How to Cut Cable and Still Watch Your Favorite Shows, Part 2

by Kevin on December 10, 2010

Earlier this week I talked about cutting the cable (or satellite) company out of your life. Whether you’re interested in cutting the cord for financial reasons or because you only use a handful of channels out of the hundreds you pay for, I’m here to tell you it can be done even though I’ve never personally done it.

I will be cutting the cable viciously in the very near future, but I’m not alone. Readers like Henry, Golfing Girl, and Rosario all left comments on that post talking about their experiences.

They’ve saved money. They’ve cut the cord. They’re — gasp — still functioning human beings!

The last post was an introduction and shared how to get the “basic” channels for free over the air (OTA). All you need is an OTA antenna and a location that receives signals well. Check it off your list.

But today we’re going to talk about the wide array of online streaming options. If you’re like me you do enjoy the occasional premium cable show or channel, and you can’t get those shows over the air.

Let’s dive in.

Online Streaming of Television and Movies

There is a huge array of options to watching your shows online.

Hulu/Hulu Plus

Hulu is an online streaming service that lets you watch clips, episodes, and in some cases full movies and documentaries. Hulu, non-plus edition, is free. You can watch shows on your computer in standard definition. Episodes are generally limited to the 5 most recent episodes of a current season show.

On the other hand Hulu Plus is a service you pay a monthly fee (currently $7.99) to get upgrades like high definition broadcasts, the ability to watch on a multitude of devices (Playstation 3, your iPhone/iPad/iTouch, etc.), and you can watch all of the current season’s episodes.

Hulu will work for you if it carries one of your favorite shows. Otherwise it’s like having cable channels you never use.

Netflix Streaming

As most of you know Netflix started out as an online movie rental company. Pick your movie, receive movie at your address in a day or two, watch movie, mail movie back. Rinse and repeat.

The company has made a huge strategic move into online streaming and now accounts for up to 20% of peak internet traffic in the United States. Take all the movies and television shows you can rent from Netflix (in physical DVD or Bluray format), put them online, and allow customers to access them over the internet.

It’s genius. It works. There’s a wide swath of devices that support Netflix streaming: gaming consoles (Wii, XBox 360, PS3), internet capable Bluray players, Tivo, Roku, your home computer…

You have a lot of options and the cost is only $9.99 per month.

Video on Demand from iTunes and Amazon

You can “rent” TV shows from services like iTunes and Amazon’s Video on Demand. Prices start at $0.99 per show, but can vary based on popularity. For example, Amazon has episodes of Glee for $0.99 and episodes of House for $1.99.

These services seem similar, but this one key difference: with Amazon you own the episode and can watch it whenever you want. With Apple’s iTunes you’re renting the episode and have 30 days to watch it. Once you’ve started watching it you have 24 hours (in the US) to finish the rental and then it disappears from your iTunes library.

I Need Sports – Can I Still Cut Cable?

Great question. I’m a huge sports fan. College football, college basketball, and the NFL are my three sports. I’ll watch other sports, but those are my three favorites.

This is where things get sticky. You can watch some of your games with the OTA broadcasts discussed earlier. But what if you don’t get a good OTA signal or the game is on a premium cable channel like ESPN?

Here’s what I’ve found thus far:

Formerly this is a free online service ESPN provides. If they’re showing a game and it isn’t blacked out in your TV market you should be able to watch it. The broadcasts are in standard definition and you can connect your computer to your TV to get the picture larger. It isn’t the best, not all the games are shown, but it’s free.

The only catch is your internet provider has to sign up to allow ESPN3 traffic. You can check out ESPN3’s website for a list of consenting internet service providers.

This is CBS’ version of ESPN3. They show SEC football games live.


This is a premium product that you pay for. For the 2010 season the cost was $99.95 for normal subscribers and $119.95 for premium subscribers. You can watch any non-blacked out game live and in high definition. The premium version gets you DVR capabilities (so you can pause and rewind live games on your device), multi-view (watch up to 4 games at the same time), and the choice of the home or away team broadcast.

Major League Baseball has done it right. The product offering isn’t 100% perfect since your team could still be blacked out, but it is darn close. If college football offered something like this for $100 per year I would be all over it (and that’s for a lot fewer games than baseball).

Alternatives to Cutting Cable

If you can’t fathom living without ESPN or your favorite shows aren’t available on a streaming service you are seemingly stuck. Your options fall back to your traditional asking for a discount or promotional price. I wrote about saving $175 per year on our satellite service in 2009 using this very technique.

Aside from that you could cut cable but use a variety of techniques to enjoy your sports and shows:

  • cut cable
  • save the $50, $75, or $100 per month you spend on that form of entertainment
  • get free/low monthly cost options for most of your entertainment (Netflix, etc.)
  • take part of the extra money and go to a sports bar or a friends house to watch whatever it is you can’t miss
  • re-evaluate why a television show or sports game rates so high in your life that you’re willing to spend hundreds of dollars per year to watch it (okay, I’m half kidding)

I anxiously look forward to the day where I can select the 5 to 10 channels I really, really want from a cable provider. I’ll pay a flat fee per channel and call it a day.

Until then good luck to all of us looking to save money without sacrificing too much. There’s a variety of options and methods to reach the same goal. The path is up to you.


Elj4176 December 10, 2010 at 1:34 pm

We cut the cable about 3 months ago and haven’t looked back. Between Netflix, hulu, fancast and several other sites we haven’t missed anything – except the constant bombardment of advertising.
The mythtv server in the theater, a WDTV HD Live, a Wii and a netbook all work to give us access to all of our media in whatever room we are in.
I don’t think we will ever go back to cable or satellite.

Kevin Blakeley December 10, 2010 at 2:47 pm

If you have an Xbox 360 with Xbox Live, you get access to ESPN3 so you can watch it on your TV, rather than a PC. This will get you access to all kinds of college sports and news/highlights, sometimes even live.

Elj4176 December 10, 2010 at 8:19 pm

I do not have access the through time-warner in my area. If I wasn’t in a ‘non-consumer’ mode I might think about buying an xbox but I don’t play games much and really don’t need one.

Our main living room tv has the wii and the netbook running linux connected to it so everything we watch can be watched on a normal hdtv and/or on one of our laptops.

i got a cheap mceUSB remote for the netbook and a wireless keyboard and mouse when needed. The theater has the mythtv server and blu-ray player hooked to the projector and I can connect to whatever source I want to play from there too. The nice surprise has been the WDTV box hooked to our upstairs tv. It has netflix and several other media apps built in and can access the mythtv shares as well. It all works together pretty well and we haven’t missed anything.

I do have other means of accessing sports but i did not want to post them on a public site. I subscribe to for NHL and some bonus events. and several other web streaming sites take care of anything that the others do not.

More and more people are cutting the cord every day. Thanks for bringing attention to it. I posted about it on my site if you care to look but I’d rather you didn’t link it since it’s just a hobby site.

Obviously you are a against debt so I’ll also add that we will be out of debt including the house by this time next year. Debt is dumb – cash is king. We have been loosely following Dave Ramsey for awhile.


Forest December 12, 2010 at 9:27 am

I have not watched TV as such for about 3 years now and I don’t miss it. I download shows and rent DVDs and that is absolutely sufficient for me.

Great post with some interesting turn ups for sports fans.

Chris @ December 21, 2010 at 9:05 am

I really enjoy watching movies and TV shows through Netflix streaming right from my BluRay player. I have slower internet (1.5Mbps) but it still runs smoothly.

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