Punting your Cable TV Bill

by Lynn B. Johnson on February 6, 2013

punt TVSuper Bowl 2013 is over and by now, you’ve probably seen that it was the third most-watched television event in U.S. history, with more than 108 million Americans tuning in. It seems as though the $3.8 million that advertisers shelled out for each 30-second spot was money well spent.

But some of those advertisers didn’t get my eyeballs; instead, I saw the ads that were delivered via the cbssports.com live stream. This year, I connected a laptop to my television to watch the Super Bowl for free, because months ago I decided to save $100/month by dumping my cable-TV service.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not one of those (sanctimonious) people who can live without TV. My kids are likewise very fond of their screen time, and we certainly gobbled it up when we were new in town, didn’t know anybody, and got a bundled deal for phone, TV, and Internet service for less than $100/month. But when that promotional period expired, my family faced a bill of more than $200 each month. A year’s worth of cable TV for $1200? It just didn’t seem worth it, so we looked into other options.

Certainly, we could have downgraded our service to something that didn’t include HD, or DVR, or premium cable packages. This could have saved us $50/month. But as the mother of two little boys, I know that sometimes it’s better to rip off the BandAid quickly, instead of opting for a slow pull.

So, we cancelled our cable and filled the void with some of the alternative TV-entertainment options mentioned below, which we access with our WiFi, HDMI-enabled Blu-ray player, or our Wii console. While this is not an exhaustive list, it works for us, and might also meet your entertainment and budgetary requirements.

  • Netflix: Netflix streaming is great if you’re looking to catch up on entire seasons’ worth of TV shows. Their menu of instant-streaming movies isn’t super if you love your new releases, but they have some great classic films available. We watched all seven past seasons of “Supernatural” (and not only because my husband looks like Jensen Ackles), and recently watched season one of “American Horror Story.” We’ve also tried some little-known British gems like “The IT Crowd” and “Black Books.” I appreciate that they also have a “Just for Kids” service, which we switch it to after we’re done watching “American Horror Story” for the night. We were already DVD customers, and so we added the streaming option to our bill.

    Netflix Streaming Account: $7.99/month
    Additional DVD Plan: $11.99/month (two DVDs out at a time)
    After-Tax Total = $20.79

  • Hulu Plus: Hulu Plus is the service to use if you’re looking for this season’s TV. We finished catching up on this season’s “Supernatural,” and have particularly enjoyed the British comedies offered by the service (my husband loved “The In-Betweeners,” and we’re both really digging the wretched smartypants child on “Spy”). The way Hulu categorizes what you watch between “Queue” and “Subscriptions,” though, is nonsensical, and their offerings for watching directly via your TV vs. bringing them up on your computer are considerably limited. We have plugged my husband’s laptop into our TV to watch some of the “computer-only” options, but the sound and picture quality aren’t as good as when we stream through our Blu-ray player. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for what was on cable-TV last night, and can’t access the TV networks via your WiFi TV or other device, this is the place to be.

    Hulu Plus Service: $7.99

  • Vudu: Looking for cable-TV series that aren’t available with your Hulu Plus subscription? We have taken some of the money we’ve saved on our cable TV bill to purchase season passes of the shows (mostly on AMC or FX) that we can’t live without, including “The Walking Dead” and “Breaking Bad.” New episodes are available 24 hours after their original airtime, and are run commercial-free. Vudu also allows viewers to rent or buy new-release films based on the resolution quality, which is a great, low-cost option for when it’s too snowy to go out to get a DVD. Right now, Vudu is offering 10 free movies when you sign up. Vudu.com.

    High-Resolution Season Pass to Breaking Bad $21.99 (price depends upon rent-or-own option and resolution choice)

  • TV-network Web sites: CBS, NBC, and ABC all post the last 5-7 episodes aired on TV to their Web sites. Yes, they have commercials, but they’re also free to view, so it’s a decent trade-off, especially when a Vudu season-pass to this season’s NCIS episodes costs upwards of $38.99. I tend to watch these on my computer, though we’ve hooked my husband’s laptop and speakers to our TV to catch up on Sheldon and the gang of “The Big Bang Theory,” and live-streamed the Super Bowl via cbssports.com.

    Network Viewing: Free

  • The Library: We spend a lot of time in the library now, particularly to augment our kids’ educational DVDs. Plus, it’s free! Be sure to give your library your email account so they can give you a heads-up when your items are nearly overdue. We used to go to Redbox but this is a much more financially friendly option; they have fewer new-releases, but a vast selection of kiddie shows and films we might have missed in the theater when we were exhausted new parents.

    Library Rentals: Free (so long as you don’t accrue overdue fees)

  • Gamefly.com: OK, this isn’t a site for TV shows, but we enjoy it for the videogames they send our kids to keep them amused and entertained. The way they jump around while playing “Donkey Kong Country Returns” would do the Let’s Move initiative proud.

    Gamefly Subscription: $15.95/month (one game out at a time – includes unlimited PC play)

  • Live sports:We’re not big sports fans, but if you are, there are plenty of options for viewing your favorite games. Most PGA events will be simulcast on PGATour.com this year, and viewers won’t have to sign into their cable network account in order to tune in; MLB.tv lets you “watch games live or on-demand in HD online” starting at $109.99 (they discount and pro-rate the subscription cost throughout the season); you can find on-demand NCAA programming on various conference websites; Turner provides NBA League Pass for $24.99/month via broadband; NFL.com offers apps for viewing; and the NHL provides NHL Gamecenter for $49.99.

    Sports Entertainment:  Free – $109.99 (depends on sport and subscription package)

All in all, we are still paying $44.73 each month for television-based entertainment, but that is similar to what we’d pay for a basic-television package and it gives us so many more options. We started each of these services before we cancelled our cable-TV, so it is truly like we’re saving $100/month. Best of all, we always have something to watch when we want it, and our kids haven’t really noticed the difference. I highly recommend it.

Discussion

Elizabeth Moulton
My family collects the DVD's of our favourite TV series (many of which no longer run) and then swap. I collect only 3 series (mostly as gifts) yet have access to about 15 series when ever I want them. (People are rarely at the same spot in a series even if we are watching the same series).nnElizabeth@roadnotchosen.blogspot.com
February 13 at 17:18 pm
Shannon Simpson-Baldwin
Yep, we got a Roku a couple of years ago for $40 and it's been the greatest thing for saving on the cable and still being able to watch almost everything we want. (You just pay for the device, so that's $40 ONE TIME.) I'm not trying to sell them -they work just as well as any wi-fi ready device, but they have a new feature that allows you to search across all of your "stations" so you can see which movies by Pedro Almodovar are in Hulu, Netflix or Vudu. As a librarian some of the search features on these are abysmal and this new capability in Roku makes me very happy. (I have converted many.)
February 6 at 21:12 pm

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