From CBS All Access to HBO Now, you have a lot of choices.
Cable is no longer your only option.
By Geoff Williams, Jan. 26, 2016
Even if Mike Arman, semiretired and living in Oak Hill, Florida, doesn’t speak for all cable subscribers, he surely speaks for some.
“Crappy service, incompetent tech support, customer service reps with single-digit IQs, prices kept going up and up,” Arman says.
In 2009, Arman decided to switch to a satellite dish but wasn’t any happier.
“Different company, same nonsense, same stupidity … Eventually also told them to stuff it,” he says.
After getting rid of his satellite TV in 2014, Arman bought an antenna on eBay for $12. He says he gets about 25 channels, “of which maybe three are worth watching sometimes. Same ratio as cable and dish,” he adds.
That may be a little harsh. Many TV critics have pointed out that there is an abundance of quality television these days, arguing that there’s so much, you couldn’t begin to watch it all. Still, it’s easy to see why consumers grumble about cable. The average bill is $99.10, according to consumer research released last fall by the Leichtman Research Group, and it’s gone up 39 percent since 2010.
Small wonder that some consumers find other ways to get their entertainment fix.
So if you’re looking to save money without giving up your favorite programming, you might want to investigate some of the streaming services available. Here are eight alternatives, some of which you may not have heard of.
CBS All Access
Cost: $6 a month.
Why it’s worth considering: If you want to cut cable, but you tend to watch a lot of CBS shows and can’t miss your “Big Bang Theory” or the evening news (and you feel like you wouldn’t miss the other networks), this may be for you. You can watch the channel live through your computer or mobile device, although first, make sure the live TV element of CBS All Access is available in your area before ditching your cable.
Cost: $14.99 a month.
Why it’s worth considering: HBO Now is a stand-alone streaming-only service. If you’re a cable subscriber with HBO, and you’re a fan of HBO’s original programs and movie offerings but want to ditch cable without losing HBO, this allows you to do that.
Why it’s worth considering: Do you have a library card? Then check it out, so you can check out (well, stream) movies, not to mention music and books. Hoopla Digital has partnerships with more than 400 library systems across North America. There’s no live TV, of course, so it isn’t close to being a true substitute for cable, but get rid of cable and combine this free service with another paid service like CBS All Access or HBO Now, and you might be pretty happy with your entertainment options.
Cost: $9.99 (existing subscribers may be paying a little less).
Why it’s worth considering: Netflix is arguably the most famous of the streaming services, and with 74.8 million subscribers around the world, it obviously has its share of fans. It’s known for having a vast library of both commercial-free movies and television series, and in recent years, it’s gained a lot of attention for its original movies and TV series, like “Orange is the New Black” and “House of Cards.” On the other hand, if you give up cable for Netflix, no more news or, say, first-run episodes of “The Middle” or “The Muppets.”
Cost: $7.99 a month ($11.99 a month if you want commercial-free programming).
Why it’s worth considering: Many network TV episodes air on Hulu Plus (as well as its free counterpart, Hulu.com) the day after airing on network TV, far faster than on other streaming sites. So if you want a streaming service that can replace cable TV, this one can come sort of close. Hulu Plus also has done some original programming; for instance, it picked up the fourth season of “The Mindy Project,” which had aired on Fox.
Cost: $99 a year.
Why it’s worth considering: Its library of TV and movies isn’t as expansive as Netflix and Hulu Plus, but it also offers original television episodic programming (think: “Transparent” and “Mozart in the Jungle”), and it has other benefits that may entice you. For instance, you also get access to Amazon’s streaming music service, and if you’re a frequent online shopper, you receive free two-day shipping on eligible items and free same-day delivery in eligible ZIP codes.
Cost: $5 a month, though you can pay a little more and get more channels.
Why it’s worth considering: You’re streaming live cable. And it’s cheap. But before you write your cable company a nasty breakup letter, KlowdTV’s cable channels aren’t exactly mainstream. They don’t have CNN or ESPN yet, but they do have Revolt, Vibrant TV Network and Youtoo America. Still, the website is worth a look, in case you see some niche channels you like (there’s a channel devoted to soccer), as well as lots of Spanish-language programming.
Cost: $20 a month.
Why it’s worth considering: This is a subsidiary of the satellite provider Dish Network, but you don’t need to be a Dish subscriber. Sling TV lets you stream cable TV channels live, and it has channels like CNN, AMC, TBS and ESPN. But if you’re a fan of the broadcast television networks, such as ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX, not to mention PBS, then you’re out of luck.
Some issues to mull over before saying goodbye to cable. When it comes to cable, in many ways, you’re paying for the convenience of having a bunch of channels that you do watch (and a bunch that you don’t), and being able to mindlessly channel-surf like you probably have most of your life. If you ditch your cable, it may take a while to find a combination of streaming services and gadgetry that you like.
For instance, if you don’t have a streaming device for your TV and you cut your cable, you may quickly hate your TV set (unless you do something like purchase a high-definition antenna that picks up local channels, which is certainly an option worth looking into). If you have a gaming console, such as a Wii or an Xbox, you can probably use it to stream programming onto your TV. Or perhaps you’ll want to buy an Apple TV to stream a service like Netflix.
“I prefer a Roku 3 streaming player over Apple TV because it has more channels and it’s streaming-service agnostic,” says Chris Brantner, a co-founder of the website CutCableToday.com. “It allows me to use my Amazon Prime account for streaming, which Apple TV will not. Although if you use iTunes, Roku does not support it.”
As you can see, there’s a bit of a learning curve to cutting cable, if you don’t know the lingo.
Marcia Noyes, a public relations executive in New Braunfels, Texas, says she recently cut cable after watching her adult kids do the same. She soon cobbled together an entertainment-news package that works well for her.
“I use the Fox and CNN apps on my iPad to catch the news in the morning,” Noyes says. She admits, though, that it can be disconcerting since when TV commercials come on, she only sees dead air.
But if she sort of misses the commercials, Noyes doesn’t miss spending $100 a month on cable.
Noyes says she watches TV and movies on Netflix, but is also a sports fan. Still, she isn’t completely out of luck. Now, she opts to catch a football game in a very old-fashioned way. Instead of, say, discussing sports on social media, she actually is social. Noyes walks to a neighborhood bar to cheer for her team.
“Even with the cost of the beer, you save a ton,” she says.