Looking for the best alternatives to cable TV? There’s no time like the present to cut the cord and save a bundle!
How much could you save? A lot.
The average price of cable hit $217.42 a month in 2020, according to Consumer Reports. And thanks to price hikes in 2021, the costs are still climbing. So this could be a great time to take a look at your cut the cable options.
And while you can’t literally watch free cable TV online, there are a whole lot of ways to watch a great deal of the programming.
So let’s get to it. Here are a few ways to cut the cord while still being able to watch your favorite shows.
What Are the Best Alternatives to Cable TV?
There are a large number of cable TV alternatives, so we’ll break them down here by group. In general, you can go with streaming services & devices or an over-the-air HDTV antenna.
(Curious about my personal favorite? It’s Netflix, by far.)
We’ll talk about the choices next, starting with streaming. There are a bunch of streaming services, and they come in two main types: live and on-demand. Both kinds use your internet connection.
Live Streaming Services
Live streaming services are the most like cable because the shows play on a set schedule. In order to watch something, you need to know when it will be on. If you want a more cable-like experience, that makes them some of the best streaming service to replace cable. Live services usually have on-demand content as well.
Top picks for live streaming services:
AT&T TV – subscription service for live local and national channels, regional sports included with some packages, cloud DVR available, can include other streaming services, requires a compatible device.
ESPN+ – subscription service for live sports (with commercials) & original content.
fuboTV – subscription service for live sports, news & entertainment. Includes cloud DVR and on-demand shows.
Hulu+ Live TV – subscription service for 65+ live channels (including sports), and the entire Hulu streaming library, requires a compatible device
Philo – monthly subscription with 60+ channels, no contract, unlimited DVR.
Sling Free – free, ad-supported, no credit card or registration required, offers paid rentals and Pay-Per-View events
Sling TV – monthly subscription, includes DVR, watch sports, news, and entertainment with 30+ channels, 80k+ shows and movies on-demand
Other live streaming services:
Hotstar – live sports, on-demand TV, & movies, in English and Indian languages (Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Malayalamm, Tamil, Marathi, & Kannada)
NBC.com – free, offers much of the newly aired NBC content.
Paramount Plus – monthly or annual subscription, mostly ad-free or limited ad options, replaces CBS All Access. Includes live TV, shows, & movies.
Peacock, Peacock Premium, and Peacock Premium Plus – a mix of free and subscription services
Showtime – ad-free, monthly subscription, Includes TV shows, movies, boxing etc. live and on demand
Starz – subscription, their standalone subscription streaming service is available for iOS, Android, and Roku, up to 4 devices at one time
Sun Nxt – live sports & on-demand shows in Indian languages (Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam & Bengali)
The Roku Channel – ad-supported, movies, popular shows, & 24/7 live news. Registration required.
YouTube TV – monthly subscription, includes unlimited recording, 6 accounts, and 85+ channels of entertainment, news, & live sports.
On-Demand Streaming Services
On-demand streaming services let you watch anything they offer at any time of the day or night. These are what I like best, since I don’t like being tied to a schedule. I never know when I might feel like watching something.
Top picks for on-demand streaming services:
Amazon Prime Video – sometimes ad-supported TV shows and movies. Included with Amazon Prime membership
Disney+ – ad-free, monthly subscription, great for Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, & National Geographic. Lets you have virtual movie nights with GroupWatch (but everyone invited has to have Disney+.)
Hulu — ad-supported, monthly subscription, lots of TV shows
Netflix – ad-free monthly subscription service that lets you watch and download a huge number of TV shows & movies including original content, easy-to-use interface, has a free trial.
Other on-demand streaming services:
Acorn TV – ad-free subscription service for shows from Britain, Ireland, Australia, etc.
Apple TV+ – ad-free, monthly subscription, requires a supported device
A&E TV – ad-supported, watch full episodes of some shows online without signing in
Crackle – free, ad-supported
Crunchyroll – for anime, free with ads, paid subscription available
CW Seed – free app that requires an Android device, no login or subscription required
Curiosity Stream – for documentaries on history, space, nature, etc. Low-cost annual subscription.
Funimation Now – for anime
GuideDoc – curated documentaries, monthly subscription
HBO (formerly HBO Now) and HBO Max – monthly subscription
HGTV – ad-supported, watch full episodes of some shows free online or through their app without signing in
History.com – ad-supported, watch full episodes of some shows free online or on your smart TV without signing in
hoopla – free through your public library if they offer it
IMDb TV – free, ad-supported
Kanopy – free with your public library card or college/university login if they offer it, focuses on independent and documentary films
Lifetime – ad-supported, watch full episodes of some shows free online without signing in
Pantaflix – No subscription or registration required to watch movies, series and TV shows for free. Offers paid rentals of current blockbusters.
PBS Video App – free, for iOS, Android, and many smart TVs and devices
Popcornflix – free, ad-supported movies and TV shows, no sign up required
Screambox – ad-free subscription service for horror & terror
Shudder – ad-free subscription service for horror, thriller, and suspense
Sundance Now – ad-free subscription service, available on iOS, Android, and some devices
The CW – free app that requires an Android device
Tubi TV – free, ad-supported, no subscription required
Vudu – free, ad-supported, offers paid purchases & rentals too
Devices for On-Demand Streaming
Many of the on-demand streaming services listed above will work in a web browser or a smart TV. But you can also get some services through devices.
The popular devices for on-demand streaming are:
- Amazon Fire TV
- Apple TV
There are other devices that support streaming as well, along with their other functions. You may already have some of these! Those include:
- iOS devices
- Android devices
- Nintendo Switch
Over the Air Antenna
An over-the-air antenna lets you watch local channels that — you guessed it — are picked up over the air. If you’re picturing having to climb on the roof to put up a giant antenna, don’t. The antennas aren’t giant, and they may not even have to be placed outside.
We’ve used the Monoprice Digital Outdoor Antenna and Indoor HDA-5700 (affiliate link) for years without issue. While it’s meant to go outside, we never put it there. Why? Because it works just fine for us laying on the TV stand. Of course, your house may be different and there are plenty of HDTV antennas to choose from.
Either way, an over the air antenna is usually a simple way to get local TV, including local sports. (Assuming your area isn’t blacked out.) The nice thing about this option is that it’s a one-time cost. With no monthly fees, it’s one of the cheapest choices as far as alternatives to cable TV go.
How to Choose the Cable TV Alternative That’s Right for You
Since there are a lot of cable cutting options, start by thinking about how you watch TV now.
Do you sit down and watch whatever happens to be on, or mostly watch sports? Live TV services might work well.
Do you have your favorite shows that you hate to miss? Depending on where they’re available, a streaming service or an over-the-air antenna could be a good match.
Make Sure You Won’t Miss Your Favorite Shows
There are a few easy ways to find out where your favorite shows are at. You can Google “where to watch [name of show]”, or you can use the search feature at Just Watch.
Just Watch is really handy in that it will not only tell you where a show is at, it’ll tell you about costs and ads. Here’s a sample search result from there for a show:
You can see at a glance where you can watch the show and what’s required.
You can also put your location in AntennaWeb to get a schedule of shows that you can pick up with an antenna.
Once you know where your favorite TV shows are available, you can make your choices to find your best alternative to cable tv.
Consider Mixing and Matching Services to Get Streaming TV Deals
Depending on what you like to watch, you may get a better deal by bundling. For example, you may be able to get Get Hulu + Live TV, Disney+, and ESPN+ in one deal.
Or sometimes other services include streaming TV services for free. For example, you may be able to login to more than one service with your Amazon Prime login if you have that. Or you may get HBO Max with your cell service. So check into what extras may be included with any services you already have.
And remember, to save money on the best cable alternatives, limit the number of services you pay for.
You can also save by staggering free trials, or only using one or two services at a time. (After all, there’s only so much time in the day.)
Either way, on-demand streaming is way better than cable.
What About Keeping Internet Service?
If you get your internet service through your cable provider right now, you’ll need to plan for keeping internet. (Especially if you’ll be using any of the streaming services.)
You can change to internet-only service from your cable provider, or explore alternatives to cable internet. The typical choices are standalone/naked internet, DSL, fiber, or fixed wireless internet.
You may get a one or two-year new customer deal if you go with someone new.
I haven’t tried this personally, but I’ve heard you can also sometimes get a new customer deal with your existing provider if more than one person lives at your address. The idea there is to cancel service under your name, and then have another household member sign up to get the deal.
No matter what you choose, watch out for any equipment rental costs. You can usually buy your own modem & router to save money in the long run instead of renting.
Summing Up the Best Alternatives to Cable TV
In summary, the best alternatives to cable TV are streaming services and/or an over-the-air antenna. (With a side of standalone internet service, if you go the streaming route.)
If you’re still on the fence about cutting cable, remember that you can always go back. (And chances are you’ll get a better deal if you do.) This isn’t a lifetime decision, so give it a try. Cut the cord and start saving money today!
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