The days of free TV channels may be almost over, but there are enough cable TV alternatives here to save hundreds – possibly thousands of dollars per year.
We saved over $1000 per year by using streaming devices as an alternative to cable TV, and this article will show how you can do the same.
Saving money doesn’t have to mean giving up everything from your daily coffee to your date night.
But if you’re intentional about the bigger recurring costs, it’s amazing how your choices start to expand.
By the end of this article, you’ll know:
- The best cable TV alternatives for your own needs.
- The best streaming services for sports.
- How to watch NFL games for free.
- And yes, there still is a way to get free TV channels.
Imagine going into a store to buy two tomatoes and the store owner says you’ll also need to buy a dozen apples and a watermelon. Bundling products and forcing customers to buy content they’ll never watch is how cable companies have operated for over 30 years.
Streaming devices enable you to buy only the content you want at a much cheaper price. Whether you’re a news junkie, sports fanatic or a movie lover, alternatives to cable TV enable you to do it cheaper.
If you already have a smart TV, you can connect it to your wifi and say goodbye to cable bills today. If not, you can buy a streaming device for less than $40 that’ll enable your TV to connect to wifi.
Just plug the streaming device into your TV’s HDMI port, follow the 5-minute setup, and your TV will be ready to receive almost any content available.
20 Best Cable TV Alternatives for 2020
These 20 services offer a variety of movies, TV shows, original series, sports and pretty much anything you’d want to watch. They’re all cheaper alternatives to cable TV, and you’ll pay only for what you want.
One thing you may want to do, is grab your cable bill and add up what you pay per year. The total will probably surprise you, but keep this in mind too:
Marketwatch recently analyzed almost 800 cable bills, and found the average bill totaled $217. But less than $157 of that amount was for the actual content. 24% of the average bill went toward fees and surcharges!
Our cable bill included over $40 per month just in hardware rental fees. By cutting the cord and going with a cable alternative, we immediately saved almost $1000 per year on hardware rentals and various cable fees.
20 Cheap Alternatives to Cable
Sling TV is one of the original streaming services that started the wave of cord-cutting. $30 per month for their basic plan makes Sling the best value out there right now.
Sling has 3 pricing levels, Orange, Blue, or Orange + Blue. Each has a different channel selection and number of devices you can stream to simultaneously.
The difference between Orange and Blue is the content mix. Orange focuses on families and sports, while Blue features more news and entertainment. Check out Sling’s channel lineups here.
You can add additional channels as needed, which start at $5 per month.
- Orange – $30 per month for 30+ channels – Stream to 1 device.
- Blue – $30 per month for 50+ channels – Stream to 3 devices.
- Orange + Blue – $45 per month – Stream to 4 devices.
Each level includes on-demand content, and 10 hours of free DVR.
Pros: Lowest price of comparable companies. Flexible add-ons. Available on large variety of devices.
Cons: The price can increase quickly with add-ons, but their basic packages offer good value.
Hulu is one of cheapest cable TV alternatives, starting at just $5.99 per month! If you’re tired of paying your cable company a bloated price for dozens of channels you never watch, Hulu is a great example of ala carte entertainment.
They do offer some bundling, but it’s strictly optional. For instance, at the time of this writing, they’re offering the Hulu basic lineup, plus ESPN and Disney+ for $12.99 per month.
- $5.99 per month for the basic plan.
- $12.99 per month for basic plan with no commercials.
- Channels – Here is Hulu’s channel lineup.
- Add-ons – $12.99/month each for HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, Starz.
- Free Trial – First 30 days free (for basic or commercial free plans)
Hulu with Live TV
Hulu with Live TV was introduced in 2017 and opened the floodgates of people leaving cable TV. Up until then, streaming didn’t include your local affiliates for CBS, NBC, ABC & Fox. So you weren’t able to watch up-to-the-minute local TV news.
According to Forbes, 10 million people have left cable TV since 2012, but the rate of people leaving cable doubled between 2017 and 2018.
Editor’s Note: Hulu Live has been a good value, but due to their recent 20% price increase, we will be switching to Sling.
As of December 2020, the price will rise from $54.95 per month to $64.95. A 20% increase is enough to make Sling a better value.
One of the original streaming services, Netflix is still an affordable source for thousands of movies and original series. Some of their original content, like Ozark or Outlander for instance, is as good as anything in a theatre.
Watch it on any internet connected device, commercial free.
Netflix will also create individual profiles for members of your family, so they’ll highlight certain content based on your watch history.
- $8.99 per month – 1 screen at a time.
- $12.99 per month – 2 screens at a time.
- $15.99 per month – 4 screens at a time.
- Content Lineup – all on-demand, movies, TV shows, anime, original series, documentaries.
- Free Trial – 30 days.
Amazon Prime Video
- $9 per month (no charge if you subscribe to Amazon Prime).
- Channel lineup – all on-demand, movies and original series.
- Free Trial – 30 days.
Editor’s Note: I’ve been a Prime subscriber for a long time. A few years ago I received a letter from Amazon reminding me that my Prime membership includes “access to thousands of free movies”.
When I got around to checking it out, I saw why they were encouraging me to try the service. Almost any movie I’d want to watch was an additional charge – usually $3.99.
For instance, my daughter had never seen the Rocky movie series. Even those – movies made in the 1970’s – are not included in your Prime membership. I’ll occasionally find something to watch on Amazon Prime Movies, but to me, it’s not a big benefit of Prime.
Disney+ debuted in 2019 and has become very popular, very fast. At the time I’m writing this, it’s been out five months and already has over 50 million subscribers!
Disney+ includes over 7,000 television episodes and 500 movies from Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel and Disney. Disney has such a huge catalog of content that makes this newcomer one of the best, if not the best streaming service for kids.
- $7.99/month. (Or $12.00/month for Disney+, Hulu Basic and ESPN+)
- Content – Disney’s huge catalog of movies, TV series as well as Pixar, Marvel & Star Wars.
- Free Trial – 7 Days.
YouTube is no longer just the home of how-to videos and Ted Talks. They offer a full-featured streaming service that CNET called “the best overall TV streaming service in 2020.”
They offer live TV from 70+ channels. entertainment, news, and sports. No contracts and no hidden fees. They also offer unlimited DVR which almost no other streaming service does.
- $49.99 per month. 3 screens at a time.
- Content – 70+ channels (basic package). Check out the YouTube channel lineup.
- Free Trial – There is almost always a free trial period. Right now it’s 14 days, but it varies.
Pros – great selection of channels and one of the best DVRs.
Cons – Not many, but Sling TV has a comparable channel lineup for a cheaper price.
YouTube (Free Content)
Most streaming devices include a link to the free content on YouTube, or you can view it from any internet connected device. I have to say, I can easily spend an hour just browsing anything from music performances, to congressional hearings, or even Jack Vale videos.
Whether you’re looking for comedy, product reviews, workouts – almost anything you can imagine is on YouTube. You’ll have to skip by a few ads, but it’s a small price to pay for the amount of content available.
AT&T TV Now
AT&T Now was (formerly known as DirecTV) has yet to become as popular as services like Hulu and Sling. Possibly because of the relatively expensive price for comparable content.
Even though they’re now a streaming service, I see similarities to the cable pricing that drove me away. Things like “introductory pricing” listed under their monthly fee. There’s also an $8.95/month “regional sports fee”, and LOTS of fine print below the prices.
They offer on-demand channels like HBO, Cinemax and Showtime free for 3 months, but after the introductory period expires this could easily exceed the price of cable.
- Price – $65 per month
- Channels – 54 (basic plan) 3 screens at a time.
- DVR – Yes. 500 Hours.
- Free Trial – 7 Days.
Pros – 500 hours of DVR and one year of free HBO.
Cons – Fairly expensive compared to similar services like Hulu and Sling. I don’t like the fine print under the price that says “For 12 months. Prices higher in second year.” This is one reason I left cable. If your service is a good value for the price, then just give me the price up front.
There’s a difference between Apple TV and Apple TV+.
Apple TV is a streaming box that you connect to your TV. Once that’s connected, it enables you to access apps like Netflix, Hulu, and of course, Apple TV+.
Apple TV+ is a paid subscription that has original shows and series exclusive to Apple.
Apple TV + is Apple original content. It’s a channel found within the Apple TV App. Your subscription doesn’t include everything in iTunes – you can see the content you have access to beause it’ll have the tv+ logo next to it..
- $4.99 per month. Up to 6 people logged in simultaneously. 1 Year free with the purchase of an Apple TV device.
- Channels – Only original Apple series and movies.
- Free Trial – 7 days.
Philo is fairly new to streaming but their basic plan looks pretty good and I like the clarity of their website:
58 channels. $20 a month. Every channel is displayed right there.
The content is pretty family oriented, with channels like HGTV, Hallmark, A&E, BET, History, Comedy Central, Lifetime, OWN, Nicktoons, TeenNick and more. Philo enables you to create up to 10 personal profiles.
Access Philo from your web connected laptop, iPhone or iPad, Android phones & tablets, Android TV, or Amazon Fire, Roku, or Apple TV streaming devices.
- $20 per month. Up to 3 simultaneous logins.
- Channels – 58
- DVR – Record and save content for up to 30 days.
- Free Trial – 7 days, no credit card required for the initial trial.
Vudu is Walmart’s entry in the content delivery game. It’s kind of unique in that there’s no subscription price, and they advertise “over 150,000 movies and TV shows”.
Some content is free, supported by quick ads, but much of it is rent or buy as you go.
You can browse for content using the Vudu app, or look for DVDs and Blueray discs at your local Walmart that are marked with an “Instawatch” sticker. For those, you can buy and register with your Walmart Vudu account to watch digitally, without using a DVD player.
Watch Vudu through any streaming device like Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, game consoles, iOS or Windows 10 devices.
- Price: Nothing up front. Buy or rent content as needed.
- Content: Vudu has various seasons of TV series, along with pay as you go movies.
- DVR – No
- Free Trial – There is no subscription fee. You buy or rent as needed.
HBO used to be accessible only through an upgrade with your local cable service. HBO Now is a standalone version of HBO you can subscribe to through most steaming services like Hulu, Sling TV or Amazon Prime Video.
You can also access HBO Now from some of the cheaper streaming devices, like an Amazon Fire Stick, or a Google Chromecast.
- $14.99 per month. No subscription required.
- Content – Any series or movie in the HBO catalog.
- DVR – No. HBO Now doesn’t provide an option for offline viewing.
- Free Trial – They vary depending on the provider you subscribe through, but most offer 7 days.
ESPN+ is a sports streaming platform with original video content, live games, and in-depth news and analysis. They also host exclusive pay-per-view events like UFC matches.
You can access ESPN+ via the ESPN app on a variety of streaming players, mobile devices, and smart TVs.
If you’re into Fantasy sports, ESPN+ has tools to help like Lineup Optimizer, Free Agent Recommendations and Auction Value Generator.
ESPN+ is available as a standalone app, or as part of a package along with Disney+ and Hulu Basic.
- $4.99 per month standalone (or $49.99 yearly) or $12.99 per month as part of a Disney+, Hulu Basic, ESPN+ package.
- Content – Live coverage for over 20 sports, interviews, pay-per-view, Fantasy and more.
- DVR – No.
- Free Trial – No.
Fubo TV is a good option if you’re s sports fan and occasionally watch entertainment and news. Their base package includes many popular sports channels like MSG, FS1, FS2, NFL Network, CBS Sports (but not ESPN), and a pretty decent selection of news, movies, and family content.
Could Fubo be the best streaming service for sports? Well that depends on what sports and teams you follow, but Fubo is worth checking out.
Check out Fubo’s channel lineup.
- $54.99 – Standard Plan. 111 Channels. 2 simultaneous screens. 30 hours of DVR.
- $59.99 – Family Plan. 111 Channels. 3 simultaneous screens. 500 hours of DVD.
- $79.99 – Ultra Plan. 182 channels. View on 3 simultaneous screens. 500 hours of DVD
- Free Trial – 7 days.
Fandango is a little like your local Red Box video dispenser except it’s online. There’s no monthly subscription, and you just pay for content as you go. They advertise over 100,000 movies and TV shows and you can watch on anything from gaming consoles to streaming devices or your laptop, tablet, or even your phone, commercial free.
If you rent content, you’ll have 48 hours to watch it as many times as you want. If you buy, you’ll have permanent access.
Here is Fandango’s lineup. For a sampling, I checked Disney’s Frozen. It rents for $4.99 in SD and $5.99 in HD. Seems a bit steep to me if this is your only source of content, but I can see being on the road with kids and renting a few here and there.
- No subscription fee. You pay as you go.
- Content – Dozens of networks and TV shows covering everything from kids, comedy, drama and others.
- DVR – No DVR since you either purchase or rent for 48 hours.
- Free trial – No signup fee. They offer a 20% discount on content for the 30 days after your first rental.
CBS All Access
CBS All Access includes anything you’d watch on your local CBS affiliate, like news, TV shows or sports. It’s included in the Live option of some streaming services, otherwise you’ll pay $5.99 per month or $9.99 for commercial free content.
You can also watch it on your Apple and Android phone or tablet with the CBS mobile app, or on your desktop computer by visiting CBS All Access.
Basic subscription is $5.99 or $9.99 for commercial free.
Free Trial – There is a 3-month free trial if you purchase a Roku streaming device. Once the Roku is setup, just click on CBS All Access from the menu and follow the instructions.
DVR – No DVR capability.
How to Get Free TV Channels
It’s hard to believe now, but before cable, TV was free. Granted, there wasn’t nearly as much content, but you could watch TV without paying for cable each month.
There aren’t a lot of ways left to get free TV channels, but here are three you can still take advantage of:
Watch local networks with a digital antenna
Kind of a throwback to the days before cable, but new and improved. Before cable became popular in the 1980’s, everyone had these bulky antennas mounted on their roof or in their attic. They’d enable you to watch the major networks – CBS, NBC, ABC & Fox.
Now you can buy a much smaller, digital antenna that’ll provide the same reception without making your home look like you’re checking for life on Mars.
If you’re not a binge watcher and are satisfied with local news, weather and content from the major networks, then buying a digital antenna is one way to watch TV for free – no subscriptions, rentals or fees ever again.
A digital antenna would cost anywhere from $50-$150. One caveat is, that the quality of your reception will depend on how far you are from the nearest broadcast transmitting station.
Here is a transmitter locator you can use to find the transmitter nearest to your home that’ll also suggest certain antennas based on your location.
Free TV channels from major networks
Some of the major networks broadcast content for free online. It’s usually not the most current episodes, but unless you’re addicted to a particular series, that may not matter.
If you’re in the mood to kick back and watch Joanna Gaines transform a house on HGTV, it may not matter that she did it a few months ago.
Crackle is a free online video entertainment network available in the U.S. and territories. It features full-length movies, TV shows, and original programming. Crackle is available on most platforms, including TVs using streaming devices, smartphones, video game consoles and online.
It’s an ad supported network, so you will see commercials.
There is no subscription for Crackle. You would create an account, receive an activation code, then use that activation code on the device you access from.
Are you ready to watch TV without cable?
Saving money by cutting every little joy out of your life is no fun. A much better way is to look at larger, recurring costs. Those things you pay for month after month.
Watching TV without cable – and without the endless hardware rentals and other fees, is easier than ever. You can access exactly what you want and pay less for it.
What's the best cable TV alternative?
I can recommend a few of the options here. We use Hulu with Live TV and if it was available 5 years earlier, I would have dumped cable then.
Sling TV also provides live, up to the minute news with your local stations, along with a good selection of movies and shows for a price cheaper than most cable bills.
But the answer really depends on your own needs.
One, or a combination of a few of these could still be cheaper than a bundled cable package that has fees, surcharges and rental fees added.
- If you want live TV, like up-to-the-minute news and same day TV series, Sling TV and Hulu Live are great options because they each have a good mix of movies, TV shows, sports and news.
- The holy grail for kids seems to be Disney+. Even older kids seem to enjoy re-watching some of the shows they enjoyed growing up with, and Disney has an almost endless movie selection.
What’s the best streaming service for football?
- There are several ways here to watch NFL without cable. Hulu Live and Sling would carry your local team on their normal broadcast channel.
- There’s also CBS All Access, and of course, a digital antenna.
- Or if you’re wondering how to watch college football without cable, Sling and Hulu Live carry dozens of college games. Fubo is another option. It’s a relatively low cost and includes CBS Sports, MSG, FS1 and FS2.
Or maybe you’re not a sports fan. And you catch up on the news online, so you just want a good source for cheap movies. Netflix for $8.99 per month is hard to beat. Some of their original content is better than anything I’ve seen on network TV – Ozark, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things…
Philo also has a lot of movies with Hallmark, Lifetime, A&E and about 55 other channels. And at $20 per month, it’s very reasonable.
How about you? Are you ready to box up those remotes and cable boxes and say goodbye to rental fees?
Or do you already use a streaming service not listed here?
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