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Sling TV is a Cord Cutter's Best Hope and Worst Nightmare

By Dustin Rowles | TV | September 8, 2016 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | September 8, 2016 |

Back in March, I made the decision like many people in recent years to finally cut the cord, only in my case there is a wrinkle: I’m a TV reviewer. To be able to pull it off, I still had to have access to all the major television networks so that I could continue to do my job. Netflix and Amazon Prime were easy, and Hulu filled in some of the blanks, especially where it concerned ABC and Fox comedies. Starz, HBO, and Showtime all have stand-alone services, and I could pick up the broadcast networks over the air with a television antenna.

There were still a few holes, however. AMC, FX, and the USA Network are a crucial part of my job, and though I do get screeners, most networks do not send screeners for an entire season.

Enter Sling TV.

In March, I could get AMC, TNT, TBS, ESPN, and a few other networks for a mere $20 a month, which — at the time — was all I needed. I could watch The Walking Dead and Detour, and the news on CNN, if I so desired. I never used Sling TV more than an hour or two each week, but the $20 a month was worth the security of having it if I needed it (plus, Sling TV, like Netflix or HBO, is easy to cancel at any time with the push of a button). It was perfect. I bought a Fire TV so I could run everything through one hub, and I was all set without cable.

I began to get nervous, however, as the premiere for Mr. Robot approached, but not long before that happened, Sling TV added the USA Network to a different package that only cost $25. I quickly switched, and the new package also had FX, so I could easily watch You’re the Worst and Better Things when it starts tonight. When Fear the Walking Dead returned, I added back the other package, so now for $40 a month, I have all the networks I need: AMC, FX, USA, Comedy Central, and even Adult Swim for Rick and Morty.

This is what you get for $40. I don’t think there’s anything else I need that can’t be purchased with a stand-alone service.

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For a cord cutter who loves football, however, there was still that one major hole: The NFL. Yes, I can get local games on air, and ESPN games on Sling TV (as well as Thursday night games on the newly available NFL Network), but for the last several years, the only answer to Sunday NFL viewing was The Red Zone, which jumps back and forth to all the Sunday games with no commercials.

Two weeks ago, Sling TV added the Red Zone for $5 a month. Perfect.

Granted, I’m now paying $45 a month, plus $15 for HBO, $10 for Netflix, $9 for Amazon, $10 for Hulu, and depending on the month, another $15 for Starz and Showtime. Believe it or not, however, that’s still much less expensive than a cable package that provided all of those networks, plus Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. Before I cut the cord, I was paying close to $150 for those cable and premium channels alone. This is a much better deal.

The good news is for even the most ardent TV junkie (or even TV critic), cutting the cord can be done. It is possible to free yourself from the tentacles of Time Warner or Comcast.

Here’s the bad news: Sling TV doesn’t come with a DVR, so viewers either have to watch their programs live or watch it the next morning On Demand. There are also no commercial skipping abilities, and I’ve been reminded without a DVR for the last six months that there are a ton of commercials, which are not only frustrating but often ruin the flow of a good television drama.

To be able to tell Time Warner to shove off, however, the minor frustration has been worth the tradeoffs.

The nightmare part about Sling TV, however, is this: Live-viewing is terrible. Even for those of us who have the best available Internet packages, Sling TV flickers on and off repeatedly, and when it is on, the picture is not always of the best quality. I have yet to watch an episode of Mr. Robot this season where the picture didn’t go out for minutes at a time more than once during each episode. At this point, I don’t even bother to watch it live. I wait and watch it On Demand the next day.

That blows, but it’s going to blow even more if the same problems plague the Red Zone channel come this Sunday, because On Demand the next day is not an option for the NFL. Football must be enjoyed live. If you have friends over to watch a game, the last thing you want is a spotty, flickering picture that comes in and out. With the NFL coming for the first time to Sling TV, I’m not sure if its servers can handle the number of viewers, and if it fails me repeatedly on Sunday, I may have to do the unthinkable and return to the (somewhat) more reliable and much more expensive cable television.

Pros: Less expensive; a la carte bundles; freedom from cable monoliths; easy to cancel

Cons: No commercial skipping abilities; unreliable service

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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