Cost-Effective Cable TV Alternatives

More young Americans are tuning into online streaming services. Here are some budget-friendly cable TV alternatives to consider


While cable television is still popular, recently many young Americans turned to streaming services, according to a 2017 study conducted by the Pew Research Center. Whether it is because of a desire to view a wider variety of shows, for reasons related to money or finance, or simply personal preference, an increasing number of individuals and households might consider potential cable TV alternatives.

59% of American adults still say that cable connections are their primary way of watching TV. Source: Pew Research

Cable is still the number one form of television in America: 59% of adults still say that cable connections are their primary way of watching TV.

However, if it is not something you have tried yet, you might be wondering if cable TV alternatives can match up to the real thing. In fact, if you haven’t tried before, you may even be wondering how to watch TV without cable or satellite in the first place.

In the digital age, there are many options for TV viewing. If you are looking for good cable TV alternatives, here is a list of a few of the possibilities that are out there. 

On-Demand Streaming Services

On-demand streaming may be the most well-known cable TV alternative. And with 61% of young adults using online streaming as their primary way to watch television, it may continue to thrive. In a few short years, online video streaming has emerged from non-existence to global adoption. Streaming, and digital formats in general, have made an impact not just in people’s homes, but in the economy, on social media, in pop culture, and even society as a whole.

61% of young American adults use online streaming as their primary way to watch television. Source: Pew Research

Interested in exploring this possibility? One option may be to choose a service that offers month-to-month subscriptions. This provides access to a library of content for a flat monthly fee, like Netflix or Amazon's Prime Video. Or you can choose from services such as Vudu that allow you to pay for and download individual movies and TV episodes à la carte.

Live Streaming Services

Certain on-demand streaming services may offer quality entertainment. but some viewers may miss the live aspect of TV without cable. Some may prefer to watch things such as news and sporting events live, as they happen. If you fall into this category, live streaming may be for you.

Compare prices between on-demand services to live-streaming services. You may see that live-streaming sometimes runs a little higher. But one advantage is that you can get live online streaming of many cable channels and other live events. Examples may include Sling TV or YouTube TV. Some of these services may even allow you to include live TV as an add-on to your on-demand package. Or you might be able to pick the package that best suits your interests. Are you a sports fan? Are you more interested in keeping up with current events? Sports or news packages could help you save some money.

Network Websites

If you don't want to sign up for a streaming service, you may have the option of watching certain networks online, including some cable networks. This option might not be the best solution if you want to replace cable completely, because some of the networks require you to log in with a cable subscription. You might have to go to each network’s website (or download an app) to see what’s available.

Antenna

Another potentially affordable way to get live television is to purchase an HD antenna. While prices will vary when it comes to buying the antenna, after you have one you may be able to enjoy certain channels in high definition, for free. You may prefer having an antenna, if you perceive the HD quality to be superior to that available with a cable line.

When you picture a TV antenna, you might be thinking of the old-fashioned wires that stick out of the top of the tube TV. However, the technology has evolved over time. HD antennas have come a long way since then. Digital broadcasting antennas may be sold as flat antennas, appearing very different from the “rabbit ears” style.

One caveat of going the antenna route is that you may be limited by your location as to what channels you can receive. The FCC provides reception maps to help you see what might be available.

Library

If you think of libraries only as places filled with books, you might be missing out on a lot of free alternatives to cable television. Stocked with TV shows, movies, audiobooks, even workout videos and CDs, many public libraries remain some of the best places to procure free entertainment. And what’s more, the books themselves might be the best cable TV alternatives out there. Are there disadvantages? Well, depending on your local library, you may not have access to a selection that interests you. And you might have to put your name on a waiting list if a specific title is already checked out.

User-Generated Video Services

They may not offer a solution if you are looking specifically for how to watch TV without cable, but user-generated video services, like YouTube, can provide a separate medium of entertainment when compared to cable television. Some sites allow users to upload their own projects. This results in millions of hours of free video content for anyone to enjoy. 

Again, these kinds of websites might not stand alone as a replacement for cable television. But they do provide access to creative filmmaking and viral videos alike. In addition, the popularity of these services might mean that many large networks and studios will upload things like clips and trailers for their most popular shows. The end result? You may be able to watch the most buzzworthy moments for free.

To Cut, or Not to Cut?

If you are still not sure which of these solutions might be best for you — if any at all — it might be worth trying a few. Some streaming services may offer free trial periods, allowing you to test out a service before purchasing it. Just be sure to remember to cancel your subscription before the end of the trial period if you don’t intend to keep it. Otherwise you may end up getting charged.

Many people still enjoy cable television, and to an avid TV watcher it may still have a lot to offer. But whether you are considering supplementing your cable subscription, or cutting the cable cord, it can be helpful to know what your options are. There is no one solution that works for everyone. But with so many possibilities, there is almost certainly something that will work for you.