CBS All Access ($5.99/mo. or $59.99/yr. with commercials; $9.99/mo. or $99.99/yr. without): There are several basic cable and major broadcast channels moving into this arena, too, looking to lure customers with exclusive content. CBS has been making the boldest moves here, packaging a library of new and old CBS shows alongside in-demand original series like “Star Trek: Discovery.” CBS All Access also allows for live-streaming of your local CBS affiliate (with some restrictions based on market, program and/or device).
However, please note that I'm not advocating doing ALL of these! If you did, you'd wind up spending more than you were paying for cable. That would be dumb. We currently subscribe to Sling TV, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. We are switching over to DIRECTV NOW starting next month because we have one AT&T phone and can use the data from that phone to watch for free.
An antenna is your means of access to local programming when cutting cable TV. If you want an in-depth guide for the information required for an optimal antenna solution, you should check out my antenna guide. Setting up an antenna may be seamless, or it may be the most difficult thing you do when canceling cable. There are numerous variables involved in television signals and antennas. If you are having a difficult time with this, the antenna guide makes this task easier.
What you don’t get: Live TV still isn’t available in some smaller markets, and the new plans eliminate some popular networks that were available under the older plans, including A&E, AMC, Discovery, and Viacom. Those who subscribed before the change are allowed to keep their current plan and channel lineup, but are subject to the $10-a-month price hike.
I have been thinking and talking about getting rid of cable for years. Initially the motivation was to have more time, but when I started watching my expenses and saving for retirement, the $50/month bill started to bug me. Every time I try to do it, however, a show that I like to watch starts a new season – Master Chef, Top Chef, Survivor. (Clearly I’m a reality tv fan.) I think I might have finally accepted that I’m just always going to have tv, and that is okay.
Streaming: If you have a smart TV, media streamer box or stick (Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast, Apple TV, etc.), or smart Blu-ray Disc player, and subscribe to an internet service, you can access TV program and movie content without an antenna or cable/satellite service. Popular streaming services include Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Crackle, Vudu, and YouTube.
Here’s a good place to experiment. Don’t look for a live TV option with Nickelodeon or Disney; instead, make use of the PBS app and YouTube’s kid-friendly channels, which are free. Get a subscription to Boomerang for some classic cartoons, and supplement that with some combination of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, all of which have some excellent children’s shows.
You will instantly get over 100 channels, and there are tons more that you can add along the way. PlayLater is software for your computer or mobile device that records streaming media, saving it to your device for future viewing. If you already have a streaming device or gaming console, you've already got most of the features offered by this software, but for $39.99 for lifetime access, you won't waste a lot of money trying it out.
The only reasons not to get an inexpensive antenna are because you don’t want to fuss between different inputs, or you can’t find a suitable window or another spot in your home. Other than that, it’s the best way to ensure you get all your local channels, which many streaming services lack in some form. Read our comparison of the best antennas available right now.
Not everything is free: Although over-the-air TV reception and many streaming channels are free, there are many streaming channels and services that require a monthly subscription or pay-per-view fee. If you only pay for one or two subscription-based or pay-per-view services, you can save money over cable/satellite. However, if you keep adding more pay services, those fees can add up, and you might again find yourself with a hefty monthly subscription or pay-per-view bill that could rival that old cable/satellite bill.
In designing our guide, we took all of these factors into account and simplified things, designing five bundles of online television programing—one of which, we think, will suit just about any type of TV viewer. For each bundle, we show you the price, the projected savings compared to the 2014 average basic cable price of $66.61, and how many additional a la carte TV seasons (estimated $30 per show) you could buy before cable would be more cost-effective.
The good news is that nearly all of these services offer the ESPN family of networks as standard, at the lowest tier. Many then offer regional Fox Sports channels, and even an array of overseas sports broadcasts. Soccer fanatics should also look into FuboTV, which emphasizes the major sports leagues in general but is particularly generous with international football. Again, be sure to check with the various live TV providers to see what you’re allowed to see in your region and for what price. (If you can afford it, consider Playstation Vue, which offers easy access to the many games streaming every day on ESPN’s website.) ESPN also now offers ESPN+, which features a selection of live games from professional and college sports, along with access to the network's documentary films and some studio content exclusive to the subscription service.
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With the least cable-like interface of the Big 5, Hulu's greatest asset is the integration of live TV with its significant catalog of on-demand content for one price. Unfortunately, the interface frustrations apparent with the standard service are amplified once you add live TV. The app generally confuses "simple" with "incomplete." It technically offers a guide, for example, but it's extremely bare-bones. Another issue is that you'll have to pay extra, a hefty $15 per month, to get the ability to skip commercials on Hulu's cloud DVR. Its channel count is solid, but YouTube TV at $5 less is a better value if you don't care about Hulu's catalog.