How to cut your internet and pay TV costs

Apple TV screen

I read this interesting article  on the cost and difficulty involved in “cutting the cord”, or, cancelling your pay TV subscription and moving over to streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu.

The article is only relevant to American residents, so I thought I’d give a quick rundown of what the situation is like in South Africa as well as what you can expect to pay locally, as well as my own personal journey in cutting the cord.

First off, let’s have a look at what your options are in South Africa when it comes to pay TV and streaming services *:

Pay TV vs Streaming

* All satellite services show costs for highest tier packages. DStv decoder retailers may include free installation with the purchase of a decoder.

Right, so that’s what you can choose from. Let’s talk through the options quickly and then do a cost comparison and what my personal solution entails:

  • Right off the bat I’ll exclude OpenView HD from the list as the content available is abysmal: only 1 HD channel (eHD), a few more channels from e and then the 3 SABC channels. The rest I’ve never heard of. At a once-off cost of R1599 it’s the cheapest of the lot, but, you get what you pay for.
  • StarSat seems quite decent if you’re on a tight budget and the premium package gives you all 77 channels which includes movies, TV shows and 25 audio channels. Don’t count on watching Game of Thrones on StarSat. Your best bet are the two Fox channels that provide good entertainment, albeit, well-known shows that are a few seasons old already. There are a few news channels, kids entertainment and some sport, again, don’t expect to watch the Boks in the World Cup, or the Currie Cup or anything else worthwhile.
  • DStv. At R699 per month (realistically you have to add the R80 per month extra else your Explora is useless) it’s the most expensive of the lot but also by far the highest quality service available. Over 130 channels of which 20 are in HD together with CatchUp and BoxOffice as well as a host of other useful services, it towers over everything else available on the South African market. The Explora decoder costs R1999 and depending if you want another TV connected or have a second decoder, installation can run up to another R1000.
  • Starting off the digital options is Node from Altech. A R1999 decoder (with free installation) and R299 gets you a good selection of content but, again, you’re not going to be watching the latest and greatest in TV and movies. Nor sport. Still, at R299 per month the content on offer is not bad and the decoder itself has a host of other functionalities such as home networking and IoT (Internet of Things) integration through SmartPlugs as well as services such as purchasing prepaid electricity and data.
  • Hulu Plus is the offer from a conglomerate of content studios responsible for some of your favourite shows. At $10 you get access to some of the latest TV shows but don’t bet on watching blockbuster movies. Also, some content is not permanently archived, meaning, some of the latest shows you need to watch within a week or two as seasons aren’t available in their entirety. Still, if you want the latest shows from some of the top studios, Hulu is a good choice.
  • Netflix. The Grand-daddy of streaming services and probably one of the most talked about companies in tech and entertainment. Available on just about any platform you can imagine, and at only $9 a month, Netflix is on it’s way to becoming a verb like Google has. “Have you seen the new episode of Trendiest Show Currently On TV?”. “No! Don’t say anything, I’m Netflixing it tonight!”. I’ve called it, it will happen. Maybe rather not… Very good selection of content, if you include Netflix’s in-house produced shows, that’ll satisfy any couch potato. Again, you’re not going to see the latest episodes of the Trendiest Show Currently On TV but they get there at some point and Netflix’s own shows are of very high quality (House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Daredevil) and including their back catalogue of top TV shows, documentaries, anime and movies, you’ll always have something to watch.
  • HBO Now. Home to some of the best, if not the best, TV shows of the last few years. Finally available as a streaming service and not shackled to cable networks. At $15 it’s the most expensive of the lot but you’re getting some of the best entertainment available, now.
  • Vidi. A recent entrant to the local streaming market, Vidi has tried to steal DStv’s thunder and preempt the launch of Multichoice’s (yes I know it’s MIH and they’re actually based in Hong Kong) own entrant (see the next bullet point). Good selection of content at R149 (don’t bother with the R69 option) that is constantly being updated but again, as with the other non-studio based services, you’re not going to see the latest shows on there. Still, enough to keep you entertained for a good while.
  • ShowMax. Launched but 2 days ago, this offering from the technology subsidiary of DStv’s parent company Naspers, offers probably the best we can currently expect in top quality entertainment streaming in South Africa. The newest TV shows that everyone on Twitter and Facebook try to avoid spoilers of are on here. At R99 you’re getting the best value of the bunch with the added bonus of a few good movies chucked in for good measure. Again, no current blockbusters available on the service but a good selection of movies none the less.

 

Right, only one left to chat about and then I can give you a rundown of what my solution is and how much money I saved and what I had to sacrifice. All the international streaming services are not yet available in South Africa (Hulu, Netflix, HBO Now) although Netflix has indicated that they will launch in South Africa over the next 12 to 18 months. If you want to access these services now, you’ll be entering into a grey legal area of geo-unblocking. The best one is UnoTelly. A $5 monthly subscription and a little bit of technical tomfoolery will unlock all of these services for you. Please note that you still need to pay the streaming service subscription on top of the UnoTelly subscription and that, current South African law, will see this activity as illegal.

So, you’re tired of paying the R700+ subscription to DStv and you want to switch to a streaming option to save some money. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Broadband ADSL/fibre subscription: starting from R399 with 100 GB of data on up to a 40MB line. You’ll need at least a 4MB line to stream content from any of the streaming services mentioned above. The 100GB should be enough for your HD streaming needs, assuming you don’t use much more data for other applications such as gaming, app downloads etc.
  • 4MB ADSL line or faster, R299 per month from Telkom. Preferably 10MB, but 4MB should suffice if you don’t run downloads or other bandwidth intensive tasks while streaming.

 

That’s it really. I’ve left out the obvious such as an HD screen (or TV) and a modem. Most of the services mentioned will also work on your smart phone, tablet, laptop or desktop. Remember that you’ll need a geo-unblocking service if you intend to watch international streaming services. If you already have a broadband internet connection, you’re going to see some savings switching to streaming. If not, the internet connection and data will swallow up most of the savings.

So, what can your savings look like? Here’s what mine tallied up to:

  • Cancelled DStv – saved R850
  • Went from uncapped 10MB internet to 150GB 10MB account – saved R300
  • Streaming subscription services – R270

 

Total saving including streaming services – R880 per month. The catch is that I can no longer watch live sport. SuperSport has a monopoly on just about any sporting event and league you can think of and there is no way around it, so take that into account when deciding to cut the cord (or blink the link, as we use satellite. I made a funny). If you’re a movie buff and like your movies less than a year old, you can download movies from iTunes.

Hope this helps those of you thinking of going the streaming-only route. If you miss rugby, you can always start supporting a team in the NFL (NFL Gamepass is $99 per year to follow a team through the regular season).

Bazinga.