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How to ditch your cable bill for good
With cable TV charges going up and up, is it time to go all digital? There are definitely pros and cons to cutting the cord. Break it down by viewing preferences and cost to figure out the right decision for you. - photo by Amy Iverson
Did you hear the Mousketeers are back? You wont find them on any TV channel, though. M-I-C-K-E-Y. Why? Because the new Club Mickey Mouse will feature its content only on social media, specifically Instagram and Facebook. This is just the latest example of the trend taking much of entertainment away from traditional TV channels to digital-only content.

Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, YouTube and others feature exclusive content that viewers can only get online. This trend, along with expensive cable bundles, has a small group of people (so far, about 15 percent of American adults) turning away from cable and cutting the cord.

The average American household spends more than $100 per month for cable TV, so if you decide you want to throw that bill in the trash for good, there are several alternate ways to enjoy all your favorite shows. But its debatable as to which path is more convenient, and which one gives you the best value. It all depends on which stations you want, which stations are must-haves, and how much money you want to spend on individual subscription services.

The first step is to get an HD antenna for local stations. Youll want this for local news, at least, and a good one will generally cost less than $50. These are not the bunny-eared contraptions of the past. Antennae in todays world are small devices that will pick up dozens of signals at distances up to about 50 miles.

Decide on a streaming device. Your first option here is simply to plug your computer into your television with an HDMI cord and use your big TV as a second screen. But many people (including me) find this bothersome and want another way.

-Roku comes as a set-top box (from $25), as a standalone TV (from $140), or as a stick ($40) and has the biggest variety of apps. Youll get tons of free content, live TV, sports, original content, movies and shows.

-Google Chromecast ($35-$70) plugs into the HDMI port on your TV. Use apps to stream shows, movies, sports and games.

-Smart TVs eliminate the need for an extra device, as they have the apps embedded. PC magazine has a list of the best.

-Gaming systems like PlayStation, Wii and Xbox also have apps to download and stream content.

Now its time to choose your streaming services because while a lot of those apps on the streaming devices are free, the most popular charge a monthly fee.

-Netflix ($8-$12 per month) has original programming and the largest selection of TV shows and movies.

-Hulu ($8-$40 per month) also has original programming, and is the best place to catch up on your favorite television shows, even ones that just aired last night. There are movies and original content here too, plus Hulu now offers more than 50 channels with live-streaming capabilities.

-Amazon Video ($9 per month) now comes as a standalone option if you arent an Amazon Prime subscriber. It has original content, hundreds of free shows and movies, and the option of viewing shows and movies on demand.

-Sling TV has the cheapest option for live TV. You can pay $20 per month for 29 channels, but this wont be enough for most people. In order to have full coverage with the kids package, HBO, and all the ESPN channels you want, the bill will be about $65 per month. I subscribed to this a few years ago so that I could cut my cable, but still watch my favorite college football team. Problem was, during the playoffs, when my teams game was on some random station, Sling didnt offer it. So, it did me no good. Boo.

Individual networks also offer standalone apps. HBO Now is $15 per month, Showtime charges $11 per month, CBS All Access starts at $5 per month, and Starz costs $9 per month. Plus, we know that next year, Disney will launch an ESPN streaming service and one for Disney Prime when it leaves Netflix in 2019.

You can see that if the average household is spending about $100 each month for cable, then cherry-picking subscriptions could add up to that amount very quickly. Good news for college students, though. Amazon Prime gives students six months free, and just this month, music streaming service Spotify and Hulu announced a college discount. Students can bundle Hulu (normally $8 per month) and Spotify (normally $5 per month for students) for just $5 per month. Well see how much studying gets done with that sweet deal.
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