When I started this website in 2014, I wanted to share how to save money by eliminating cable and watching TV and movies with more affordable streaming and over-the-air technology. At that time, roughly 90% of TV-watching households used either cable TV, satellite, or fiber optic TV like FiOS. Since then, a lot has changed. With older satellite and cable TV companies having to compete for customers with live TV streaming services, the number of households using cable and satellite today is closer to 50%.
While that is a massive dent in the number of people using cable, that is still roughly 60 million TV-watching households that can save some money by cutting the cord. Therefore, I wanted to go back to basics and put together a guide on how to watch TV without cable.
What This Guide Covers
This guide is intended to teach novice cord-cutters how to watch TV without cable. In it, I cover:
What Does Cutting The Cord Mean
When cord-cutters talk about cutting the cord, we mean moving away from watching TV like cable TV and Satellite. I did this in 2012 to save money, and even with the price increases to streaming services, it’s still possible to save money cutting the cord. To watch TV without cable or “cut the cord,” you will need three things.
- Content to watch (from streaming services and over the air),
- A device to watch it on (like a streaming device or smart TV)
- And a way to deliver the content to you (internet access).
So to cut the cord, we take a streaming device like a Roku, Fire TV, Smart TV, or even your smartphone, install a streaming service app on it like Sling TV or Netflix, and the streaming service streams the TV shows, sports, or other live event over the internet to your streaming device.
However, the solutions you use to meet these three needs can take many forms. Ultimately, what works best for you to cut the cord will significantly depend on the type of TV viewer you are. The first step in your cord-cutting journey is to look at the different ways people watch TV and see which is closest to how you watch TV. That will give us an idea of what you need to cut the cord.
What Type Of TV Viewer are You
There are many different types of TV viewers. Some of us like specific shows; we record them on the DVR or tune in live when the show is scheduled to air. Some people who like to flip on the TV and watch as lifestyle and cooking shows air in succession.
I like to view these two “TV-watching archetypes” as the active TV viewer who knows precisely what they want to watch and the passive viewer who wants to be entertained without having to do too much planning or research on what they want to watch. Of course, people are complicated, and we all don’t always fit into one category or the other. However, knowing if you lean more toward passive or active TV viewing is crucial to knowing what type of streaming services you will need to cut the cord.
Next, it’s necessary to consider how much sport you watch. Not to get too far ahead in this guide, but sports channels are some of the most expensive channels for cable companies to have in their channel lineup. The same is true for streaming services, so if you are a sports fan, you will likely save less cutting the cord than someone who isn’t.
So now we have two main categories of TV viewers: active and passive. We also have the sports fan, which we must consider as a third case since it will require specific channels. Now that we have some terms to define our TV viewing needs let’s look at some of the solutions out there.
How To Cut The Cord on Cable TV
Earlier, we said we needed three things to cut the cord: content to watch, internet access, and a streaming device. I’ll cover all three of these pieces of the cord cutting in this guide, but since our TV viewing habits are fresh in our minds, let’s tackle content first.
The Different Types of Streaming Services
To watch what you want, the way you want, you need to consider the different types of streaming solutions that exist. There are live TV streaming services like DIRECTV STREAM, Hulu Live TV, Sling TV, and YouTube TV that carry the channels you would typically find on cable TV. These services are similar to the cable TV experience as they present the viewer with a channel guide with the channels one would find with a cable subscription. They even provide the same on-demand and DVR features you find with cable.
Then, there are pure streaming on-demand services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and Hulu’s Streaming Library. These streaming services license the right to stream various TV shows from the past and present that you find on TV. They also have original shows exclusive to their service.
Then, there are hybrids that mostly behave like an on-demand streaming service but will provide live access to a live TV channel they own. Services like this are CBS’s Paramount+, NBC’s Peacock, and HBO’s Max.
Another important tool in the cord cutters arsenal is the TV antenna. While it technically isn’t a streaming service, a TV antenna is a great way to watch local broadcast channels for free.
Matching The Streaming Solution to The Viewer
Earlier, we broke down our types of TV watching into active viewing, where we seek out our TV content, and passive viewing, where we sit back and watch what comes on. The active viewer can rely heavily on video-on-demand streaming services, while the passive viewer will need some live options so they can flip to a channel and watch.
We also discussed the sports viewers and their particular needs for watching live sports. So, let’s look at the different types of TV watchers and see the types of streaming solutions that best meet their needs.
The Active TV Watcher
A person who knows what they want to watch and doesn’t idly kick back in front of the TV watching whatever appears is in the best position to save money by cutting the cord. That’s not to say that a passive viewer can’t save more money.
However, on-demand streaming services tend to be much cheaper than live TV services, and a passive viewer will require more live TV channels that have programming schedules, whereas active streaming is more of an on-demand viewing style. For example, Hulu’s on-demand “Streaming Library” costs [service=”hulu”] per month, while Hulu + Live TV starts at [service=”hulu+live”] per month.
If you know what you want to watch, you would pick the on-demand services you like. Streaming services don’t have a long-term contract, so you can cancel some services and pick up others each month to watch the shows you want.
For example, if you know you want to watch Ted Lasso and Ahsoka, pick up Apple TV+ and Disney+. When you want to watch something on Peacock, swap out one of your current services for Peacock, and you have a whole new slate of shows to watch.
This is why an Active TV viewing experience will save you the most money. You can subscribe to 2-3 streaming services for around $30 per month. With no long-term contracts, you can watch as many shows as you want, whenever you want. You can use the search facility on your streaming device (I’ll get to that later) to see where various shows stream and budget accordingly.
If you aren’t a purely Active TV viewer, then you can supplement your on-demand streaming style with a TV antenna or a more affordable live-TV-streaming service like Frndly (starts at $6.99/month) or Philo (starts at $6.99/month). Those will provide a modest number of networks you’ll find on cable. The number of channels on these services is limited to more entertainment and lifestyle channels with no sports or cable news. If you think you need more channels than those services offer, then look at the next section, where we get into options for the Passive Viewer.
The Passive TV Watcher
The passive TV viewer likes to flip on the TV, tune in to a channel, and watch what comes on. This viewing style is going to require some live TV channels. The first three services to look at due to their affordability are Frndly, Philo, and Sling.
These services offer various streams of channels found on cable TV plans. However, Frndly and Philo don’t have local network channels like ABC, Fox, NBC, or CBS. They also don’t provide cable news or sports. Sling, however, does provide some sports and cable news but is very limited in where it provides local TV channels.
Frndly – Starts at $6.99 per month and provides entertainment channels like A&E, Lifetime, The History Channel, Hallmark Channel, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, GAC Family, and more. Frndly provides a small number of entertainment channels at a bargain price. However, you won’t find cable news.
Philo TV – This service costs $25 per month and offers around 60 channels found on cable. Channels include A&E, AMC, BET, Comedy Central, Discovery, Hallmark Channel, HGTV, TLC, MTV, and more, but like Frndly, there are no cable news or sports channels. They offer a free trial, and there is no long-term contract.
Sling TV – Sling is interesting as they do have nearly every channel you would find on cable (including cable news and sports), but their service is more of an a la carte style. They start with two basic packages called “Blue” and “Orange” that each cost $40/ per month. If you subscribe to both, the cost is $55/ per month. There are also smaller channel add-on packs. Sling is a great way to save if you stick to the basic plans, but the costs can drastically increase when adding multiple add-ons. They are currently offering 50% off your first month.
If you decide to go with Sling, Frndly, or Philo, consider using a TV antenna for local channels. Otherwise, there are services like Hulu+Live TV, YouTube TV, DIRECTV STREAM, and fubo that are closest to cable TV in their channel lineups and provide your local network channels. They even provide sports channels like ESPN and FS1 and cable news channels like Fox News and MSNBC.
Hulu + Live TV service costs $76.99 per month. If you are interested, check out the following resources on Hulu + Live TV:
- a full listing of live channels on Hulu Live TV
- see which channels are available in your zip code on Hulu’s website
- our guide on everything you need to know about Hulu
YouTube TV is also good for Live TV, but they have a different level of on-demand offerings than Hulu. The cost of their service is $72.99 per month. If you are interested, check out the following resources on YouTube TV:
- our guide to everything you need to know about YouTube TV
- see channels available in your area on their website
DIRECTV STREAM is very similar in channel lineup to its satellite counterpart. It’s a good service for people who like the guide presentation and function of a cable menu. The cost of their service starts at $79.99 per month. Their more expensive “Choice Plan” costs $108.99 per month but provides the regional sports network nearly everywhere in the U.S. If you are interested, check out the following resources:
Fubo also provides a decent channel offering but lacks a few cable TV mainstays like CNN, TBS, and TNT. However, they carry the 2nd most number of regional sports networks of any streaming service next to DIRECT STREAM. Fubo’s most affordable plan is $$$ per month. If you are interested in fubo, check out the following resources:
All of these services will provide you with a live channel guide where you can select a specific channel to sit back and watch or channel surf until you stumble onto something that interests you. This is a summary of the services. See my comparison of Live TV Streaming Services for more information.
The Sports Fan
Generally, if you are an avid sports fan, you are going to need a live TV streaming service. While a TV antenna is a free way to provide live NBC, ABC, Fox, and ABC for major sporting events and most NFL games, it won’t cover networks like ESPN, FS1, TBS, TNT, USA Network, and other channels that air live sports. Furthermore, regional sports networks (RSNs) like Bally Sports, MSG, NESN, etc., are a must-have for watching your local MLB, NBA, and NHL teams.
The only two streaming services that are likely to cover all those bases are fubo and DIRECTV STREAM. These services have the best coverage for regional sports networks. However, YouTube TV and Hulu also carry a few RSNs. I recommend checking out my guide to find the best sports streaming service for you to make an informed decision.
I also recommended checking out the guides below for the sports you follow. Each guide links to a breakdown of each team and what you need to watch each team without cable.
For other sports, please see my guide to watching sports without cable.
The hardest part of cutting the cord is choosing your streaming services. What I’ve covered so far is to get you started on your cord-cutting journey. I’ve been a cord cutter for over ten years, and I’ve switched services several times. That said, you will want a streaming device that will support most apps. With that in mind, I recommend either choosing Roku, Fire TV, Apple TV, or Chromecast.
This choice will come down to personal preference, and I have a guide that explains how to choose the right streaming device for you. Ultimately, my favorite is Roku. They cost as low as $25 depending on the one you purchase, the user interface is the most intuitive, and they support any streaming service you will use. It’s my top choice for new cord-cutters.
However, if you like to tinker, then go with an Amazon Fire TV Stick. The Roku devices are a bit dated at the moment, and you can do a lot of customizations with the Fire TV Stick.
The last piece of the puzzle is getting affordable internet access. It’s essential to not overpay for internet bandwidth you don’t need if you want to save money when cutting the cord. While ISPs are trying to sell everyone Gigabit internet connections, in truth, most households need just 50 Mbps to cut the cord.
You are going to be limited in your options to find affordable internet; there is more competition in the residential ISP space than there was when I cut the cord. There are also solutions like wireless internet that add another possibility for finding affordable internet. Even if you are stuck with one ISP in your area, there are still ways to find affordable internet access.
Enjoy Being Cable Free
Now you have all the basics covered on watching TV without cable. We know
- How to pick a streaming service.
- How to pick a streaming device.
- And how to find affordable internet access.
Remember, the most essential part of cutting the cord is making the first step. Otherwise, you will keep paying that cable bill every month. Streaming services don’t force you into a contract, so you can call today and cancel your cable service and try watching TV without cable for a month or two. If cutting the cord isn’t for you, call your cable company to turn your service back on. There’s never been a cable company that doesn’t want your money.