Most Canadians still watch cable or satellite TV. However, cord-cutting is catching on as more people seek potentially cheaper and more versatile viewing options.
But not everyone has the technical chops to break with tradition.
So enter the cord-cutting consultant, a hired hand who does the job for you. It’s a small but growing business model fuelled by expanding viewing options in the digital age.
'Your nerdy best friend'
Sean Whitehead started his cord-cutting business last year to monetize what he had already been doing for free: setting up online video streaming services for technically challenged friends and family who yearned to cut the cord.
He likens his Toronto company, Kutko Canada, to "your nerdy best friend."
The service begins with a visit from a "cord consultant" who assesses a customer’s TV habits and wish-list.
"Cutting the cord is a very personal process," Kutko explains on its website.
The consultant then installs the necessary hardware and most often sets up customers with a variety of online video streaming services that suit their needs. The fee is $125 excluding equipment.
Whitehead says he’s already served about 200 customers. He claims he’s cut down customers’ TV bills, on average, by 40 to 60 per cent.
"Once they see the amount of content that’s on those [streaming] services and the amount of money they’re paying, their eyes light up." He adds, "I’ve had people say, 'I was home all weekend and I binged-watched so much content.'"
To give his customers wide variety, Whitehead also helps people access foreign streaming services like Sling TV in the U.S. and Netflix from the U.S., the U.K. and Mexico.
"I’ve helped families that are Russian access content through Russian iTunes," he adds.
Virtually crossing borders to use streaming services violates many companies' terms of service, including those set by Netflix.
"We employ industry standard measures to prevent this kind of use," Netflix told CBC News in an email.
However, the practice of streaming content beyond borders is widespread. "None of those companies really enforce … terms of service," claims Whitehead.
Suzan Lorenz believes she never could have made the switch without Kutko. The mother of three was frustrated with her cable provider’s cost and service.
But she had no idea how to set up an adequate alternative. "I’m not savvy with all of that stuff," she admits.
Whitehead installed for Lorenz a variety of video streaming services, allowing her to access everything from European documentaries to sporting events for about $30 a month.
She says what she used to pay for her internet and cable bill combined has dropped by about half and she has better viewing options.
"There’s more than enough that anyone should have time for," she says.
Cord-cutting consulting is also catching on across the border. John Brillhart in Minneapolis set up his company, Cable Alternatives, just months ago. "I call myself the geek squad for people who want to get rid of their cable," he says.
Brillhart installs both streaming services and TV antennas for an increasing number of clients.
He runs his business from home with the help of his wife. But he hopes to grow it to the point where he has multiple crews serving the city.
"I think the industry is transitioning in a way that will allow me to turn it into something that's really sustainable," says the laid-off project manager.
The antenna guys
There’s also a growing business for the TV antenna guy.
Five years ago, when some networks starting broadcasting over the air in high definition, Geoff Tebbutt envisioned a new beginning for those old-fashioned rabbit ears and roof-top antennas.
"In the old days, we used to watch TV with an antenna, and some days it was ghostly, some days it was snowy, depending on the weather,” says the former food prep worker.
But now, antenna users can pick up free, high-quality HDTV signals.
So Tebbutt set up his company, The Antenna Guys, offering outdoor antenna installation across much of southwestern Ontario.
He says the outdoor devices offer the widest range of channels — up to 35 American and Canadian stations —depending on where you live.
He charges between $550 and $750 for equipment and installation, but emphasizes viewers only pay a one-time fee.
Tebbutt says business is booming with customers from all walks of life: "rich people, poor people, anybody who watches TV and doesn't want to pay the cable companies anymore."
His clients include small businesses such as a barbershop and dentists' offices.
Tied with tradition?
Of course, cable-cutting isn’t for everyone — you may not have access to every show you want, and most viewers still enjoy the comfort and ease of cable or satellite TV.
And in 2016, cable companies will have to give subscribers more choice when selecting TV packages.
Whitehead with Kutko Canada admits that, during the consultation, even he advises some clients to stick with their traditional service.
"Cable’s current delivery form is like a warm and cozy comfort blanket," he explains. "I don’t think some people are quite ready for [streaming] because it is completely different way of watching TV."
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