How I Got My Parents To Cut the Cord and Not Freak Out About It





My parents have long been diehard cable subscribers – I remember growing up in one of the few households that had the complete package plus HBO, a rarity back then. In more recent years, the local cable provider, Spectrum, kept them locked in with a few channels dedicated to Chinese shows. 

Which made broaching the topic of cutting the cord and nixing cable a sensitive task. My long-retired parents were comfortable with their setup, despite the high costs (nearly $200 with taxes and fees), and the kinds of things I was suggesting, from moving to streaming to even changing our internet provider, threw them out of their comfort zone. 

But my parents have always kept an open mind about things, and despite the big changes I was suggesting, they seemed willing to adapt. 

My parents are just two of millions of people cutting the cord as consumers start to reexamine how much they’re paying for TV, and just how they want to watch that content. But there remains a large slice of viewers who, like my parents, are comfortable with the older model. Sometimes they just need an outside catalyst. 

Full disclosure: This process was made a lot easier because my family and I moved in with my parents. The primary reason was so my kids could spend more time with their grandparents, but a side benefit would be getting them comfortable with a more modern entertainment setup. Being on site as “tech support” definitely made the transition easier, but hopefully these tips will still be helpful.

Here’s how I did it:

Step 1: Break away from cable

The first step was to get my parents out of their triple play bundle of internet, TV and phone, which had steadily gone up in price over time. We were fortunate that AT&T Fiber launched right around when we were considering making the shift, so changing internet service providers offered a good excuse to break out of the triple play. The service would cost $70 a month. 

This isn’t a situation that would apply to anyone, so I would suggest having a conversation and calling either the existing provider or a competing ISP and exploring the broadband-only options. Just be sure to not fall for the triple play pitch all over again. 

My parents insisted I keep our home phone number, so I ported it over to an Ooma voice-over IP account. The setup costs included $150 for the modem and new phones (which I ended up not needing) and the monthly rate is $9.99 (although in California, the taxes and fees meant my actual monthly costs were around $17. 

Realistically, we don’t even use the number, and I’d suggest saving the money and relying on your cellphones. But if you want to hang on to your legacy home phone number, Ooma is an affordable option.

I also explored the option of an antenna as a substitute for some local channels. But after fiddling with one and only getting a handful of channels — the area we live in happens to have interference for some reason — I gave up on that option.

Just getting rid of cable TV was a first big step, so you want to make the transition as smooth as possible. 

Step 2: Get them comfortable with a smart TV interface

I had brought over a Roku stick from the move, and started getting my parents used to the interface. Having used iPhones for a long time, they understood the concept of apps. But the biggest catalyst for adoption was finding the TVB North America Roku channel, which allowed them to stream entire libraries of Chinese shows and movies. The TVB app is free with advertising (there is no pay version available in this market). 

The Roku background has become a comfortable place for my parents.

While I prefer Roku, there are obviously a lot of different options when it comes to smart TV interfaces, whether it’s Apple TV, Amazon Fire or Google Chromecast. Then there are the built-in smart TV operating systems from the likes of Samsung or LG. Which one you end up with really comes down to preference and comfort level, but it’s important you stick to a consistent experience across different TVs. 

For instance, I installed a smaller Roku-powered TCL TV in my parents bedroom (a Prime Day special, of course). It’s worth browsing through different interfaces and running them by your parents to see if any work for them.

Over time, they got used to using the system. But it’s clear they missed having that live broadcast feed. 

Step 3: Find a replacement for live TV

Cutting the cord can be a jarring experience, so I opted to soften the blow by subscribing to a live TV service, YouTube TV. The myriad of channels and library of content that you can “DVR” eased them into the change, with key local channels and cable favorites like CNBC largely replicating their former experience. 

The interface also offers a cable-like interface of channels that they can scroll through and channel surf. After a while, my parents didn’t mind utilizing the app to catch their favorite shows and channels.

The idea of choosing the YouTube TV app on Roku also got them more comfortable with the smart TV interface as the “home screen” of the TV. 

Step 4: Find a replacement for live TV replacement

As someone who has largely lived on pay streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ the last few years, I found YouTube TV to be almost nostalgic, and relished the idea of channel surfing. But that novelty wore off after the company opted to raise its monthly rate by $8 to $72.99. 

Between the Ooma phone service, internet and YouTube TV (excluding our streaming services, which I don’t really count since they rarely use the services), the total was around $160, very close to our prior cable bill. 

shutter stock youtube tv
The price hike meant I could justify saying farewell to YouTube TV. Credit: Shutterstock

That’s when I sat down with my parents to discuss what channels they really needed. I started looking for replacements for local news channels on Pluto TV and Local Now. I also found local ABC and Fox Roku channels they could use. Instead of CNBC, they turned to Bloomberg, although my mom finds the channel too busy.

This is going to be a tough step for you, and for many, Step 4 can be the final step. But there’s more to go if you want to truly cut the cord.

Step 5: Cancel the last vestige of live TV

The key was giving them time to adjust to this new collection of channels, which weren’t in a single convenient location. They would have to click into different channels and dig. 

That’s why I didn’t cancel my YouTube TV subscription until early July, several months after the price increase but enough time for them to get used to this new normal. Our total costs were down to less than $90. 

A month into it, I asked my parents how they liked the experience. It wasn’t perfect, my mom preferring to see CNBC, and missing that instant, channel-surfing experience. My dad noted that having the Chinese Roku channel was a big factor that made the transition easier. 

When I asked if it was worth the cost to get that cable bundle again, both assuredly said no, so consider them converted to cord cutting. 

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