Cancelling Cable—Without Changing Your Viewing Habits

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(Image by Brian A. Jackson)

How much time do you spend in front of the TV? According to the ratings company Nielsen, the average American spends a whopping 20 percent of their day watching television. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re viewing it on a traditional screen—or even that you’re a cable or satellite television subscriber.

In the second quarter of 2012, an estimated 400,000 cable subscribers cancelled their service. That’s an increase from 340,000 from the same time period a year ago. And overall, Nielsen also reports that last year, the number of U.S. households that paid for cable or satellite service decreased by 1.5 percent.

Whether the decline is due to today’s less-than-stellar programming (hello, around-the-clock reality programming!) or because people are sick of paying $75 to $100 or more of their monthly paycheck towards their cable bill—it’s clear that cutting the cord is becoming a new phenomenon, especially amongst members of Generation Y. In fact, a recent study by Ideas and Solutions, a Los-Angeles based media and technology consulting group, found that 60 percent of people ages 18-29 years old are “either leaning toward or seriously considering ‘cutting the cord.’”

Numerous low- and no-cost online streaming options now abound. So even without cable—and whether you want to watch on your television, your laptop, your smartphone, or your tablet—you still can keep up with the Kardashians.

If you want to catch shows from major networks, ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox all offer free viewing their shows (including popular ones like The Good Wife, 60 Minutes, Parks and Recreation, and Revenge) directly on their websites. Typically, episodes appear on these sites the day after they air and are available for a period of a few weeks to several months. You can also check out recent episodes and clips of many popular shows, such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Glee Project, on Hulu. For an even larger selection, including episodes from prior seasons, you’ll need to pay the $8 monthly fee to upgrade to Hulu Plus.

Want to see a broadcast live? If you have a digital television, your best bet is to get an easy-to-install HDTV antenna. Today’s versions are much sleeker than the rabbit ears of old and are available for as low as $19. (Purchase one at Antennas Direct.) Provided that you live within about 60 miles of a transmitting tower, you’ll be able to watch 30 to 45 channels.

Viewers addicted to shows airing on extended and premium cable channels such as AMC, Showtime, and Nickelodeon should enroll with Netflix (streaming video costs just $8 a month).  Making a la carte purchases from iTunes (you can purchase an individual episode for as little as $1.99 or an entire season) and Google Play (most episodes cost around $2 and entire seasons typically will set you back $23) or enrolling in Amazon’s Prime program, which offers unlimited free streaming of shows like Downton Abbey and Dora the Explorer with its annual $79 fee, are two additional options. (You’ll also receive free shipping on all Amazon orders when you sign up with Prime.)

The one downfall to cancelling your cable subscription: There’s a severe lack of options when it comes to viewing live sports. That being said, baseball fans can pay $20 to $25 annually for a MLB.TV subscription. And you can access live programming for free on ESPN3 if your high-speed internet provider is among the participants (leading providers Comcast and Time Warner Cable are members).

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