The new fall television seasons have begun and you may be questioning whether you really want to pay $60-$100 just to watch a few shows. If you’re thinking about it, here are some things to consider:
You can find almost every show online for free or with a subscription to Hulu (~8 a month). But you probably don’t want to watch TV on your laptop or in your office on your computer. You want to watch it on the big TV on your comfortable sofa. You will need one or more devices for this:
- Internet-Ready TV – Most of the new, large-screen TVs come internet-ready. They connect to your wireless network and have installed apps for streaming media services and network videos.
- WiFi Blu-ray player – such as the $115 one I recently purchased for my exercise room: Panasonic DMP-BDT220 Integrated Wi-Fi 3D Blu-ray DVD Player. It plays DVDs, Blu-rays, streaming media services, and network videos.
- Streaming Media Players – These are boxes that you purchase and connect to your TV to watch streaming media services. Examples are Boxee, Roku, Apple TV, Slingbox, and many more.
- Computer – you can connect a computer running an XBMC setup. Do a Google search for “XBMC site:lifehacker.com” to see tons of articles on how to do it.
- Antenna – You can always go old-school and get network television for free. Check out AntennaWeb to find the best antenna for your house. For this option, you’ll probably want to get a DVR. You can get a Tivo or some other DVR, or build your own.
Streaming Media Services
If you decide to ditch cable/dish services, there are several alternatives to get your TV fix online.
Online TV Shows
- ABC – Available online for free or on Hulu.
- Amazon Instant Video – You’ll pay for most of the television shows you get from this site. The upside is, you can watch programs on your tv.
- CBS – CBS has some of my favorite shows. One of them isn’t even aired online. And CBS does not work with Hulu. You’ll have to find workarounds to watch these shows on your TV.
- FOX – Available online for free or on Hulu.
- Hulu – This paid video streaming service offers the five most recent episodes of dozens of many of the most-watched shows on television. Episodes are available for 30 days after their air date, so this is a great way to catch up on any shows you’ve missed. It’s also full of full seasons of older TV shows. You can watch network TV such as ABC, FOX, NBC, USA, SyFy and more. You CANNOT watch CBS.
- iTunes – You can pick up new episodes of shows on iTunes hours after they air on television, but be prepared to pay for the privilege. They’ll usually set you back $1.99 per episode, or upwards of $30 per season. On the other hand, buying through iTunes means you can drop the shows on your iPod and watch them on the fly. It’s difficult to watch these on your TV unless you have an Apple TV device.
- NBC – Available online for free or on Hulu.
- Netflix – Best for catching episodes of your favorite shows from last season or from the last decade. While Netflix doesn’t typically offer recently aired episodes of popular shows, it’s perfect for streaming episodes from previous seasons, or for getting your “Murder She Wrote” groove on. There’s a monthly fee to subscribe to Netflix but once you’re signed up, you can stream an unlimited amount of shows.
If you’re a sports buff, this can be one of the biggest obstacles to overcome when deciding to drop your cable company. If there are only a few events you like to catch, you can always head to your local sports bar or to your buddy that has the package you like. (Maybe you can bring the snacks?!) You can also subscribe online. Some devices stream these networks:
- MLB.TV – Baseball fans can watch every regular season game live or on demand, and more than 150 spring training games with no blackouts. Viewers also get access to game day audio, game archives, and real-time stats.
- NFL Network – Though this is actually the National Football League’s official cable channel, its website has a ton of post-game video footage for fans to check out. Due to licensing and TV restrictions, finding a legal way to live stream NFL football is next to impossible unless you live outside the US, but at least you can listen live to every game of the season with an NFL Field Pass.
- NHL Game Center Live – Watch up to 40 live hockey games, including some of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with a subscription to this service. It streams live in HD (when available) and includes DVR functionality so you pause, rewind, and fast forward during games.
- NBA All Access – Basketball fans can choose from two types of season passes: unlimited for access to all teams, or a league pass to follow only seven teams. Watch three games at once, and control the live action with full DVR controls.
Look at Your Methods
Deciding whether to drop cable is a personal decision. Everyone has different TV-watching habits. You have to decide what works best for you.
Make a List
Before you can make any decision, you need to list the TV shows you watch. For a pretty exhaustive list, check www.mytvrss.com. You can subscribe to an RSS feed that will tell you when your fav shoes air a new episode. As an example, here’s my list:
- 2 Broke Girls
- Big Bang Theory
- Burn Notice
- Doctor Who
- Don’t Trust the B
- How I Met Your Mother
- South Park
- True Blood
- White Collar
Find Your Shows Online
Once you have a list, you need to find the online source. I found a great site called Clicker. It will look through Hulu, Netflix, iTunes, and Amazon to find the show. You can then click through to watch the episode. It will also send you emails when one of your saved TV shows has a new episode available.
So, when you head over to Clicker and enter your shows, you find that most of your shows are on Hulu, with the exception of CBS shows and special networks. Here’s how my list worked out:
Available on Hulu. (cost: $7.99 /mo):
- Burn Notice
- Don’t Trust the B
- South Park
- White Collar
- 2 Broke Girls – CBS: You cannot watch or purchase online during the season. Have to buy 1 season later.
- Big Bang Theory – CBS: Available only on CBS.com – can’t stream on TV without computer.
- Doctor Who – BBC America: can purchase episodes on iTunes or Amazon for about $2 each. Subscribing for the season means they automatically show up in your queue.
- How I Met Your Mother – CBS: Available only on CBS.com – can’t stream on TV without computer.
- True Blood – HBO: You cannot watch or purchase online during the season. Have to buy 1 season later.
Find a Way To Watch Unavailable Shows
I’m assuming that you are a morally upstanding individual and don’t want to steal content. Let me give you an example. I wanted to watch True Blood. I purchased season 1-4 on Amazon Prime. Season 5 is complete but not available for sale because the people at HBO are jerks. The only way you can view those episodes is if you are a cable AND HBO subscriber, which would cost you around $80 a month. That’s completely unreasonable. So, I downloaded Season 5 from another source and will pay for the season on Amazon when it is released. I’ll do the same with season 6 when it starts. I do not have one piece of video in my collection that I haven’t paid for (or will pay for when it’s available.)
That said, proceed with that plan at your own risk and be a good person. Don’t steal someone else’s hard work.
Do check out a great article by Lifehacker on How to Automatically Download TV Shows as Soon as They’ve Aired (or Turn Your PC into a TiVo). I recommend using EZTV (ezRSS) with uTorrent. Instructions at uTorrent. I do notice that some shows (like Bones and Castle) went up quickly, but 2 Broke Girls and How I Met Your Mother weren’t up there. And people have complained.
You can also set up a reminder system to go manually download shows so you can pick your own torrents.
The other alternative for the network shows is to get an antenna and set up a DVR. Again, check out AntennaWeb to find the best antenna for your house. For your DVR you can get a Tivo or some other DVR, or build your own. Keep in mind that DVRs are expensive and the Tivo requires a minimum monthly service of $15 a month.
Make a Decision
You now have to decide whether to keep cable. First, look at costs. Consider your final cable bill (taxes and everything) and compare it to your tv costs without cable. Make sure you include:
- New Hardware Purchases – spread them out over a year and average them. If you decide to buy a new Blu-ray player, antenna, or DVR, consider that cost. Even if you just want to buy a bigger hard drive to store your downloads. Count it.
- Monthly subscriptions – add up the cost of subscriptions like Hulu and Netflix. Do NOT count these services if you would subscribe while paying for cable.
- Buying TV episodes – If you are torrenting episodes, do the math on what the seasons will cost when they are available for purchase. (Don’t download anything you aren’t going to pay for!) I strongly suggest Amazon Instant Video over iTunes.
Compare your costs, but consider the hassle. It’s much more convenient to pay for cable and have all your tv shows sitting on your DVR.
My Decision Breakdown
Here’s how my items were broken down:
- Blu-ray – $9.50/mo – Although I didn’t need this for my family room, I wanted the ability to watch my shows upstairs in my exercise room while walking on the treadmill. $115 spread out over a year.
- Hulu – $8/mo – I have paid for Hulu on and off, but with no cable I would need to keep Hulu. In Hulu, I can watch: Bones, Burn Notice, Castle, Don’t Trust the B, Glee, Psych, SNL, South Park, and White Collar.
- Amazon Instant Video – $5/mo – Doctor Who is typically 13 episodes a year at $2 an episode = ~$2 a month. Using the same math, True Blood costs me about $3 a month.
- DVDs or Seasons – $10/mo – For items I’m currently downloading, I need to budget for the purchase of the season later. I’m currently doing 2, but budgeting for 3, that’s $40 a season annually.
Total cost of Cable: ~$65 a month – If I have cable/dish, I would want the bigger package that has HBO and BBC America. I also want DVR. Total cost without Cable: $32.50 a month
How to Drop Your Services
I overwhelmingly decided to drop my cable service. If you’re feeling lazy and want to use my methods, here’s what to do:
- Call and Cancel – Keep in mind that if you have cable broadband services, it is most likely cheaper to keep your basic cable than to drop it. So one option to consider is to keep basic cable, DVR your network shows and do your cable shows online. Another option is to switch to DSL. I did the math. Cable company – phone, high speed internet, basic cable, DVR, and all taxes = $101. Phone company – 2 phone lines (for free line installation), high speed internet, and all taxes = $71. I was effectively paying $30 for basic cable and DVR.
- Purchase equipment – I STRONGLY recommend the Panasonic DMP-BDT220 Integrated Wi-Fi 3D Blu-ray DVD Player. It connects wirelessly to your home network and has apps for Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon streaming. You can also listen to Pandora on it. And one of the best features is it’s ability to do DLNA. That means you can watch video files stored in your networked computer or hard drive.
- Make a List of Shows – decide what shows you want to watch. You can make a checklist at www.mytvrss.com.
- Check Hulu – see which of those shows you can get on Hulu. You can set up reminders on Hulu to email you when there’s a new show in your queue. You’ll want to go set up your favorite shows. You’ll need to keep on top of this since episodes are available for 30 days after their air date. This costs $8 a month – well worth it even if you only watch 2-3 shows.
- Check Amazon – Amazon Instant Video is is your best go-to spot to buy episodes and have them delivered instantly to your TV (or device). Example: Doctor Who episodes air on Saturday nights. When I wake on Sunday morning, the latest episode is sitting in my Amazon library waiting for me. No need to get on the computer.
- Download other content – again, I stress – don’t download anything you haven’t paid for! Or, if you can’t pay for it yet, make sure you’re paying for it when you can. You can automate the download process using EZTV (ezRSS) with uTorrent. Instructions at uTorrent, though it is not flawless. Or you can do it manually:
- Set up reminders – You have a few options. A) If you like RSS feeds, you can set up one with your favorite shows at www.mytvrss.com. It tells you when a new episode airs. You can set up one for your Hulu shows and one for the ones that need downloaded. B) You can check airtimes and set up reminders in your calendar. C) You can set up Clicker to send you email reminders. D) You can just wait and download all your shows for the week that weekend.
- Download – When it’s time, head to your favorite bit torrent site and download your episodes. When you start a season, set a reminder in your calendar to purchase that season when it comes out in a year.
- Watch your shows! – Kick back and watch your shows every week on your tv. If you’re curious about how to set up a DLNA system, check out my article.