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Here's why millions are cutting the cord with cable

Lizanne Quinn on Lutz cut the cord a year ago and said she loves streaming services. She uses an Amazon Fire TV Stick and spends $40 per month for Hulu with live TV. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]
Published Sep. 29, 2018

For Dennis Joyce, the decision to cut the cord came down to a surprising realization: he and his wife only watched three cable channels. For $160 a month, he received basic cable and internet from Spectrum. But when Spectrum announced that its new digital rollout would require extra equipment for Joyce's three TVs and increase his costs, he'd had enough.

"Let's look at what we really need," said Joyce, 64, of Palm Harbor.

After exhaustive research, what he and his wife really needed was internet, plus streaming service Sling TV. Joyce liked the service because it gave him access to his Netflix and Amazon Prime subscriptions and a few channels he couldn't live without. After getting rid of the cable bundle, internet and Sling TV cost him just $85 per month.

The Joyces are part of a growing trend of consumers who are "cutting the cord" and switching away from traditional cable, often to a streaming service or an antenna that brings local channels.

Related coverage: Spectrum now offering faster internet in Tampa

The trend has been under way for years but appears to be accelerating. According to the latest projections by eMarketer, which tracks cord cutting, up to 33 million Americans will have given up cable TV by the end of the year, with that total up nearly 33 percent from last year alone.

"By the end of 2022, more than one-fifth of the U.S. population, or 55.1 million people, will no longer watch traditional pay TV," eMarketer said in its report.

Local cord-cutting numbers are more difficult to come by. Cable companies hold most subscriber-specific information close to the chest, and generally won't give out even a ballpark number of customers. That's because the competition is tight — Spectrum and Frontier Communications are the main competitors for cable and internet customers in Tampa Bay, and every customer counts.

NoCable, which acts as an information clearinghouse for non-cable solutions to TV, has slightly more specific information. It ranked Florida the No. 2 state for cutting the cord in 2017 behind California, though it did not have specific numbers of cord cutters. Florida also made some of the highest number of inquiries about what channels are available with an antenna.

But NoCable's numbers are based on where its site traffic originates from, which doesn't necessarily indicate a consumer made a firm switch.

One thing is for sure: A number of Tampa Bay residents have moved away from cable, and many are interested in exploring that option. The Tampa Bay Times asked readers to reach out about their experience with cutting the cord, and received around 100 responses. The most-cited reasons for making the leap were dissatisfaction with a cable provider and cost.

Mary Rogers of Tampa was disillusioned with the rising cost of rental equipment from her cable provider. She switched to an antenna instead and pairs it with internet for her news and entertainment.

"I do miss Channel 9, but it's not worth the cost," she said.

Paul Downing, a Lutz resident, also moved to an antenna and a Roku streaming device. One of his drivers was cost: He saved about $100 per month without cable.

"More importantly, (there are) no contracts on anything, and I can switch to a better deal with one days notice," he said.

Thomas Hansen, a snowbird from Wisconsin who has a winter home in Pasco County, cut the cord back in 2014. He uses a combination of streaming services and a digital antenna to meet his entertainment needs, and he switched after he discovered he could get local channels with his antenna.

"I didn't get many channels, but the ones I did get were amazing, beautiful HD," Hansen said. "I knew I was on to something."

Some have even done away with cable altogether with no replacement. Michael Harris was dismayed when his DIRECTV subscription climbed from $19.95 per month in 2010 to $85 per month by 2014. Instead of switching to another service, he did away with TV altogether.

"I started reading and exercising and doing other things," he said. "I just don't watch TV anymore at all. In fact, I bartered my flat screen TV for auto repairs."

Juggling the desires of customers like these are a challenge for cable providers that have bundled services in recent years.

Frontier and Spectrum have taken a handful of approaches to both entice customers to stay with a traditional bundle and to retain customers who prefer to exclusively stream.

For those who stick with cable, Frontier has integrated Netflix with a channel dedicated to the streaming service and a widget. Spectrum, too, allows people to access Netflix from their service. A Netflix subscription is still required. Spectrum has a Spectrum TV app that allows people with smart TVs to access channels without a digital receiver.

But the utilities also know that some would just rather do away with traditional TV options altogether. For that scenario, Frontier and Spectrum offer a standalone internet option.

"We don't want to turn a customer away if ultimately what they want to do is only stream," Frontier spokesman Bob Elek said. Once a customer decides to go internet-only, they just need to determine which internet speeds would work best for them.

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Contact Malena Carollo at mcarollo@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.

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