Looking for cable TV alternatives in 2018 to save money and not pay for random, obscure channels?
We’re going to take a look at:
Sling TV | Netflix | Hulu | CBS All Access | Showtime | PlayStation Vue TV | Amazon Prime Video | HBO GO
Here’s the deal:
If you’re looking for how to watch TV without cable, it’s easier than ever to ditch a cable company like Comcast or Time Warner with horrible customer service and replace it with other alternatives.
Upcoming years will be even easier to go without one of your standard cable providers.
Before we get into all of the details, here’s what I recommend based on all of my research. As you’re reading through, remember many of these services have free trials. Sign-up for a variety so you can see what you like and what is helpful for you.
Streaming Service Recommendations for Cable TV Alternatives
There are a few potential services that I ultimately recommend in 2018 based on their use and my assessment of their service. Ultimately it comes down to how you watch your TV.
Trial: Yes, you have the option to get a full week for free
One of the streaming services I would suggest you look into if you’re a fan of shows like The Big Bang Theory or NCIS would be CBS All Access for $6 per month. This provides you with streaming access to the network along with on-demand access to all of their shows. So you know, the CBS link here is an affiliate link, but only because I honestly think it’s a good option for cord cutters.
CBS All Access says what you need to know its the name. According to CBS, you have access to 7,500 shows on demand, without any interruptions.
Not only that, but live TV is also available which is a nice perk, although it’s only available in select markets.
Regardless, the live TV options online include sports, CBS shows and other shows that are broadcast on the network.
You can stream using a Roku stick or Google’s Chromecast, along with Apple TV. Android and Windows 10 also allow you to watch your All Access.
While CBS is technically free over the air, if you watch a lot of shows on the network, All Access could be a great option for you if you want the flexibility of watching on demand or live online. If you cut the cord and don’t get an HD antenna, then this is also a great option to selectively watch the network.
For example, I am a big fan of NCIS and The Big Bang Theory and I often can’t catch those shows live on air. If you’re like me, this could be a great option for you.
Cost:$7.99 – $11.99
Trial Program: Yes. Your first month in a program is free, just make sure to cancel if you don’t like it.
Netflix has a few different package options, but I would recommend Netflix for $9.99 (there’s a $7.99 package as well, but it doesn’t have HD) because of its abundance of available movies, documentaries and shows.
Netflix has a lot of great shows, and while it’s not like Hulu in terms of providing programming that’s currently on the air, it earns my recommendation because there aren’t any ads even in their base package. Personally, it frustrates me that even if you pay $8 per month with Hulu you still have limited commercials.
Netflix offers plenty of shows that are currently on, but you just have to wait until the current season is over before they put it up. Hulu, however, gives you current shows almost real-time.
Netflix just upped their price for their most basic HD package, but that still doesn’t mean it isn’t affordable at $10 per month. In fact, if you don’t want HD you can even go lower at $7.99 per month. You can only watch that account on one screen, but if you don’t want that you can certainly save some money.
The biggest plan to get is $11.99, dubbed the “Premium” plan, which gives you Ultra HD and the ability to watch on 4 screens. This particular plan could be advantageous for families who want to watch a lot of different things at once, but is the extra $4/month or $48/year worth it? It all depends on your situation, but something to consider. They do offer one month free, so there is the option to test out whatever plan you want as well before finally deciding.
I personally use the Standard $9.99 plan because of the ability for my wife and I to watch on multiple screens.
Now Netflix certainly isn’t a comprehensive library of all your favorite shows, but it certainly is close.
You do have to wait for popular shows and seasons to appear.
But Netflix, along with networks and cable companies, are taking notice of cord-cutting. This is making it harder for Netflix to obtain shows. One of the reasons is because networks have a vested interest in another streaming service, like Hulu.
However as we move through 2016 and into 2017, there will continue to be more options to increase competition.
(While this is my top recommendation, if you’re looking for a Sling TV alternative, read on for info on PlayStation Vue TV.)
Cost: $20/month, with plenty of channel add-on’s to choose from for an additional fee
Trial: Yes, Sling TV offers a 7-day free trial. While other services offer a month, because you access regular programming with Sling instead of on-demand shows, you should have more of an opportunity to use the service.
My recommendation for Sling TV is because of their ability to offer the most watched cable TV channels including ESPN for $20 per month. This is the best alternative for sports.
You get the value of the cable TV channels that you watch without having to pay for the ones you don’t use.
Sling TV, owned by DISH, is the first big service that has their channel lineup include sports networks like ESPN in it’s offering. It’s a huge step forward for a lot of potential cord-cutters because of that.
Live sports is one of the last great hurdles that is in the way of mass cord-cutting away from typical television. And even with live sports, Sling TV is actually quite affordable.
It’s compatible with multiple devices like Amazon Fire TV, Roku, Chromecast, iOS, Android along with laptops. Although many of the reviews on their mobile apps imply they still have issues.
You also have the ability to add other packages for $5 – $15 per month depending on what you want to watch.
Essentially, you’re paying for flexibility, live sports, and only the channels that you want.
They offer a 7-day free trial, along with fantastic deals on streaming devices:
- FREE Roku 2 w/ 3 months Prepaid – This is a new offer as of January 2016 and replaces their free Roku Streaming Stick
- 50% off Roku 3
They did just remove their offers on Google products and Fire TV, but Roku is still a great option.
This does have the slight possibility of changing down the road as ESPN explores it’s own streaming options, but there are a lot of cost issues that may restrict that.
In order for ESPN’s streaming service to be as profitable as their current cable subscription model, some estimate they would need to charge upwards of $30 to earn the same revenue. So there are a lot of issues they have to consider. And in the end, that means that the pricing of streaming options like Sling TV may have to adjust down the road.
But I digress.
Not only does Sling offer live streams of multiple channels like USA Network, TNT, TBS, Food Network, HGTV, ESPN & ESPN2, but they also give you the option of adding a lot of great networks too. For example:
- HBO – $15
- Sports Extra – (ESPN U, Bein Sports, ESPN News, & More) – $5
- Deportes Extra (Univision, ESPN Deportes, & More) – $5
- Kids Extra – $5
- Hollywood Extra – $5
- World News Extra – $5
They are also flexible about ways to stream this on your TV with Xbox One, Amazon Fire TV, Roku Player or Nexus Player. In fact, they are actually offering a free Roku Streaming Stick at the moment.
You can also get 50% off Roku 3 and 50% off the Nexus Player through them, which is a fantastic deal.
Details on those players can be found below.
Get Sling TV if you want to get the cable channels you most likely use now, but without having to pay for all of the channels you don’t use.
They don’t carry big networks like CBS, ABC, NBC & Fox, but they have stated they are working on bringing that option through another add-on package. This way you don’t have to pay for them if you want to simply receive those over the area.
Even if they don’t offer that for the time being, you can always purchase an HD, over-the-air antenna to get those channels.
And let me remind you. The big kicker with Sling TV.
Price: $49 – $129
Depending on what iteration you go with (1 – 4), Roku can either be incredibly affordable or a little bit more expensive. Roku 1 is outdated and doesn’t even have wireless). The Roku 4 is the most expensive option and the only advantage over the 3 at $99 is that it allows 4k video.
Skip the 4.
The real decision then is between the 2, 3 and Streaming Stick ($49), so I would visit their site from the link above and determine what features fit your needs best. Are those extra perks worth the extra $30 – $50 for?
Roku provides a lot of great streaming options. You have the regular options like Netflix and Hulu, but you also have the option for Amazon Instant Video, HBO GO and SHOWTIME.
AND they have the ability to subscribe to Sling TV and CBS All Access which is a great perk if you are looking to go with one of those services. Interested in a full list? Visit their website.
A lot of people end up comparing the Roku products vs. Apple TV, and while both are great options, I would suggest going with the less expensive Roku. If you’re already looking to save money on cable, don’t get too extravagant with your hardware options.
Other Streaming & Device Options
While I covered my recommendations above, you may feel differently depending on your situation. So below are other streaming services and streaming device options that you can research and utilize.
The trick is figuring out:
- How much will you save each month?
- Are there channels you will have to sacrifice?
- How many services will you actually need to get what you want?
- And since most people bundle their internet and cable to save money, what will your internet bill shift to if you remove cable?
Let’s start with the basics.
First, here are your main cable TV alternatives.
Update 11/20: I’ve also added a quick note on Comcast’s new beta service Stream TV, which is currently only available in Chicago and Boston. You can find that information below.
Update 3/15/16: Playstation Vue TV just dropped their price to $30 making it a much more attractive offer. Additional information can be found below.
Cost: $7.99 (limited commercials) – $11.99 (no commercials) + $8.99 if you want to add SHOWTIME.
Note – If you sign up on an iOS device it’s $13.99 per month due to fees from Apple.
Trial Program: Yes, a 1-week trial program exists.
Hulu is going to be a better service if you’re looking to have on-demand access to the latest shows and the latest episodes from many of the popular networks (Fox, ABC & NBC, in particular)…without waiting. They do have older shows, like Seinfeld, too though but they can’t quite match Netflix’s library.
Hulu is owned together by Fox, Walt Disney and Comcast, giving them a very interesting perspective in the industry, but overall, Hulu is most likely your best option if most of the shows you watch are currently on TV and you don’t want to wait for them to come to a streaming service like Netflix.
Cost: $29.99 – $44.99
Trial: 7-day free trial
Looking for a Sling TV alternative?
PlayStation Vue TV is your next best service option.
Playstation Vue is a relatively new TV option and lesser known service on the radar of cord-cutters, even though it’s offered by Sony. And along with Sling TV, they very well may have the most transparent pricing and sign-up process. The Playstation Vue channel lineup also includes 50+ channels in their base package dubbed “Access Slim” for $29.99 / month (this used to be $50 and they dropped the price).
This includes your local channels like CBS, FOX & NBC, along with typical cable channels like CNN, Food Network, Discovery, Fox Sports, Nickelodeon, TNT, TBS, USA and more.
Because of the large channel lineup and the fact that it’s only $29.99 per month, it earns my vote as the alternative to Sling TV.
As you upgrade to higher packages, you obviously get more channels with Sony trying to sell you on the upgrade packages “Core” and “Elite” by showcasing local sports channels.
This used to be by far the most expensive cable-cutting service out there for it’s base $49.99/ month cost, however with the drop to $29.99 and it’s offering of probably the most comprehensive channel lineup, it’s definitely worth considering. And if you’re a sports fan, something to note is that there is now ESPN and ESPN2. Fox has their sports channels there (FS1, Fox College Sports, for example) but that’s it.
And if you’re a sports fan, something to note is that there is now ESPN and ESPN2. Fox has their sports channels there (FS1, Fox College Sports, for example) but that’s it.
Vue is the most comprehensive offering by far and with its price drop to $29.99 it’s now started to finally differentiate itself from other offers. Sling TV is a smaller offering for only $10, so it really comes down to what channels you use and how many channels you want access to. Since Vue is so similar to Sling TV, you really can’t go wrong, though.
From the outside, it seems like a good deal worth considering.
Trial: Yes, try out HBO now for 1 month before having to pay.
The overall concept of these is pretty simple. You pay for it and get access to all of HBO’s exclusive content. No standard network shows, old movies, just pure HBO. They also have a service called HBO GO, but that can only be an add-on from an existing TV package.
HBO Now gives you access to all of HBO’s shows, including live premiers. In addition, they support unlimited devices, but you can only watch on so many screens simultaneously. As far as I can find, three simultaneous streams is the limit but that’s still really good relative to other services.
You won’t get the same library of shows to watch with HBO, but if you are a fan of their shows, this would be the service for you.
Cost: $99 / year ($8.25 / month) for an Amazon Prime membership. Also gives you access to Amazon’s unlimited 2-day shipping option
Trial: Yes, Amazon offers a 30-day free trial which is on par with services like Netflix and HBO GO.
Amazon Prime has been increasingly getting better over time, highlighted by its deal with HBO in 2014 where Amazon will offer old HBO content. While it’s not fresh, it’s certainly a great perk if you don’t want to pay $15/month for only HBO.
Amazon, in general, is going to have more selection on the movie side of things whereas more common network shows don’t get their place in Prime.
They do have original shows though, like Mad Dogs, The Man in the High Castle, Alpha House, Betas & more. They certainly haven’t received the acclaim that Netflix original series have, but they are producing original content for their service.
As of December 8th, 2015, they also are now offering Showtime and Starz for up to $8.99 per month. Amazon also mentioned that they are actively looking to add more channels, so their service may become more appealing over time.
Overall, Amazon is still playing catch-up when it comes to Netflix and other streaming services just because they don’t have as much content. However, at technically $8.25 / month it is a bit cheaper than your typical $8.99 or $9.99 package, and you get free, 2-day shipping as a perk. If you shop online a lot, that could end up swinging your choice.
Trial: Yes, 30-day free trial
Similar to the HBO service but $4/month cheaper, Showtime lets you stream all of their content using Roku, Android, Apple TV or an Amazon TV device. You can also get a $3/month discount on their service if you subscribe through Hulu and you can also pay full price to get access through Playstation Vue TV. However, if you’re a Playstation Plus member you can add it for $8.99.
So similar to HBO, if you are a fan of the network’s programming, this is for you. If not, you probably won’t even have to give the network a second thought.
In July, Comcast announced that they were going to offer a beta streaming service to its Xfinity customers for $15 per month. Starting in Boston, it would then move to Chicago & Seattle by 2016.
What Stream TV offers is HBO and the ability to watch live, local channels on your TV or laptop.
It only works from your home, however.
The interesting part of Stream TV is that it actually doesn’t count against your data limit through Comcast. They made waves in mid-2015 by implementing hard 300GB data caps which can be limiting for people who stream content but this idea in and of itself could be intriguing for Xfinity customers.
It’s not available widely enough for most to consider using and it still sounds like options like Sling TV are better, but it’s one of the cable TV alternatives worth keeping an eye on in the ever-changing cord-cutting landscape.
Update – 4/26/16: Comcast also just announced that they will soon allow you to use a device like Roku instead of a typical cable box to receive your normal cable signal. This is a huge win so you can use the device for different things AND you can own the box instead of just renting it indefinitely.
Streaming Device Options
There are a lot of different products mentioned like Google’s Chromecast or a Roku Stick that will allow you to easily stream these services without much hassle.
For some services, you don’t have an option, but others you can decide what works best for you.
And the easiest way to do that is to read about them!
Google actually just released the newest version of the Chromecast recently which is much improved from the original.
And it continues to be a fantastic deal at $35.
While not all services will work with this, you do have the option here of streaming Netflix, Hulu, SHOWTIME & HBO apps through here. Outside of streaming shows and video, you also can use this for YouTube, Google Photos and even Google Chrome (although it can lag a little if you stream directly from the browser).
For a full list of apps, visit their site.
The one downside is that you don’t have a remote specific for the device (perhaps one of the reasons it can be sold at $35) so you have to use a PC or your phone in order to control.
I personally have had a Chromecast for the last year and a half and it is a very convenient device. The streaming quality over my network (keep in mind you will need a quality wireless router since the video is streamed over your local area network) is solid and rarely has any hiccups.
The only time I ever have any trouble with it is if I’m trying to mirror a Chrome browser window onto my TV. But if I’m trying to stream video with a comparable app or website I don’t really run into any issues.
It’s also very easy to set up and use.
Price: $149 for 32GB, $199 for 64GB
The most expensive of the options is probably the most comprehensive. But you are most likely paying a bit of a premium for the Apple brand name.
With voice search, a dedicated remote (with Siri built in) and easy setup (Ex. Wi-Fi), its user-experience is great. There are of course going to be some issues because Apple essentially reworked their entire iOS operating system just for Apple TV, but it’s still solid nonetheless.
Netflix, Hulu, SHOWTIME and HBO NOW all are options for this, along with a wealth of other entertainment options.
Because of the price though (and because this site is all about saving money!), this is probably an option you can bypass in the interest of experience vs. money spent. Although if you simply love Apple or want a consistent experience across devices then you may obviously find this worth the money.
But many compare Apple TV versus Roku, and I would suggest you go with Roku because of the price.
With the access to Google’s own Play network, the library available to you is already huge.
In terms of the channels or services available through the Nexus Player, you have Netflix, Hulu, HBO NOW, SHOWTIME, CBS All Access, and finally Sling TV.
Similar to the Chromecast, the Nexus Player is relatively simple to use and setup.
Fire TV has a lot of app options like Netflix, Amazon Video, HBO GO and Showtime. It also supports Sling TV (score!). Amazon’s new digital assistant, Alexa, also makes an appearance it the Fire remote.
In terms of video quality, it supports 1080p and 4K video (although you’ll most likely only ever use 1080p at the moment). A solid option if you’re a fan of Amazon products, have Amazon Prime,
Many of the reviews on Amazon so far point to the device being a bit buggy. Based on comments from Amazon though, it appears like they are working on patching some of the complaints rather quickly.
HD Antenna for Over-the-Air Programming
Now don’t think I forgot about one of the essentials of cord cutting.
Over-the-air programming provides a fantastic complement to some of the services above because they give you CBS, FOX, NBC, ABC & more. This way, you can still watch football in the fall, local news and other prime-time TV shows.
There are a lot of different HD antennas out there, and at the moment, I can’t say that I’ve had the chance to test one.
What you’re looking for though is something similar to what Amazon offers. Other options are available upwards of $50 that I’ve seen, but check out the reviews and see what works best for where you live (Ex. consider the terrain, surrounding buildings, etc. when determining what range of signal you need).
Ok, so Tablo was recently featured at CES 2016, where they highlighted its ability to record broadcast TV and play it back on demand.
Again, recording broadcast TV and watch it later.
This is fantastic news for cord cutters who are getting their broadcast TV over the air now instead of through cable.
And on top of its convenience, this Tablo works via Wi-Fi, so you can stream your recorded show to any connected device instead of being restricted by your DVR’s HDMI connection.
Tablo works with a variety of devices already, including:
- Apple TV
- LG Smart TVs
- Amazon Fire TV
The device itself is $219.99, and then if you want premium features there is a subscription option for $4.99 per month.
I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this and I’m sure there will be other alternatives that will continue to come out in 2016 to give cord cutters more options.
How does your cable bill compare?
The average cable bill is $99, which according to a Yahoo Finance article, is a 39% increase from 2010.
And this only refers to the cable, it doesn’t count if you have internet bundled in with the service. The FCC provides a slightly different $66 estimate but with so many providers, add-on’s, bundles and more, it’s hard to get an exact number.
But you know your cable situation better than anyone else. How does yours compare? Do you think you can save money with an alternative?
Here’s the deal:
Even if you pay less than average, that doesn’t mean you still can’t spend less on your TV options.
But to save the most, you have to figure out a couple things.
To start off, figure out what channels you need.
Keep in mind, you can get the major networks like CBS, NBC & Fox over the air, so try to only focus on cable networks like TNT, USA Network or ESPN as far as getting access. Other services, like CBS All Access, is one that you’re paying for convenient, on-demand access. Once you have that list, it’s time to get to some very short work!
There are quite a few alternatives to cable TV out there that you can combine, so it’s a matter of finding the combination that works for you.
Cord Cutting Statistics – What is driving the move from cable?
A desire to only pay for the channels that you use is driving cord cutting. A high percentage of people only watch 5 or 10 channels. Here’s some great statistics on it.
How many channels do you think you watch?
If you don’t watch many, do want to join those “millennials”, which media sites love to talk about, who are sick of being locked into cable and paying for what they don’t use?
Cord cutting statistics show cable TV growth has slowly been declining since 2006 according to a graph from Re/Code.
Only you can actually know what the best cable TV alternatives for you are when you consider how much you’re currently paying, what you actually watch, etc. Taking that into account versus the budget you created will help you determine whether or not it may make sense for you.
So think about what channels you want and use the most and combine services accordingly.
For example, Sling TV and Netflix would work the best for me because I can simply get networks like CBS, NBC, Fox & ABC over the air.
When assessing how much money you’ll save, make sure to remember to take into account any price increases for your internet if you currently bundle your services. So if your internet increases $20 for you to be able to save $50 on cable, your break even before you would be spending more would be $30.
Sometimes cutting the cord, surprisingly, doesn’t make sense.
But that’s why you do your research, assess your options, and make an informed decision before joining the cord-cutters.