With cable prices seemingly always on the rise, the practice of cable-cutting has become a popular alternative to the standard TV model. Cable-cutting is exactly what it sounds like: cutting off your cable or satellite subscription and using a variety of other sources to get the content you want.
Looking at what you watch and, more importantly, when you feel you need to watch a program will determine how feasible cable-cutting is for you.
To replace your cable or satellite subscription, some setup is required. I recommend getting three things: a solid broadband Internet connection, an HD digital antenna and a streaming media device.
A simple $40 HD digital antenna will allow your TV to catch the big four stations (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX) and any other station broadcasting for free in HD.
Streaming media devices allow services such as Netflix or Hulu to be streamed directly to your TV via the Internet. While a device such as the Google Chromecast can perform these functions for $35, investing in a $99 set-top box like Roku, Apple TV or Fire TV will give you a more familiar and convenient TV experience.
Streaming TV shows
The majority of TV shows currently on the air can be viewed either on the station's website or through services such as Hulu, Netflix or Amazon Instant. If you're willing to wait, new episodes can usually be watched the following morning for free.
Hulu is great for getting access to the latest episodes and seasons of TV shows. Their subscription service, HuluPlus, gets you access to entire seasons rather than a handful of episodes.
Netflix and Amazon Instant are similar in that they offer TV shows as well as extensive movie libraries and their own original content. Their TV shows tend to omit the season that's currently airing, however.
All three services run under $10 a month. Amazon Instant is part of Amazon Prime, which includes free two-day shipping and other benefits.
Episodes of TV shows can also be bought for a couple of dollars per episode via sites such as Google Play, Amazon and iTunes. The episodes are yours to keep.
Getting sports live without cable is difficult because stations such as ESPN are often available only in bundles. With an HD antenna, nationally televised and local games are available for free. Otherwise, the best option is subscribing on a sport-by-sport basis.
For example, Major League Baseball offers MLB.TV for $130 a year. That'll get you access to any game on any device plus access to other features such as multi-game viewing and switching between Home and Away feeds.
The National Football League is a little more difficult. Catching local games is usually not an issue because they are broadcast over the air for free. If you want to see an out-of-market game, the only option is getting NFL Sunday Ticket Max from DIRECTV for $330 a season.
Aside from the NFL, most of the other sports streaming online are comparable to the MLB in both price and structure.
The websites of most 24-hour news channels offer free live streams of their programs. Even international channels such as Al Jazeera, BBC, and Sky offer their programs for free.
On average, a U.S. household will pay $78 per month for unbundled cable TV in 2014. That is $936 per household a year, and for the purposes of this article that will be our baseline. There are often discounts for bundling TV with other services, so take a look at your cable bill and see how much a year you're spending.
I will use my own personal television habits as reference. I usually watch the newest episodes on my schedule anyway. I included a handful of shows that are only available for purchase per-episode. I am also an MLB fan, and so I will be purchasing their packages as well.
My yearly price breakdown would look like this:
2 TV Shows @ $45 per season: $90
MLB.TV Online: $130
That's under $35 a month for access to the content I already watch, but on my terms. Cable-cutting makes sense for me and my TV viewing habits.
Analyzing the costs versus what you actually watch could save you money when watching TV. With the multitude of services out there, you as a consumer have plenty of choices at your disposal.