Americans spend an average of $61.63 per month for cable services, according to the most recent study from the Federal Communications Commission. Of course, that's just for programming. The real amount people pay out can be considerably higher when you factor in equipment rental, service charges, and those mysterious fees levied by most operators.
It's a number that continues to rise each year, despite increasing competition from alternative providers, like Sling TV. Yet even though it's easier than ever to cut the cord, only about 125,000 of the 95 million pay television-connected homes in the United States did so in 2014, according to Leichtman Research Group.
People stay on with cable despite the price out of habit, for convenience, and, well, because if they don't have every channel they might miss something. If you're willing to forego that and accept that something may happen to a Real Housewife without you seeing it, you can eliminate your cable bill entirely.
That does not mean giving up television altogether and living a more simple life. It's also not simply replacing one bill with a series of others from internet streaming video services.
Instead, it's about adopting a new take on an old favorite. By simply adding an HDTV antenna, you can get free access to a surprising number of channels in most cases. These aren't the old rabbit ears, or some giant monstrosity that lives on the roof. It's a simple box that plugs into the cable jack on your TV.
How many channels will I get?
The biggest challenge with using an HDTV antenna to pick up over-the-air channels is that the selection varies based on where you live.
"Accessibility for Over-the-Air TV varies greatly across the United States however most urban and suburban areas can receive at least a dozen channels including the major networks," Nuvyyo CEO Grant Hall told the Fool in an email interview. "Large markets (like New York for example) have up to 27 channels in FULL HD. This doesn't count the many other channels and sub-channels in standard definition that still carry great content."
In a broad sense, how many channels you get depends upon how populated the area you live in is. Tablo, which is owned by Nuvyyo, has an online tool that lets you check what you can expect (though what you actually receive could vary).
Is this hard to do?
For most people, using an HDTV antenna is a fairly simple process. "In most cases, yes. If you live within 35 miles of your local broadcast antennas you should have no problem using an indoor HDTV antenna to access this great free content," said Hall. "People living further away may need to mount a larger antenna inside their attic or on the exterior of their homes which may not be easy for everyone."
It's also important -- just like it was with old-school antennas -- to pick the proper location and position for your indoor HDTV antenna. Tablo, which does sell HDTV antennas, offers a guide to buying the right one and tips for positioning it properly.
"Once you have your antenna positioned and connected to your TV, you should just be able to do a simple channel scan with your TV and start enjoying beautiful free TV in HD quality," Hall said. The only exception is that television sets built before 2004 may require a digital converter box (which can be purchased from any electronics retailer).
It's easy, but it's not for everyone
An HDTV antenna offers, in many markets, an array of free over-the-air television programming. For some people that will be enough to replace cable.
"Over-the-Air TV is free. It's also legal to watch and to record for your own personal viewing," Hall added. "Getting an HD antenna is a great way to dip your toe into becoming a cord cutter. For most people, it's quite cheap and easy to pick up an antenna and many users will be shocked by what they can get."
Ditching your cable bill does come with a price, but not one in dollars (aside from the $25-$200 an HDTV antenna will cost you). It's an alternative, but it's a much smaller television universe. Of course, you can supplement your OTA choices with a paid streaming service, but that does cost money.
This may not be a solution for the family where mom demands HBO, dad "needs" ESPN, a young child wants the Disney family of stations, and an older kid wants MTV. But it is a perfectly viable choice for any individual or family looking to save money but not go without television.