What Are the Best Alternatives to Cable TV?

FT Contributor  | 

It’s not news that cable TV is falling out of favor. While it was once the best option for watching televised content, it is now a luxury that costs an average of $120 per month, or $1,440 per year. Meanwhile, streaming services rarely cost more than $16 per month and don’t force you to watch as many commercials. High-speed internet access makes them operate more efficiently, and you undoubtedly use your internet service for much more than TV, so you can see significant savings by eliminating cable from your monthly expenses.

In addition, cable subscriptions often require customers to purchase “packages” that include an assortment of channels. Not every channel or network is included in each one, so it’s possible that something you are interested in watching is unavailable to you, or you are paying for content you do not watch at all.

You can save a significant amount of money each year by “cord-cutting.” That said, what are the particular best alternatives to cable TV? Here are a few cheaper options to consider for individuals and families on a budget:

Netflix

Netflix is the predominant streaming service in the world, with 167 million subscribers at the end of 2019. The company started as early as 1997 and operated with a video-to-door model via mail, but launched its streaming service in 2007. Netflix hosts an abundance of TV series and movies from other creators as well as original content.

Netflix has three pricing tiers:

  • Basic ($8.99 monthly): The budget-friendly basic plan allows users to watch programs on one screen at a time and does not include high-definition viewing;
  • Standard ($12.99 monthly): Users of the standard plan can watch HD content on two screens simultaneously;
  • Premium ($15.99 monthly): Premium users can watch four programs at the same time in HD and have access to 4K viewing.

Hulu

Owned by Disney, which recently released Disney+, Hulu is a robust streaming platform with a broad range of content. While Netflix rarely streams newly released episodes of TV series in the U.S., Hulu hosts entire seasons of shows and brand-new episodes for select programs. The platform also allows ad-on networks like HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, and Starz for an extra cost.

Hulu offers the following subscription plans:

  • Hulu ($5.99 monthly): The basic Hulu plan is available for people living on a tight budget and includes access to all of its content, but programs will include advertisements similar to cable TV commercial breaks;
  • Hulu No Ads ($11.99 monthly): For twice the cost, users can access Hulu’s library without any ads;
  • Hulu + Live TV ($54.99 monthly): This pricing tier includes Hulu’s available content as well as the ability to stream live TV, including sports and news programs;
  • Hulu No Ads + Live TV ($60.99 monthly): This package is similar to the former, but excludes commercials.

Disney+

Disney’s brand-new streaming service includes decades worth of Disney-specific content (though a few titles from 20th Century Fox are not available just yet). You won’t find anything Disney on Netflix anymore, which makes this platform appealing to fans of Disney’s original films and TV shows as well as content from its various acquisitions, such as Lucasfilm and Marvel.

The pricing tiers of Disney+ are:

  • Basic ($6.99 monthly): Disney fans will be pleased to know that the basic Disney+ plan is affordable and includes all of the platform’s content ad-free. If you would like to save more money, though, you can purchase a yearly subscription for $69.99, which is about $5.83 per month;
  • Bundle ($12.99 monthly): If what’s already available on Disney+ is not enough, the bundled package includes access to ad-supported Hulu and ESPN (which is $4.99 individually).

Sling TV

Sling TV is a streaming service, but it works more like cable TV than any other option on this list. You select a package that includes the channels you care most about (but you will have to make sacrifices if you don’t want them both). Sling TV is a viable option if you are passionate about watching live programs, especially sports, but it offers limited local channels.

Sling TV packages are:

  • Sling Orange ($30 monthly): Sling Orange provides users with 33 channels that include Disney and ESPN, but not Fox or NBC. You can only stream on one device at a time;
  • Sling Blue ($30 monthly): Users have 48 channels, including NBC and Fox, but not Disney or ESPN. You can stream on three devices simultaneously;
  • Sling Orange + Blue ($45 monthly): This combination package includes all channels (51) and enables four concurrent streams, but the Orange channels only allow one at a time.

Amazon Prime Video

Amazon Prime Video costs a flat fee of $8.99 per month if you are not already an Amazon Prime member. This streaming service hosts a wide range of content, including original series, that you can watch in HDR, 4K, and offline. Amazon Prime Video also allows you to purchase individual titles.

You can watch Amazon Prime Video on devices including:

  • Android TV;
  • Fire TV;
  • AppleTV;
  • Roku;
  • Chromecast;
  • PlayStation 4;
  • Wii U;
  • Xbox One.

You can also watch on mobile devices, tablets, and computer browsers.

HBO Now

Not to be confused with HBO Go, HBO Now is $14.99 per month and includes all of HBO’s licensed content. Many cable and satellite TV providers such as Xfinity, DirectTV, and Spectrum may include HBO with a subscription, so HBO Go is technically free in this instance, but HBO Now is an excellent choice for TV watchers who don’t already have this premium channel.

Apple TV+

Apple TV+ is affordable at a flat fee of $4.99 per month, but the service has no catalog of content — it only streams ad-free original programs. You can stream titles in 4K quality on Apple devices, Roku, and Fire TV. Customers who purchase a new Apple product can take advantage of one year of Apple TV+ access for free.

Universal TV Antenna

A universal TV antenna will intrigue you if you’re living frugally. It’s another alternative to cable subscriptions if you aren’t interested in a streaming service: it’s a device that doesn’t look like a traditional antenna that you are likely imagining. You plug it into your television’s cable output and can access broadcast networks for free. There are no monthly fees or contracts—all you need to pay for is the device.

There are countless individual TV shows, movies, documentaries, and other media across streaming platforms. Measure your financial health and decide which one offers you the best value for your money based on how often you watch TV.


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