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Summary:

Who says your pay TV bill has to run you $100 a month? Here’s how, in a TV Everywhere world, you can get authenticated for as little as $10 a month.

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Critics say a pay TV business that regularly charges its customers $100 a month is doomed.

OK, so how about a cable bill that costs less than $40?

Yes, in between that revolutionary band of consumers who say they no longer want to pay for services and channels they don’t use, and a video content establishment that says you need to support the imcumbent pay TV model to fund shows like Game of Thrones, there is … compromise.

Also read: Pay TV  growth keeps slowing – 484k video users added in Q1

I call it the “cord-trimming” movement — if I’m watching my shows on my Xbox 360 and iPad most of the time, why am I paying for whole-home HD DVR service? If I’m spending half my viewing time on Netflix and HBO Go, what need do I have for Cloo, the Church Channel, CMT and dozens of other smaller cable networks I’ll never watch?

On Tuesday, I went into multi-channel downsizing mode, perusing the packages of the TV service providers in my Downtown Los Angeles area, Dish Network, DirecTV, AT&T U-Verse and Time Warner Cable.

Also read: Why HBO is once again TV’s most relevant network

Here are some of the cost-reducing options I found:

Dish Network’s Welcome Pack: This, my friends, is the welcome mat to nearly total pay TV minimalism. All your local channels, plus about 40 cable networks highlighted by TBS, Comedy Central and History, and a simple standard-def receiver box, all for $14.99 a month. I’d be almost completely cut off from my Lakers and Trojans, with no ESPN, TNT or regional network access. (Although a subscription to a service like NBA League Pass could alleviate some of that loss). I’d miss AMC, too, but I could “catch up” on all their series with Netflix.

What I would be able to do is watch streams from networks like Fox without having to wait eight days. I could also subscribe to HBO Go or Showtime Anytime, since I have the necessary pay TV papers for that, too. And if I watched on tablets and notebooks, I don’t know that I’d miss the HD.

Dish International Basic: If the ability to stream premium channels is all I want (plus maybe the BBC), I can choose this crazy-minimal package for $10 a month (which gives me just 20 foreign channels without local broadcast networks). I’d get free HBO and Showtime for three months, in addition to Dish’s Blockbuster-branded streaming. That alone might offset the $240 I’m paying on the base subscription over the two-year span of the contract.

Time Warner Digital Basic: Since I don’t know that I’m ready to give up sports and the HD big-screen, this $29.99 package might be a better option for me. It’ll give me all the basic authentication I need, plus access to ESPN and TNT’s HD channels. Notably, Time Warner is the only provider in my area that will let me authenticate WatchESPN. Then again, after 12 months, the price shoots way up.

Option 3: Negotiate a better price with my current provider, DirecTV: Heavens no, I didn’t levy threats. But I did lay out a reasonable argument to a reasonable woman. If I have to keep paying $84 a month for 200 channels, an HD DVR and a thin-client-enabled second TV room, I’m going to walk in September, when my contract runs out. I’ll be taking my check-writing talents to Dish … or AT&T … or Time Warner, or whoever can process and American Express. Turns out that in the cord-cutting era, these sales reps — or at least, the one I talked to — are flexibly empowered to trim prices mid-contract with various discounts and promotions. I got my monthly bill reduced by $20.

It’s a good deal for me because I use regional sports networks like Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket on a somewhat regular basis, and I can justify the added subscription cost by imagining what I’d spend to attend local home games, or to buy friends beer in order to see games at their place.

I can tack on Netflix and HBO subscriptions, and still keep my video budget under $100. I still have a DVR, so I reduce my exposure to unwanted advertising. But I’m kicking into the pot for re-transmission fees, so I’m not putting Disney, Viacom, Time Warner Inc, et. al. out of business.

Everybody — or most everybody — wins.

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  1. “I could also subscribe to HBO Go or Showtime Anytime, since I have the necessary pay TV papers for that, too”

    Are you sure about that? It was my understanding that you had to be an HBO subscriber via your pay-TV provider in order to access HBO-Go, ditto Showtime

  2. Daniel Frankel Wednesday, June 13, 2012

    Yes Alan, that is the point of this exercise.

    1. Not following you Daniel. What is the point of this exercise? (I realize you were going for snark, but really not clear what you meant.)

      How would you be able to subscribe to HBO Go with a Dish welcome pack? Is “I have the necessary pay TV papers for that” a euphemism for “I can log on with my parents account?”

      1. I’m not going for snark. I’m challenging the notion that in order to authenticate services like HBO, you have to pay for a $100-a-month pay TV package. Dish told me that you can, in fact, subscribe to and authenticate for mobile viewing a service like HBO, even if you subscribe to a $10-a-month package. Is this still acceptable to those who feel HBO should be provided over-the-top? Probably not. But it’s worth mentioning.

      2. In the famous words of Emily Litella “well that’s very different.”

        That’s a major piece of news that I’m surprised Dish hasn’t done a major push around – plenty of people would dump their Titanium Platinum package just to be able to get basic + HBO.

        Though wondering what the ultimate savings is once you factor internet into the equation: Dish resells FIOS, Earthlink and a bunch of other services. One of the biggest issues right now – which is why the DOJ investigation announced yesterday is such huge news- is the degree to which the major pay-TV providers control access to the internet and how easy it is for them to squash any competitors with things like bandwidth caps and much higher rates for internet-only subscribers

      3. In the famous words of Emily Litella “well that’s very different.”

        That’s a major piece of news that I’m surprised Dish hasn’t done a major push around – plenty of people would dump their Titanium Platinum package just to be able to get basic + HBO.

        Though wondering what the ultimate savings is once you factor internet into the equation: Dish resells FIOS, Earthlink and a bunch of other services. One of the biggest issues right now – which is why the DOJ investigation announced yesterday is such huge news- is the degree to which the major pay-TV providers control access to the internet and how easy it is for them to squash any competitors with things like bandwidth caps and much higher rates for internet-only subscribers.

  3. I did call DirecTV trying to get a better deal and guess what, they let me walk. Not only did their customer service not understand why I wanted an HD Tivo, but they didn’t know what it was. I was a customer for at least 10 years and was allowed to leave with an, “ok I guess if you ever want to come back call us.”

    Cord trimming sounds great, but until we get any type of a la carte channel selection, it’s no better really than cord cutting. All I really want is TBS, TNT, ESPN, ESPN2, AMC, Comedy Central, local, and HBO. Outside of HBO these channels are worth about $18 a month. With the $12 for HBO that’s $30. I’m not willing to pay a dime for local anymore, an OTA antenna is all you need.

  4. Nice idea, Daniel, but the bottom line is that cable and satellite need to lower their prices beyond just the intro price, offer up fair priced online-only packages and give us a la carte. Giving in to them so easily is not the answer.

    1. Mark, I think if subscribers en masse started migrating to basic services, it would also force multi-channel into offering the services you describe. This is a less painful way to accomplish that goal.

  5. Dail Whiteley Thursday, June 14, 2012

    even though comcast is thought of as the big bad guy , whenever i drop a package like hbo or expanded , they have either gave it to me free for a certian time or reduced the price for a few months. saving me 30$ a month.

  6. Daniel,
    You will only be able stream HBO as long as you have it in your programming package. As soon as that 3mo free trial with DISH runs out, if you dont start paying for HBO you wont have streaming access. Sounds like that may not have been made clear when you spoke with them.

    1. No, it’s very clear that you can’t authenticate channels that you don’t subscribe to. Should have said it would offset “some of the” $240 you’d pay for an ultra-basic subscription.

  7. Wow this sounds awfully complicated… Everything needs to be available on demand and on all devices. Everything else is just compromising to accommodate dinosaurs who’re trying to protect their business through scarcity.

  8. have successfully ‘cut-the-cord’ last week.. cannot be more happier.. dish said that it would charge me $17 to ship back the ‘leased’ set top box that is with me for last 6+ years..

  9. I thought this was a really great post; I had no idea about the Dish Welcome Package. I intend to FINALLY completely cut the cord in the next couple months if all goes according to plan and I’m really excited. Having bare bones options like this available make me even more confident that there’s going to be a huge growing shift toward cheaper options. I’m paying $21.95 to Time Warner for local, Cspan, WGN, QVC, ABC Family, and HSN and they just yanked TV Guide channel yesterday. If id know of this Dish option, I’d have been much better off with that. Now though, I just want to be completely done and go OTA.

  10. How about just cancelling your dish/cable service? Most of it is useless junk anyway with commercials every ten minutes. Must be more to life than that…

    1. I think it’s great when people do that but different people value different things.

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