A person eating popcorn on a couch, watching a TV that's out of the picture.

These days, more of us are considering cutting the cord and getting rid of cable, and with good reason. One is that there are now more options. The other is simply the growing cost of traditional pay TV.

In fact, industry analysts say people are leaving traditional pay-TV services at an accelerating rate and turning to cablelike streaming subscription services instead.

According to Bruce Leichtman, the president of Leichtman Research Group, traditional pay-TV services lost almost 3.1 million subscribers in 2017, while the top two cable-replacement streaming services—DirecTV Now and Sling TV—gained 1.6 million new subscribers. And only 79 percent of U.S. households paid for a TV service last year, down from a peak of 88 percent in 2010.

A few things should go into a decision on whether to cut the cord, however.

On the positive side, a new breed of streaming services is giving consumers real alternatives in an area where choices have been few. Today, you can sign up with a company like DirecTV Now or Sling TV and use your internet connection to stream both broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC) and cable channels such as AMC and Bravo.


If you're thinking about cutting the cord, read our HDTV antenna review.

More About Cable and Streaming Services

And while the average pay-TV bill is now about $106 (and rising), according to Leichtman, cable-replacement streaming services typically cost just $40 to $50 per month. 

So why the note of caution? Most of these cable-style streaming services have limitations—and you may find that no single service can provide everything you need.

And while cord cutting has become the popular term, chances are you won’t really be cutting ties with your TV provider.

In most markets, that same company will provide your internet connection and maybe your phone service. And that makes pricing complicated to untangle.

The good news is that all the services offer free trials, so you can kick the tires before signing on. And you won’t get locked into a contract.

Here are a few things to think about if you’re considering cutting the cord.

Your Internet Service Might Cost More

Bundles are the glue that keeps many of us stuck to a pay-TV package, especially from cable companies or telco services such as AT&T U-verse and Verizon FiOS. In addition to the convenience of getting just a single bill for your TV, internet, and home phone services, you often get a discounted rate for internet service when it’s part of this type of package.

If you de-bundle broadband from TV, you’re likely to find that you’re paying more for the same level of internet speed. 

For example, in my area an Optimum bundle that includes 335 TV channels, 200-Mbps internet service, and home phone service costs $90 per month. And I can lock that price in for three years.

The 200-Mbps broadband service alone costs $50 per month as a part of a promotion. The price then soars to $95 per month after the promotion, which means I’d pay more for just broadband than I would for the bundle.

Also remember that streaming more movies and series might spur me to increase my broadband service speed, and that is likely to cost more.

You Might Not Get All Your Local Channels

When cable-style streaming services first launched, one big drawback is that they often lacked local broadcast channels. While the situation has improved, you may not be able to get all your local channels from a single service.

You’ll have a better chance in bigger TV markets, where the networks own their own stations, says Dan Rayburn, principal analyst at research firm Frost & Sullivan. “Outside of the major cities, most live streaming services don’t have local channels due to licensing restrictions,” he says. “While some streaming services are adding more local channels each month, there are still a large number of local stations not available via streaming services for most consumers in the U.S.”

The best way to find out which channels you’ll get in your area is to go to each service’s website and enter your ZIP code to see the complete channel lineup.

With many of the services, even if all local channels aren’t included, you may still be able to get them on demand, which is fine if you don’t mind waiting a day or two to watch a favorite network show. But it does mean you’ll miss out on “appointment TV”—live events and shows such as NFL games and the Academy Awards.

This lack of local channels is one reason that more households are using antennas, pulling in free over-the-air high-definition signals. In fact, Parks Associates, a research firm, estimates that one-fifth of broadband households now use a TV antenna.

Streaming Isn't Always Reliable

One of the great things about cable TV is that it provides consistent, reliable signals to your TV set—you turn on your TV and expect to get a picture.

Streaming services aren’t always like that.

To start, the quality of the video you get depends on the available bandwidth, which can vary with the number of users in your neighborhood who are on the same connection you’re using. So you may get a great picture late in the evening or early morning but find that it isn’t quite as good right after dinner, when more people are watching. Companies such as Netflix will dynamically adjust the quality of the video based on the speed of your connection, and they may downgrade the quality of the video to avoid it freezing or pixelating.

Also, more of us are connecting our TVs and streaming players using WiFi, along with phones and computers. And if you have lots of people in your home streaming content to a variety of devices at the same time, the quality may suffer.

Even your wireless router can affect video performance. Older routers may be slower or use only one band, which is often shared by other wireless devices in your home, such as microwave ovens, baby monitors, and cordless phones. Newer dual-band routers have two bands—2.4 GHz and 5 GHz—to provide you with a second option. If there are dead zones in your home where WiFi doesn’t reach, routers that create a mesh network could help.

But sometimes the problem is with the service itself or the networks’ servers. Both DirecTV and Sling TV have had problems with their services freezing or crashing. For instance, some DirecTV Now subscribers missed part of the 2018 Rose Bowl when they were kicked off the service. And during this year’s Super Bowl, an unknown number of Hulu With Live TV subscribers missed out on the last few frenzied minutes of the game because of an outage. According to the PlayStation support Twitter account, some PlayStation Vue subscribers also missed some of the Super Bowl action.

And it’s not just sporting events. Streaming services or network servers can get overwhelmed when a lot of people are trying to watch at the same time. This problem has occurred with HBO during some high-profile episodes of “Game of Thrones” and “True Detective.”

The Number of Users May Be Limited

Depending on the service, you may find that not everyone in your home will be able to use it at the same time. Every streaming service we’ve reviewed has some limits on the number of users. For example, Sling TV’s Orange plan, $20 per month, allows for only one user at a time. The pricier Blue service, $25, allows access for three simultaneous users; adding a fourth user boosts the price to $40.

DirecTV Now and Hulu With Live TV limit you to two simultaneous streams. DirecTV recommends that you purchase an additional account if you need more. Hulu offers a $15-per-month Unlimited Screens option, provided users are on the same home network.

With YouTube TV, up to three users can stream at the same time. 

Sony PlayStation Vue, with five simultaneous streams, offers the most of any streaming service, though it starts with three simultaneous streams, in and out of the home, when you first sign up. You get two more once you set up a home device. But only one PS3 or PS4 game console can be used at a time.

One Service May Not Be Enough

Although all the services regularly add new channels, there’s no guarantee that any one service will provide all the networks your family wants to watch.

For example, Sling TV still doesn’t have CBS; the network is available only on DirecTV Now in major markets, and affiliates are being added slowly.

Hulu With Live TV is missing AMC and BBC America, Discovery, and Viacom (Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon). PlayStation TV, which has probably the most channels, doesn’t offer A&E, and it recently lost Viacom stations such as Comedy Central, Spike, and MTV.

Finally, don’t forget to consider device support; not all the services are available on every streaming player or smart-TV platform. Because of a continuing fight with Amazon, YouTube TV isn’t available on Amazon Fire TV players, and YouTube only added support for Apple TV and Roku models last month.