How to find creative cable TV alternatives

From streaming services, online video content and even your local library, there are more cable TV alternatives than ever before.

Are people are watching less TV? Actually, many studies show the opposite. The American Time Use Survey, a study conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, reports that some Americans are spending more time in front of TV screens than ever. TV viewing time accounts for more than half of the time spent on leisure and sports activities, and 80% of Americans watch TV on a daily basis.

“People over the age of 40 have been loving this golden era of prestige TV,” said Stacey Vanek-Smith, host of the NPR® economics podcast The Indicator®, on an episode about TV-watching habits. “For example, from ages 41 to 64—so about from middle age until retirement—men now watch about 22 hours a week of television. Women watch about 18 hours a week…And in both cases, that’s about two hours more than they were watching last decade.”

How are they watching? Cable is still the No. 1 form of television in America—59% of adults say that cable connections are their primary way of watching TV. However, this statistic varies by age group, as 61% of young adults (ages 18-29) primarily use online streaming services to watch TV.

Whether you’re looking for ways to save money or for more variety in your entertainment options, there are plenty of alternatives to cable TV.

On-demand streaming services

On-demand streaming may be the most well-known cable TV alternative. 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 on society as a whole.

Netflix® is one of the most popular content options, and it’s not just for TV shows. It has produced an expansive and impressive amount of original content, including movies and documentaries.

In 2018, Netflix received a record-breaking number of total award nominations. A flat monthly fee gives you access to their ad-free content library, which includes many of the shows your friends can’t stop talking about.

But Netflix isn’t the only TV streaming service out there, so do your research to compare your choices and find the best option for you.

One advantage of on-demand streaming services is that they can be shared between different users. For example, on some platforms, you can stream content from multiple devices at the same time (depending on your plan). You can also create user profiles for each member of your family, which will give them personalized recommendations—and save their spot in whatever series they’re currently obsessing over.

Live streaming services

While several on-demand streaming services offer award-winning entertainment, some viewers may miss the live aspect of cable TV. If you prefer to watch programs such as news and sporting events in real time, live streaming may be for you.

Network websites

Not ready to sign up for a streaming service? You may have the option of watching content from your cable network through their website. With your cable account login, you may be able to access and stream on-demand content online. If you’re a cable subscriber, this could be a way to add value to your subscription.

Getting rid of cable but still want to watch shows from your favorite TV networks? Some networks offer standalone online streaming services, available even without a cable TV package.

HD antenna

Antennas may seem a little old-school—when you picture a TV antenna, you might be thinking of the old-fashioned metal rods that stick out of the top of a tube TV. However, technology has evolved, and HD antennas have come a long way, with new designs and higher-quality receiving capabilities.

One caveat of going the antenna route: The channels you receive may be limited by your location. There are reception maps to help you see what might be available.

Local libraries

If you think of libraries as places filled only with books, you might be missing out. Stocked with TV shows, movies, audiobooks, and even workout videos and CDs, many public libraries remain some of the best places to score free entertainment. Check out your local library to see what’s available, and add a few films to your library hold list.

Video sharing sites

Video sharing sites are another source of entertainment that might be an alternative to your cable TV routine. Popular websites include both professional and user-generated videos. Some sites even have “channels” of curated content ranging from short viral videos to full-length documentaries.

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.

Which option is best for you?

With so many options to explore, which ones should you try? It might be worth testing out a few to expand your entertainment experience. Some streaming services may even offer free trial periods. Just be sure to remember to cancel your subscription before the end of the trial if you don’t intend to keep it—otherwise, you may end up getting charged.

Many people still enjoy cable television. But if you’re supplementing your cable subscription or considering cutting the cord, it can be helpful to know your options. There’s no one solution that works for everyone. And with so many possibilities, there’s almost certainly something that’ll work for you.

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