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Cut the cord: Alternatives to cable

A hand holding a remote, pointing it at a tv screen.

No two ways about it: Cable TV is expensive.

According to a 2020 report from Allconnect, a company that assists customers with setting up phone, cable and internet services, the average household cable package runs $217 per month. That’s more than some households pay for their major utilities. Perhaps that’s why, according to Business Wire, paid TV services will account for less than 50% of all U.S. TV households by 2026.

If you’re ready to cut the cable cord, you have a number of streaming video services to explore—but since streaming has exploded, the decision can be confusing to navigate. Read on for some information that may help.

Make sure you can get your favorite channels

Before you start shopping, make a list of the shows and channels (including local stations) you regularly watch. Note that you may not be able to get every channel you want, so you may have to settle for the service that offers the most channels. Also, be sure you’ll have multi-stream options if you want to watch more than one program on different TVs simultaneously—for instance, parents on the living room TV and kids on a bedroom TV.

Compare pricing

Take some time to compare the pricing between services, including ads vs. no ads and service add-ons. Most services do include a cloud DVR, but be sure to note the number of recording hours available to you, and how long you can keep the recordings.

Some free services (read: supported by ads) include Roku Channel, Pluto TV, Tubi TV, Freevee, Sling Free, Crackle, Plex, Hoopla Digital (offered via local libraries), PBS Kids, YouTube Kids and Kidoodle TV. Also check out the free apps for NBC, ABC, PBS, CW and other favorite networks.

If you’d prefer to skip streaming and just watch local channels on your TV, you won’t have to pay for a service, but you’ll need to buy a digital antenna if you don’t have one built into a smart TV. Luckily, there are a number of affordable options. To see the strength of your local broadcast signal, input your address into the FCC’s digital TV reception maps.

Take advantage of free trial periods

Many streaming services offer a free trial period. This will allow you to check out the video quality and the ease of using the service’s interface (some can be more confusing than others). Remember, though, since most will ask you to enter a credit card number, it’s up to you to keep track of when the trial ends, so you can cancel the service without being charged should you decide you don’t want it.

Spiff up your internet

A streaming service is dependent on the internet, so you’ll need a streaming device to watch your service of choice. Depending on what the service supports, this could be your computer, smartphone or tablet, an app built into a smart TV, your game console or a device like Apple TV or a Roku. And if you have more than one TV, you’ll need to connect a device to each set. Make sure you’ll have enough data and speed to support everyone watching TV, movies and cloud DVR without buffering issues.

Popular streaming services

If you’d like a starting point for comparison shopping, check out some of the multi-channel streaming options below. All include Cloud DVR, although the details vary.

  • DirectTV Stream – Mix of local TV stations, cable channels and regional sports networks.

  • FuboTV – 120-plus channels, with sports networks, broadcast on-demand and cable channels.

  • Hulu + Live TV – 60-plus channels include broadcast, cable and regional sports channels in a number of markets. Includes Disney+ and ESPN+.

  • Philo – 60-plus channels, with the emphasis on low pricing. No sports, news or local channels. Heavy on entertainment and lifestyle programming.

  • Sling TV – Several plan tiers. Some include cable channels but not broadcast TV.

  • YouTube TV – 80-plus channels, including all major local networks and some regional sports networks.

Other streaming services available include Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, Discovery+, Disney+, HBO Max, Netflix, Peacock and Paramount+.

The great thing about streaming services is that you don’t have to settle for a so-so package offered by a cable company; you can build a custom package that works best for your household. Just be sure to do your homework, don't over-subscribe (too many options can get expensive) and take advantage of the free trials before you buy.

And happy (cord-free) viewing!