December 24, 2008

Free or less expensive alternatives to cable TV

Cable or satellite TV is pretty expensive. According to the FCC report there are 95 million homes in the USA with some sort of subscription television service. Thats over 80% of the households in the USA. The average cable or satellite bill runs around $50-60 a month. That adds up over a year with annual costs of $600-720 or more. One sure fire way to save money is to cut your cable service.

Cable TV can be a very cost effective form of entertainment. Americans watch 20-50 hours of television a week. Thankfully today there are a number of free substitutes for cable TV that will get you a lot of the same programming. In addition to the free sources you can also find some very reasonable low cost alternatives.


Use an Antenna
Cost : Free after antenna purchase

You can get all the broadcast networks off the air. The broadcast networks still make up a large amount of the programming that people watch. With HDTV you can get a high quality signal from an antenna if you aren't too far from the broadcast tower. If you don't have HDTV then you will soon need a converter box to use an old style non-digital TV. You can get a free $40 coupon from the government to offset the cost of the converter box.

The Hulu.com Website
Cost : Free if you have internet

Hulu is a site that collects or hosts video feeds from various sources. There is a ton of content on Hulu. They carry popular shows like The Simpsons, The Office, The Daily Show, House, Chuck and Prison Break just to name a few. In my experience using it, the feeds are pretty good quality and the site is reliable. Sometimes the links on Hulu will redirect you to the networks website but usually they seem to play right off the Hulu page.

The TV networks websites
Cost : Free if you have internet

The major broadcast networks all seem to have full episodes of shows on their sites now. Some are even in HD quality. Here are the links for the networks: ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS and CW
For each network you can find the video from the main page follow the 'video' or 'full episode' link at the top. Then choose the show you want to watch.

Like the broadcast networks, many of the cable networks host full episodes of their programs on their websites. Comedy Central, Sci-Fi, and FX network among others Some networks like Bloomberg provide a live stream of their programming. I've covered a few of the TV networks here but I'm sure there are many others that have programming available on their websites.

Direct from a sports organization
Cost: possibly free

Sports can be one of the hardest tings to get free access to. Some sports teams or organizations carry live feeds of their events on the web. Much of the 2008 summer Olympics were streamed on the net. Many college sports teams have live streams of their games on the web.

Local Library
Cost: generally free

Many libraries have DVDs and VHS tapes free to check out. Check your local library to see what videos they may have.

Netflix
Cost : varies, $5 per month and up.

Netflix can be a good cost effective alternative to paid cable TV. You can get most good programs on DVD now so you could use Netflix to watch TV shows after the season is over.

Redbox
Cost : $1 /day per DVD

Redbox rents DVDs for $1 a day. They have the latest popular movies. This is a very cost effective form of entertainment. However it doesn't seem Redbox caries many television programs so Redbox would mostly act as a substitute for movies you may watch on cable such as HBO.

These options might meet your needs just fine and act as a good alternative to subscription TV for many people. However not all of us have broadband internet and not all programming is available elsewhere. If you have cable television programming that you really want to see that doesn't have alternative sources then you could also consider cutting back on your cable bills in other ways. Going without premium movie networks like HBO or Showtime can save $10-17 a month. Subscribing for just the minimal cable TV package will keep your bills low.

One big gotcha for cutting the cable bill is the availability of live sports. My wife and I watch a lot of football and basketball. Cable TV is our only TV source for those programs. Some of the games are broadcast on a major network but its only around 10% of the total. Our other alternatives are listening on the radio or buying tickets at the arena. Radio is not nearly as enjoyable and buying tickets is way too expensive. So for the time being we are paying for cable service since its our best way to get the sports programs we want. If it weren't for sports we could probably drop cable altogether and substitute it with more the free internet TV and more Netflix.

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