Earlier this week, Amazon made a noticeable upgrade to the Fire Stick, their device that enables internet content – including broadcasts – to appear on your television. The upgrade now allows the Fire Stick to act off of wi-fi signals, specifically the inexpensive services often found in hotels and university dorms. This announcement comes right on the heels of the much bigger announcement that Apple will be upgrading its Apple TV to have the ability to carry full-fledged streaming tv service.
These developments are just the latest in what many tech experts have been expecting for years: a full integration of television and the internet. With the rise of services like Hulu, Redbox, and Netflix’s streaming service, more and more consumers are getting their favorite shows and movies through their internet providers rather than traditional cable and satellite services. In fact, a great many have chosen to "cut the cord" altogether and cancel their tv services outright. This move is only strengthened by the fact that Netflix and Amazon are now producing critically-acclaimed original series.
But before you take the leap to get all of your content online, you should know what services are available, what companies provide them, and what obstacles still remain.
The Big Speed Bump
The most prominent obstacle on the road to freedom from cable is dealing with the cable companies themselves. If you plan to end your service with a company, you should review the specific protocols to do so. You might be able to simply allow your contract to expire and choose not to renew. Your provider is almost guaranteed to have a penalty for early cancellation, so be sure you know the correct methods of service termination. Also know that you are within your rights and can file complaints when the provider or its representatives harass you over a change in service.
Still, you may be limited in what high-speed internet providers are available in your area. Currently the Comcast Corporation has the largest cable/internet service in the United States; a service that could expand with a proposed controversial merger with their largest rival, Time Warner Cable. Doing research on standalone internet providers in your residential area is the first step towards moving past cable or satellite.
In 2009, the United States initiated the digital changeover, in which all analogue television transmissions (the method used since the creation of television) was immediately replaced with digital signals. Cable and satellite customers barely took any notice, as their services were uninterrupted. But for those who still watching tv with antennas, they quickly found themselves left in the dark. Fortunately, a number of solutions had already been put into place, and they just might help you if you plan on changing the way you watch tv.
The most notable (and inexpensive) option introduced was the digital antenna. A 21st century update to the traditional "rabbit ears", a digital antenna is able to send full high-definition network television directly your screen. Like the rabbit ears, the antenna is subject to signal range, but it remains one of the most viable options for catching all of your favorite network shows the old fashioned way.
But what about the new-fashioned way? In addition to the aforementioned services by Hulu and Netflix, recent years have seen tv staples as eclectic as HBO and WWE Wrestling launch their own standalone subscription streaming services. These services have proven very popular and have inspired other channels to do the same. The future of television will provide a wider range of options than ever before thought, and it's only just begun.
However, it's worth noting that as varied as these options are, they don't come for free (at least, not the legal ones). A bundle of services – each with their own monthly subscription – could run you anywhere from a total of $60 to $200/month, which isn't all that far from a typical cable bill one would pay now. Add to that the fact that many channels are either running their own services or offering exclusivity to certain providers, and the task of cancelling cable or satellite can seem more trouble than it's worth.
It becomes a question of what you the consumer can and can’t do without in terms of television: do you want OnDemand services, do you want to watch live television and sports, do you want premium movie channels? Deciding which programs mean the most to you and the people in your household will make it easier for you to make these important decisions.
There's no arguing that the television landscape is changing, and that many long-held institutions in the industry are fighting to hold on to their power at all costs. But in the end, the real power – much like the remote control – lies in the hands of the consumer.