Are cable TV carriers joining the streaming revolution? Yeah…sort of.Continue reading
Watching TV in the Electronic Jungle
Watching TV was so simple for anyone who remembers life before cable. Today, we have more options than ever before – and more confusion. If you’re ready to go back to Square 1 and start all over again, here’s what to look at to reset your TV – or streaming content.
If you are still into watching live broadcast TV, which many do for news and sports, you could start with good old rabbit ears. That’s the term for an antenna – just in case you hadn’t known. Channel availability and picture quality depend on whether you can get a strong broadcast signal. Cable solved that issue nearly 50 years ago and gave us more choices. (Digital channels for broadcast offer more choices, though quantity should not always be confused with quality.)
Cable was simple. A cable company got the franchise for your community, and you paid – more and more without any recourse until satellite and the internet eventually gave you more options. The old cable companies and telephone carriers still have lines that carry the internet to most of America, but our “TV viewing” is changing at the pace of a revolution.
We have countless ways to get our programming because there are so many content providers and so many companies that package or bundle the programming we want to see. Even the carriers are becoming content bundlers and creators.
For this discussion, let’s focus on the systems that deliver content for viewing on a TV. Comcast’s Xfinity and Verizon’s Fios, the two major cable carriers in my area, still offer the most programming from traditional broadcasters and other producers. With more people spending more time at home, you probably want the most variety you can get to keep everyone happy. The cable companies still deliver by coaxial cable, and we know how to use their systems. You can watch content from Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, etc. through your cable system, although you will need to pay for them either through the cable company or the content provider. However, convenience comes at a price. You can pay $5 or more for every cable box you have.
If you get your internet service from a cable/phone company, you may be able to stream your cable channel and – maybe – save the cost of the boxes. Why maybe? Xfinity, for example, has an agreement with Roku to stream content over TVs that use it as the streaming service. If you have a Roku-equipped TV, you can add the Xfinity channel from your Roku Home page by clicking on Add Channels. If you don’t have a Roku-equipped TV but have a TV with a USB port, you can buy a Roku connection device for as little as $30 and use your home Wi-Fi network. Your payback period is six months, and quality depends on your network.
You can get Roku boxes from Xfinity, which you pay for as with the old coaxial cable box, but we found a price break of sorts. We have nine TVs in our house, including one we carry out onto the back deck. By paying $40 per month for DVR service, we’re only paying for five Roku boxes; the rest are “free.” The advantage to the Roku boxes is that they’re not tied to a coaxial cable, giving us more flexibility.
We just installed this system, so we’ll need to get some operating experience before we can report on its success – or lack of it.
If you watch all your content on a computer or mobile device, the question of a cable box or Roku box is moot. If you don’t want to use your cable company to get cable-like viewing for broadcast TV stations and programming such as news and sports, there are numerous streaming providers.
What will work best for you? The variables include:
- Broadcast signal strength for some live TV
- The provider of the content you watch
- Your preference of cable or internet-based content delivery
- The devices you watch on and the number of devices you use at any given time
- Your internet connection
- Your Wi-Fi network
- Your TV/internet budget
We can help you sort through the possibilities to put together a package that will meet your priorities, and we can install and configure any equipment you need. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to discuss your wants and needs.
The Death of 99 Cents
We sometimes get so hung up on not paying one cent or a few dollars more for a service that we don’t see the forest for the trees. As we make more use of technology for our business and personal lives, it’s helpful to put the economics into perspective.
We have some truly amazing technology available to us, and we’ve grown to appreciate it as we spend more time at home. But we sometimes get too hung up on keeping our costs low, and in the process, we lose performance or entertainment joys because we didn’t want to spring for more RAM, a bigger hard drive, a newer phone or better TV or content streaming plans.
The time I spend discussing the benefits of a 99-cents-per-month iCloud storage plan – at an hourly rate that’s a lot more money – is sometimes mind-boggling. That said, the plethora of choices always boggles the mind.
A lot of our consternation comes from the marketplace. Within most of our lifetimes, we had cable TV, which was provided by a carrier that won the right (or franchise) to serve a community. It was that or watch over-the-air, which in metro New York was mostly seven VHF channels and a handful of UHF channels. Cable gave you all those channels plus others, such as ESPN, CNN and a host of out-of-town TV stations, especially those that carried local baseball teams. The Atlanta Braves became “America’s team” because Turner Broadcasting System was ubiquitous. You also could add two premium services, HBO and Showtime. TV was separate from your telephone service. Your local phone company provided your internet service.
Through regulatory changes, phone companies entered the cable TV market, and cable companies entered the phone market. Satellite TV entered the market, and then the cable and phone companies each offered TV, internet and phone service, followed by home alarm systems. That led to the “triple play,” which offered bundled services at “discounted” prices. Even with packages, prices continued to rise – and keep that in mind as we go along.
When package prices rose, customers questioned the concept of paying for channels (or content) they didn’t want. At the same time, it seems like content providers decided to start their own premium channels, and many services have popped up to offer some of their own content plus “skinny bundles” of channels offered by the cable companies.
Now, you need to be selective about these factors:
- What content do I want to watch?
- What content can I give up?
- What quality levels am I willing to pay for?
Let’s unpack and repack these questions.
There is a lot of programming overlap. You need to look at what each content provider offers – and that’s an exhausting search – to see which providers have the most of what you want to watch and when you want to watch it. You can keep your cable either as a service or as streamed content, or you can subscribe to services that offer combinations of live programming, including TV programs, news and sports in addition to their own premium programming. You could wind up paying more than you pay for your cable service, and you may or may not have the same choices within your budget.
You can save some money if you are willing to give up some of your choices. If you never watch sports, for example, you can find packages without them. But if you’re getting Disney Plus, you’re likely going to need to take the ESPN package as part of it. If you want sports, that’s good. But you may also be paying for it as part of another package, such as YouTube TV or Fubo TV. You can research all the combinations until you drop, or you can just jump into the water. Most every service offers a trial period, and the best advice we can offer is sign up, try it and make sure you cancel it before recurring charges start.
Then, there’s quality. Netflix, as you know has three levels: $8.99 as of this writing for a single device, $12.99 for two devices and $15.99 for four. If you want HD quality, you need the $12.99 package. If you want 4K, you need the $15.99. If you just bought a new TV with the latest bells and whistles, why would you not spend an extra $4 per month?
Along with programming quality, remember, too, that you need to have adequate internet service to handle the bandwidth you’ll require to enjoy your content. And, you’ll need to have a good network infrastructure to handle it all, whether it’s strictly for entertainment or for business and school, too.
We’re happy to educate you about the economics of technology to help you make a smart decision. We’re also happy to work with you on the installation and configuration of whatever technology you choose. But ultimately, it’s up to you to decide on your comfort level with whatever you spend. Our advice is don’t cheap out on the hardware because it’s much more expensive and difficult to change. For online photo and video storage and TV or streaming content, you can adjust up or down as you see what you need. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to help make sure you have the technology you need to enjoy life during these tough times.
Apple TV+ – Delicious or Wormy?
Apple has announced it will launch its own TV streaming service this fall, Apple TV+. Apple will join Netflix, Amazon and others in providing content. We don’t what it will cost, and we don’t know if the experience will be delicious or full of worms. But we can count on Apple disrupting the market and changing the game. It’s how they play it.
Let’s start with the promises. Apple claims its new stream will be “the new home for the world’s most creative storytellers featuring exclusive original shows, movies and documentaries.” If you want a hint about if they’ll be able to keep that promise, they will debut with a sneak peek through a new Apple TV app that works across iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac, smart TVs and streaming devices. You’ll be able to subscribe to Apple’s TV channels a la carte and watch them through the app.
You may want to look at Apple’s move as another reason to cut the cable cord, but we don’t see it that way. Even though increasing numbers of people are streaming programs through their TVs, in addition to computers and devices, cable companies are accommodating customers who want programming from “non-TV” providers. You can get Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and Apple – in addition to premium content providers such as HBO and Showtime – through your cable system. And why not? As gatekeepers, they’re happy to pick off a few dollars in subscriber fees from any and all content providers.
And it’s as a gatekeeper and content provider that Apple may be trying to maximize its hold on content viewing. Apple has a big market share of smartphones and an even bigger share of tablets – all in addition to a large base of Mac computers. But it’s way behind Roku and Amazon for connected TVs with only 15 percent of the market. Further, more than half of the nation’s TV streamers use Roku or Fire TV, and some 30 percent use smart TVs. Apple gets only 15 percent of the streamers. Clearly, Apple will need to partner with those who deliver content just as much as it will need to provide strong content to make this venture work.
We don’t know what Apple TV+ will cost, but various sources figure it will fall somewhere in the range of $10 to $15 per month. Apple could undercut the market with attractive intro deals. They have the resources to do it if they wish. With a push based on low prices and innovative programming, Apple could disrupt the industries that create and deliver content, especially in the short term. But history tells us that other industry giants will react to meet their own needs – and that some upstart will find a way to step on the giants’ toes.
Whatever happens, here are some things to keep in mind:
- High-definition streaming requires a fast internet connection and a powerful Wi-Fi network. If you have multiple high-def TVs and a slew of devices, you’ll need lots of speed and capacity.
- Many consumers get their internet from cable providers, and there are some things you need to balance when figuring out how much content to get from cable or the internet. Cable companies are willing to give you good internet speed if you’re a cable TV customer. If you are an internet-only customer, you may pay more for your connection, and you may face caps on how much data you can download. For the cable companies, it’s all about profitability.
- How and where do you want to watch your content? Cable is good for big TVs for large groups, but you can take your devices anywhere. Consider the price of what you watch on. You can get a really good, fairly big TV for $500 or less, and you can pay twice that much for a mobile device.
We can help you make smart decisions about how and where you’ll watch programming by looking at the technology currently in your home and recommending what you’ll need to have a system that works for your preferences. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for answers to your questions or to set up an appointment to discuss your needs.
Not all streaming is meant to be shared – or least not shared with dozens of strangers around the world. Cable companies and content providers are concerned about lost fees as access credentials to programming are increasingly abused. They’re cracking down on piracy.
Stealing service has been a problem since the first electrical wires and meters were installed more than 100 years ago. For cable and content providers, it became an issue when the first cable wires were strung up. The problem has grown as technology has developed more content and more ways to get it. Putting aside the issue of whether it’s all overpriced, it costs money to develop and deliver the content we love to watch, and too much of it is “falling off the back of an electronic truck.”
We can watch content for free on our TVs when they receive broadcast signals. But for the most part, the only people who watch broadcast TV are those who have cut the cord and stream through their TVs on their internal Wi-Fi or wired networks. For them, a TV is a device, just like a tablet, wireless phone or computer.
Cable providers have relationships with content providers that enable subscribers to stream cable-delivered content or simply stream it from the content providers. You get a username and password, and you’re good to go. You can even share your account with others, and almost all of us have done it at one time or another, especially with Netflix or Amazon Prime. Some providers encourage it.
Unfortunately, some people have taken sharing too far. The content industry has been OK with sharing info with a few friends or family members, but the problems arise when those friends and family members start sharing access with their friends and family. It’s all gone viral, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Every provider who issues usernames and passwords also has the means to track who is accessing content and where they’re watching it. They expect that subscribers will stream their programming when they’re traveling, and they can usually verify access privileges are being properly used. Most vacations are a week or two, and even if you move around a bit, you’re generally not in locations a world apart within the space of two days – or on the same day.
The industry can track possible abuse, and there are steps they can take – if they haven’t done so already – to limit access without alienating honest, rule-abiding subscribers. They can require all subscribers to re-enter or change passwords more frequently. It’s a risk for them because some subscribers may find this an inconvenience and drop their service. However, it’s one way to shut off access to a large number of pirates in one fell swoop.
They can also limit the number of shares they’ll allow. While Netflix, for example allows up to four shares for its most expensive plan, and providers such as HBO and DirecTV allow limited sharing. ESPN may have limits on how many streams are allowed, but that could be independent of limits placed by cable or satellite carriers.
The industry can threaten to cut off subscribers – or actually cut their cords – but that gets into all sorts of sticky legal and customer-service issues. For example, do you take action against the parents who gave their college-age kids access? Do you go after their kids? Do you go after the users of devices they believe are “invalid users?”
This problem will become more prominent on the industry’s radar screen because a lot of money is at stake. Content producers need to be paid for their product, and that payment depends on how many subscribers watch it. Cable and satellite companies pay fees to producers and collect fees from advertisers and subscribers based on the number of valid users. Nobody wants money taken off the table because of a discrepancy between subscribers and viewers.
Finally, all this sharing raises a nagging question in the back of our mind: If someone has access to an account that you pay for, how can they use this access for their own gain at your expense? Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us for help in tightening up your access controls.