Consumer IQ, Saving

Ready to Give Up Cable?

For those of us who’ve grown up always having cable or satellite service, paid television seems as basic an expense as groceries or electricity. But depending on what you watch, cutting the cord in part (or whole) can help cut expenses - but not your most vital TV services. You can watch HD Big Brother, House M.D., Survivor or American Idol for the cost of a $50 rooftop or balcony-attached antenna. Watch TV via internet streaming for as little as $0. And if you need a reminder regarding the value of the major networks, the top 20 primetime shows for the week of May 9th to May 15th were on free, broadcast television. 

Still, if you watch more than broadcast television, you’re going to have do some research in order to avoid missing much programming. You’ll need a combo of internet and free television options, because watching TV without cable service isn’t as simple as placing one order and clicking power on your remote.

Know Your Options

For starters, there’s equipment. If you use an antenna for local television stations, you’ll want to plug in your address at Antennaweb.org.  Just as with a satellite dish, says Consumer Electronics Association Director Megan Pollock, reception varies by the direction your home faces and interfering objects (such as if your apartment faces a tall cement building). If you don’t want to install an outdoor antenna (and antennaweb.org indicates you should get good reception), try an indoor antenna. Purchasing an indoor antenna is pretty goof-proof, too, since you can keep the box and return it if your signal isn’t clear.

When you browse channels to check reception, don’t just look for the expected local networks, such as PBS, NBC or Univision. Each channel can split their digital signal to create multiple channels of programming in a process called “multicasting.”  According to American Broadcast Association spokesperson Dennis Wharton, you could watch your favorite primetime show via the primary NBC signal during primetime Thursday night on NBC, while NBC uses its secondary signals to broadcast a 24-hour sports, weather channel or a re-run of a classic sitcom.

Beyond antennas, increase your viewing options with Blu-ray players, Xbox, AppleTV or Roku. Each device functions as a programming hub similar to a cable box. You’ll utilize a wireless internet connection you purchase from your phone or internet company to stream programming from different web-based services such as Hulu, Amazon Video, Itunes, and Netflix. Also similar to cable and satellite, the programming you can choose from to create viewing packages varies from device to device. For instance, if you want HuluPlus - which offers a selection of broadcast and cable shows for $7.99 per month - you’ll need a device that supports HuluPlus. If you subscribe to Netflix or Amazon video to watch movies, you’ll want a device that supports these services.

Consumer Electronics Association Director, Megan Pollock subscribes to MLB.tv to get Red Sox games that normally aren’t available in her local area – at least without an additional subscription package on cable. When she prices out her cost for her programming package, she includes this subscription, which is $119 per year. When she’s not at home, she watches programming on her Ipad using free apps.

Where you may sacrifice by cutting cords is premium cable television shows. Giving up seeing shows on premium channels such as HBO or Showtime at premiere dates is the largest sacrifice you’ll make. As of now, there isn’t an alternative way to view these shows within a day or two of theor original airing. You can rent seasons on Netflix, or peruse iTunes, Hulu, Amazon video and other services for episode availability; however, you can usually just see the shows at later dates. For instance, Pollock watches shows a season behind utilizing Netflix and talks about the show with other coworkers who are also a season behind.

Being a cord-cutter may not be for everyone – but saving money is. If you choose satellite or cable service, negotiate your rate, choose only services you watch regularly, and ask for specials on movie channels and premium packages. (I call my cable service every six months to get on a new special.) Also, consider which tv you watch the most. You can always eliminate one tv’s cable box by using an internet-streaming device or watching local programming via an antenna. The best bundle for you maybe a combination of both cable and alternative viewing options.

Reyna Gobel is a freelance journalist who specializes in financial fitness. She is also the author of Graduation Debt: How To Manage Student Loans and Live Your Life.