Cutting the Cord: How to Ditch Cable and Stream for Less
While cord-cutters were once seen as vanguards in the media landscape, nowadays more and more people are ditching cable in lieu of streaming their TV and movies instead. The internet and an ever-expanding library of streamable content offers viewers a veritable cornucopia of never-ending entertainment options 24/7, making it easy to see why so many are joining the streaming revolution.
That being said, companies are catching up to just how popular streaming services are becoming. As such, more and more businesses are looking to cater to consumers who are eager to stream content and ditch expensive cable plans with hundreds of channels they don’t even watch. HBO, ABC, Disney, ESPN, NBC, Fox, and Discovery are just the start of the lengthening list of streaming services looking to compete with cable TV—even as many of these household names are also TV channels offered by your cable provider.
Read on to learn more about the different streaming devices and apps available to help lower your television costs. While it might be expensive to pay for every streaming service under the sun, if you’re able to think about what services you’re most likely to use, you can save a fair amount of money each month by weighing your streaming options instead of paying extra for similar premium channels.
How to join the cord-cutting revolution
When it comes to ditching network TV, it’s actually pretty easy to save money if you’re smart about your choices. The only two costs you’ll need to balance in order to keep the price of streaming video low are the device you use to view your favorite shows and original content and which streaming apps you’re interested in subscribing to.
Pick a device
The first factor that can impact the pricing of your switch from cable to streaming is how you choose to access content. If you already have a computer and an internet provider, it’s worth noting that you don’t necessarily need to pay for any extra interfaces with your television. In fact, some smart TVs even come equipped with an internet connection so that you can access your favorite streaming apps directly through your television remote.
That being said, some people appreciate DVR (digital video recording) capabilities or are interested in other features, and so they purchase products like the Amazon Firestick, Roku, or Apple TV when they ditch cable. Each of these devices ranges in price—with the Apple TV, unsurprisingly, being the most expensive—so it’s pretty easy to keep your costs low with the one-time purchase of your streaming device of choice.
Subscribe to the services that most interest you
It’s easy to want to keep up with the Joneses in the world of streaming content these days. After all, since everyone’s facing a global pandemic, the content you watch is becoming more and more important to the sorts of things you can connect with friends and family members over. Even so, it’s important to really think critically about which services you truly think you’ll use regularly, and which ones are better left to other subscribers.
While streaming services might not seem like a big cost since they range from just a few dollars to $15 a month or more, in actuality they can add up quickly. As of December 2020, it would cost you roughly $43 each month in order to subscribe to HBO Max, Apple TV+ (not to be confused with the Apple TV hardware), Hulu, Netflix, Disney Plus, and Amazon Prime.
When you combine those fees with the cost of internet service—which, on average, is about $60 a month for broadband service—that means that you could still wind up paying more than $1,200 a year in entertainment costs just from internet and streaming apps alone. Clearly, if you can cut out even one or two streaming services from your monthly budget, you’ll be doing a better job at saving money.
Top streaming devices and services to consider
Of course, when it comes to ditching cable, there are dozens of streaming options to consider. From different platforms to different hardware, more and more companies are trying to cash in on the popularity of cord-cutting. Here are some of the top streaming devices and services to consider in your quest to cut cable out of your life:
Hulu is one of the best options out there when it comes to getting out from under the cable company’s thumb without sacrificing some of the comforts that come from network television. Offering on-demand movies and shows, as well as the ability to stream live TV, Hulu offers a lot of bang for your buck.
Plans with Hulu start at just $5.99 a month, with an ad-free version available for $11.99 a month and a live TV option costing $64.99 a month. You can watch Hulu on a variety of devices, including critically-acclaimed Hulu originals like The Handmaid’s Tale. If you don’t pay for the live TV component of Hulu—which includes over sixty popular channels—most new episodes are available on Hulu within 24 hours of their air time.
Netflix is such a household name that it’s even inspired phrases like “Netflix and chill,” so it’s definitely a content provider to consider when it comes to ditching cable. Like Hulu, Netflix has a wide catalog of original content as well as seasons of past television shows and movies available to watch. Netflix is able to be viewed on a variety of devices, including Smart TVs and video game consoles, and even lets you save shows to watch offline when you don’t have an internet connection.
Netflix has three separate plans to consider, all of which cost a monthly fee. The first plan, known as Basic, costs $8.99 a month and lets you watch unlimited content on just one screen without HD playback available. If you want to watch HD content, you’ll need to pay for a Standard or Premium plan, which will run you $13.99 and $17.99 respectively. In addition to offering HD content, you can watch on multiple screens with a Standard plan offering the ability to enjoy content simultaneously on two separate devices and a Premium plan letting you watch on four different devices at the same time.
Unlike Netflix, which focuses specifically on a library of streamable content, Sling TV exists to offer live TV streaming as an alternative to television. Sling TV comes in two different plans: Sling Blue and Sling Orange, each aimed at specific kinds of viewers at $35 a month.
Sling Blue is aimed more at viewers interested in live news and entertainment, with channels like CNN and Fox News, while Sling Orange is aimed at families and sports lovers, offering channels such as ESPN and Nick Jr. Both versions of sling also come with a 50 hour DVR (digital video recorder), for those interested in pausing, rewinding, or skipping commercials. You can upgrade your Sling TV DVR to 200 hours of content for an additional $5 a month. Sling also offers the AirTV Mini which grants you access to local channels like ABC, NBC, FOX, and CBS, which is great when awards season comes around.
Unlike some of the services listed above, Roku is a streaming device that allows you to access different streaming apps and services on your existing television. Rokus only cost about $30, although some televisions also come enabled with Roku’s user interface. Rokus connect with popular services like Netflix and Hulu as well as Disney Plus and even Sling TV.
Roku devices also come with something called the Roku Channel. The Roku Channel offers a rotating selection of movies and TV shows, as well as different live TV channels from USA Today, WeatherNation, and Hallmark.
Manufactured by Apple, Apple TV is a device that allows you to stream dozens of different streaming services on your television. The Apple TV features the same easy-to-use, attractive design aesthetic that Apple is known for, and interfaces with other Apple products, too. For example, you can use your iPhone as a remote with your Apple TV, access Siri voice controls to search for different shows, and even screen share your MacBook’s desktop onto your television using their device.
Of course, like many other products from Apple, the Apple TV is more expensive than competitors like the Roku. The Apple TV HD will cost you $149.00, while the Apple TV 4K will set you back $179.00 or $199.00, depending on if you choose the 32GB or 64GB model. When you purchase an Apple TV device, you’ll also receive one free year of Apple TV+, which lets you stream Apple TV originals such as Central Park or Ted Lasso.
A competitor to services like Sling TV, YouTube TV offers you the ability to stream over 85 different channels from one service without paying a cable provider. From channels like ESPN and the Food Network to local CBS and Fox affiliates and HGTV, there are plenty of popular channels offered through YouTube TV. YouTube TV also offers unlimited DVR features and popular sports networks like NFL, NBA, and MLB as well as channels like Comedy Central and PBS which you can’t get from Hulu’s live TV service.
YouTube TV costs a monthly fee of $64.99, putting it right on par with options like Hulu. Especially when you add in the larger number of channels as well as the DVR features, YouTube TV is one of the most cost-effective options for streaming live television currently on the market. When you factor in that most cable providers will charge you roughly $80 with or without some of the DVR functionality offered by YouTube TV, the service gets even more competitive, allowing you to save upwards of $240 a year, minimally.
Amazon Fire TV / Amazon Prime Video
Amazon has two different entries into the world of streamable television: The Amazon Fire TV (or Firestick) and Amazon Prime Video. Amazon’s Fire TV stick devices are a hardware interface allowing you to stream content from Disney Plus, Hulu, Netflix, and other services, whereas Amazon Prime Video is Amazon’s own streaming content service. Amazon’s Fire TV sticks come in a few different price ranges, with the Fire TV Stick Lite costing only $29.99 and the Fire TV Stick (which also offers television controls) costing $39.99. Amazon also makes a 4K option of the Fire TV Stick priced at $49.99.
In terms of streamable content, Amazon Prime Video has a lot to offer, especially when it comes to the extra benefits that come with Amazon Prime. Amazon Prime Video offers a lot of acclaimed movies as well as award-winning original series like The Marvelous Ms. Maisel. One extra benefit of using Amazon Prime Video is the ability to rent additional movies or TV episodes on demand if they aren’t available to stream as part of Prime. If you don’t care about Amazon Prime’s other benefits, you can subscribe to Prime Video for just $8.99 a month; however, as part of your additional Prime service, you can pay monthly for $12.99 or annually for $119.00.
Philo is another live TV replacement offering 64 channels total. From AMC and Comedy Central to the Food Network and Nickelodeon, there’s likely something for everyone with Philo unless you care deeply about news, local channels, or sports. Another major benefit of Philo is unlimited DVR, just like YouTube TV.
One of the biggest selling points of Philo is that it’s only $20 a month. That makes it one of the most affordable streaming services for live TV out there—and the fact that unlimited DVR is included for no added price is a big deal, too.
TiVo has developed a few different hardware devices for both streaming and recording television. TiVo Stream, for example, costs $49.99 and combines all of your streaming apps’ libraries into one, accessible location. This makes it much easier to find what you want to watch since you won’t need to remember which app you can watch it in. As a result, you’ll spend less time browsing for something to watch and more time enjoying your content.
TiVo also makes a product called TiVo EDGE which is aimed at helping customers ditch their cable box while still keeping their cable service. It also includes powerful DVR features letting you record six different television shows at the same time and the ability to stream other streaming players. TiVo EDGE typically costs about $400; however, TiVo often runs promotions cutting that price in half down to just $199.99.
Since ditching cable often involves swapping from one monthly fee to another few, it’s crucial to stay on top of your recurring costs if you don’t want streaming entertainment eating up your budget. For example, if you’re interested in content from ESPN, Hulu, and Disney Plus, it may make sense to take advantage of the bundle deal on these three services for just $12.99 a month. Paying for that bundle and a Sling TV or Philo package is likely enough to help you watch everything you’re used to watching on cable for a lot less each month.
In addition to managing the overlap between different streaming services, another way to keep your costs low is to change your relationship with when and how you watch television. For example, if you only watch live TV during awards season or the Super Bowl, it may make more sense to start and cancel a free trial around that single event rather than pay each month for a handful of events you ever watch live.
|Streaming Network||Monthly Cost|
|AppleTV||4.99, but must purchase AppleTV box, $149+|
- Cutting out cable saves you money. Cable service is generally overpriced and bloated in terms of what it offers you. While you may have hundreds of channels to watch, you likely only watch about twenty of those with any regularity. Cutting out cable and picking a live TV streaming service can save you money without sacrificing what channels you watch.
- Streaming puts you in control. Rather than having to deal with limited options from cable providers, picking and choosing the streaming services that you’re really interested in allows you to create a customized entertainment solution. This puts you in control of what you watch and how you spend your money.
- Costs can add up quickly if you aren’t thoughtful. While it’s certainly possible to save money by switching to streaming services instead of relying on cable if you’re not careful the costs can add up quickly. Especially if you care about prestige television from premium channels like HBO or Starz, you may need to have subscriptions to different services in order to meet your entertainment needs.
- Requires research to make the most of it. In order to really make sure that it makes sense to cut cable, you need to do a lot of research first. Listing the networks and shows you most frequently watch—as well as the original content you’re most interested in viewing from different services—takes time and energy. It’s much simpler to keep your cable and just pay for Netflix or Amazon Prime; however, keeping your entertainment on auto-pilot is likely costing you money if you’re not making the most of your existing services.
The bottom line
Entertainment is more important than ever thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, but at the same time, it’s just as important to find ways to cut back and save money wherever possible. For many consumers, paying for mid-level cable service or premium cable channels costs anywhere from $70 to $135 a month on average. As such, selecting even three or four streaming services can cut the bill from your cable company in half.
Especially when you consider that there are a variety of streaming options offering local channels and live TV in addition to on-demand content, it just doesn’t make sense to pay for cable TV anymore. Of course, cable companies will do their best to convince you otherwise by bundling their more expensive internet plans with different cable packages, but if you do your research and stay savvy about your choices, you’ll almost always end up ahead.
Armed with the information above, you should feel more than confident cutting cable and enjoying even more TV and movies for less money. Best of all, you can put that money you save to work paying off debt or saving for a vacation, ultimately providing you more enjoyment than binge-watching old episodes of Gilmore Girls or the latest season of The Mandalorian.