How to ditch cable and still watch your favorite TV shows

Cable TV availability by ZIP code

Key considerations when comparing cable providers

There are a few useful facts to know before you even begin your comparison of cheap cable companies.

  • The FCC requires that all cable companies offer a basic tier of service. This is the most inexpensive package and typically includes local broadcast networks like NBC, ABC, and CBS, along with the PEG access channels (public, educational, and governmental).
  • While cable providers are required to offer the basic set of cable channels, they don’t always list this option on the website. You may have to call to request the lowest tier plan in order to get truly cheap cable.
  • Choosing cheap cable doesn’t prevent you from accessing your favorite premium options. You will still have access to pay-per-view, as well as the option of adding on channels like HBO (for an additional monthly charge).
  • Some cheap cable services require an agreement (generally one to two years in length) in order to lock in the promotional price. It’s best to avoid this if possible, just in case you do decide to upgrade to more channels or add another service later on.

What Are You Waiting For? Just Cut the Cord

So, why pay for premium channels you never use when, for a fraction of the cost, these cable alternatives can fulfill all your television binge-watching needs? This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the cable alternatives that exist, but it’s a great mix-and-match way to get started.

If you aren’t sure what’s worth it and what isn’t, just dip your toe in the water. You can usually get a free trial of almost any of these streaming services before you fully commit. If you’re still not quite ready to give up cable (even after all of these fine options), you can always call your provider and try to negotiate a better deal. Knowing your options will usually work to your advantage!

Something to watch out for though: If you sign up for Netflix, Amazon Prime, Paramount+, Disney+ and Hulu, those dollar signs will start to add up. Will it still be cheaper than a cable bill? Probably. But be sure you’re actually saving money here. And be careful that you’re using the streaming services you signed up for. If you end up not really watching one of the streaming services—just cancel it.

If you’re looking for more ways to cut back, getting on a monthly budget is the only way to go. It shows you exactly where you’re spending too much and lays it all out for you in black and white. Plus, you’re going to need to budget for whatever streaming services you sign up for.

Get started budgeting with our free app, EveryDollar


Tips on choosing the best TV provider

You can find the best deal out there as long as you know what to look for. Here are a few quick tips to find the TV provider and plan that’s best for your household:

  • Shop around: Make sure you’re considering every provider in your area before narrowing down your options.
  • Consider bundling: Bundling home service plans with a single provider will almost always save you money. You’ll also simplify your monthly bills.
  • Add in equipment fees: Surprise bills aren’t fun bills. Look at how many TVs you’ll need receivers for, if you’ll want DVR service and if add-ons are a necessity. All of these things will increase your monthly bill.
  • Check your channel lineup: Do a little digging on the channel lineup that’s included with your plan instead of relying on the number (125 channels). If your favorites aren’t included, it won’t be worth the money no matter what.

If you need assistance shopping, we’re here to help. Contact us today for more information on providers in your area.

Find the Cheapest Way To Watch the Cable Channels You Love

Many cord-cutters stress over the potential of losing access to the channels they love watching on cable.

The good news is that almost every channel, sporting event, movie or TV show available on cable is also streamed nowadays.

Team Clark has developed a tool to help you find the right live TV streaming services based on the channels that you watch the most.

All you have to do is type in the names of the channels you like (add as many as you want!), and our tool will help you figure out which service carries them and how much the packages with that service cost.

Show all channels

If this tool doesn’t answer all your comparison shopping questions, you may also find our side-by-side channel comparison chart useful.

6. Share Passwords

Just about every TV streaming service out there allows you to have at least two simultaneous streams going at once, and some, such as PlayStation Vue, go all the way up to five. And if someone you know subscribes to cable TV, you can usually use their account to log in to that company’s mobile TV service. Most cable channels also have standalone apps that can be accessed via a cable account.

While this practice is widespread — one study estimates that 26 percent of millennials use the password from someone else’s TV streaming account — it’s not explicitly allowed by streaming services. Netflix, for example, states in its terms of service that passwords “may not be shared with individuals beyond your household.” That said, no one seems to be particularly concerned about it. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said in 2016: “Password sharing is something you have to learn to live with, because there’s so much legitimate password sharing, like you sharing with your spouse, with your kids …. so there’s no bright line, and we’re doing fine as is.”

8. Use a TV Antenna

It’s true: Your grandma was a cord-cutting pioneer. TV antennas don’t cost anything to use, and you’ll get access to the four most desired channels for live TV viewers — ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC — plus PBS and The CW, all in HD. Indoor antennas will generally suffice for most houses, and can be purchased for as little as $20, while outdoor and higher-end indoor antennas can run closer to $60 or more. There are also a number of antenna products hitting the market now such as the AirTV and Amazon’s Fire TV Recast, which let you stream and record local channels straight to your streaming device of choice.

To find the right antenna for your situation, you’ll need to do a little legwork, but we think it’s well worth it.

Figure Out How Youll Watch Local Channels

If you need access to your local channels without cable, such as ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX or PBS, you’ll likely have to sign up for a streaming service that provides them or try to get those channels for free with an antenna.

Live TV streaming services like YouTube TV provide access to local channels, but less expensive live TV services, such as Philo, do not.

Antennas are relatively cost-effective and provide free access to local channels broadcasting in your area.

The quality of access to these channels is directly correlated to the power of your antenna and your distance from the towers of your local TV stations. If you live relatively near those towers, you may need an antenna that reaches only 20-50 miles.

Mohu Leaf, which is one of the top-rated antenna brands for cord-cutters, offers a “metro” antenna for under $20 through Amazon. It has a 25-mile range. However, you may require a more powerful and costly antenna if you live in a rural setting.

Install a TV antenna for local channels

One way to get around the high cost of local networks on streaming is to use an antenna. To qualify as a television, and not a monitor, a display needs to have an over-the-air tuner built-in, so you can plug in an antenna and watch broadcast networks like ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and PBS. Reception varies widely depending on where you live, however, and unless you buy an antenna DVR like the Fire TV RecastAirTV or TiVo Bolt OTA, you’re restricted to live-only viewing.

Read more: Cut the Cord for $10: Best Indoor TV Antenna

Over-the-air antennas are affordable and easy to

Over-the-air antennas are affordable and easy to install.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Do a trial run before you cut the cord for good

Cutting the cable cord can save you a lot of money but you’ll need to do some planning to make the transition as painless as possible. It pays to get all your streaming ducks in a row before you make that final fateful call to your cable provider.

Go through your checklist and figure out which services you need to subscribe to and which devices you’ll need to get. Install everything on your main TV, unplug your cable box and get used to using streaming instead. Familiarize yourself first, then move on to helping other members of your household.

Chances are you’ll experience some bumps along the way. The menu systems on some streaming services are different, the remote controls on devices are different, even the lack of channel numbers and need to use search can be tough to grok. Give it time and patience, however, and it will be fine.

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What are the best cable TV alternatives?

The best cable TV alternatives offer a lot of channels (and especially the networks you want), ease of use, availability on major streaming devices and, of course, value for the cost. We tested all of the below services to see which is the best, by relying on them as our own source of TV for multiple weeks, watching live shows and movies and comparing their channel offerings. 

Our top cable TV alternative, Sling TV (also on our best streaming services list) starts off at $35 per month for either the Sling Blue or Sling Orange packages.  The combined Sling Orange+Blue package is $50 per month, and it gets you all the networks that Sling carries. 

Standing high above Sling TV are Hulu With Live TV and Fubo TV (both $70 per month) and YouTube TV ($65 per month). Each of these services gives you more channels overall, as well as a higher DVR capacity.

DirecTV Stream is the latest name of the service formerly known as AT&T TV. Sometimes slow performance and a clunky interface make the $70 price tag a bit steep — but fans of specific teams may find themselves locked into DirecTV Stream, as it has a stranglehold on many regional sports networks. For a full breakdown of those services, check out our Hulu Live vs. YouTube TV vs. Sling vs. DirecTV Stream face-off.