The golden era of cable television is probably over. From, oh, say 1985 to 2005, it filled a definite need: if you wanted to watch a variety of shows and movies, and weren’t interested in going to the video rental store all the time (remember those?), then you had to get cable. Or be stuck with five or six fuzzy channels on network television. Simple.
Now, though, it’s not nearly so straightforward. There are services that provide more shows than you could possibly watch … and most of them are on-demand and cheaper than cable. There are two basic, great non-cable options.
Buy An Antenna. If you live in a major metropolitan area, you can get crystal clear HDTV for free – and usually about 25 channels. Yep, just through an antenna – antennae are far better than they used to be, and they’re generally very reliable, particularly if you live on a higher floor (i.e., not the ground floor.) For the antenna itself, you’re looking at $25 to $45, installation takes about 20 minutes … and then, after that, it’s free! You get everything you’d expect on network television, WGN, the CW, some interesting-ish Nick-at-Nite-like spin-off channels, several versions of PBS, and several Spanish language channels.
Use a Streaming Device. If you have a Roku or Playstation, or Chromecast, or Apple TV, you can subscribe to Hulu Plus ($7.99/month), or Netflix Streaming ($8/month), or use Amazon to order movies a la carte (price depends on movie). There are also other streaming services, including some sports packages. (Note that you can’t get HBO GO without cable.) If you’re not yet familiar with streaming through your television, Yahoo! Finance breaks it down.
If you combine the two options above, you’ll have more shows than you have time for – and cheap … for example, a subscription to both Hulu Plus and Netflix Streaming, is only $16 a month. That said, there are a couple of caveats:
- You need to get internet for this plan to work – and high speed internet. In this day-and-age, I’d consider internet a necessity. That said, if you mostly just use your internet at work and are comfortable with a slower speed at home (or using your phone at home), you’d have to upgrade. Also, getting internet just by itself, particularly high-speed internet, can be expensive, relatively speaking … thus making cable-and-internet as a bundled package somewhat more appealing.
- You may have plenty of shows to watch … but maybe not exactly what you want to watch. If you’re an HBO addict, or you want to watch your local sports teams every night, you’re going to need to spring for some form of cable.
- The primary reason not to get cable is money – but if you have plenty of money, or you’re sure cable is what you want, the easiest thing to do is to get cable. Duh.
So what to do if you want cable?
First, consider your options. In some areas, a given cable company has a de facto monopoly. In other places, there are two or more companies competing to offer you cable, internet and phone services. Make sure you research the deals for each company, and try to bargain one company down, using the deals the other is offering. Also, don’t forget to check DirecTV and Verizon’s FiOS, to see if they serve your area. Technically, they’re not cable, but they can provide similar services. (FiOS provides internet as well, whereas DirecTV is television only – you’d have to get your internet separately.) Whatever company you choose, make sure that you sign up using some sort of deal – they’re out there if you hunt.
When looking for deals, remember that bundling your cable and internet together will usually save you money (relative to what you’d pay by buying them separately).
When signing a contract, check several things:
- How long are you committed?
- Once the introductory rate ends, what is the regular rate?
- Is the guaranteed internet speed the same throughout the contract?
- If you get three free months of HBO (or other specialty channel), do you have to cancel it yourself after three months to avoid a surprise on your bill?
A lot of these are negotiable – if you talk to a manager, you can often avoid a long-term contract, or you can dicker down the regular rate once it kicks in. But you need to know it’s coming, and have the cash on hand, in case your bargaining fails.
Whether you choose cable or streaming, or nothing at all, realize that it is a choice. If you watch television only three or four hours a week, considering switching to a streaming service, or going without anything at all. You may find that you do far better without than you had imagined you would. And, if you decide to go back to either cable or streaming, you’ll know that it’s worth your money.