Americans spend an average of around $100 a month for pay-television. If they follow a few simple steps, they can not only get rid of cable, they can save a lot of money while still getting most of the programming they want to watch.
The major pay-television companies including Comcast, Charter Communications, AT&T (which also owns DirecTV), Verizon, and DISH Network have essentially controlled the market for most of their existence. Consumers could either pony up for a service, which (as NBC News reported) has increased an average of 8% each year since 2010, or they could go without a lot of top programming.
Now, however, the choice is no longer between paying for cable or suffering through fuzzy programming dependent upon adjusting rabbit-ear antennas. In 2016, it has become easier to get rid of cable TV altogether. You can now spend less without sacrificing much in the way of programming.
Here are the steps to cutting the cord and finally getting rid of Comcast, Charter, AT&T, Verizon, and DISH (at least its full-price service) for good. More details to follow below.
1. Make sure you can leave without a penalty.
2. Close out your cable account.
3. Get an HDTV antenna.
4. Decide what you actually want to watch.
5. Buy streaming devices.
6. Consider a skinny bundle.
7. Adjust and adapt as you go along.
1. Make sure you can leave without penalty
In the quest to keep their monthly costs down, a lot of people hop between cable providers or jump over to satellite. In many cases, in order to get the best deal, they sign a two-year contract that enforces penalties for leaving early. If that's your situation, it's often better to wait until your contract expires, because the penalties involved would dramatically lessen any savings.
2. Close out your cable account
Cable companies do not want you to leave, and many are very aggressive in trying to keep you on board. But, while they may offer lower prices or free months of various premium services, remember that none of them will offer a deal that's worth not getting rid of cable. It's also important to return all of your equipment (and get a receipt), because the pay-TV providers will happily keep billing you if you do not.
3. Get an HDTV antenna
Unless you live in the absolute sticks, one of the keys to eliminating cable is buying an HDTV antenna. These devices, which are plugged into your television and mounted on the wall, cost under $30 (though more expensive ones are available), and you will need one for each television in the house. An HDTV antenna will allow you to pick up whatever over-the-air channels are available in your market. In most cases, that includes affiliates for all of the major networks as well as a few others.
To see what's available in your market, visit this site.
4. Decide what you actually want to watch
If you live in a market where you can pick up the major broadcast networks with an HDTV antenna, that may be enough for you. But if you want more, there are a number of streaming services that can greatly enhance your viewing options should you get rid of cable.
Hulu offers current and past seasons of network programming along with its own originals for under $10 a month. Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) has perhaps the most highly regarded originals as well as movies, older shows, and a lot of children's programming -- also for less than $10. In addition, if you just can't give up Game of Thrones, then you might want HBO Go, the most expensive of the services at about $15, but for that money, you get a deep archive, a rotating movie selection, originals, sports, and more.
Of course, there are also lots of specialty choices like WWE Network and services from many of the major sports leagues.
5. Buy streaming devices
Assuming you decide you want to subscribe to one or more of the streaming services, and that you actually want to watch their programming on a television, you'll need one or more streaming devices. This is fairly inexpensive, with devices like Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Fire TV Stick coming in under $40, and Google's Chromecast being sold for $35. Even a top-tier Roku player only costs $129.99, and most people will be just fine with the cheaper devices.
6. Consider whether you want a skinny bundle
Currently, one option for people who want to eliminate cable but aren't quite ready to give up live cable programming is to opt for a skinny bundle. The most prominent of these, DISH's Sling TV, offers roughly 20 popular cable channels for $20. That's well less than what most people pay for a full cable package for a service that includes ESPN, TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network, and a lot of other popular choices.
7. Adjust and adapt as you go along
Aside from never having to deal with Comcast, Charter, AT&T, Verizon, or (maybe) DISH again, the reason most people eliminate cable is to save money. To maximize that, it's worth remembering that all of the major streaming services operate on a month-to-month basis. That means you can pay for a month of Hulu to watch new episodes of The Mindy Project, and then cancel that subscription until there's something else you want to watch.
Given how easy the streaming services make joining and quitting, it actually might be silly not to do this.
Daniel Kline owns shares of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. He has pretty much every service mentioned here and pays for cable in three locations. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon.com, Netflix, and Verizon Communications. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.