Technology offers new options for video

Ditching Cable

by Jennifer Beam

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When it comes to cutting expenses in the household budget, eliminating luxuries is one of the first things budgeting gurus advise. Some luxury cuts, like daily lattes and unlimited texting, are easier to take than say canceling cable television. Yet many people refuse to examine the win-win possibility of ditching cable in favor of more economically equitable options. Exchanging the higher costs of cable television for lower cost home entertainment options doesn't have to mean abandoning television viewing altogether. In fact, there are numerous options to examine, which could save you hundreds of dollars a year.

If you've been on the fence about ditching cable, begin with a genuine audit of your cable provider's package. Depending on your current package, you may have better options or you might have the best deal. A genuine audit begins with adding up the number of channels you actually watch, subtracting out the network channels that are available over-the-air for free, and then dividing your monthly bill by that number to find out how much you actually pay for access to those channels. For instance, if you subscribe to a 200 channel cable package for $50 a month, but only watch 20 channels regularly, minus five network stations (ABC, CBS, NBC, CW, FOX), you are paying about $3.33 a month for each of those channels. Granted, channel surfers and sports and news junkies may see a drastically different value due to the increased number of channel viewing, but the exercise still provides a clear idea of value.

So, if you feel you're spending too much for what you're getting, but aren't comfortable giving up your entertainment options, look at the alternatives that have been born out of technological advancements. If you are able to get over-the-air channels with a simple digital tuner and quality antennae, maybe you can satisfy your television viewing needs for no monthly fee at all. However, if you've been spoiled with HD, DVR and on-demand features, there's an abundance of alternative options for you as well.

Unlike regionalized cable and satellite providers, subscription services for streaming internet video and downloadable content like Netflix, Hulu, and Blockbuster are all available anywhere broadband internet access is available. In fact, you may get more bang for your entertainment buck with these services because they are mobile. You can watch at home or on any mobile device with Wi-Fi capability. Subscription services for Netflix begin at just $8 a month and similar prices are available with Hulu Plus. Blockbuster also provides an on-demand service for movies and television shows that have made it to DVD and their subscription includes games. Though the price of these subscriptions is typically far less than cable fees, there are a few disadvantages to consider.

Subscription services for streaming video require a broadband connection and the tech resources to enable their use. If you don't currently have internet service, you'll have to add the price of service into your budget. However, it's a safe bet that the majority of you already pay for broadband so you may as well get the most out of it. All that is required is an internet-ready television, compatible gaming system, or a computer that can be hooked up to your television. It may seem daunting for the technologically challenged, but it's really quite simple.

Unfortunately, none of these subscription services provide live access to cable network shows. Some shows may not be available at all and others may not be available until immediately or days after the original show airs. They also do not provide access to live sporting events. However, many sports networks do provide online viewing options for major events.

In order to eliminate your cable bill, you may have to adjust some of your television viewing habits, but between Netflix and Hulu Plus, you can easily have access to popular shows and movies for around $20 a month. Granted, the less expensive packages can be more limiting than the higher priced ones, but the subscription can be adjusted if needed, and unlike many starter deals with cable and satellite providers, there is no contract or fee to cancel.

2010 was a record year for cable and satellite providers, but not in a good way. They reported the biggest loss in subscribers in their recorded history and you can bet this is a reflection of the lower-cost alternatives available through the internet. If you'd like to become a statistic, save money and still be able to watch your favorite shows and movies, then all it takes is a little research and number crunching. You can easily eliminate your cable bill and still reap home entertainment value by jumping on board the streaming video bandwagon.

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