Hello, my name is Eric Ozrelic and today I’m going to show you how to ditch your cable or satellite TV subscription and outline what free or low cost viewing options are available. For the thrifty or casual TV viewer these options will fit your habits well. If you watch a lot of TV, regularly use your DVR and love keeping up on shows when they first air, you may want to gradually switch over to some of the options I outline and wean yourself off of traditional cable or satellite over time.
First off, there are two important questions you should ask yourself…. “What are your favorite shows to watch?”, and “How long can I wait to see them?”
The first question, “What are your favorite shows to watch?”, is important because there are some TV series that are nearly impossible to get without a cable or satellite subscription. HBO’s Game of Thrones for instance was, up until recently, impossible to get via any other content delivery method except for actually subscribing to HBO, and the only way to subscribe to HBO is by getting a basic cable or satellite TV package. This can cost you almost $100 month just to watch GoT when it premiers. This also goes for other exclusive TV shows on other premium channels like Showtime and Disney. What it all comes down to is money and licensing agreements between the content creators like HBO, Showtime, etc. and the distributors like DirectTV, Netflix, and Amazon. Content creators want to make as much money as possible before licensing their shows to content delivery systems with lower profit margins… but this is slowly changing.
The second question, “How long can I wait to see them?”, comes down to how long you’re willing to wait to see your favorite show. Eventually pretty much all content will be available at some point through a less expensive content delivery system, like online streaming, or DVD rental. The question is when, and can you wait that long? For some shows like South Park, new episodes appear on their website the day after they air. If you’re a regular at the water cooler discussing your favorite shows that aired the night before, then you might want to consider keeping your cable and satellite service for awhile, maybe pare it down to just the basic package with the premium channels that you absolutely must have. Then, after your favorite show has run its course, you can cut the premium channels or subscription altogether and fall back to over the air and online streaming content. Of course this may or may not be possible due to your cable or satellite provider’s terms and conditions, and if you signed a term contract.
Going back to my premium show example of Game of Thrones, there was a local theater that would air the new episodes for free and that’s how I was able to watch it legally, but the experience wasn’t as ideal as being at home and sitting in front of my nice big HD TV with a beer and some pop corn and being able to use a DVR to pause when needed and view it again later on when I wanted to. On the other side of the coin, it was really fun to meet some new people and watch the new episodes with a bunch of GoT fans.
So, now that you’ve answered those two big important questions, and you’re still with me and reading this, let’s go over some options.
Free HD TV, get it OTA!
First off, check out what free over-the-air or OTA channels are available. There’s a great free search tool to find free HD channels in your area at http://www.antennaweb.org/. In my area there are up to 27 channels from 18 stations including ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, and PBS.
You’ll notice it says I need a ‘Yellow’ antenna to get these channels. The industry association that put together this website also put together a color code system that outlines what antenna you should buy. Manufacturers are supposed to adhere to this color code system to easily identify what antenna to use, but very few actually do. This isn’t a big problem however. Just visit amazon.com and do a search for ‘HD TV antenna’ and then just start reading reviews. I have experience using 4 or 5 different types of TV antennas and I’ve had the best luck with the indoor rated Mohu Leaf antenna, and the RCA/AudioVox outdoor antenna. Typically the higher up you can mount the antenna, the better signal you’ll have. You can even use your home’s cable wiring to enable enhanced OTA viewing from all your TVs, but that’s another blog entry all together. The nice thing about ordering these through Amazon is that you can pretty easily return them within 30 days if it’s not working out for you and you can try another. There’s another good reason for getting these from Amazon, but I’ll dive into that shortly.
Along with getting all these free HD OTA channels, you can also combine it with a DVR to record your favorite shows. Again, doing a quick search on amazon.com will reveal some options and reviews. Also, while it’s pretty easy to watch HD OTA on modern TVs, it takes a little more effort and money to watch them on older TVs or on computers. It’s not impossible, just not ideal.
Online Streaming Video
There are more and more resources for free and inexpensive online streaming video options popping up on the internet. The big question is will they have the TV shows you’re looking for? The vast majority of free online streaming content probably won’t interest you. There are some gems out there but they’re hard to find and are typically made on a shoestring budget and sponsored by the streaming service. Due to the licensing issues I mentioned above, there are actually only a handful of ways to watch mainstream TV and movies. When I say ‘mainstream’ I’m talking about the shows you’d be able to catch on the major TV stations like NBC, FOX, PBS, A&E, etc. More and more major TV stations are featuring entire episodes, or recent back catalogs of shows on their respective websites. They typically wait a few days or more to show episodes that have recently aired. There are also typically some ads that you’ll have to sit through.
Another way to watch mainstream TV shows is through a major content distributor like Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, or Amazon.com. I mentioned that there was another reason to purchase from Amazon above, and it’s to subscribe to their Prime service at $79 per year, which gives you 2-day priority shipping on all Amazon goods, along with a free subscription to their Netflix-like streaming catalog. Keep in mind that due to licensing and what not, some shows might only be available for a limited time. In the world of streaming, it appears nothing lasts forever.
With Amazon you also have the ability to rent and buy movies online and watch them on a multitude of devices, similar to Apple iTunes and Apple TV. When you purchase TV shows or movies online, they typically stay in your catalog and don’t disappear unlike the subscription streaming services.
The downside to watching shows this way is that depending on the service, sometimes you can only watch them using a computer and typically at a lower quality, which makes it more difficult and sometimes painful to watch, but not impossible on your HD TV. Which brings me to another facet of streaming video – the equipment, e.g. internet enabled TVs, set-top boxes, and stream boxes. There are quite a few different boxes you can buy to stream online content to your TV. A few of my favorites are made by Roku and Western Digital. Many TVs are now called ‘Smart TVs’ and now support streaming video options as well, but really only cover the main content providers like Netflix, Hulu, and a handful of others. I like the Western Digital media systems because they can stream from most major content providers, and can also play back my own movies from my personal collection, and it provides an easy to use user interface or UI to navigate.
If you have any questions about any of this feel free to drop me a line – Eric Ozrelic