Cutting the Cord – Living Without Cable TV

by Mike Holman

After a multi-year hiatus, Mr. Cheap has returned to blogging at http://moneytimeblog.com.
Posting on topics from investing to careers to arguing with Mike to frugal living such as this post.

Network television and cable TV generally strikes me as one of those things that will seem very strange to the next generation. “What do you mean you had to turn on your TV at a specific time to watch something?!?!” our children will ask us, with the same disdain we asked our grandparents about using an outhouse.

Costs for cable typically range from $11-20 a month for very basic access through to $100 and up for a variety of premium channels and extra features.

While you won’t get the exact same experience living without cable, you can “cut the cord” and get a comparable – and in many ways superior – experience.

Over The Air

Years ago there was talk about phasing out over the air TV, where you use an antennae for reception. When I bought the house my wife and I currently live in, there was a massive antennae running up the side of the building. I mentioned to a friend that I was going to pay to have it removed, and he was horrified. He said it would be an excellent way to get uncompressed, high-definition channels.

After playing around with it and running some cables, it turned out he was right! It dramatically increased the number of channels we could get compared to the little indoor antenna we were using before, and as long as the weather is clear, reception is close to perfect. We get Fox, CBS, ABC, PBS and a bunch of other things. This is pretty well equivalent to the basic cable package, and there’s absolutely no monthly cost to it.

Movies and TV Shows

You don’t get the exactly same selection, but Netflix ($8 / month) and Amazon Prime ($100 / year, with free shipping of Amazon purchases) provide on-demand viewing. My experience with both services is that they don’t have everything you want to see, but they have more than enough that you’ll be willing to watch. Hit shows will often come to these services after a year or two delay, and these days some of the hot shows debut on them – e.g. House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and Mozart in the Jungle.

If you’re willing to walk on the wild side, more options for this below, you can share an account with family or friends and cut your costs further.

DVDs

I never touch the things myself, but DVDs are another alternative. If you’re the type of person who likes to binge watch long running shows, you can inexpensively rent or buy entire series – or borrow them from a friend or library for free.

Sports

For quite a while I told people that cooking and real estate shows would be the biggest things they’d miss without cable. These are now more available than before, so the only big thing I think people will miss is sports. Obviously there will be loads of sports on the network channels, but for people who like to watch things that only air on the specialty sports channels, you pretty well need cable.

I have zero interest in sports, so this isn’t any sort of loss for me.

Children’s Shows

I don’t have kids, but my understanding is that it’s very easy to get banks of whatever show your kid is into – Teletubbies, Barney, The Wiggles or whatever is hot now. I just typed “The Wiggles” into Google and there are 146,000 results, including tons of full episodes. When I was visiting a friend recently, whenever his son would get restless he’d just turn on a 9 hour playlist of Wiggles and his son would be quietly hypnotized.

Watching Video Files

If you’re willing to illegally pirate TV shows and movies, you’ll have an unsurpassed selection of entertainment. Using torrenting or other options, you download video files to your computer and can watch them there. A better set up is to deliver the video files to your television. A Chromecast combined with the free app Videostream is one easy way to do this. In our house we currently use a Roku 3 and Plex software. A media center entails having a computer permanently hooked up to your television. Each of these options will let you use a remote control and easily navigate to find your content. Most of these also let you watch Netflix, Amazon Prime and other options on your TV.

If you like the sounds of this, but aren’t willing to download illegally, there’s a small amount of content that can be legally downloaded and watched. “Star Trek: Phase II” is an example of this, it’s a fan made continuation of the original Star Trek series.

As you may suspect, it’s terrible.

Welcome to the Future!

Other than sports, we’re really in a golden age of entertainment. It’s easily accessible for far less than $100 per month.

Read more by Mr. Cheap over at Money Time.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Robb Engen

Welcome back, Mr. Cheap!

I’ll admit this is one nut I haven’t figured out how to crack. First of all, TV is awesome! Sure, there are many ways to get shows for free (or for less than $10/month). But many, many other shows aren’t available that way.

I wish every HBO show would throw up a link on YouTube the next day for free like Jon Oliver does with Last Week Tonight, but sadly that isn’t the case.

I’ve tried slimming down to one of the “skinny basic” packages that cable companies are now required to provide, but it doesn’t quite cover all of our needs (okay, wants).

Our combined TV/Internet bill is $118/month. I don’t think that’s unreasonable for hours of quality entertainment 🙂

2 John Ryan

Thanks for posting the guest post Mike!

3 John Ryan

@Robb $118 / month! High roller!!! ;-P It’s all about your priorities and you’re right that if you’re getting loads of enjoyment out of it – and can’t replace the shows – maybe it’s worth it.

Also, as I allude to in the post, I’m totally ok with pirating. People who are more moral than I am and want to pay for content have my respect for doing so. I think most things off of HBO are available for (illegal) download.

4 Potato

“Costs for cable typically range from $11-20 a month”

CONFIRMED: Mr. Cheap has moved to the US.

We’re in the middle of cutting cable. I was just about to phone Rogers to cut it off when Wayfare panics: “Wait, we’re on an old grandfathered plan! Look how much more we’d have to pay if we change our minds!” The cheapest plan I can find in Toronto is about $65/mo now; one smaller company looks to have a cheaper offering in the 40’s, but requires bundling other services to even get the TV package. The fact that it’s a bigger rip-off today than 10 years ago + 5% regular, unending price increases does not make me want to stay around more, though. The antenna’s hooked up, the media centre has a live feed to Netflix, and this is finally happening (years too late, IMHO).

5 Echo

Over-the-air antenna: Can anyone confirm that this works outside of southern Ontario? Can I do this in small-town Alberta?

6 John Ryan

@Potato: Ha ha!

@Echo: You could always buy an antennae at Walmart, see what you get with it, and return it if it isn’t enough to be worth it. I’m sure you can do this in small-town Alberta.

7 Bo

There are some newer options as well.
IPTV in Canada:
vmedia.com
zazeen.com

The equivalent of cable or satellite but over an internet connection. Unfortunately the CRTC forces you to use a vmedia or zazeen connection if you want their TV. You can’t stay with your existing internet service provider and just get TV from vmedia or zazeen.

8 John Ryan

@Bo: Do you use either service? How do you like it?

9 Bo

I don’t use either vmedia or zazeen. I do have internet service provided by a third party (Teksavvy) over our Bell phone line (DSL). It is much less expensive than Bell. For comments and reviews about vmedia or zazeen checkout http://www.dslreports.com.

10 Jenn

@Echo You can go to tvfool.com and it’ll give you an idea of what you can pick up over the air.

(this blog should include dates on comments/articles)

11 LifeInsuranceCanada.com

If you want to confirm that over the air/antennae is available, go grab a cheap antennae and plug it in, see what you get. That’s really the best way to tell. Then go to tvfool to get a direction and point it in that direction. Your phone/ipad probably has a compass app you can use to point it. And you have to make sure that the tv is set properly for the inputs.

If you do this, expect to be amazed at the quality. HD over the air is better than HD over cable/satellite. And it’s free of course.

We cut the cable a year ago, haven’t looked back. I couldn’t imagine being programmed to watch specific shows when the network decides I should watch it. Youtube, netflix, antenna, and the occassional movie rental is all the TV we need.

12 John Ryan

@LifeInsuranceCanada.com: Yes, I was very impressed with what you’re able to get over-the-air too!

13 Stephen Weyman

If you’re interested in what content is available legally for free in Canada, you should check out my guide to free Internet TV in Canada. It’s in need of an update for sure, but many of the links are still good:

http://www.howtosavemoney.ca/Services/TV/FreeInternetTv

14 John Ryan

@Stephen: Great post! Thanks for the link!

15 jj

This cutting the cable crap is all bs right now unless you are a bloody cheap bastard who doesn’t care about your time, aggrivation or picture quality. I bought into the crap last year and got one of the boxes and got an unlimited high speed connection. Found out you have to click through the bloody menus waiting minutes just to change one channel usually if the stream is even working, while you wait for each bloody click to see if the next stream is working. Same thing with movies you click and click and click and click then wait and wait and wait and wait to see if any are working, then if you ever find one that works the quality is crap, and even if you have high speed blistering internet connection is makes NO DIFFERENCE WHATSOEVER because remember it is the SERVER speed that matters NOT your provider’s speed, and trust me ALL the pirated hosts trinkle their speed so you sit there trying to watch an hd movie and having to wait sometimes 5 minutes before you can watch 30 second bits, then the screen freezes and you have to wait another few minutes for your next 30 seconds. Movies that stream ok are NOT 1080p or even 720p they are just lower than vhs level stuff really.

People have no idea how convenient being able to click instantly through channels is, it really is worth the money to pay for it, then whenever you want a movie go to a download torrent site and get the whole movie downloaded first then put it to your tv, just forget those idiotic streaming boxes you will NOT be happy, I GUARANTEE IT.

16 jj

As for those antennas giving hd tv, forget those too unless you can live with MAYBE 1-2 channels tops, unless you live with your window with a direct open view to one of the towers. I was in a condo where I only had north and east view and only got maybe 2 channels and they fuzzed out on a regular basis as well, I always had to go out and move the idiotic antennae around until I could pick up a channel again. I was on the 6th floor too, can’t imagine what someone in a house would be trying to do with a less clear view to tower than I had being above all the surrounding houses for 10km.

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