How to Cut the Cable TV Cord in 3 Easy Steps

The pace of networks migrating to over-the-top services is increasing, and you’d better be ready

Last Updated: April 3, 2015 @ 6:18 AM

It seems like every day, a new streaming TV service launches or another network circumvents cable and offers its programming direct to consumers. Viewers are cutting the cord, so content providers are too.

How to get this coveted content?

Besides broadband internet, you’ll basically need three things: A platform, a network and/or bundle, and a device to watch it on (TV, tablet, phone).

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but should provide a lay of the land beyond the cord.

1. Platforms
Roku – The biggest OTT platform, Roku carries more than 2,000 channels and adds about three or four every day. It was the first to offer HBO Go, Netflix and many other streaming services and remains the device with the widest product line and range of functions.

Apple TV – The Cupertino, California, company struggled to get Apple TV off the ground when it launched in 2007. At the time it was big and ungainly and required content to be synced with iTunes on a computer to work. Now, the sleek little box can both access channels like Hulu and WatchESPN (requires authentication) and stream content from Mac or iOS devices via iTunes.

Chromecast – The original streaming stick lets you “cast” video content directly from your phone, computer or tablet through the Google Chrome browser, or in a variety of apps that have pair with the stick. But your phone, computer or tablet has to stay on and running while the video is being cast, so this option is more of a mirroring device than a true platform.

Amazon Fire TV – This platform comes as both a set-top box and a stick. Unsurprisingly, Amazon Prime greets viewers as the splash screen, which is convenient if that’s your service of choice; otherwise, Fire TV offers a full range of streaming services.

Video game consoles – The newer generation Xbox, Nintendo Wii and PlayStation consoles now feature robust selection of movie and TV apps. In fact, PlayStation Vue, currently available in Chicago, New York and Philadelphia, provides live TV, movies and sports without cable or satellite.

2. Networks
CBS All Access – CBS was the first broadcast network to offer a paid subscription video service with VOD and live streaming in certain markets. The library contains over 6,500 episodes and new episodes are available next day. The downside is CBS All Access only airs series that have been licensed for use – so no “Big Bang Theory,” which is owned by Warner Bros.

HBO – In early March, HBO announced an exclusive streaming deal with Apple TV to carry the much anticipated HBO Now service, the standalone version of HBO Go. This means viewers no longer have to subscribe to HBO with their cable or satellite package (or steal a friend’s password) in order to get access to the library of shows or new episodes of big series like “Game of Thrones.”

A few days later HBO struck a deal with Cablevision to offer HBO Now to subscribers of its high-speed internet service.

And most recently, the premium network signed on with Sling TV to offer its programming live over the top for the first time ever.

Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, Netflix – Once just on-demand portals, Hulu, Amazon and Netflix have become bona fide networks in their own right, producing content and competing for awards against the old guard. They don’t exactly count as a network going over the top, but the certainly challenge the established system.

3. Bundlers
Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, Netflix – Network status aside, these services are primarily bundlers, offering curated content from dozens of distributors. They’re nonlinear, which means you can only watch videos on demand.

Sling TV – A subsidiary of Dish Network, Sling TV is primarily a live TV bundler. Its core package includes Disney networks (ESPN, Disney Channel, ABC Family), A E Networks (History, A&E), Turner networks (TNT, Adult Swim) and others, as well as content from Maker studios. Sling also offers content on demand.

TV Everywhere
Cable’s status quo, TV Everywhere isn’t a fourth step, because it requires a cable subscription, but it’s worth noting how cable companies have provided TV-programming access without the TV.

You’ve probably got a vague concept of what this is, which means you probably have no idea what this is. You’re not alone. TV Everywhere is the name of the authentication process devised by cable and content providers to allow subscribers to watch programming online and over the top. But there is no TV Everywhere website where viewers sign up for a single account that allows them to access all of the networks they pay for — HBO Go, WatchESPN, etc.

Instead, customers have to sign up for an email account with their cable or satellite provider and use that password to log in to watch TV shows, everywhere (other than on TV).