channel. You have to use their alternate browser method to access it, which unfortunately isn't consistently reliable. Sometimes it works well for me and other times it just won't work at all.
      - No solution is going to provide live programming without a cable/satellite package. There is some live web content, but it's not the regular programming. So if you want to watch Rachel Maddow or anyone else's shows, it's going to be after the fact -- usually next day although some shows or clips are available later the same day. This is an issue for me because as we head into the height of election season, I like to watch their shows live as well. However, I have (for the time being) accepted that I'm willing to accept watching them after the fact because the cost of adding a cable package with that network is higher than I want to pay.

      So with that out of the way, here's how I usually watch MSNBC now:

      - I have a smart TV that has a web browser built into it. This is the one I have but it's not a current model: There are lots of other brands and models now that have built-in browsers. I like it because I go to the site and play the videos just like I would if I were on my computer. One caveat: Some online videos won't play on TV browsers, e.g. I can't watch CBS videos on mine.

      - If I want to watch on a different TV, I use one of my device mirroring options. More info in this post:

      Mirroring Your Computer or Mobile Device Screen on Your TV

      - Rachel Maddow has a podcast for her show that airs the next day. The audio version is a complete recording of the show. The video version just has clips. Some of the other shows also have podcasts but not all of them.

      Anyway, that's my survival strategy. :) It may not work for you, in which case you can always see if your cable provider has a lower-level package that includes MSNBC.

      I hope that helps!

      - Elizabeth

      • Cut the cord last weekend. My only withdrawal symptoms revolve around Way Too Early and Morning Joe, which serve as background to my morning wake up routine. I also found that the only way to get MJ was as a cable subscriber to log in to MSNBC. But tonight I figured out that my Sirius XM subscription has MSNBC and I can listen to WTE and MJ at their regularly scheduled times. So I will try that out tomorrow morning. There really isn't a reason to watch it other than to see Steve Rattner's charts, or what anyone is wearing. There isn't a lot of visual content, which is why is a great background morning wake up show.

        • Hi Bea.

          It's funny... Lately I've had two other people mention MSNBC as their issue with cord cutting (as it has been for me!). I also just discovered the Sirius XM app recently and you're right that you rarely need the visual.

          I'm actually planning to write a post in the near future with more options, so stay tuned for that!

          - Elizabeth

      • I found a solution. I looked into Sling TV, but they don't have MSNBC. But Sony launched a competitor to Sling TV this year, and they do. It's called PlayStation Vue. The downside is that you need a PlayStation 3 or 4, which I don't have since I'm no gamer. The upside is that you can use the cheapest PS3 you can find, since the bells and whistles are only needed for gaming. PlayStation Vue has a built-in DVR service, too!

        Oh - the other downside is that it costs $50/month and is only available in certain cities (luckily I reside in one of them, and $50/month is nothing compared to what TWC is gouging from me each month).

        • I also just discovered PlayStation Vue for MSNBC. I don't use Apple products, and my recent experience with Amazon Fire has been really really bad, and it's not on Roku. Vue on the Fire Stick is super slow, no one will want to wait 2 minutes to change channels. I bought the more expensive Fire TV because it had more memory, but it wouldn't load, and neither did the one I exchanged it for. There's a pretty big market for pre-owned PlayStations, so I did a little research to acquaint myself with them and just found a slim 160 GB version for $100 on sale. I guess the main thing about the PS2, PS3 & PS4 & whatever is related to games, graphics & operating system. If the PS3 is good for so many gamers, I'm thinking it's good enough to watch PlayStation Vue. They have a USB port & a blue ray player. I have high hopes!

          • Hi Coco.

            Thanks for sharing your experience. I haven't had any issues with speed with my Fire TV or Fire TV Stick, so I'm not sure what's causing them for you. Occasionally it does freeze on me, but I can get it back easily. And I want to test it with an Ethernet connection to see if that prevents it from happening at all.

            Quick question: Does the model you bought include a controller? I have zero experience with gaming systems and I'm not sure how you would control the Vue interface without a controller, but every system I've seen online at a price point similar to yours is for the console only--no controller. I'll probably have to buy one to test it out myself, even though I have no interest in gaming at all.

            Thanks again!

            - Elizabeth

        • Wow... Thank you SO much for coming back with that info! I feel so silly now. I've known about PlayStation Vue (vaguely) for a while, but I've never really looked into what exactly it included. So I'm definitely going to try it out!

          I don't know if you noticed, but you can also use it with an Amazon Fire TV or Google Chromecast streaming media player. I haven't checked out the costs of PlayStation, but the other options may be better deals, especially with the other features they offer. If you're not familiar with them, here are my posts about them:

          Amazon Fire TV


          I'll definitely have to do some number crunching as well, because an Internet-only service isn't that much cheaper than my limited cable package, so when you add on the PlayStation Vue cost, it might not be as good a deal for me. (Especially since my package was a special that includes HBO and Showtime.)

          In any case, I'll try out the free trial and then I'll be able to share the info with my other readers as well. So again, thank you so much. This is great news!

          - Elizabeth

          • I have to correct what I said about PlayOn not giving access to most cable channels. In the list, some say "must" have a cable account and some say "may" need a cable account. I tried accessing the "may" ones, and I can. That's a lot more channels.

            Their pricing seems to change every other day. Yesterday, it was $49.99 lifetime. Now you can't buy lifetime, and the yearly fee is $19.99 "just for today" (regularly $39.99). Right now I'm not seeing a reason to pay for it. There are other ways to cast it to my TV.

          • Thanks again for the info. I have to agree that explaining the value of PlayOn is very difficult. I really need to go back to my post about it and see if I can improve it. (Weird that you can't buy the Lifetime option -- I'll have to look into that.)

            I also wanted to let you know that I have been able to access PlayStation Vue through my Amazon Fire TV without having a PlayStation console (I do need a PlayStation account). It also has the Guide and the ability to record shows, so I'm not sure why Sony told you otherwise. I'll be writing up a post about this at a later date.

            = Elizabeth

          • I can add HBO for $15/month - no cable subscription - through HBO Now. No wonder TWC was willing to drop their $17/month charge to $15/month. Criminals.

            Don't know if I'll do it, but here it is:


            PlayStation Vue has an option for ShowTime for an additional $11/month. There's also a sports package (no interest for me).

          • Yes, I've written about HBO NOW previously. Apparently it's not doing as well as everyone expected, but I suspect it will become more popular as more people start cutting the cord.

          • My March bill from TWC was $198.97 (I'm in NYC). That includes cable internet upgraded to 100Mbps (additional $10) and basic cable TV with HBO, leasing a cable modem ($10 charge). This was a very big increase from previous bills. They'd been discounting me because of serious ongoing problems with my internet connection.

            I called to complain about the size of the bill and to tell them they could take off the 100Mbps upgrade (so I'm back to 50Mbps). They gave me a temporary discount that brought the bill down to $156.45. I also bought a cable modem, so that will bring it down to $146 - still very high.

            Just cable internet will cost me $57.99 - total. No additional taxes or fees. As soon as I add any cable TV in, I'm charged for DVR service ($12.99), the set top box and remote rental ($11.75), franchise fee ($6.55), broadcast TV and sports programming ($8.75), and various taxes and public access fees ($2.92). That's $42.96 before I even add in the cost of the cable TV package itself! It's hard to know what that actually is because they don't publish the cost for existing customers, only the discounted rate for new customers. But on my last bill, the cost - as part of an internet/TV package - was $62.51, and that was without HBO. HBO was an additional $16.99 (temporarily lowered to $15 when I complained).

            So by dropping cable TV, my cost goes from approximately $179/month (backing out the 100Mbps and modem lease fees), temporarily $156.45, until they take away the discounts or raise their rates to $107.99. And the best part is, only $57.99 goes to TWC, the most hated company in America (according to actual surveys!). If I had another option for high speed internet, I'd switch. But there is nothing else available for me, and I need high speed internet for work.

            The one channel I'm losing by cord cutting is HBO. I watch Real Time with Bill Maher and Last Week with John Oliver. But I can live without them. Also, these shows may be available on YouTube or elsewhere.

            ================== End of Pricing Analysis!

            I wanted to mention a couple of other things about PlayStation Vue:

            - You MUST have a PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 4 to use it. It's a requirement. I called SONY and confirmed this. Also, when you try to sign up, it says that ownership of one of these devices is required. I realize that's odd because you also can use an Amazon Fire TV as your casting device, but that's what they told me.

            - Amazon Fire TV is the only other device you can use as the main, can't-leave-your-house, can't-connect-to-any-other-IP device. I wouldn't use it, though, because it has a serious disadvantage: It doesn't have the GUIDE, which is fairly critical. The DVR feature isn't much use without it.

            - Only Sling TV and PlayStation Vue let you access all major cable stations WITHOUT having a cable TV account - the thing that cord-cutters want. You are less sensitive to this because you have a cable TV account and can access these shows online. People without cable account authentication cannot.

            - ONLY PlayStation Vue (1) has MSNBC, and (2) has DVR capability - the two features I dearly wanted. Sling TV keeps shows from most channels for a couple of days, but it does not let you choose shows to save. PlayStation Vue does. (Note that PlayStation Vue does not have ABC, which is kind of weird, but I get that OTA using an HD OTA antenna.)

            I ordered a used PlayStation 3 - last model before the PlayStation 4 came out. Got lucky, found one for just $115 with all original parts in good shape. I'm waiting for all the other hardware I ordered (Tablo OTA DVR, etc.) and then I'll put my cable-free system together.

            I cannot find a use for PlayOn. I installed the demo, but the only cable channels it gives access to if you don't have a cable logon are ones I'd never watch. It has Amazon and Netflix, but I already access to those through Roku. I access YouTube through Roku, too (and also it's broken on PlayOn). PlayOn would allow me to record these, but I already can record YouTube with a Web applet, and I don't need to record from Netflix or Amazon. Nor do I need PlayOn to cast from a browser. I have a Surface Pro hardwired to my TV with HDMI, and I use the Chromecast extension to cast from the browser on my Mac.

            That's the current state of my move-to-cordless progress.

          • Thanks again for sharing such detailed information, Sheryl! I'm definitely going to check this out more myself.

      • How are you able to access the MSNBC videos on the internet without entering cable account authentication - whether using a TV browser or any other browser?

        Loss of access to MSNBC is my biggest hesitation in cutting the cord, but these monthly cable fees are ridiculous.

        • I just noticed you still have a cable account. That's why you can access MSNBC in a browser. Someone cutting the cord will not be able to do this.

          Sling TV does not offer MSNBC.

          • Hi Sheryl.

            The cable package I have is a light one, with a limited number of channels and it doesn't include MSNBC. You do need to authenticate if you want to watch their live TV programming online or if you want to watch full episodes of shows. But they do make lots of clips available on their website the next day without needing to log in. That's the way I watch it now.

            Since I wrote the previous comment, I've also discovered that the NBC News app, which you can get on a mobile device or through streaming devices, includes some clips from MSNBC (again, after the fact). But there aren't as many as there are on their actual website.

            - Elizabeth

  • Check out other ISP's. I use a service from I pay $39.99 for their "Fusion Broadband." This includes telephone service (POTS). I get unlimited local and long distance, plus voice mail, plus Internet DSL on a month to month contract with no annual contract, no early-termination fees. In areas where they can, they also have a fiber offering, also for $39.99 per month (with no annual contract and no early-termination fees).

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