Trigaux: As TV options proliferate, it's again time to consider cutting pricey cable cord

Phew! I was nervous my TV viewing might suffer until Verizon this month unveiled its latest FiOS TV service that lets folks record up to 12 shows — at once — for a mere $20 more per month.

Then it hit me. I can't think of a fraction of that many shows I'd ever want to record, much less at the same time. (Besides, Verizon never even reached my St. Petersburg neighborhood with its FiOS service.)

Is pricey cable TV even worth it anymore? In tighter financial times, many people are asking that question. More, especially young adults, are cutting the cord or never signing up in the first place.

"Break Free from Cable" shouts the headline on the cover of the May issue of Consumer Reports magazine. The typical bundled package of TV, Internet and phone costs $154 a month or $1,848 annually.

That's more than the average household spends on clothing or electricity, says research firm Mintel Group.

The average monthly cost of just a cable TV subscription is $90, expected to rise to $125 in a few years. Researcher NPD Group says the average pay-TV bill will hit $200 a month by 2020.

Analysts say cable TV subscribers may have peaked in 2012, given the recent burst of entertainment choices and TV options available via low fees (or no fees) on the Internet. We're talking about Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime and other TV show and movie watching options. Newer technologies like Aereo (still being fought in the courts) may bring further options in how TV can be watched.

So it's small wonder that the number of Americans who pay for TV through cable, satellite or fiber services fell by more than a quarter of a million in 2013. That number, while still small, represents cable's first full-year decline, says SNL Kagan researchers.

A new report from Experian Marketing Services finds cord cutting is on the rise. The number of cord-cutters, those people with high-speed Internet who have either never subscribed to or stopped subscribing to cable or satellite, has risen from 5.1 million homes to 7.6 million homes. That's a 44 percent uptick in just three years.

Put another way, 6.5 percent of U.S. households cut the cord in 2013, up from 4.5 percent in 2010, Experian said. Among households with anyone between 18 and 34, 12.4 percent cut the cord in 2013, up from 7.9 percent in 2010. Households with a Netflix or Hulu account were most likely to drop cable: 18.1 percent did so in 2013 while 12.4 percent did in 2010.

According to Nielsen, while the typical American household has a record high 189 channels to choose from, viewers typically only watch about 17 networks on a regular basis. The research firm also points out that 17 channel figure has held fast even as the number of available channels has increased over the years.

Between the two major providers in this market, Verizon FiOS and Bright House Networks, Consumer Reports readers ranked their bundled services equal — better than most, worse than a few.

Both expensive.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at rtrigaux@tampabay.com.

Trigaux: As TV options proliferate, it's again time to consider cutting pricey cable cord 05/12/14 [Last modified: Monday, May 12, 2014 6:53pm]

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