You Can Stop Paying for Cable TV Now

A few years ago I moved into a new apartment and did something revolutionary: I didn’t set up cable or satellite TV. I was frustrated by the lack of choice (only one cable provider), lengthy contracts and inexplicably high prices.

As someone who watches a lot of television, this seemed like a truly difficult problem, but I resolved to find a way to see my favorite shows without paying a cable or satellite bill. Fortunately, it was much easier than I thought.

First, watch the video, where Money Talks News money expert Stacy Johnson explains how to cut the cable, step by step. Then read on for more details.

You might not know it, but you can watch HDTV with an antenna

The picture from on-air TV stations is perfectly clear, thanks to the switch to digital TV completed in 2009. You’ll either see a crisp, beautiful image or no image at all (static is a thing of the past). And the best part? All your favorite programming will still be in HD.

HDTV is more expensive for local stations to produce, so it’s common to see a station broadcast in regular standard definition during the day, but switch their signal to high definition for prime time. So while the local news may not be in HD, shows like “Big Brother,” “America’s Got Talent” and “The Big Bang Theory” will be.

Of course, you will need an antenna to make this work, and your HDTV will also have to have an HDTV tuner built in. This is sometimes referred to as “integrated HDTV.” If it doesn’t, you’ll need to buy a separate HDTV tuner that connects your existing HDTV to an antenna. To check, consult your HDTV’s manual, do a search online, or contact the manufacturer.

AntennaWeb, a site provided by the Consumer Electronics Association and the National Association of Broadcasters, will show you exactly where to point your antenna for the best reception at your address. It will also let you see which stations are broadcasting over the air in your area. There may be more than you think.

What about shows that aren’t on broadcast channels?

Two of my favorite shows, “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” air on Comedy Central, which isn’t a channel you can receive with an antenna. Fortunately, Internet to the rescue! If you have a computer and Internet access – there’s no way I’d be able to live without paying for Internet — both shows can be watched in their entirety on their respective websites for free.

Like most online shows, you’ll have to sit through a few commercials, but less than you would see watching the same show on television and without having to pay for the privilege.

Popular website Hulu has a huge variety of TV shows available to watch online, though you have to pay for Hulu Plus at $8 a month for access to the full catalog. Amazon Instant Video is another option for TV shows, with many of its programs, including original programming, available without additional charge if you’re an Amazon Prime member. Memberships costs $99 a year.

Netflix is a great way to watch past seasons of favorite shows, which can be streamed instantly to many devices, such as your computer, iPhone, Android, Xbox, PlayStation and Wii. You can watch as much as you want for $8 a month (a dollar more for new members). Compared with the cost of a cable or satellite subscription with premium movie channels, that’s a pittance.

Plus, Netflix has a good selection of movies. Its original programming only sweetens the deal, with award winners like “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black” available only through its service.

Where do you watch live sports online?

If you’re getting your Internet from one of these providers, you already have free access to ESPN3, a “broadband network for live sports programming.” Not every game on paid TV is available online, but you can watch thousands of games and events live with chat, stats, scoreboards and picture-in-picture.

MLB.tv has an $80-a-year membership that will let you stream many regular-season baseball games right to your computer/Xbox/PS4/etc., live or on demand, and in HD when available. Paired with an antenna to watch local broadcasts, you might be able to watch every game you’re interested in for a little more than $6 a month.

NBA League Pass lets basketball fans stream regular-season, out-of-market games, similar to MLB.tv. Unlike regular cable, a membership lets you watch up to three games simultaneously in HD with live stats and “replays of select games.” Last year, the price was about $200, and there are serious limitations to the service. But die-hard fans may find it a necessary part of their cable-cutting adventure.

If you’re willing to wait until just after a game has aired to watch it, football fans can get “full replays of every regular-season NFL game on demand, online and in high definition” with NFL Game Rewind. A regular season of viewing costs only $40, but for $70 it will include the playoffs and the Super Bowl. A $30 option exists for those who care only about their favorite team’s regular-season games.

Videos are streamed without commercials or halftime shows, saving valuable hours of your life and dramatically improving the experience, in my opinion.

Hockey fans should check out NHL Gamecenter Live for streaming video of their favorite out-of-market games (price varies depending on where you live), soccer fans can get a season subscription to MLS Live for $65 a year, and NASCAR fans have RaceView Premium and RaceBuddy as options. Even fans of bowling can watch live events through the USBC’s Bowl TV.

You might be surprised at just how easy it’s gotten to watch your favorite sports over the Internet. For everything else, there are free local broadcasts or your neighborhood sports bar.

But what about “premium” shows, like the ones on HBO, Cinemax and Starz?

Some shows can be purchased individually from sites like Amazon or Apple’s iTunes Store a day or two after they air. If you do the math, you’ll find that purchasing your favorite show is likely to be cheaper than paying for the channel it airs on month after month.

For everything else, you’ll have to be a little patient and wait for the inevitable DVD release of last season. The typical DVD set for one season of a television series costs between $25 and $35, so you could buy several sets each month and still save over the cost of cable or satellite.

Or you can probably rent the DVDs from Netflix, for a separate $8-a-month subscription.

Meanwhile, HBO has a deal with Amazon to stream past seasons of most HBO shows on Amazon Prime. You’ll also find past seasons of some of your favorite shows from Showtime and other premium channels via the streaming services.

How does all this Internet video get on my TV?

While streaming video to your computer sounds great, most people want to watch television on their television. Fortunately, there are tons of options to get your favorite shows on your big screen.

First, check your computer for an output designed to work with either an external monitor or TV. If you have one, you may be able to buy a cable and adapter that will plug your computer directly into your television.

Doing so is a bit like putting together a puzzle; you want to find pieces that connect to each other. This can be a little tricky, especially with all the different possible connections on the market. So if you’re not tech-savvy, you may want to get a little help from someone who is or check out this video from Howcast called “How To Connect Your Laptop To Your Television.”

You might also want to look at media-streaming boxes. Like the cable box you’ll be ditching, these connect to your TV and allow you to watch programming you wouldn’t otherwise be able to see. The big difference? You can watch free and paid Internet content.

Depending on the box, you’ll be able to stream video from Netflix, Amazon, MLB.tv, Hulu and YouTube, audio from Internet radio stations, Pandora, and Last.fm, and watch movies or look at photos that have been stored on your home PC. Think of media streaming boxes as mini-computers for your TV.

You can buy a Roku streaming media player for as little as $40 on Amazon. It’ll stream hundreds of “channels” from the Web right to your TV for less than the price of one month of cable or satellite. Plus, it’s an open platform so developers are adding new channels all the time.

A Google Chromecast is only $35 brand new on Amazon and offers up video and music from almost every streaming service around, but to use it effectively you’ll need to own a smartphone or tablet (either Android or iOS) to act as a remote control. Otherwise, you’ll have to use your PC to control it, and that can be cumbersome unless you’re the kind of person who always has a laptop nearby.

Apple TV is like an iPod for your TV. It’ll let you stream videos and audio from your iTunes collection, but only if they’re in the right format. There are also apps to stream video from Hulu and Netflix among others, but no option for Amazon Instant Video. Of course, anything you purchase from iTunes will play perfectly, so this may be a great option for some. At $99, it’s a slightly more expensive option for streaming, but if you’re already committed to the Apple ecosystem and own several of its devices, it’s something you’ll want to consider.

Amazon Fire TV is the newest streaming box to hit the market and is priced identically to Apple TV at $99. But it has a slightly larger selection of streaming video services (since it includes Amazon Instant Video), and features some nifty technology, like voice control to simply tell it what you want to watch and pre-buffering so videos start instantly.

But what really sets the Fire TV apart is its graphics performance and, if you’re willing to drop an additional $40 on a gaming controller, it can double as a budget alternative to a system like the Xbox One or PlayStation 4.

How much does all of this cost?

While the average cable bill is $90 a month or $1,080 a year, I was paying closer to $150 a month or $1,800 a year to see everything I wanted. Now I pay less than $10 a month for my Netflix subscription and watch everything else for free online or over-the-air broadcast. I don’t need a TiVo (since you can just hit pause on a website), and I use a Roku as my media center. My $1,800-a-year expense is now about $100, and I can watch just about everything I want, whenever I want.

If I wanted to pay for a streaming sports package, that would increase my costs, but I’d still be paying far less than the total cost of the same broadcasts with traditional cable.

Sign up for our free newsletter

Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you a regular digest of our newest stories, full of money saving tips and advice, free! We'll also email you a PDF of Stacy Johnson's "205 Ways to Save Money" as soon as you've subscribed. It's full of great tips that'll help you save a ton of extra cash. It doesn't cost a dime, so why wait? Click here to sign up now.

Check out our hottest deals!

We're always adding new deals and coupons that'll save you big bucks. See the deals to the right and hundreds more in our Deals section.

Click here to explore 1,058 more deals!

Comments & discussion

We welcome your opinions, but let’s keep it civil. Like many businesses, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. In our case, that means those who communicate by name-calling, racism, using words designed to hurt others or generally acting like an uninformed bully. Also, comments that include links to email addresses or commercial websites typically aren't posted. This isn't a place to advertise your business.

  • DemosCat

    Yet another feel-good “cut the cable” article that does not address the consequences of shifting television watching to mostly online streaming. This is at least the third or fourth article here on MoneyTalksNews to do this.

    We switched to a digital TV antenna and streaming years ago, so I do have some experience. The problem with streaming are gigabyte caps if you are on AT&T DSL or Uverse (150GB or 250GB), or deliberate slowdowns by the cable company after exceeding a sometimes-not-clearly-defined limit. With DSL, we get warning emails monthly about reaching our limit, with a penalty charge if we exceed the limit. The gigabyte caps apply to uploads as well as downloads.

    At the same time, Internet companies are doing everything they can to encourage evermore online utilization, with Cloud storage, etc. All this activity contributes to hitting bandwidth limits.

    I’d like to see an article talk about caps and slowdowns, and how it impacts viewing, or compares in cost.

    You can bet things will only get worse if we lose Net Neutrality. It should really be called “Net Equality.” Without equality, we get the Internet version of “separate but equal,” and we all know how that has worked out in the past.

    • FRE000

      Contrary to what advertisements say, there is no such thing as a digital TV antenna. All antennae are analogue.

      • DemosCat

        Technically, anything transmitted is analog. Even the TCP/IP protocol, at its base layer, is analog.

        In theory, a “digital” antenna is better suited to picking up television in the new frequencies allocated for digital broadcast. At least, that’s what the advertisers say. :)

        I initially used a 1970′s era roof antenna to pick up digital broadcast, but it was damaged in a wind storm, so I wound up replacing it with a smaller “digital” antenna. I can’t tell any difference.

        • FRE000

          I’m also using a completely ordinary roof-top TV antenna and it works just fine. It consists mainly of aluminum tubing and obviously there is nothing digital about aluminum tubing; it wouldn’t know a bit from a byte and thus could not be defined as digital.

    • mibtp

      Solution: Just watch the FREE digital channels on your TV and limit your downstream viewing.

      • DemosCat

        The point here is that articles like this emphasis the FREE broadcast, which we already do, and talk about ways to stream, WITHOUT addressing limits. That’s the missing piece.

        For example, what’s the difference between downloading and streaming a movie? If you can download a 2GB movie and save a digital copy, you can then watch it as many times as you like, and it only counts as 2GB. If you watch the same 2GB movie via streaming 5 times, you just cost yourself 10GB towards your cap.

        You can buy a pair of multi-terabyte hard drives, mirror them, and set them up as shared storage for your home WIFI network. Control your kid’s use by purchasing digital movie copies and put them on the shared disk. Now you’ve become your own home Cloud service. Your daughter can stream My Little Pony over and over again on her tablet without driving everyone crazy, and without counting against the ISP limit.

  • Phillip McMurran

    Stacy Johnson like DemosCat said how about an article talk about caps and slowdowns, and how it impacts viewing, or compares in cost.

  • 2romes

    32 hundred dollars is just a bit to much to pay for a box to watch internet on TV. Lol.

  • Michael Keeys

    I cut the cable well over a year ago. I watch all my favorite tv shows on free sites. I also have paid services for HuluPlus and Netflix. There are many free sites that stream tv and movies.

  • Michael Keeys

    DemosCat on the caps you are speaking of uploads and downloads, this is different than streaming. I do not have to download anything to watch. The term download means to copy (data) from one computer system to another, typically over the Internet. Streaming does not download. Streaming is a method of transmitting or receiving data (especially video and audio material) over a computer network as a steady, continuous flow, allowing playback to proceed while subsequent data is being received. Youtube is an example of streaming.

    • Patrick Seitz

      That’s not how that works. Downloading is receiving data from a network and uploading is sending data to a network. Whether you stream a movie/show or save it permanently to you computer, it’s still a data transmission that the ISP counts toward any applicable cap. It doesn’t make any difference whether you save a file to your hard drive or save it temporarily to a cache, the later of which streaming does.

    • DemosCat

      Perhaps I should have said send/receive instead of upload/download.

      Data packets are exchanged between servers on the Internet and your PC, and it doesn’t matter if you save it in a file or stream it to your TV. Just slice data (any digitized information) up into packets and send ‘em out. The packets don’t even have to travel the same path or arrive in sequential order (though streaming works better if it does) – your PC will piece it together.

      Data packets can be video streaming, online gaming, file uploads and downloads, email, filling out an online order form, web surfing, annoying pop-up ads, even just clicks on a web page. It’s all just data, and today all of it counts towards a cap.

      That said, I have heard of proposed exceptions. For example, if company X is your ISP, and company X bought movie rights and got into the movie streaming business, X might not count streaming sourced from themselves towards the cap, but they would count streaming from a competitor like Netflix. Today this doesn’t happen thanks to Net Neutrality rules, which basically requires ISP’s to act like common carriers. Eliminate Net Neutrality, and suddenly you have not just multi-tier backbone transition rates, but large ISP providers can use their position in monopolistic ways.

  • LagunaLady27

    This is all crazy talk. In order to do any of this, you have to pay through the nose for wifi. I did a cost comparison where I live. (Where you live is a key factor). I pay rock bottom prices for DTV, a Verizon data plan for my iPhone and iPad and (OMG) a landline…where I use dial up (gasp). Because of where I live (up on a hill in a suburb in the OC, CA), I would pay double to go with the plan in this article. All of these companies hire really smart people who spend their days and nights figuring out ways to get our money. It isn’t nice for articles like this one to give is false hope!

    • mibtp

      I’m doing it right now. See my prior post. I live in LA.

      • LagunaLady27

        I live on a hill where much of this is impossible. My neighbors who pay COX pay double what I do. WIFI is super expensive in some areas, even near cities like LA.

  • mibtp

    Great article. I recently had to cut expenses drastically and got rid of cable. I bought a cable cord to connect my Mac to the TV via DVI input – so now I can watch whatever is on my computer screen, on my TV. I also bought a converter box ($29) and rabbit ear antenna ($6.90) from Amazon and get all the local channels, old TV show channels, PBS channels and old movie channels. Yes, I miss my HGTV, but not enough to go back to paying $70+ a month. Also downgraded my TWC internet from the so-called high speed $39.95 a month to their cheap $14.99 connection. Can’t tell the difference in speed or connection.

  • ModernMode

    1. If you live in an urban area, it’s easier to watch via antenna. If you don’t, you’ll have to invest in a higher quality antenna that can pull in distant signals.
    2. I tried dropping down to Time Warners “antenna service” for local stations and watching cable shows on the internet. Did not work. You can’t watch shows for free on most cable channel websites as they now require you to log in through your cable company to prove you’re buying the channel. Netflix and Hulu don’t work if you want to watch RECENT episodes of your shows. Only other option is to buy episodes on sites such as Amazon. By then, you might as well be paying for cable. I resubscribed to TW analog cable.

  • pizzadee

    We use one window antenna for each tv (one-time $20) and bought Roku boxes for each TV (one-time $50). I pay for Netflix each month $8. So $8 is my monthly expense for TV. Yay!

  • grandmaguest

    Have used an outdoor antenna all my life except for one year when I rented and they didn’t have nor would they allow one (so had cable for that one year, but still didn’t “watch” most of the channels…what a waste). If it’s on a channel I don’t get, I wait till the end of the season and (don’t buy) usually within a month of it, or recent movies, the library will have it on DVD. If they don’t, I can request it and they will find it by interlibrary loan….or they will order it. I don’t have to pay for Netflix, Amazon or any of the other products. Yeah, I may miss some of the programs, but there is more than enough to keep me entertained…..all for free.
    Oh yes, and sometimes I can find shows I don’t get, for free on the internet. But if I don’t, oh well.

  • Art Faucett

    I love those commercials that advertise that 20 dollar “device” (antenna) that lets you watch free TV, lolol . it really shows us how many idiots are really out there….