Growing up, my family very rarely had cable television. We mostly watched what was on network television, and I grew up on PBS especially. In those days, the before school hours, the after school hours up until the news hour, and Saturday mornings were filled with children’s content on pretty much every network channel. Today, I can’t find children’s programming on a weekday morning or afternoon except for on PBS, which we love and adore.
Apparently, in order to get children’s programming, one must pay for cable television and niche channels. The biggest problem with this is that along with those kid and family friendly channels, you also get what I like to call the junk channels. Channels that are full of stuff I don’t want my kids to see.
The Christmas before we found out we were expecting our first child, my husband and I decided that we wanted to get cable for the holiday season so that we could watch all of the fun Christmas movies and shows on cable television. So, we did. And then we got hooked on a few shows, so we kept the cable. But not for very long. By spring, I was working full time at a new job and I was also beginning my second trimester in my first pregnancy. This didn’t leave much time for television watching because I was still so exhausted that I pretty much just worked and slept. My husband, however, got off work at noon and had a couple of hours before he had to be to classes most days. He would come home from work, eat lunch, and watch a little television before going to class. One day I came home from work and he unilaterally announced that we were getting rid of cable. I was fine with that, since I hardly used it and it would save us fifty bucks a month (give or take), but I wanted to know why he had made such a decision. Apparently, in the middle of the day, on a basic cable channel, he had been flipping through and came upon a scene of a movie that had been “edited” for television. There was full on nudity, and pornographic actions being portrayed, with little blurred fuzzy areas to cover certain body parts. It left no question as to what was going on, and my husband turned the television off and unhooked the cable right then and there. I called the next day and had our subscription cancelled. We haven’t had cable or satellite since (except for a brief time when we lived with family between living situations).
We didn’t know at the time, but we were part of the first wave of now-called “cord cutters,” and we have watched the world of instant streaming develop before our very eyes. We use a digital receiver and antenna to get over-the-air channels, and we have tried out pretty much every instant streaming service out there, and sometimes we use one, sometimes another. But one thing has stayed the same: our Roku. We have a Wii, and it doesn’t do the same stuff, and we tried a Sony set-top box and the user interface was waaaay to complicated. My mom has a wireless enabled Blu-ray player, and she can’t get half the stuff we get, and I haven’t bothered trying Apple TV because it is more expensive, but I suppose the two are pretty comparable.
Roku also has a bunch of channels available, many of which are free. Our favorite is BYUtv. Some of their content is geared towards LDS/Mormon audiences, but most of it is nondenominational, uplifting shows like American Ride which covers American history, the Story Trek, Turning Point, several music, sports, and cooking programs, Granite Flatts which is an original series set in Cold War 1960s, and a comedy sketch program called Studio C. All of these are available on demand. You can also watch BYUtv live stream, and this is the best because they play old, classic Disney movies almost daily. I watched Darby O’Gill and the Little People today while I folded laundry. We also use Pandora on our Roku, and both of the PBS channels (one for kids, one for everything else), which are both free as well.
As for paid content, at one time or another we have used Netflix, Hulu Plus, Spirit Clips, Redbox Instant and Amazon Prime. Netflix has, by far, the largest content database, including lots of kid’s shows.
The Roku 3 allows
for the use of Netflix profiles, and we have been told it will be available on
the other Rokus sometime this year, but no official date has been set. (UPDATE 3/8/17: All of the newly released Rokus currently available on the market allow for Netflix profiles. Older models such as the Roku 1, 2, LT and older are now obsolete and were never updated to include the option for Netflix profiles.) Each
profile can have different parental settings, from “little kids” under 7, to
biger kids under twelve, to teens and tweens, and adults. This is awesome because I don’t have to worry
about seeing movies I don’t want to watch in my suggestions lists, and my kids
can have their own profile set to their age level. Netflix lets
you try it out for a month for free, but if you decide not to use the service,
make sure to cancel before that month is up or you’ll be charged for the next
one. Netflix renews on a month to month basis, costs $9.99 per month for a
streaming only account, and there is no contract. If you want them, they still mail out disks
as well, which includes new releases and shows that aren’t available for streaming,
but it is an additional $9.99.
Hulu Plus’ format is a little on the complicated side, but it does the job. We don’t use Hulu Plus right now, but it is great for keeping up on currently running shows that Hulu carries (which, sadly, does not include CBS). Most shows post within a few days of airing on television, and you can watch most of them on Hulu for free using a desktop or laptop computer. But if you are behind more than a few episodes, it takes a Hulu Plus account to view past episodes and past seasons. Some content, including much of the children’s stuff, is exclusive to Hulu Plus as well. Hulu also has no contract and renews on a monthly basis, and it costs $7.99 per month. The downside is that there are no parental controls(UPDATE: Hulu now has parental controls, but it applies across all streaming devices), and sometimes “sugestions” are not appropriate for children. How do you explain to your five-year-old that the cartoon he saw on there isn’t for kids? They do have a specific Hulu Kids option that you can navigate to, but it’s still too easy for kids to get to something a parent wouldn’t feel comfortable with.
SpiritClips is owned by Hallmark and features some of their Hallmark Hall of Fame Movies as well as some classic Hollywood films. They don’t have a whole lot of content for the time being, but this is one that will be worth keeping an eye on, since it’s target audience is families and they get new stuff every month. And at $4.99 per month OR $35.99 per year, it is decently priced.
We tried the free month of Redbox instant and decided it wasn’t worth our money. For the time being, they do not offer anything unique since most of their recent films are also on Netflix and Amazon, and most of their collection is old B or made for TV movies, and I don’t remember there being anything kid friendly. In fact, most of it was trashy stuff I wouldn’t want to watch. So, we ditched it before the free month was up. I may check it out in a year or so, though, because when we first got Netflix instant it wasn’t much more than old Westerns and B movies, so Redbox has nowhere to go but up. No contract, month to month, $8 with 4 kiosk rentals, $6 for just streaming.
Finally, Amazon Prime. This is my second favorite of the paid streaming companies, Netflix being the first. Amazon Prime allows you to stream select movies and shows from their video library, but not everything in the library is Prime eligible.
Hulu, there are no parental controls, but you can add acceptable shows to a
“Watch List” and once in the watch list you cannot see any of the other shows available. (UPDATE 3/8/17 Amazon Prime now has excellent parental controls, as well as a plethora of suggested content. The up side is that, with the parental controls you can set a ratings limit for your account, and then select which devices you want the parental controls applied to. If you want to watch something outside of that parental control rating, you still can by using a password. The down side of the suggestions is that it shows both prime and non-prime content, and content not within the parental control limits. My favorite feature, however, is that there is a "Not Interested" option for suggestions, and they won't show it to you again. I wish Netflix had this option!) Once you subscribe to Prime, you also qualify
for free 2 day shipping on Prime eligible purchases on Amazon.com. There are also some other perks to having a
Prime account. The cost for Amazon Prime
is $79 $99 yearly, and once you use $79 $99 worth of shipping charges or viewing, you
cannot cancel for any kind of refund. If
you cancel before then, they deduct what you have used from your refund. Since it is more costly up-front, I recommend trying a free 30-day trial before you sign up to know whether or not it is worth it
for you to subscribe.
Roku offers hundreds of channels, from fitness channels, to special interests, to health and beauty. So many different options, some paid and some free. We use those I mentioned to help meet our entertainment needs for a fraction of the cost of cable. We pay around $16 per month, if you average the Amazon Prime membership over 12 months, and not including internet costs since we would pay those on top of cable anyway. I don’t want to give the impression that we do nothing but watch TV all day, because we don’t. But we do enjoy television as a form of entertainment. It makes it easier for me to get cooking done to be able to turn on an educational show for my kids while I make dinner. It also makes laundry folding more enjoyable for me. Have any of you cut the cord? What alternatives have worked for your family? Or did you quit TV cold turkey?
UPDATE 10/8/15: Just under a year ago, we added another product to our streaming life. Its called PlayOn, read more about it HERE.
Disclaimer: This post contains liks to sites where I am a registered affiliate