Saving Money on TV
Compare TV options: streaming, internet, cable and more
Whether you're looking to adjust your budget or just expand your entertainment options, streaming and internet TV are becoming very popular. There’s an option for almost any means of watching TV programming these days. Just looking for shows to binge watch? Streaming services can provide on-demand entertainment. Want cheaper broadcast channels? Free digital cable may be the answer. Take a look at the various options and see if one is right for your family.
How to get free cable TV
One of the cheapest options is using an antenna to get free broadcast digital channels. Your only costs are buying the antenna and cables to hook it up. Once it's set up, you can watch free cable TV programming from any local channels.
While channel availability varies depending on location, most local channels broadcast a signal that a properly placed antenna can pick up. Depending on how far you are from the signal, you have options for the type and size of antenna to use — both indoor and outdoor sized small, medium and large are available. They’re also either directional or multi-directional, based on how they read signals.
The simplest way to determine antenna needs is to enter your home address into a signal guide. This shows which channels you may be able to receive at home, and the best antenna for that location. Place it either indoors in a window facing the broadcast signal, or outdoors secured to the roof (depending on the antenna you choose). Just connect the antenna to the TV, switch the TV settings to the over-the-air digital signal, and enjoy watching free cable TV.
How to watch TV over the internet
Streaming services (also known as internet TV) are another option that may be cheaper than traditional television providers. With these services you have programming options either on a subscription or pay-per-view basis. Prices vary from $8-80 per month, depending on the package and provider.
Choosing an internet TV provider
You’ll find there are many choices for streaming TV, and new services are popping up all the time. Some common options at this moment are: Hulu™, Netflix™, Amazon Prime™, HBO Now® YouTube TV™, Fandango Now™, DirecTV Now, Sling™, Showtime® Anytime, Vudu™, Google Play™, iTunes® and PlayStation™ Vue. As you decide which service is best, here are some things to consider:
Your internet service
Because programming from these services is streamed online, you’ll need an adequate broadband internet connection. Most of these streaming services suggest minimum downstream speeds of 5Mbps, but if you’re planning to stream more than one show at a time or if you’re breaking in to 4K or Ultra HD, those speeds won’t cut it; expect the dreaded buffering delay. Before switching, consider testing your internet speed during peak streaming hours (usually 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. during the week). Plans and availability vary across the country, so check with providers to get the details on speeds and costs for an upgrade in your area.
Subscription or pay-per-view
Most of these services are paid on a per-month subscription basis, so you can watch as much as you would like. However, a handful offer a pay-per-view payment plan. If you watch very little TV, you may benefit from buying shows a la carte instead of paying for unlimited programming.
Live or recorded
While most of these platforms offer on-demand programming, many are now offering live TV. If you like watching the newest show as it premiers or watching live sports, make sure they offer live internet television and not just shows by request.
TV, movies or both
Most services offer a mix of television shows and movies, but some have bigger libraries and specialize in one or the other.
One selling point to some of these services is that they offer original programming that is only found through their streaming TV service. For example, Amazon Prime has Mozart in the Jungle and The Man in High Castle, while Netflix offers popular shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. If you've heard your friends talk about these shows and want to join in watching them, you can subscribe to that exclusive network for access.
One important consideration is how you'll be watching internet TV. Not all services are compatible with all devices. Common viewing options are on devices like an Apple TV®, Roku®, Amazon Fire™, Chromecast™, iOS devices, Android™, game consoles or on a computer (or a computer hooked up to a TV). Before cutting the cord, make sure your set up works with the desired streaming service.
Most of these streaming internet television services allow multiple users to be logged in at the same time, which can be helpful if you’re watching a show in the living room while the kids watch in another rooms. Verify the number of users allowed with your subscription and whether more can be added to make sure it meets the needs of your family.
Ability to pause, rewind or record
The ability to fast-forward, rewind, pause or record are special features and are not universally offered. You may not be able to fast-forward through ads, or you may have a limited capacity for recordings. Make sure the service offers the features that are important to you.
Lastly, rates are important. If you're looking for cheaper TV service, make sure these streaming services are in fact, cheaper. If comparing a premium package, it may be more affordable to stick with cable or satellite. Many of these services offer free trials for 30 days to let you try it out and make sure it works well for your needs.
Other ways to cut costs with TV
If streaming TV services aren’t the right solution for you, it may still be possible to save money by choosing a lower tier entertainment package or removing options like DVRs or multiple TVs. Give your current provider a call and ask to speak with the customer retention department — they are set up to help customers find the best service to meet their needs and budget.
We’re curious — has switching to an internet TV provider saved you money? Leave a comment and let us know!