It's official: cord cutting has gone mainstream.
No longer strictly reserved for early adopters and the extremely tech savvy, more and more average Americans are now ditching their cable and satellite TV subscriptions — "cutting" the cord, both figuratively and literally — in favor of new, low-cost streaming and video-on-demand alternatives.
In fact, according to a recent story in The Wall Street Journal, the shift away from pay TV services is actually accelerating, with both publicly traded and private cable, satellite and phone companies reporting a net loss of as many as 400,000 total video subscribers in the second quarter of 2012. That's up from 340,000 net defections in Q2 2011. Overall, the number of U.S. households subscribing to pay TV services declined by 1.5% or 1.5 million in 2011, according to Nielsen.
And remember, the pay TV industry had never in its history posted a quarterly subscriber decline until 2010.
So what's going on? Options, that's what. For the first time, viewers now have choices when it comes to their in-home video entertainment, and not all of them are tied to the traditional pay TV model (a fact that many broadcasters aren't exactly thrilled about). Internet-based streaming services, on-demand downloads, over-the-air HD, the list of new cable alternatives could go on and on, but the selling points for viewers are simple: greater variety in programming and, assuming they cut out their cable bill by taking advantage, savings that can total as much as $200 per month.
We reached out to our Yahoo! Contributor Network members to find out what their latest "cut the cord" secrets are and which new services they can't live without. A selection of their responses is below.
"My DVR's ability to record shows, and watch even when no longer available, were the last reasons I clung to cable. Even shows playing online aren't there forever. Enter PlayLater, an online DVR. For $9.99 every six months, I record programming available through PlayOn and watch it on the same devices. I'm so pleased with these low-cost solutions that I can't imagine returning to cable, unless it's thrown in free with my Internet service. If anything, I'm more excited about trying up-and-coming online services, like Aereo, once availability and programming are extended." — Tamara McRill
"Lately I've been spending a lot of time on ChannelChooser.com. This little-known gem is a breeze to sign up for and use, and it gives me access to a formidable lineup of channels, including overseas options like Sky News UK and tech-centric ones like Mashable TV. There are literally hundreds of channels to choose from, including many local network affiliates from around the nation. Best of all, I don't pay a dime to watch." — Brett Wilkins
"Google Play has a TV section that lets us buy any show we want for $1.99. We could also buy entire seasons for about $22 or so. Yes, we pay a little, but it's easy to afford, we only pay as we go, if we go there, and besides, then we own that show or series permanently. We can burn copies onto blank DVDs, watch whenever we want, pause the stream, and all that. Google Play offers downloadable DVDs (a la Netflix) as well." — Brant McLaughlin
"There are several providers that offer online television viewing, but they may charge a fee. We like Inner-Live.com. It's free, and offers several channels. But in our experience it's just simpler to go directly to the channels we choose. Potentially we save over $45 per month or more just watching television from our laptop computers. It's simple to hook up, and even my children can connect the computer to the television." — Meribeth Phipps
"My favorite website is called 1Channel. This is a search engine for both movies and television shows of all types. You can browse their offerings or search for a particular show or movie. The results will display a number of websites that have the video available, the quality of the video and the ratings entered by the regular users. I rarely have any need to visit other websites for the shows I watch." — Annie Jean Brewer
"While user-generated content (UGC) sites were once known for their vast army of people pirating television stations, many UGC sites, such as UStream.tv and Justin.tv, now have channels provided legally by some networks, such as MTV and Fox News. The downside to UGC sites is a lack of free premium cable TV channels and fewer options, but if you're like me and only watch an hour or two of television a day, you can still get important news broadcasts and the occasional hot show, such as 'The Jersey Shore,' here and there." — Russell Huebsch
"One of the great features of new TVs is the inclusion of a QAM tuner. A QAM (quadrature amplitude modulation) tuner allows a TV to pull in over-the-air digital signals that are broadcast from local cable providers and TV stations without the use of a set-top box. More often than not, this will allow you to pull in local channels and public access channels in high definition. Also, as an avid sports fan, one of the major concerns I had about dropping cable was the inability to watch sports. Luckily, ESPN created ESPN on Xbox Live, a station shown exclusively over the Internet. If your Internet provider carries it, you will be able to access it for free. They show nearly all the sporting events that are broadcast on ESPN and ESPN2 and even allow you to go back and replay many past events." — Steve Ott
"My youngest daughter got me hooked on Asian dramas and programming. Now, I watch many of the popular serials online for free. One of our current favorites is the international hit, "Boys Over Flowers," which is a Korean drama based on the popular Japanese manga, "Hana Yori Dango." Viki.com is available globally, has over one billion videos, and millions of people all over the world gather there to watch internationally popular shows, music and movies. Most of the programming has been translated into over 150 languages. So, whether it's Bollywood, Manga or other popular Asian programming, you can probably find free, high quality access to it at Viki." — Lyn Brooks
"I watch my TV shows and movies on Crackle and Spreety. Crackle is great for movies. The selection is a lot larger on Crackle than it is on Hulu and the movies come with far less commercials and commercial breaks. The site has a wide selection of movies including "The Fifth Element," "Dracula," "The Fan," "The Cable Guy" and many other popular titles. Unfortunately, Crackle isn't great for watching TV shows, so I go to Spreety to watch TV. Spreety doesn't host the shows, but they do have a great site for finding TV channels and popular shows. It's organized by genre and alphabetically so that I can quickly find links to the shows I want to watch." — S.L. Carroll
Have you cut the cord and gone completely pay TV free? If so, tell us how you did it in the comments section below.