If you have cable, you are subsidizing Fox News. It might be time to cut the cord. Here’s how

If you have cable, you are subsidizing Fox News. It might be time to cut the cord. Here’s how

This is an important thread and I highly recommend you read it: 

1/ I want to share a bit about Fox News, advertisers, revenue and accountability. Let me first start by saying that, Fox News is actually suffering quite severely on the advertiser front. (The next chart will illustrate just how badly)…

— Angelo Carusone (@GoAngelo) March 31, 2020

In short, Fox News could lose all of its advertising and it wouldn’t matter, because cable companies pay them “carriage fees” to be in the lineup. And they command the highest carriage fees in cable news, because they use their viewers to harangue cable companies into paying whatever it is Fox is demanding. The solution? We can push back against Fox’s PR campaign—or even easier, you can simply cancel your cable service. I’ll explain why that makes the most sense. 

Most media companies negotiate “carriage fees” with cable providers as the cost of doing business. Those negotiations have several elements; cost is a big one, obviously, but it also has to do with whether a channel is in the basic tier or higher premium tiers. Every studio and content provider wants to be included in the lower tier for maximum viewership (which translates to higher ad rates), but there is obviously a limit to how many channels can be provided. After all, those costs get passed on to the customer. 

This is where companies like Disney have huge leverage. There is no way a cable provider can exclude ESPN from its basic tier, so here comes owner Disney not just demanding higher rates to carry ESPN, but also forcing cable providers to include marginal channels like ABC Family. Viacom, Warner, NBC Universal, etc.—they all wield their stable of channels to demand higher rates and channel inclusion, always fighting to be included in the basic tier. And you know what that means? Yup. Skyrocketing prices: In 2020, cable packages are going up at least $100 a year, or far more, depending on the cable provider. 

Comcast and AT&T are around $50 per month for the basic package. Charter is around $45. Costs go up for higher tiers with desirable channels (like local sports networks, or premium channels like HBO). 

So, it’s in this world that Fox News is trying to squeeze more dollars. 

9/ The effect? News & info channels� subscriber fees are normally small. MSNBC gets ~$0.33, CNN gets between $0.70-0.90 per month (and includes CNN and CNN Headline News). In contrast, Fox News charges near or over $2 a month. This is wildly out of step with industry averages.

— Angelo Carusone (@GoAngelo) March 31, 2020

So you’re already paying Fox News about $20 every year. You are paying Tucker Carlson’s salary—Fox and Friends, etc. Those fees are worth $1.8 billion to Fox, every year. And now, they’re trying to squeeze even more out of you: 

12/ Right now, Fox News is in midst of renegotiating more than 65% of all their cable provider contracts. Try to increase as much as 75%. That would mean Fox goes up to more than $3/month. If we say nothing, this happens. Fox gets even more money despite being extra destructive

— Angelo Carusone (@GoAngelo) March 31, 2020

So what can you do about it? You can try and lobby back against those efforts, telling your cable provider that you aren’t going to keep subsiding hate TV. These guys are on it. Seriously, if you have cable and are intent on keeping it, click on that link—unfoxmycablebox.com—and help lobby against those fees. But there’s something else you can do that’s even more effective: just quit cable altogether. 

QUITTING CABLE

Assuming you’re on the lowest tier, you are paying $45 to $50. But the average cable customer paid a staggering $217 per month for TV in 2018, and costs have only gone up since then! And it’s not just the base price. According to a Consumer Report, “the average cable bill in our study costs consumers $217.42 a month. Of this number, a little less than $157 on average was determined to be the base package price once all fees, taxes, and charges for premium services were subtracted from the total price. In other words, the average consumer pays more than a 33% mark-up over the base price of service because of add-on fees of all types.”

My God, people—why are you paying that?!

So how do you replace that content? You enter the great new world of streaming, where you don’t care about TV schedules; you watch what you want, when you want it. Here’s what I get and pay for, providing all my viewing needs:

Broadcast networks: $0

One of the big cable scams is getting you to pay for stuff you can get over the air via an antenna. Yes, many of you live in remote rural areas without over-the-air broadcast TV. You may need to pay for live broadcast TV. But for most people? It’s unnecessary. You can plug in your address here and see what TV stations you can get over the air. The service will even tell you which way to point your antenna for best coverage!

You don’t even need one of those big old school roof antennas. The link above will note what kind of antenna you can use, including those cool flat ones that can be easily used indoors. That’s what I have—a flat antenna that I have behind my flat screen. I get great channels. I’m in an urban area, so I don’t need anything high-powered or larger, but that’s the point. Too many of us are paying for channels we can already get for free. 

Now, say you’re one of those people who can’t get over-the-air broadcast signals. FuboTV has a $55 a month package, Hulu has a $55 a month package, and YouTube TV has a $50 a month package. They’re not cheap, but they’re far better than that $217 monthly average, and they all include a lineup of popular cable channels. 

But if you can get it for free, then do so! I’m still feeling warm and fuzzy after talking my elderly neighbor down the street into giving up his cable subscription. He and his wife only watched PBS. Saved him over $100/month for something he could’ve gotten for free all along. He was beyond thrilled—not only did he have free PBS, but he could get three PBS stations over the air (and up to five in favorable conditions, like at night). People have been conditioned to think that they have to pay for TV. As a bonus, the quality is usually better as stations broadcast in full high definition while much of cable is compressed. 

Netflix: $16

Netflix starts at $9 for a single screen in standard definition. I pay for the highest tier: $16 for high-definition (I’m an audio-visual snob), which allows for four simultaneous streams. That means both kids can watch on their iPads (which is a thing that never happens) while I watch on the main TV. I share the subscription with my partner and her parents. Find someone to share the costs, and Netflix becomes far cheaper than the top-line costs. And seriously, there’s so much content here, good luck running out of things to watch. One thing to note: Aside from Netflix’s own homegrown content, any TV series doesn’t post on Netflix until the current season is over. Still, that’s less and less of a thing because content providers are pulling their content from Netflix for their own streaming services. It’s not a particularly big loss, however. 

Disney+: About $6/month ($70/year)

If you’re into Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, National Geographic, and Marvel superhero movies, this is a must. I’m into all of those, so yeah, well worth the cost. Also, Disney’s entire noncartoon movie catalog is on there, which is quite extensive. (Includes Mary Poppins to the Muppets to Cool Runnings, and so on.) 

Hulu: $12/month 

Hulu starts at $6/month for the ad version, which throws in ads before and after a show. I can’t stand ads, so I pay double the price. There’s also a bundle deal with Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN for $13/month, but it doesn’t have the no-ads Hulu price. 

Hulu carries contemporary TV series from NBC, ABC, and Fox (the studio, not the news, which is now owned by Disney). It also carries programming from a bunch of cable networks like A&E and Bravo. These shows are streamed the day after they air on those channels. Hulu is also doing its own original programming, with The Handmaid’s Tale being its biggest hit. 

So if you get the biggest, most expensive packages from those providers, and have over-the-air broadcast coverage, you’re at $34 per month, and get almost everything you can get via cable. You can get all that for as cheaply as $21/month. And if you don’t have kids and don’t care about superheroes, Star Wars, or cartoons, we’re down to $15/month. 

HBO: $15/month

No cable package offers HBO for free, so it’s always an add-on. HBO is prestige TV, with shows like The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley, and Westworld. I pay it for several shows I can’t live without, but it would be the first thing I’d cut if I needed to tighten my belt. 

Sports: A lot per year

I’m a Chicago sports fan living in California, so even if I could get the local sports networks it wouldn’t do me any good. I pay for all the league packages: NFL Sunday Ticket, NBA League Pass, and NHL Center Ice. My T-Mobile cell package gets me MLB for free every year, but if it didn’t I’d probably skip that. I also follow the European soccer leagues around to their streaming homes every year, as they change constantly. So yeah, a lot of sports around here. 

If you follow your home team, this gets tough because most of these packages black out local teams! Yeah, terribly stupid. With football, that’s fine. You can usually get that over the air on broadcast TV. Other sports are almost all on the local sports cable networks. (We’ll talk about strategies for that in a bit.) But even if you subscribe to cable, those local sports networks aren’t available on your basic tier. You’re like paying over $100 a month to get them. 

(Incidentally, NFL Sunday Ticket is currently tied to DirecTV satellite service. You aren’t supposed to be able to get it without paying for DirecTV, but there are exceptions for students and people who live in apartment complexes without the ability to add a satellite dish. All I did was add an apartment number to my home address to get the exemption.)

Amazon Prime: included with Prime shipping, $119

I don’t consider this as part of my paid offerings because 1) I pay for Prime for the shipping benefits, and 2) I wouldn’t pay for it if it wasn’t included. It has some good stuff, but nothing I can’t live without. And quite frankly, I’m oversaturated with content, so I haven’t even paid close attention to what’s available here. 

So that’s what I pay for. Here are other streaming services:

CBS All Access: $6/month

If you’re into CBS series like Big Bang Theory or … I can’t think of anything else; CSI maybe? This was never a compelling product to me. There is a new Star Trek series on there that people are raving about, but it’s not enough to get me to pay more. So I don’t, and I don’t miss it. I already have more TV with all the above than I can ever watch. 

Specific cable networks: Tricky …

So I’m a huge Rick and Morty fan. I can watch old seasons on Hulu, but the fresh material only comes out on Comedy Central. There’s CNN. There’s ESPN. C-SPAN (for this audience!). Local sports. These all require a cable subscription to access via streaming. So how to do it? 

My partner lives in a condo complex with cable included in the HOA fee, so I use her login and password and I have access to everything. What I’m saying is, find someone who doesn’t want to get rid of cable, or can’t (like my partner), and use their login. Problem solved. 

If that’s not an option, then Plan B is to use a streaming service with the requisite cable networks. These get expensive, but it should still be cheaper than a full cable subscription. Some options: 

Philo. 59 channels for $20/month. But lacks news channels except for BBC World News. 

SlingTV: $30/month. Includes cable news networks, including Fox. You’re still subsidizing those a-holes. Best reviewed streaming service for cable channels. These guys also have a good sports package. 

But really, getting someone’s login and password is your best bet to get cable news (and local sports and other cable channels) without you having to subsidize Fox News. And as cable cord-cutting picks up steam, at some point CNN and MSNBC will hopefully offer standalone streaming products. And the sports leagues, for sure, need to quit local-team blackouts (which might require federal legislation).

C-SPAN likely never would survive as a standalone streaming service as it’s funded entirely by cable fees. But really, C-SPAN should be like PBS: publicly funded. 

In case you’re wondering, cord-cutting isn’t some crazy fringe thing anymore. The number of people dropping traditional pay TV is rising like crazy, and the trend is only accelerating. 

Comcast: This company had 22.3 million video customers by year-end 2017. At the end of 2018, that number was down to 21.9 million. By the end of 2019, the company had lost an additional 733,000 video subscribers.
Verizon: Subscriber numbers for this company have decreased every quarter since Q4 2016.
Charter: This organization is now losing tens of thousands of video customers each year. Its CEO blames higher carriage fees imposed by programmers as a key trigger for customers who are moving on to cord-cutting services.
DirecTV (satellite): This AT&T-owned company lost over 2.3 million satellite TV subscribers between 2017 and 2019. Some of those subscribers eventually went to its internet TV streaming service, AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now), although most of its traditional pay-TV subscribers likely went to competitor services like Sling TV and YouTube TV.

STREAMING BOXES

So where do you stream all this stuff? You use a streaming box. I’m an Apple household, so I use an AppleTV, but you can get much cheaper options. The Roku is fantastic. Amazon has a streaming box: the Amazon Fire TV. These plug into your TV and can either be hardwired directly to your internet via an ethernet connection or can connect via Wi-Fi. 

As a bonus, these tiny, svelte devices consume a fraction of the power of a thirsty cable box, saving you even more money in reduced energy costs. (Don’t get me started on my energy efficiency obsession! Or maybe do. It would make for a fun series.) 

Their user interface is different than traditional cable service. There’s no guide to see “what’s on” at any given time. You decide what to watch, when you watch it. And after walking some people through the process, it can be very hard for people to shift behavior that’s ingrained over decades of TV-watching. People steeped in the streaming lifestyle can say, “I’ve heard such great things about Tiger King! Gonna binge it this weekend.” To traditional TV viewers, that’s weird. 

My antenna TV has a traditional schedule guide. Googling around, it looks like that’s manufacturer-specific. But even then, people can do old-school-style channel surfing with antenna TV. 

CONCLUSION

Don’t subsidize Fox News with cable service. But really, don’t overpay for TV with cable service. There’s almost no reason to do so. Yes, some of you have specific cases for why it makes sense, and that’s fine. You can be the friends and family members that share your logins so that everyone else can cut the cord! 

But if possible, cutting the cord can save you hundreds of dollars a year, if not thousands, and it cuts off Fox News’ lifeblood. The day they have to rely on advertising to make ends meet is the day they’re forced to reassess their entire business model and programming approach. 

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