Expensive cable bundles are no longer necessary: The rise, and steady proliferation of Internet video has made cutting the cable cord not only viable, but easy. Although not everything is accessible online, many of the most popular shows can be viewed without an expensive cable package.
With just a few tricks, TV addicts can watch many of their favorite shows without a cable subscription.
Buy an HD antenna
The first doesn't involve the Internet at all, but rather, an antenna. The broadcast networks -- Fox, ABC, NBC, and CBS -- are freely available to anyone with a digital antenna and an HDTV. Far removed from the "rabbit ears" of old, modern HD antennas deliver a crystal clear picture that, in many cases, is actually better quality than the one offered by cable or satellite providers -- no costly HD cable box necessary.
Nearly all of the the most popular shows (American Idol, The X Factor, The Big Bang Theory, Gotham, among many others) are carried by the broadcast networks, in addition to NFL football, college football, and some Major League Baseball games.
If you find yourself watching a lot of two, four, and seven, and you're a paying cable customer, you might be getting ripped off.
Subscribe to Hulu Plus
Unfortunately, relying on an HD antenna may mean giving up on demand or DVR service. That could be a problem for those who don't have the time to watch their favorite shows when they air.
Hulu Plus is a solution. It doesn't offer many movies, but it does carry a lot of TV shows, including most of the recently aired broadcast programs. For $8 per month, Hulu subscribers can access these shows on their PCs, mobile devices, and Internet-connected smart TVs.
And it isn't just broadcast networks -- Hulu carries a few cable programs as well, most notably The Daily Show and the bulk of Comedy Central and MTV's lineup. Shows are added to Hulu the day after they air, and typically remain available to subscribers for around a month.
Purchase shows individually
Of course, there are plenty of shows that are simply not available on the broadcast networks or Hulu Plus -- hit cable shows like The Walking Dead are seemingly out of reach for would-be cord cutters, locked behind the wall of the cable complex.
But there is an easy, legal alternative: Viewers can purchase episodes of their favorite cable programs individually from online media stores including Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, and Google Play. Purchased episodes can then be viewed on smartphones or tablets, but they can also be streamed to TVs equipped with an Apple TV, Nexus Player, Fire TV, or Roku.
Admittedly, this is not cheap -- HD versions of individual episodes generally run around $2, with full seasons in the range of $20-$30. But episodes purchased are kept forever, and buying a few seasons of a few shows per year may still be much cheaper than subscribing to a cable video service that can run in excess of $90 per month.
Ultimately, this is a decision that individual viewers will have to make for themselves -- if they watch too many cable programs, sticking with a cable package may actually be the more economical option. But if cable subscribers find themselves watching only a show or two, purchasing them individually may make more sense.
Sam Mattera has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). 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.