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How to cut the cable and save
Consumer costs for cable and satellite TV continue to explode. Here are some strategies to cut the cable and your television viewing costs at the same time. - photo by Jeff Wuorio
To any cable or satellite television subscriber, the cost of in-home entertainment is going up.

An analysis by Consumers Union shows that cable rates have increased 30 percent in the past five years, nearly three times the rate of inflation. According to a 2014 federal study, the average "basic" cable bill was $64 a month. That pales against the monthly cost of satellite. Taking in fees, pay per views and other costs, the average monthly DirecTV bill tops $100.

Every day I try to help my clients minimize their expenses, and cable is the first item to go, said Atlanta financial planner Whitney Lee.

But does pulling the plug on cable mean being cut off from the world and left staring at the four walls? There are tradeoffs, to be sure, but there are also a number of money-saving alternatives that provide choice and more control over a family's in-home entertainment.

Some 600,000 paid TV subscribers dumped their services in the second quarter of 2015. Tanja Crouch of Nashville and her family were part of that trend in part. The Crouches subscribe to cable for the high-speed Internet. But they scaled back to a bare-bones cable package of local programming through the major networks.

We're considering the next step of turning off the cable altogether and just relying on Netflix and other apps to watch programs, she said. We are happier we have limited options of TV channels. Instead of just turning on the TV, we read or talk or do other things.

A three-step process

Would-be cable-free TV consumers may be surprised by the number of options that can replace cable/satellite technology and programming.

A TV antenna may smack of the days of yore (Who shot JR? anyone?), but local network affiliates, public television and other stations have continued to broadcast programming accessible via antenna throughout the cable/satellite stampede.

Most people don't realize that approximately 95 percent of the top shows are on network TV, not to mention a good portion of NFL games, said Chris Brantner of, a how-to site for prospective cable cutters. (Brantner goes by the moniker Mr. Cable Cutter.)

And much of the antenna accessible programming is delivered in high-definition quality.

The reception is excellent, said Lynda Spiegel, a New York City career coach who said shes saving some $64 a month after going cable-free. In fact, the HD is far sharper than it was via cable.

The website can help guide viewers on whether they need an outdoor or indoor antenna. Sites such as can assist in identifying compass directions to orient the antenna for optimal reception.

Another cable-free option is streaming services that offer television shows, movies and other content. These feature such well-known brands as Netflix (monthly plans start at $8.99) and Hulu ($7.99 a month). Other choices include Amazon Prime (which, for $99 a year, in addition to streaming video and music, also offers other perks such as discounted shipping of purchased items) and Sling ($20 a month, which provides live television programming such as ESPN, American Movie Classics and others.)

The great thing about cutting the cord is that most streaming services offer free trials, so you can take services for a test drive before you settle on them. And then after you sign up, they're month-to-month with no contracts, so your cord-cutting setup can be an ever-evolving thing, said Brantner. For example, say you want to carry Sling TV during football season for Monday Night Football, but then you can cancel it after the season until the next season.

Additionally, many networks offer popular programs online free of charge via their website. The downside is that there can be a delay between when the shows are actually broadcast and when theyre available on the Internet. Their quality may be spotty, but sites such as YouTube also offer full-length movies and other material.

Consider the caveats

Bear in mind that accessing streaming via the Internet content may require purchasing some equipment. Choices include Roku ($49.99 and up), Apple TV ($70) and Google Chromecast ($35). Other devices such as some video game consoles can also serve this purpose.

Another caveat to consider before cutting the cord is Internet speed. You may need to boost your bandwidth to handle video streaming. Rural viewers might find their Internet provider doesnt offer high-speed plans to handle streaming.

Very often high-speed Internet is not available in rural areas, which limits the ability to stream, which is why I often recommend that people living far out stick with satellite television, said Brantner.

Rural consumers may be not close enough to pick up quality broadcast television via antenna.

Future programming

While the current television service climate has reached a standoff either cable or satellite or a patched together menu of alternatives consumers will see network television programming undergoing a change in the next decade, experts say.

Industry analysts have suggested that television networks will begin to move toward a more on-demand model, where viewers will have greater leeway in picking and choosing which shows they want to watch.

The video on-demand service Netflix is a suitable model for that type of service, said Bernstein Research analyst Todd Juenger in a report called This Report is Not Entitled The Death of the TV Network, released this summer, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Juenger wrote that Netflix is essentially a compilation of material that viewers can browse and access according to their personal tastes. Although viewers effectively pay for material they don't watch, the monthly cost is a fraction of what cable and satellite providers charge.

If that analogy holds at all in the world of on-demand TV, the implication were suggesting is viewers will choose shows simply on the merits of program by program, Juenger wrote. If the network loses its attachment and relevance, the studios/networks will have to fight for viewers show by show."

The exception, Juenger added, would be sports and news, which are still largely watched live.
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