It’s sad but true: Your vacation is nearing its end and the fall semester is fast approaching. We know it feels like summer just started and you still have a month of relaxation left. But, it’s time to move back to school and get back to the books (and back to streaming TV shows from the back of the lecture hall)
And if you don’t figure out your cable and internet situation now, a month before the fall TV season and your school year kicks off, you’re going to regret it. You’ll regret it when you come home after a long day of classes and desperately need a therapeutic half-hour of sitcom-induced laughter before homework. You’ll regret it when your study group finishes a weekend-long cram sesh and begs you for a B-list horror flick to take their minds off midterms. You’ll regret it when you’re forced to stand in a crowded bar and pay $10 for a bottle of warm beer just to watch your favorite football team get their padded butts handed to them. And you’ll regret it when everyone on campus is obsessing about the latest breakout hit that you can’t watch because you didn’t get your internet and cable hooked up sooner.
Here’s every question you need to answer in order to come to a final decision about how to tune in during back-to-school season and beyond. Check out our guide to watching and streaming TV, football games and more:
Fall TV faves: Watching how you watch
Even though more pay TV customers are cutting the cord than ever before, cable is still an attractive offer for subscribers who enjoy a diversity of channels and don’t mind paying a premium for the latest programming.
Before signing up for any old cable package, however, there’s much to consider:
Is antenna an option?
What is this, the 1960s? Well, depending on what you plan to watch this fall and the channels you like the most, purchasing an antenna might not be all that ridiculous an idea. Broadcast networks put out a lot of the most popular shows out there, not to mention local sports. So why pay monthly for a bazillion channels you don’t watch when you can purchase an antenna for a flat fee?
Just don’t go old school before checking how close your home is to the nearest TV broadcast tower. Otherwise, you may spend this fall doing TV-antenna interpretive dances instead of channel-surfing from your couch.
Are cable providers offering promotions or skinny bundles?
Many long-time cable subscribers have criticized their providers over the prices for gigantic pay-TV packages, asking for options optimized for those with tighter budgets. And because cable companies are not interested in watching otherwise happy customers cancel over cost, they’ve responded by offering skinny bundles and steep discounts.
As you compare cable providers, don’t look only at standard pricing and packages but any cost-effective bundles – perhaps that include internet and phone, too – and promotional rates targeting students heading back to the classroom who might not have big bucks to spend.
Paying a pretty penny for pigskin
Sixteen regular season games doesn’t sound like much, but it’s enough to convince millions of die-hard sports fans around the country to base their decisions about cable packages, at least in part, on football. This year, mull over your traditional cable football package and consider your options:
1. Is ESPN or the NFL Network part of a desirable bundle?
For some, watching games is only part of the football experience. Pregame and postgame analysis from talking heads and access to national and international sports events may matter, too. But are channels like ESPN or the NFL Network worth prioritizing as you decide which cable provider and package to sign up for this fall?
Here’s an exercise we encourage you to try: List your favorite programs and the networks that air them, then rank them by who received the most mentions. Local affiliates airing games as well as the latest, greatest dramas and comedies will probably make the cut. Does ESPN or the NFL Network? If so, then secure a cable package that includes one or both along with everything else.
2. Do you really, really need NFL super packages?
Although a subscription to every single out-of-market game your local affiliates can’t air may sound enticing, it’s not for everyone.
Unless you’re a budding sports journalist, a fantasy football fanatic or an employee at the highest-paying part-time job in the world, your student budget and schedule probably won’t allow you to reap the full benefit of premium products like NFL Sunday Ticket or NFL RedZone.
3. Do you care about college football?
Are you a college student enrolled at an NCAA Division school? What about a proud graduate that wants to keep tabs on your alma mater? Either way, televised college football might not be part of the standard cable package, so sign up with a provider that gets you a great deal on a package that includes it.
The streaming revolution will not be televised.
4. Did you think about all the alternatives?
Depending on your current cable provider and the subscription you hold, supplementing cable with an over-the-top solution may solve cost conundrums in regard to watching football. SlingTV, Apple TV and Roku can all be used for streaming TV and football games directly to your television, no cable contract required.
Streaming TV services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Video are so wildly popular, many people cut the cable cord completely and never look back. One survey from Digital TV Research predicted that, by 2021, 127 million Americans will subscribe to streaming video-on-demand and the average subscriber will pay for more than one service. Note: For whatever reason, that projection doesn’t include anyone using SVODs or OTTs for streaming sports.
But to drop cable for streaming TV online, you must invest in an internet service provider that can deliver great content at fast internet speeds for an affordable price.
Two out of three? Not that difficult. Getting all three? Now that can be challenge.
Online video: What it takes to stream TV
It doesn’t matter if you have cable internet, DSL broadband, fiber optic or dial-up – an internet connection doesn’t guarantee that you have the power to stream as you want when you want. These four questions will reveal whether your current internet package is well-equipped to handle a full-time fall binge-watching regimen:
1. How many people use your internet connection?
Actually, these days, it’s more about how many gadgets rely on your current internet package. That number is on the upswing. By 2020, technology conglomerate Cisco predicts the average person will own between 3 and 4 internet-connected devices. Before you sign up for a contract, take a headcount.
2. What do you plan to stream with your internet?
Videos, duh. We just went over this, didn’t we?
Yes, but what are your preferences for video quality? Lower definition (480p) requires only 1 to 2.5 megabits per second internet speeds per user, but does anyone really prefer their programming pixilated?
Faster download speeds in the 5+ Mbps range will deliver crisper high-definition content. With that said, a home with a couple laptops and smartphones all running through one 25 Mbps internet package cuts it pretty close and could tempt the dreaded Buffer Wheel of Misery when too many devices are running simultaneously. 4K is whole different animal entirely. For that level of picture quality, Tom’s Guide recommends reliable internet speeds at least a 200 Mbps.
3. What’s the difference between advertised speed and how fast it actually is?
Just because your internet service provider says you bought a 50 Mbps package doesn’t mean you’re always getting 50 Mbps. Factors such as your distance from your current ISP and high demand during peak hours can slow your internet speeds.
Periodically checking your speed against the services you pay for will help you determine whether your current ISP has what it takes or if a switch is in order. Plenty of websites offer free speed tests. Try a few different ones to get a well-rounded idea of how fast your internet really is. Start with the Allconnect Speed Test by clicking here.
4. How old is your router?
Wireless routers give us the freedom to access the internet without a direct connection, but older equipment can ruin Wi-Fi streaming. Subscribers with internet speeds of 50 Mbps – or 500 for that matter – can’t enjoy them through a router capable of, at maximum, 5 Mpbs. Research the technical limitations of your router to confirm whether it’s ready for an autumn of wireless video streaming.
Once you answer these four questions, you’ll know a little more about whether your streaming habits sync up with your technology and terms of service.
Shop and save with Allconnect
This back-to-school season, find the cable and internet services that will bring your favorite fall lineup to your home. Allconnect helps you find providers in your area, compare bundles and select the packages that fit your budget and your viewing habits.