Over the past five years, cable bills have been increasing steadily, posting a nearly 40-percent rate hike.
For the average American household, cable bills total more than $100 per month. Based on current trends, expect that bill to double within the next five years. If you’ve got special subscriptions — sports or extra channels for instance — you’re paying even more.
But you don’t have to.
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Canceling a cable subscription falls under the definition of “cord cutting,” and isn’t an easy thing to do. Viewers undoubtedly have a number of television shows they are committed to watching, so the fear of missing out — knowing that new episodes are being aired and you’re not there to see them — weighs heavily.
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If you’ve considered canceling your cable subscription, this information will help you decide whether you can live with the options available in a cable-free household.
A few things to keep in mind:
- You need high-speed Internet with download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second.
- You’ll need to replace that cable box with some other hardware to stream to your television. Your best options are to purchase a mid-range HD Antenna ($55-$65) and either Google Chromecast ($35) or Amazon Fire Stick ($39).
- Owning a DVR system is not necessary. On-demand viewing is available on most services, so save your money.
Here’s where the water gets a little cloudy. There are so many options, catering to so many people, and they come in so many price points that decisions can be overwhelming. It’s best to know what entertainment options you need, which you simply want, and which you can live without.
The Big Three
Netflix — $7.99 per month, to watch on two screens, to $11.99 per month to watch on four screens: Nearly 40 percent of all Internet traffic is due to Netflix. It offers thousands of movies, television shows, documentaries and, with its original programming, Netflix has established itself as a legitimate production company. The company devotes a wealth of content to various genres, and they’ve mastered the algorithm for suggesting shows and movies based on your previous viewing habits. There’s even a separate platform for kids to browse age-appropriate shows.
Amazon Prime — $99 a year, or $8.25 a month, which includes all Prime services: Prime TV allows you to view content in ways similar to Netflix, but also provides additional options. Some are free, some are not. You can rent or buy certain movies outright, or, like cable, you can add packages from places like Showtime or Starz to watch specific content.
Hulu — $7.99 per month, or $11.99 per month without commercials: If you’re worried about missing out on certain episodes as they air, Hulu is the service you’ll want. It doesn’t have the stable of movies or documentaries the others offer, but the collection is impressive and worthwhile. The major benefit is the television offerings, which allow you to watch episodes the day after they air.
Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime are all well-known because they offer such a great value, but other options are available. Often, free services will run different ads while you watch, but it’s a small price to pay. The subscription services are held to a different standard, though.
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HBO Now — $15 per month: Over the past decade, HBO has moved from a “Home Box Office” to a source of fantastic original content covering movies, series, and sports. They’re finally allowing cord cutters a chance to purchase their service, and the cost isn’t unreasonable considering the service. You can access hundreds of movies, comedy specials, and original programming like “Game of Thrones,” all ready for viewing at your leisure.
SlingTV — $20 per month and up: For $20 per month, you’ll have access to 23 actual television channels, streamed through the Internet. You’re not left watching three channels and 20 others containing infomercials, either. ESPN, AMC, Disney, History, A&E, Lifetime, and Food Network are just a few of what you’ll get with the basic package. But for an additional $5 per package, you can add sports, kids television, movies, news, and more. It’s the closest things to a la carte television currently available.
Free or No-Cost Options
Hoopla: Hoopla gives you another reason to make sure your library card is up to date because, with that and your email address, you can sign up to “borrow” audiobooks, movies, music, comic books, eBooks, and television shows. Granted, you’re not getting original programming, nor are you going to be on the cutting edge of new releases. But the range of offerings from each library is wildly impressive.
Crackle: Crackle features a lot of Sony-owned movies and TV shows, available for free. There’s not much in terms of “brand new” content, but there’s an array of options, particularly if you’re open to reliving some of your old favorites. Crackle’s original programming includes “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” Jerry Seinfeld’s newest venture, which is worth your time.
PopcornFlix: A movie service that streams thousands of titles for free, PopcornFlix is available on a number of devices. Be warned though, there is some adult content in the form of R-rated movies, so you’ll have to police the viewing yourself. The extensive library includes new titles added every month.
What to do about live sports
Sports is the main reason people stick with cable. But the best option for cord cutters right now is SlingTV, thanks to the inclusion of ESPN and the addition of the sports pack. If you’re looking for legal ways to watch your favorite team, odds are you’re going to be disappointed.
If you’re dedicated to a particular team that isn’t local to you, there are very few options outside a cable subscription. If you can settle for watching the NBA, NHL, MLB, or NFL over the air, which has limited coverage, fantastic. Otherwise you’re forced to research whether you meet the strict requirements that would allow you to stream your favorite sports teams in other ways.
For NFL fans, it seems the league is stepping in the right direction, albeit slowly. One game was streamed live this year on Yahoo, and last year’s Super Bowl was streamed on its website and app for free. Some playoff games will be streamed this year as well, indicating that we might see a more robust option in the future. Additionally, the NFL Sunday Ticket package may be available soon to all, regardless of which cable service you use.
If you’re looking for MLB, NHL, or NBA, you’ll have a little more luck. Each major league sport offers a subscription plan that gives viewers limited access. Unfortunately, most of those services are subject to local blackout rules, meaning you won’t be watching your local team.
NCAA sportscasts are another entity altogether, but unfortunately the results are the same. You could certainly pay $9.95 each month for the CBS College Sports Live service, but the more popular sports — like football — are typically only broadcasting audio, so you won’t be watching many games.
If you’re still on the fence, give your cable provider a call and ask to speak to the “Retention Department.” Their job is to convince you to maintain your status as a customer and are often instructed to offer you some amazing package deals. If they don’t want to offer you a better deal, or if they offer you a change that would make your total bill increase (yes, they really do this), be prepared to cancel. Usually within a week or so, they’ll be calling you like a desperate ex, begging you to take them back.
Hopefully, you’ve already moved on.