How to Cut Cable and Still Watch Your Favorite Shows, Part 1

by Kevin on December 7, 2010

Premium cable or satellite service is expensive. These providers offer an amazing introductory deal to get your business. They’ll cut the monthly cost by $15 to $30 for the first 12 months if you will just sign a contract. The hope — well founded — is you will become used to their service and when the introductory price goes away you won’t drop the service.

And it works until the day you get fed up with constantly running out of cash in your budget.

But what if you want to save cash on cable without losing the ability to watch your favorite shows and movies? It seems complicated, but it is definitely within the realm of possibility. This is a starter, not comprehensive, guide. I’m trying to give another information to help you dig further into cutting your cable on your own.

Why I’m Writing This

I didn’t exactly fall for the marketing traps of the cable industry… but we did let our introductory price go away and we’re now paying a whopping $85 for satellite service. The hassle to try and get a reduced rate over the phone hasn’t overcome my pain of paying a higher price for the service itself. The main reason I haven’t called is we’re planning on moving sometime very soon and I’ll just cancel the service then.

I am highly interested in home theater PCs (HTPC) as well. In the future I’d like to build one and use some of the services we’ll be covering.

So this guide is for you, but I’ll be using it as a reference several months from now to guide my decisions in building a HTPC and cutting my cable costs.

Determine Your Entertainment Boundaries

Before you get out your cable cutting scissors and get to work you need to decide what is really important to you.

Funny, it’s kind of what you need to do with your budget. If the money runs out in your budget you have to cut back by deciding what is most important to you.

So what’s most important? Sports? Your favorite show on HBO? Saving money in any way possible? Your points of emphasis will determine your actions. If you don’t watch TV and are desperate to save money then just cut the cord and cancel the service. Heck, if you do watch TV and are desperate to save money… cut the cord.

If you love sports like me then you have an uphill battle.

If you have to be able to talk about the latest and greatest show over the water cooler at work you have options, but they might be limited. Compare that to those that just want to watch a good show and can wait… more options are available for the latter crowd.

Your needs determine what services you target.

Cutting Cable Options

Here’s a run down of options available for your viewing pleasure should you decide to cut cable out of your life.

Over The Air (OTA) Broadcasts

If your favorite shows are on the “basic” cable channels (NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, PBS, and CW) then you just might be in luck. All of the basic channels are broadcast over the air for free. Free. As in no cost to you.

In the past your parents may have had some elaborate large antenna sitting on top of the tube set television in your living room.

This is the same thing just upgraded for the 21st century. Digital broadcasts are sent out through the air, and if you buy an antenna you’ll be able to catch those channels for free. Antennas can be had for as little as $30 or $40. That’s probably less than what you pay for your cable services for a month of service. If you cut your cable today and bought an antenna you would get a return on your investment very quickly.

The easiest way to see if an antenna will work in your area is You input your address and it will find the closest stations to you and determine whether or not you should be able to get the signal.

Online Streaming Services and Equipment

On Friday we’ll look at the multitude of streaming options. There a bunch to look at so make sure to come back and look!

But for now… have any of you completely cut the cable cord and are living the dream? How’s life on the other side?

(Photo by makerbot … and yes, I know that isn’t a coaxial cable in the photo!)


Rosario Elliot December 7, 2010 at 7:43 am

Have you seen WhiteHatt yet?

Henry December 7, 2010 at 8:22 am

Sharon and I have done this for 8 months now- got a $40 HD antenna from Walmart and we get every major basic network except ABC (so: CBS, NBC, FOX, PBS, CW). It took some getting used to (especially sans ESPN), but we discovered this setup was perfect for college football, NFL, March Madness (CBS/FOX) and pretty good for baseball, too (FOX). We also found that many of the other shows (in our case, cooking or home improvement) we liked to watch on cable had perfectly good (and maybe even better) alternatives at PBS. We stream Netflix for other shows, and Netflix is constantly adding new shows to their mix, so it really feels like between Netflix and Hulu (minus ESPN stuff) that we haven’t missed a beat. And to speak to the sports stuff, we ended up watching (ok mooching) with friends or going to a sports bar to watch games we wanted to but couldn’t see, which made it more fun and social. We cut our monthly TV expenses from ~$60 to the $8 Netflix subscription.

Golfing Girl December 8, 2010 at 7:18 am

We cut the cord over two years ago with Direct TV. We had TiVo, 2 receivers, the NFL Sunday Ticket and Superfan package. It ran $110/mo during football season and $65 in off season. I admit, I love HGTV and the convenience of TiVo, but after our DVR died after 5 years and they wanted to charge us $40 shipping to “replace it for free” we said adios. We went with the unadvertised basic cable package with our local cable company than runs $9.97 with taxes and fees included (they are required to offer this, but not to advertise it). We get all the basic networks plus WGN, Nat Geo, Ion, CSPAN, and some others that are fuzzy, but watchable, like ESPN and Nick Jr.

If you’re going to make the leap, I recommend doing it in the spring after all the season finales occur and there’s nothing interesting on anyway and you’re enjoying time outdoors.

Now that there is Hulu, most networks rebroadcast their recent episodes online (it’s kind of like having TiVo), and Netflix is only $9/mo. it’s a great way to save big money and still see most everything. And who couldn’t benefit from less time in front of the TV anyway? Plus, if you’re creative, there are plenty of websites where you can view other countries versions of ESPN and such so you can still catch some games you want to see.

Golfing Girl December 8, 2010 at 8:01 am

P.S. If you’re super creative, like my husband is, you can use sites like Megavideo to see shows from HBO, Showtime, etc. It’s free, but you have to be patient, as you can only watch 72/minutes at a time per day. But for shows like Weeds, True Blood, etc. it’s a great way to watch. My husband simply streams the show and saves his temporary files so we can watch at our convenience.

Lissa December 9, 2010 at 10:30 am

We’ve cut our cable for more than a year now and we’re not looking back. Thankfully my husband’s not really a sports fanatic and most of the shows we watch are on basic channels. Our condo was also pre-wired by Comcast to receive channels so we don’t even use antenna but get our signals straight from the wall. We get great reception.

We’ve been using EyeTV on our Macbooks to record our shows but it’s a little cumbersome cause you have to pretty much either do it manually (which is what we do) or leave your Macbooks on. We recently took advantage of Tivo’s deal and we can’t wait to have a normal DVR again.

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