Cutting the cord is all the rage these days, with people of all ages ditching their expensive cable TV service for online options. If you have favorite shows that you are worried about missing if you get rid of cable, look to these alternatives to fill in the gap, and save a few bucks along the way.
The company that brought online television to the mainstream, Netflix offers a massive library of more than 13,000 titles. You can instantly stream anything from Netflix right to your TV using a web connected TV or a device like a Roku, Chromecast, Fire TV, or Apple TV.
In addition to the thousands of movies and TV shows from major networks, Netflix produces many of its own exclusive movies and shows that are not available anywhere else, and all shows are commercial free.
For shows that are not available to stream, you can still typically find these available on DVD using Netflix by mail. Netflix streaming costs $8.99 per month for new customers, and a one DVD at a time plan costs an additional $7.99 per month.
Top shows include: Mad Men, The Walking Dead, House of Cards, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Nurse Jackie, Bloodline, The West Wing, Friday Night Lights, Heroes, Halt and Catch Fire, Damages, Narcos, Master of None, How I Met Your Mother, Archer, Arrested Development, Louie, 30 Rock, Portlandia, Parks and Recreation, Orange is the New Black, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, New Girl, Californication, The League, Star Trek, Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Sons of Anarchy, Daredevil, Lost, Dexter, and many more.
Verdict: A cable-free-life necessity.
Hulu is a collaboration between several major broadcast TV networks, and offers a long list of movies and TV shows. Hulu is geared towards people who want the latest shows as soon as they come available, where Netflix requires you to wait until the show is released, typically an entire season at a time.
Many shows are released on Hulu the day after they go live on TV. It is important to note with Hulu that all shows are not released on the same schedule, and you cannot get all old seasons of shows as you typically can with Netflix. You can with some shows, but not with all. To get all older seasons, the cost of Hulu Plus is $7.99 per month.
With Hulu, you still get stuck watching commercials unless you pay an extra fee for the “no commercials” plan, so the viewing experience from Hulu is most similar to what you are used to with cable TV.
Check out this great review for more in-depth answers to questions about what each subscription plan offers.
Top shows include: Empire, The Real World, Seinfeld, Inside Amy Schumer, The Shield, The Twilight Zone, Daria, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cheers, The Mindy Project, Survivor, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Battlestar Gallactica, Top Chef, Masters of Sex, The Daily Show, Weeds, The Good Wife, Ally McBeal, The Affair, How to Get Away with Murder, and more.
Verdict: Can live without, unless you want the latest episodes as they air.
Dedicated Amazon customers have the option to purchase Amazon Prime, which includes free two day shipping on most orders, access to a free Kindle book lending library, Prime Music, and, most importantly for this purpose, Prime TV.
Prime TV works great with the Fire TV and other Amazon devices and the Roku, but is trickier to use with platforms like Chromecast, as Amazon prefers you buy its own competing product.
Nonetheless, it offers a wide range of shows for free, plus you can pay to watch almost any movie or show you can think of for a rental or purchase fee.
They do offer some exclusive shows, like the prior mentioned competitors. The Amazon original library is not as big as Netflix, but does include some great titles including Catastrophe, Bosch, Transparent, and critically acclaimed Man in the High Castle. Amazon also does a great job bringing popular children’s shows to streaming.
Amazon Prime currently charges $99 per year, with no monthly subscription option.
Top shows include: Boardwalk Empire, Family Tree, Treme, Board to Death, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, Arthur, Sesame Street, Twin Peaks, The Man in the High Castle, Six Feet Under, Hannibal, Hand of God, The Wire, The Americans, Transparent, Vikings, Justified, The Good Wife, Downton Abbey, Enlightened, Red Oaks, Veep, Entourage, 24, Duck Dynasty, and more. Also, you can add on other subscriptions, like Showtime, for a little less than it would cost to subscribe direction to Showtime. Learn about the “add-on” options.
Verdict: Great if you find value in the rest of Prime’s offerings. Not needed if you already have Netflix and Hulu.
Google Play and iTunes
If you want to supplement your subscriptions with new episodes of TV shows and a combination of new and classic movies you can’t get from your subscription service, Google Play and iTunes both offer an extensive library of movies and TV shows available to rent or purchase.
Much of the library to buy or rent overlaps from these sources the comparable option from Amazon. If you find yourself dedicated to the Google, Apple, or Amazon ecosystem, these are excellent supplements to fill in what you can’t get at Netflix or Hulu.
Old movies and shows can be a bargain here, or can cost similar to buying the DVD from a retail store like Target or Walmart.
Verdict: There is no subscription, so if you really want to watch the new Star Wars, you can pay a one-time fee to watch it here.
While you can get much of HBO’s older content library included with Amazon Prime streaming, but the newest stuff is only available with an HBO subscription, like Game of Thrones.
The cost is more than competing streaming services and comes with a smaller library, but some HBO shows are so good that you can’t live without them. If you feel that way, it is completely worthwhile, and still a lot cheaper than cable.
Top shows include: Game of Thrones, True Detective, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Silicon Valley, Veep, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Girls, The Leftovers, Vice, HBO World Championship Boxing, Oz, Boardwalk Empire, Sex and the City, Eastbound & Down, Flight of the Conchords, Deadwood, Bored to Death, Six Feet Under, and The Sopranos.
Verdict: A go-to for serious fans of HBO shows or boxing. If you can wait until they are available on Netflix or Amazon Prime, you can pass on this and save the money.
HBO rival Showtime offers a similar package for dedicated fans of shows like Dexter, House of Lies, and others for $10.99 per month. Showtime is owned by CBS, which offers its own streaming service, CBS All Access, for $6 per month.
Top shows include: Homeland, Dexter, Weeds, Nurse Jackie, Shameless, The Tudors, The Borgias, Californication, The United States of Tara, and Masters of Sex.
Verdict: Like HBO, it makes sense if you are an addict to a few Showtime shows. However, many eventually become available on other streaming services. If you are patient, it is a pass.
Sports fans are the last holdouts to cut the cord, because they fear missing out on being able to watch every single game of the season from the comfort of their own living room.
Like their holdout fans, major sports leagues are happy bringing in a zillion dollars from lucrative TV contracts, and have not rushed to bring live games to the web. However, there are some newer options for sports fanatics to keep up with their team without cable.
Many games are available at no charge at NFL.com. I watched the last few Super Bowls on my laptop at the NFL streaming homepage. The NFL Game Pass gives you access to pre-season games live, and replays of all other games.
For the live streams of every game, you can order the NFL Sunday Ticket from DirecTV without a satellite subscription. Depending on where you live, you may have another option with NFLSundayTicket.TV.
The NBA League Pass goes for $99 per season, and gives you full access to stream all NBA games.
Major League Baseball offers streaming at MLB.TV. For $121.99 per year, you can watch every out-of-market game for the seasons. MLB.TV single team seasons cost $93.99, but there are some blackout markets, so every game for every team may not be available.
NCAA College Sports
Check out this detailed article on options to watch college sports without cable TV.
If you prefer your sports to include tables, ladders, and chairs, WWE Network brings your favorite sports entertainment broadcasts to your living room for $9.99 per month.
WWE Network includes live access to Monday Night Raw, SmackDown!, all pay-per-views, and a library of reruns and WWE specials.
Don’t Forget an Old Fashioned Antenna
While Digital TV has replaced rabbit ears with funny looking black boxes, antennas offer free access to major broadcast networks like NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, and The CW.
Analog TV gave people with poor reception a fuzzy signal, but digital is more of an all-or-nothing proposition. If you want to use an antenna as part of your plan to replace cable, try it out before you cancel your cable to make sure you actually get the channels you expect.
Cutting the Cord is Easier Than Ever
I was a pioneer when I cut the cord in January 2011. There were few streaming options at that point beyond Netflix and Hulu. However, modern cord cutters have many more options.
If you are holding out because of one or two favorite shows, look to see what they cost online. Most shows go for just a few dollars per episode, so you can still save big paying per episode compared to $70 or more per month for cable.
If you decide to mix and match a couple of services, for example Netflix and HBO Now, you will still pay a heck of a lot less than companies like Comcast and Charter charge for the privilege. Plus, you never have to deal with their terrible customer service again!
I was paying $70 per month for cable when I cut the cord, and have since enjoyed 65 months of online streaming bliss, which saved me $4,550 (and counting). Even after the cost of Netflix (my only paid streaming service), I am still saving $64 per month.
So what are you waiting for? It’s time to get saving.