Network television and cable TV generally strikes me as one of those things that will seem very strange to the next generation. “What do you mean you had to turn on your TV at a specific time to watch something?!?!” our children will ask us, with the same disdain we asked our grandparents about using an outhouse.
Costs for cable typically range from $11-20 a month for very basic access through to $100 and up for a variety of premium channels and extra features.
While you won’t get the exact same experience living without cable, you can “cut the cord” and get a comparable – and in many ways superior – experience.
Over The Air
Years ago there was talk about phasing out over the air TV, where you use an antennae for reception. When I bought the house my wife and I currently live in, there was a massive antennae running up the side of the building. I mentioned to a friend that I was going to pay to have it removed, and he was horrified. He said it would be an excellent way to get uncompressed, high-definition channels.
After playing around with it and running some cables, it turned out he was right! It dramatically increased the number of channels we could get compared to the little indoor antenna we were using before, and as long as the weather is clear, reception is close to perfect. We get Fox, CBS, ABC, PBS and a bunch of other things. This is pretty well equivalent to the basic cable package, and there’s absolutely no monthly cost to it.
Movies and TV Shows
You don’t get the exactly same selection, but Netflix ($8 / month) and Amazon Prime ($100 / year, with free shipping of Amazon purchases) provide on-demand viewing. My experience with both services is that they don’t have everything you want to see, but they have more than enough that you’ll be willing to watch. Hit shows will often come to these services after a year or two delay, and these days some of the hot shows debut on them – e.g. House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and Mozart in the Jungle.
If you’re willing to walk on the wild side, more options for this below, you can share an account with family or friends and cut your costs further.
I never touch the things myself, but DVDs are another alternative. If you’re the type of person who likes to binge watch long running shows, you can inexpensively rent or buy entire series – or borrow them from a friend or library for free.
For quite a while I told people that cooking and real estate shows would be the biggest things they’d miss without cable. These are now more available than before, so the only big thing I think people will miss is sports. Obviously there will be loads of sports on the network channels, but for people who like to watch things that only air on the specialty sports channels, you pretty well need cable.
I have zero interest in sports, so this isn’t any sort of loss for me.
I don’t have kids, but my understanding is that it’s very easy to get banks of whatever show your kid is into – Teletubbies, Barney, The Wiggles or whatever is hot now. I just typed “The Wiggles” into Google and there are 146,000 results, including tons of full episodes. When I was visiting a friend recently, whenever his son would get restless he’d just turn on a 9 hour playlist of Wiggles and his son would be quietly hypnotized.
Watching Video Files
If you’re willing to illegally pirate TV shows and movies, you’ll have an unsurpassed selection of entertainment. Using torrenting or other options, you download video files to your computer and can watch them there. A better set up is to deliver the video files to your television. A Chromecast combined with the free app Videostream is one easy way to do this. In our house we currently use a Roku 3 and Plex software. A media center entails having a computer permanently hooked up to your television. Each of these options will let you use a remote control and easily navigate to find your content. Most of these also let you watch Netflix, Amazon Prime and other options on your TV.
If you like the sounds of this, but aren’t willing to download illegally, there’s a small amount of content that can be legally downloaded and watched. “Star Trek: Phase II” is an example of this, it’s a fan made continuation of the original Star Trek series.
As you may suspect, it’s terrible.
Welcome to the Future!
Other than sports, we’re really in a golden age of entertainment. It’s easily accessible for far less than $100 per month.
Read more by Mr. Cheap over at Money Time.