How Everyone Can Cut Cable and Still Watch What They Love — Even Sportsfans
More and more people are cutting loose their cable TV providers nowadays, and no wonder. Cable and satellite services offer big packages of channels for big fees, and have been refusing to provide less expensive a la carte options. Streaming online services have been winning over longtime cable customers by offering selections of programming at much smaller monthly prices. (See also: You Never Need to Pay to Watch Movies)
But if you are a big fan of certain types of programming, you might be afraid to cut the cord. Fear no longer. This post will help almost any kind of TV watcher find their ideal cable-free solution.
Most of these solutions require broadband Internet access. You can watch online programming directly on a computer, tablet, or smartphone screen, or you can purchase a Chromecast, Roku box, Apple TV, Amazon FireTV, Wi-Fi enabled Blu-ray player, or video game console to bring the programming to your television set.
The Sports Fan
This has traditionally been the most cable-bound type of viewer, so let's get it out of the way first. It is increasingly possible to watch televised sports without paying for cable. (See also: Save Money on Live Sporting Events)
Basketball fans can subscribe to NBA League Pass for $16.99 to $59 per season to watch live games without cable. NFL Game Pass offers replays of games, or live audio of pro football games. A subscription to MLB.tv, which runs $109.99 to $129.99 a year, can keep you up to date on our national pastime.
For fans of professional ice hockey (both of you!), you can stream out-of-market NHL games to your devices. A $49.95 fee gets you a subscription to NHL Gamecenter Live for the rest of the Stanley Cup playoffs, which have just begun.
There are drawbacks to these Internet sports services. The main one is that local games can be blacked out on streaming services. However, many local games are broadcast over the air. If you don't get good broadcast reception without cable, you can invest in one of the newer high-powered indoor antennas to fix that.
If you haven't subscribed to a streaming package for the season but just feel like catching one game or browsing a large number of sporting events, check out VIPBox Sports.
The News Junkie
Despite the low quality of much of the content on 24-hour cable news channels, some people really like having them on for large chunks of the day to keep up on what's happening.
CNN does provide a streaming feed on its website, but unfortunately you have to subscribe to a paid TV service in order to view it. But you can watch the BBC's all-day-all-night news, BBC 24, at Wherever TV with no sign-up or cable subscription needed.
The same site also streams Fox News and various local news stations, and it purports to show MSNBC and The Weather Channel, although I could not get those last two to load. You can get some access without signing in, but if you want more, you can subscribe, which is free on PCs or $4.99 a month on GoogleTV, Android, or iOS.
Of course, you don't need a 24-hour news channel to stay informed. You can watch video stories one by one on the CNN Web site, as well as PBS and a host of other sites. Or just turn on the radio to your local National Public Radio affiliate, or check into a newspaper website, or sign up for news alerts on your phone.
The Reality Nut
When it comes to watching episodes soon after they are broadcast, reality bites for those who don't want to pay for TV. But that doesn't mean you have to break down and pay for cable. You just have to decide which is more important to you: instant gratification or free? (See also: Is Instant Gratification Financially Responsible?)
First of all, a lot of the top reality shows are on broadcast TV; you can watch "The Bachelor" on ABC or "American Idol" on Fox live for free with a good HD antenna.
If you must watch a reality show less than a week after it airs, you can probably download it for a fee. Most shows on Amazon are $1.99 each, or $2.99 in HD — including "Shark Tank" and "The Real Housewives of New York City." Much of the same is available on iTunes for $2.99 per episode.
If you can wait a week, your options broaden. For instance, Hulu Plus (which costs $7.99 a month) offered episodes of the last season of "The Bachelor" eight days after broadcast. The Bravo website posts episodes of "The Real Housewives of New York City" for free streaming, after a week.
If you just want to binge on old reality series, especially the TLC lowbrow documentary style, you can find plenty on Netflix, like six seasons of "Toddlers in Tiaras" or four seasons of "Hoarding: Buried Alive."
The Series Devotee
After reality TV pushed most of the well-written TV dramas and comedies off the networks, you almost had to subscribe to premium channels like HBO to watch a high-quality series.
Not anymore. Netflix has "Breaking Bad," "Mad Men," and "Sherlock," not to mention Netflix Originals such as "Orange Is the New Black" and "House of Cards."
What's more, Amazon recently announced a deal with HBO that will give Prime members access to unlimited streaming of old series like "The Sopranos" and "The Wire," as well as older seasons of current shows like "True Blood" and "Boardwalk Empire." The deal also includes miniseries, original movies, documentaries, and comedy specials.
Those who must see the most current episodes of their favorite series can always pay per-episode — "Walking Dead" and "Mad Men" is $2.99 per HD episode on Amazon, or $1.99 regular.
A lot of us like watching series online even better than watching them as they are broadcast, because we can binge. When the final season of "Breaking Bad" finally showed up on Netflix, I watched it in a week, saving myself the agony of waiting seven days between each suspenseful installment.
The only big downside to waiting to watch a series instead of as they are released on cable TV is the spoiler. It can be hard to avoid finding out about major plot twists, especially if you spend time on Facebook and Twitter every day. (See also: Ways to Break Your Social Media Habit)
For TV watchers outside these three types, finding replacements for cable is likely to be simpler: Just set up a Roku with a monthly subscription service and browse the broad offerings in TV series, documentaries, and movies. And don't forget the offerings of broadcast TV — PBS in particular has been on fire lately with high-quality series including "Sherlock" and "Downton Abbey."
Have you cut the cord? Tell us what you're watching — and how!