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Cut the Cable: Watch TV for Less





Are you tired of writing cheques your cable provider in perpetuity? Although cable may seem like a small expense, it can really add up over a lifetime – $75 a month on cable over 50 years amounts to $45,000 (this doesn’t account for yearly cable increases and opportunity cost). A lot of people consider TV a necessity like food and shelter. Instead of putting your cable technician’s kids through university, lets look at cable alternatives to save you money.

TV Series on DVD and Blu-Ray

Depending on your TV watching habits, TV series on DVD and Blu-Ray can be a great cable alternative. Start by examining your TV viewing habits – do you have a few favourite shows or do you prefer to channel surf and watch a different show every evening? If you selected the former, you should consider TV shows on DVD and Blu-Ray.  You can buy a season of a TV series for $30-$50 at most retailers (they often go on sale). There are two downsides – they can get quite pricey – for example, Law & Order: The Complete Series is listed at $489.99 on Amazon.ca.  Also, only the most popular TV series are available on DVD and Blu-Ray.

To save even more you should definitely check out the collection available at your local public library – you can even put in requests to order DVDs and Blu-Rays at your local branch. Sharing with friends is also a great way to save money and expand your home collection.

Streaming TV Shows from the Internet

High speed Internet is ubiquitous today – why not take advantage and stream your favourite shows? There are a host of fantastic free and paid services available for Canadians. Major Canadian networks like Global, CBC and CTV allow you to stream the latest episodes of your favourite shows from their websites for free. Episodes are posted a couple days after airing (unlike Rogers on Demand, which sometimes takes over a week). One major downside is there is a limited selection – only the most recent episodes are offered.

If you’re a fan of older TV series or you’re looking for a wider variety, for $7.99 a month you can subscribe to Netflix. Netflix offers thousands of TV shows and movies for download. The selection is decent, although you won’t likely find the most recent TV seasons for download. You can sign up for a free 1-month trial and try before you subscribe. Watching Netflix is convenient and easy – stream Netflix directly to your TV through your video game console or purchase an HDMI cable and use your HDTV set as a second display (please note you may require a new video card).

Watching TV on your iPad

If you’re constantly on the run, the iPad is a great cable alternative. You can watch TV shows and movies in two ways – iTunes or apps. iTunes offers an excellent selection of the both latest TV shows and past seasons. However, iTunes can get quite pricey – high definition episodes cost $2.99, while standard definition episodes cost $1.99.

If you’re looking for free content, most major Canadian and U.S. TV networks have free apps for download. Some apps even offer an enhanced experience, allowing you to live chat with fellow fans and answer trivia questions. If you’re tired of watching TV shows on the small screen of the iPad, you can purchase the Apple VGA Adapter cable and connect your iPad to your TV for the whole family to enjoy.

Apple TV

If you have an Apple computer you can purchase Apple TV for $149 and wirelessly stream TV shows to your HDTV. Apple TV lets you play 1080p HD videos from iTunes, Netflix and watch YouTube videos from the comfort of your couch. The selection of shows is impressive – it’s probably better to subscribe to Netflix because downloading episodes from iTunes can get quite expensive. YouTube is best if you subscribe to official channels from your favourite shows, as exclusive video clips and complete episodes are sometimes posted.

Antenna and Over the Air (OTA)

A while back MDJ did an excellent article on getting free HDTV over the air (OTA) . If you’re located near the U.S. border, you should be able to get a decent number of TV channels with an antenna. Antennas are great if just want to turn on your TV and start watching without using your computer or your iPad. For $40 you can purchase a decent antenna, then mount it on your roof, and purchase 100 feet of cable and you’re good to go. Be sure to check out the channels available in your area before setup – most basic cable channels like Global, CBC, CTV, NBC and Fox are available.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are plenty of decent cable alternatives. Keep in mind none of these cable alternatives are mutually exclusive – you can use a combination of any to catch your favourite shows. Why pay $75 a month for 500 channels when you don’t have to?

Do you think cable is still worth the hefty price? Do you have your own cable alternatives? Please share with us in the comments.

About the AuthorSean Cooper is a single, 20-something year old, first time home buyer located in Toronto. He has experience in the financial sector as a Pension Analyst, RESP administrator and Income Tax Preparer. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce in business management from Ryerson University.





39 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. 1. Millionaire

    And with OTA most people don’t know but you get 1080P quality and the TV guide on screen as well.

    But here in Quebec we are kind of tied to cable as no cable means no Montreal Canadian games and almost no french TV. Sad.

  2. 2. Oliver D

    Apple TV is actually only $109, not $149.

  3. I have had no problem cutting cable, and haven’t paid for cable TV in about 7 years. I’ve tried to get my friends to drop cable, but many people are sports fans, and need to watch the games live and in HD. I don’t see how this can possibly be worth $75/month, but to each their own.

    What are some ways people can watch live sports for cheaper than buying cable?

  4. 4. SST

    We cut cable every spring for 6 months.
    Then in the fall/winter, we call them up to see what kind of deal they offer us. Works out well.

    One option is missing: downloading TV shows and movies from the internet for FREE. It is still very much LEGAL in Canada. If you can stand to watch your favorite show one day later or the latest blockbuster a couple months after its theatre release, it’s very much worth it. I haven’t rented a movie in years.

    Besides that, most of what is on teevee is complete garbage (including the “news”).

    As for sports, I’m a big cycling fan. No N.American station carries any “non-ball” sports so I just stream live from a variety of stations in Europe. An excited Flemish announcer is much entertainment!

  5. 5. DanP

    @SST, Is downloading tv shows really legal in canada? I’ve never heard of that.

  6. 6. JM

    I’ve cut cable for like 3 years and I personally love it. To be honest, the real savings is by not having to watch commercials. By avoiding commercials, it stops you and your kids from being tempted to buying stuff. Also, to watch one show, you save a lot of time. If you normally watch 2 x 30 min shows per day, that’s like at 15 minutes per day so about 7.5 hours per month. That’s a solid work day right there to do something else or use it make money.

    One thing to note is the added cost can add up. For example, for any streaming or downloading TV shows you do need a generous internet connection and bandwidth cap to even consider this and may cost you to up your internet package another $10 or switching to a smaller company like Teksavvy that offers a larger bandwidth amount.

  7. 7. saveddijon

    Beware bandwidth caps!

    Downloading video (legally or otherwise) uses up a lot of bandwidth. If you are billed extra for being over quota then this can get expensive.

  8. 8. Don Tanner

    Netflix is not a particularly good choice in Canada. Yes, it is inexpensive, but their choices in movies is horrible.

    For any serious sports fan, cable or satellite is the only decent option.

    There is also much more to cable/ satellite than just run of the mill sitcoms and dramas which, as you say, are readily available online. The channels I watch most frequently (after sports, of course!!) are HGTV, Discovery, History, National Geographic, etc..

    Frankly, I believe I get very good value for my Expressvu dollar.

  9. 9. Peter

    There are a ton of options for watching TV shows without having to pay for cable or satellite. One option we use is to stream shows from our PC to our Xbox using a software called Playon. Playon is basically a bridge between the computer and the TV streaming all of our favorite streaming video services to the TV – things like Hulu, Netflix and streaming shows from the major networks.

    We probably would have canceled cable a long time ago if it weren’t for the fact that I’m a big sports fan, and there aren’t a lot of good options for seeing my teams in real time – unless you pay for a regional sports package on cable. We may still ditch it down the road, and when we do, we’ll be going with Playon and a over the air antenna all the way.

  10. 10. Brandon

    Ethics aside for a moment….

    @DanP, I don’t think downloading copyrighted material is legal… but because of our outdated laws it may not fall into the category of “illegal”. So what SST may be referring to is actually a technicality. I also read somewhere that according to Canadian law, the act of recording a television show for later or repeated consumption is illegal (so using your PVR would be illegal). Interesting!

    Major US firms catch people “illegally downloading” by tracing their IP address to their internet service provider (ISP) and threatening them. The ISP will then hand over the downloader’s personal information and eventually a lawsuit happens. As far as I know, this DOES NOT happen in Canada. Canadian ISPs do not hand over personal information. This could change soon (or has already changed). If you are downloading, you should keep an eye on news sites and check out openparliament.ca

    Re: bandwidth caps

    Rogers and Bell have terrible bandwidth caps. Check for local providers in your area (teksavvy.com and acanac.ca are great alternatives in SW Ontario). I’ve been with Acanac for 3 years now. I pay less money and I have no download cap. The internet quality has been top notch . There have been a few hiccups, usually once a year that lasts for a day, but I’m paying less for internet so I’m happy!

    Re: Streaming from major networks

    A lot of US networks will not allow Canadians to stream their content. There’s a service to get around this and it’s extremely simple to use. Check out unblock-us.com. This service will trick several websites into thinking you are visiting from the US. It will also remove blackout restrictions from streaming services such as MLB and NHL Gamecenter Live. If you only have cable for locally broadcast NHL games, unblock-us and gamecenter live will be a perfect combination. You can set this up on the PS3, ipad, desktop, laptop, possibly the wii… They support a lot of devices!

  11. 11. Oliver D

    unblock-us also allows you to use the U.S. version of Netflix, which is far superior to the Canadian one. It also gives you access to the BBC iPlayer, which has a lot of great content (I use it primarily for F1 coverage).

  12. 12. Karen

    I cut Shaw cable off two years ago and got 2 things: an $8-a-month Netflix subscription and, more recently, a $10-a-month streamingVPN.com subscription.

    The streamingVPN.com service essentially tricks the websites into thinking your ISP is located in the the required country (I only use it for the US/UK). It was really easy to set up in your network preferences.

    So when I use the UK setting, I can access all the incredible shows on BBC and Channel 4 (plowing my way through 18 seasons of ‘Time Team’ right now with periodic forays into ‘Location, Location, Location’ reruns and ‘Live At 10′. I sit through the ads but I figure they have to make money somewhere).

    When I use the US setting, aside from access the major channels’ shows (which I don’t bother watching), I also use my Canada-based Netflix subscription password and get the incredible US-based Netflix selections. I can access Hulu, too, I guess. I will stick up for the Canadian Netflix, though. I discovered ‘Justified’, ‘Luther’ and ‘Sherlock Holmes’ there.

    I’ve also simply googled shows I’d be interested in and see what pops up in the ‘videos’ search field. Got to watch all of ‘To The Ends Of The Earth’ on youtube and am now am watching a BBC documentary series on the Vikings invasion in the UK on http://www.dailymotion.com.

    At one point I got the BBC iPlayer iPad app (free) and a one month subscription for about $11. Had a hankering after watching ‘Time Team’ to watch all the Black Adder series. Well worth it if I’m travelling just with my iPad.

    And if I don’t need the subscriptions, it’s really simple to just unsubscribe until I get the hankering again (like in the summer when I spend more time outside or on vacation).

    I just make sure the video quality is always set to ‘medium’ (not HD) and I’m perfectly happy watching things on my 6-year-old iMac and never paying more than $20 a month for the privilege.

  13. 13. SST

    Yes, downloading torrents of teevee shows or movies (or music) is not illegal. In fact, it’s HUGE in Canada. Why do you think so many torrent sites have their HQs here? And no, it is no “technicality”, it actually is legal. (UPloading on the other hand…)

    And the minute the gov’t lifts their ‘blank media tax’ — a whole-hog assumption by the government that recordable media will be used for copyrighted material — I’ll stop legally downloading copyrighted material.

    What the joke?
    Jail time for uploading Michael Jackson: 5 years.
    Jail time for killing Michael Jackson: 4 years.

    Another cable-free/streaming option for Canadians, if you have friends/relatives in the US, route your cable through their IP, giving you access to restricted (ie. US only) material.

  14. 14. SavingMentor

    I’ve never paid for cable in my life actually and I watch more TV now than I ever have for free without doing any quasi-legal downloading. There are a lot more Canadian sites out there that stream stuff other than CTV, CBC, and Global – although those are the best ones.

    I’d also like to point out one minor correction. The TV shows are always made available the following day after they air on cable – not 2 days or a week.

    Personally, I have an Acer Revo set up as my home theater PC connected to my 50″ plasma and stream shows on demand. Much better than a PVR really because you get all the functionality of a PVR without having to set up anything to record. Not all shows are in 1080p HD, but to tell you the truth the quality is very good and I rarely notice. I have 15mbps/15mbps (down/up) internet with no cap, so it works out really well for us. Instead of 3 minute commercial segments, there are 2 15 second commercials per segment which you barely notice. Not even enough time for a glass of water or a trip to the bathroom.

    I list over 30 Canadian channels that stream full length episodes in my guide to free internet TV.

  15. 15. Stephen

    I would recommend the Boxee Box over the Apple TV. It’s 189, so more expensive, but it makes streaming from the networks sites easy plus it too has a netflix app (plus many other apps)

  16. 16. Millionaire

    Almost all my TV watching and radio listening is done through the internet (torrents or streaming) and i just have a regular high speed internet connection and I don’t remember the last time I busted the cap. Unless you sit all day long in front of the tv don’t worry about that.

  17. 17. shy1

    You want streaming American tv or netfilx….simple….Strong VPN….I know someone who has it up and running…..not illegal….

    You want the best sports around?……simple…..get a Directv account with all the sports packages and split with 5-6 friends…..probably a gray area…..mmmm…..maybe a little on the bad side…. but those Superbowl commercials are great…

    ;)

  18. 18. aylaeh

    i see that someone else mentioned playon. i have been using playon for about a year and half. I LOVE IT! playon is awesome. i have had a few technical issues and within 10 minutes (if it is an issue on playon’s end) it has been taken care of.

  19. 19. nobleea

    As has been mentioned, since the govt introduced the ‘licensing tax’ on blank media, which is given to record and video companies, downloading is legal in Canada.

    We don’t have cable. I don’t think we’ve had it in our adult lives. The exception is the olympics, we’ll pay for a month or two to be able to watch the olympics. You’d be surprised at how much time you have in your life to create value once there is no tv watching. More time to play with your kids, earn more money, cook better meals, excercise. Plus it saves money.

  20. 20. Brandon

    The blank media tax only goes to the Canadian Private Copying Collective. They give the money to recording artists, musicians, song writers, etc. This is only music related. Television and movie actors, studios, crew, etc do not get a cut.

  21. 21. SavingMentor

    @noblea – the olympics are broadcast free online in their entirety. I watched all the olympic events from Vancouver 2010 that I wanted online.

    @Brandon – I agree about the tax. I don’t know all the details about it but what you said makes sense.

    I think hiding behind that is a bit of an excuse because it is obvious that those taxes don’t end up directly in the hands of the artists or television show producers. At least if you stream a show through a network’s website they have a way of tracking what’s popular and generating advertising dollars.

    Not trying to say I’ve never done anything quasi-legal or quasi-moral, because I do use Grooveshark to listen to music instead of buying it. Although, when I started using it I was under the impression that they were doing everything they could to pay artists royalties. Since then, it’s become clear that although they do pay out some royalties that the artists are still getting screwed and they aren’t really playing fair. I haven’t stopped using it yet though.

  22. 22. Terrie

    I see no mention of HULU service in your article, just NetFlix. I bought a Roku player that streams stratight to my tv. HULU tv has a lot of the current tv shows. They are not shown at the time of airing, but they do show shortly there after. There is also a great selection of newer movies and the classics. I just watched The Lincoln Lawyer and that is only a few months old.
    I pay the same for NetFlix and for HULU and they are well worth the price. By the way, with Roku I can get several channels with 1000′s of movies from around the world. Plus news and music stations. Well worth the $99 price tag and my unit is HDMI ready (which I have).

  23. 23. Oliver D

    Terrie, there’s no mention of Hulu because it isn’t available in Canada unless you use a US-based VPN or a DNS service like unblock-us. The Roku just started being sold in Canada recently and the channel selection is much more limited than it is in the US.

    Someone suggested the Boxee Box instead of an Apple TV. I like mine but it is a bit buggy and not as user friendly as an Apple TV.

  24. 24. Seth

    Nice post….for me 7.99 Netflix and YT is enough….can’t pay for watching louder advertisements!

    Appreciate if someone would post about cutting Internet bill. Right now Shaw guys suck 73 bucks per month from my budget for 50Mbps speed. I’ll be happy if I get true 25 Mbps (preferably wireless as I work from home). I talked to Telus but best they provide is 15Mbps in my area and I’ve heard all sorts of horror stories about their service.

  25. 25. umhamlin

    I’m watching Sens Rangers on CBC HD here in Montreal, I get about 6HD channels for a 1x investment of $40.

    Give antennas a try people!

    Cheers.

  26. 26. SST

    @Mentor: “it is obvious that those taxes don’t end up directly in the hands of the artists…”

    Actually they do. But the distribution is based upon radio play (?!?!).

    Thus, when I buy a blank CD, a good portion of my tax is going into the pockets of Nickelback — to whom I would NEVER consciously give a rejected penny — instead of, let’s say, Matt Andersen.

    Back to cable….

  27. @ed it’s getting more and more common for live sports to be available on the Internet sometimes at an extra cost. It’s only a matter of time before everything you could possibly want is available legally online unless there is a complete reversal of course.

  28. 29. Jimmy

    Nice link Ed. I am a huge football (the NFL variety) fan and could not do away without cable for that very reason. I am only paying $30/month with Rogers for basic and that is something I can live with. Just think about the money you save by staying in to watch the games and NOT going out :-)

    Live sports is possibly the last bastion for TV and once we can reliably and affordably stream live sports games from the Internet, that would be it for me.

    Or invest in Rogers stocks and get some of that fee back ^_^

  29. @ Everyone

    Thanks for all the great feedback! It’s great to hear a lot of people are finding smart ways to catch their favourite shows without paying for cable.

    I recently cancelled cable and couldn’t be happier. The only thing I miss is turning on the TV in the morning to see the weather, but with an antenna that can quickly be solved. I will definitely be switching to teksavvy soon because Roger’s internet caps are ridiculous. Streaming from Canadian networks is great – a lot better than Rogers on Demand. I had to wait a week for new episodes of Lang and O’Leary Exchange – CBC.ca posts them the next day. Who wants to talk about business news at the water cooler that is a week late?

  30. 31. Marianne

    We’ve never paid for cable and don’t miss out on anything. I recently posted about all the sources for TV we use on my blog: http://preservingpennies.com/slashing-expenses-cheap-entertainment-in-our-home/
    I would love if we could watch Hulu here in Canada though (without having to use unblock us or anything like that). We do a lot of downloading as well and have never had any usage issues. We also recently switched to Teksavvy and love it! It is much faster than our internet from Bell was and half the price!

  31. 32. Joy

    Hi there,

    This is useful information. I have rogers cable and I am thinking of cutting it at the end of my contract. For me CNN is one of my major news channels and any other channnel where I can get soccer to watch. Is there anyway that I can get CNN to watch for free like some of the other US channels.

  32. 33. Ty Webb

    I’m a big sports fan and I have no problem with no cable. I get 20 HD channels on my antenna. Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday, and every night during the playoffs, every NFL game except for Monday nights and I get U.S. Super Bowl commercials. Baseball on Fox, golf, tennis, NBA, NHL on NBC. Blue Jays games are all free on the web to Rogers customers, (my work cellphone is on Rogers). Any more sports watching and I’d need a divorce lawyer!

  33. 34. Lazslo

    I don’t know if it makes sense on a blog which promotes frugal living, to recommend buying Apple products. You can’t own Apple products and be frugal.

  34. If I were living alone, I’d cut it for sure. But with 2 roommates, its $15 each so we’ll “splurge” for now. But we dropped all the premium channels as soon as our promotion ran out.

    Another tip to save on cable, if you’re living with a student, get them to sign up and take advantage of the student deals ;)

  35. 36. DS

    Cut the cable and tossed out the TV (sold it) 5 years ago… have never looked back! One of the best decisions we have ever made.

    Everything we need, we get on the interweb. We watch shows with intention (meaning we watch exactly what we want to watch, when we want to watch it) vice plopping down on the couch and staring slack-jawed at the TV channel surfing for an hour until something mildly interesting comes on.

    With no TV we get outside more with nice walks after dinner or events around town, or we can enjoy an evening in – working on a *fun* project around the house, learning something new together (baking has been our latest adventure in bad weather), reading or educating ourselves, planning investments strategies, planning vacations, or even just making-out on the couch like teenagers!

    Now thats entertainment!!! ;)

    I challenge everyone to put the TV in a closet or under the stairs for a couple of months – it is really easy after week 2. There are times I miss hockey but for the odd game I can’t find online, or if a friend is not hosting, I can head to the pub if I really need to watch it. … and our marriage has definitely improved!

    After about an 8 month stint without a TV I was at a hotel and popped it on. I realized at one point that I had been laying on the bed for 2 hours and had: 1) not missed a thing – it was all the same crappy shows; and 2) I hadn’t actually watched any single channel for more then 5 or 10 mins before I flipped to the next channel. I got up and left the room for a walk around a town that I had never seen before. 5 years later… same crappy shows still on when I end up in a hotel room.

    Cheers
    DS

  36. 37. Charlie

    I hate T.V. and all their ads… plus you don’t get the content or information you want when you want. And I also consider it is a total waste of my life (you only have one life and very short amount of time on this planet, so why become a cash-giving or ad-watching zombie for those media companies). So I don’t watch and even less pay for cable/satellite TV. Cable internet, 8mbps, 75Gigs @ 29$/mth is more than enough for me to get all the news and music I need. Oh, and I have an “all you can rent” plan for 9.99/mth at the DVD store (3 movies at a time, new ones excluded) for my kids and my action/drama fix. When I need to get my hockey fix, I go to the sport bar next door and have a 12$ supper with friends… and a drink.

  37. 38. SomeDude

    good entry.

    one random comment i’d like to make is that for guys at least, the number one reason to have cable is to be able to watch sports live. i’m a guy and currently don’t have cable. i don’t mind that much cause i can get the news online and TV shows are easy to get with what you mentioned (I actually prefer to watch TV shows marathon style) the only reason i sometimes contemplate getting cable is sports. watching sports online is kinda blah…

  38. 39. Kareb

    I’m not a guy, but I’m a Seattle Mariners fan.

    I subscribed to mlb.com for a year for something like $100US. It was crazy with features and choices on how to view the game.

    I ended up not subscribing the next year because I felt I was watching just waaaaay too much.

    But while I was in its thrall, it was glorious. Don’t know about hockey subscriptions, though. Never particularly liked the game so never felt the need for viewing it… .

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