Saturday, July 13, 2024

12 Free or Cheap Options for Cable

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Editor’s Note: This story comes from CableTV.com.

If you’re looking to save money by chopping away at your TV bill, you don’t have to quit TV cold turkey.

Our TV experts have rounded up a bunch of affordable, low-cost TV options including a cheap cable TV-and-internet bundle, inexpensive and free live TV streaming services, and over-the-air (OTA) HDTV antennas.

1. Cable packages and bundles

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We know: “cheap cable TV package” is almost a laughable idea — but such packages are out there.

Read on to learn about a cheap cable TV package from Spectrum and a basic cable TV-and-internet bundle from Astound Broadband powered by RCN.

And also a public service announcement about basic cable packages (just say no).

2. Spectrum

Spectrum cable company
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  • Plan: Spectrum TV Select Signature
  • Price: $59.99/month for 12 months
  • Channels: 150+

With Spectrum TV Select Signature, you get 150+ channels — including nearly all of the most popular cable channels — all in free HD for only $59.99 a month for the first 12 months.

This cable TV package is a fantastic value, costing less than many other providers’ basic cable TV and live TV streaming plans, and it has more than double the channel count.

3. Astound

Women watching TV
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  • Plan: Basic TV + 300 Mbps Internet
  • Price: $33.49–$57.78/month
  • Channels: 70+
  • Download speeds up to: 300 Mbps

Basic TV packages, while cheap, usually aren’t worth it, because you can get all the same channels with an OTA antenna.

But if you have to get a basic cable package, your cheapest bet is to bundle it with internet from Astound Broadband.

Unfortunately, Astound’s packages vary by region, and are only available in Boston, Chicago, D.C., Pennsylvania (Lehigh), New York (Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens), and Philadelphia.

So if you’re in the Boston, Chicago, D.C., or the Lehigh or Philadelphia areas of Pennsylvania, we recommend the 300 Mbps bundle listed above.

4. Basic cable packages

Woman with remote control watching TV
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While basic cable packages might seem like an affordable alternative to chunkier cable TV packages, we don’t recommend them.

Instead of paying monthly for a basic cable TV package, you can buy an over-the-air (OTA) TV antenna for $25-$60 and get the same local broadcast channels and subchannels.

Keep reading to learn more.

5. Cable and satellite TV providers at a glance

Woman watching TV
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To help you compare TV services, here’s a brief overview of other cable and satellite TV providers’ standalone TV plans by provider, price, and channel count.

  • Astound Broadband, Cheapest: $116.04-$151.95/month, 287-304+
  • Cox, Excellent DVR: $56.00–$139.00/month, 75-250+
  • DIRECTV, Many regional sports networks: 69.99-$159.99/month, 165-340+
  • DIRECTV STREAM, Most live streaming channels: $69.99-$159.99/month, 75-150+
  • DISH, Best overall: $92.99-$117.99/month, 190-290+
  • Optimum, $500 contract buyout: $35.00-$115.00/month, 50-420+
  • Spectrum, Best value: $59.99/month, 150+
  • Verizon Fios, Most channels: $60.00-$119.00/month, 60-425+
  • Xfinity, X1 DVR: $20.00-$80.00/month, 10-185+

6. Over-the-air (OTA) TV

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Over-the-air (OTA) TV, or broadcast TV, is a type of HDTV broadcast from local stations in your area. The signals are sent over the air, and you need an HDTV antenna to pick them up.

Going OTA is one of the cheapest cable alternatives. You can pick up an OTA antenna for $20-$60 on Amazon and watch TV for free without monthly fees.

Our current recommended antenna, the Mohu Leaf 50, is currently $49.99 on Amazon.

Use this tool from the FCC to see where local stations are broadcasting from so that you know what kind of range you need from your antenna.

If you don’t purchase a strong-enough antenna, you might not be able to watch certain channels.

Also, these are only broadcast channels, so be warned that you won’t be able to watch your cable favorites with OTA TV. If you’re new to OTA TV, be sure to read our OTA TV post to discover the pros and cons of this low-cost TV option.

7. Streaming live TV

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In general, if you have a reliable internet connection, we recommend going with a live TV streaming service.

Live TV streaming services combine live channels and on-demand streaming in (typically) a single, affordable plan without the contracts that come with most cable TV providers.

YouTube TV and Sling TV are two of the strongest live TV streaming services out there and they’re both cheaper than most cable TV packages.

8. YouTube TV

TV remote control seen in front of the YouTube TV logo
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  • Price: $72.99/month
  • Channels: 100+
  • Streams: 3
  • Cloud DVR storage: Unlimited

YouTube TV is our pick for the best overall live TV streaming service. It has 100+ channels, a generous on-demand library, unlimited cloud DVR, and three streams for $72.99/month.

YouTube TV also boasts a healthy menu of premium channel add-on packs.

9. Sling

Sling TV
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  • Price: $40.00-$55.00/month
  • Channels: 30-45+
  • Streams: 1-4
  • Cloud DVR storage: 50 hours

Sling TV has smaller channel lineups but plenty of cheap add-ons. And, in our expert opinion, it’s the best streaming service for kids, with many children’s channels.

It also has a solid selection of premium channel add-ons, including some great sports channel packs.

10. Philo

Philo TV
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  • Price: $25.00/month
  • Channels: 70+
  • Streams: 3
  • Cloud DVR storage: Unlimited

If you’re looking for something even cheaper, Philo gives you 60+ channels, unlimited DVR, and three streams for only $25 per month).

If you’re having a hard time choosing between services, at least Philo offers a seven-day free trial.

11. Best live TV streaming alternatives to cable

Surprised father and sun watching TV or streaming a movie in shock on the couch
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  • Hulu + Live TV—Best value ($76.99-$89.99/month, 85+ channels)
  • Sling TV—Best for kids ($40.00-$55.00/month, 30-45+ channels)
  • YouTube TV—Best overall ($72.99/month, 100+ channels)
  • Philo—Good for lifestyle and entertainment channels ($25.00/month, 70+ channels)
  • fuboTV—Best for sports ($74.99-$94.99/month, 140-215+ channels)

12. Free live TV streaming services

A couple sits on a couch watching TV
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There aren’t any free cable TV options (aside from stealing it from a neighbor, which we’re absolutely not recommending) — but there are plenty of ways to stream live TV for free.

They all involve watching ads, but these free TV services have to pay for the content somehow:

  • Pluto: Instantly watch 250+ live channels with looped classic programming from Animal Planet, Comedy Central, Investigation Discovery, MTV, Shout! Factory, Showtime, and more. Most content is available on-demand, too.
  • Peacock: NBCUniversal’s popular livestreaming TV service has a free tier with limited content (about half of the paid tier’s library), which is pretty generous.
  • Tubi: Register for a free account download the app, and 50,000 movies and shows are at your fingertips.
  • Crackle: A smallish library of 700+ titles includes older movies and TV series, but also some quality original programming.
  • Sling Free: You don’t have to subscribe to a Sling TV package in order to watch 80+ live channels (similar to the looped channels of Pluto) and a deep on-demand library. Just download the Sling TV app and click on “Explore Sling Free.”
  • Freevee: You’ll be surprised by the depth and quality of this Amazon-owned free service, which you access through the Prime Video app.

These are just a few of the free, ad-supported TV (FAST) services out there. For more, check out our guide to the Best Free and Cheap Streaming Services.

Final take

A happy woman smiles and holds a remote control while watching TV
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Cheap or free TV service is real. You don’t have to give up TV entirely to make budget cuts.

If you like traditional cable or satellite TV, Astound Broadband has the most affordable internet-and-TV bundle, but it’s essentially a basic cable plan, which we don’t recommend.

If you need only basic local channels, an OTA TV antenna gives you what you want without a monthly payment.

If you want better value and more content than broadcast TV, you still don’t have to break the bank. For standalone TV plans, Spectrum offers 150+ channels for just $59.99 a month.

And if you seek more flexibility than cable television can offer, give live TV streaming services like YouTube TV, Sling TV, or Philo a shot. Or, you know, go ahead and stack all of those freebie services like Peacock, Pluto, Tubi, Crackle, Sling Free, or Freevee.

Next are a few free and low-cost cable TV options FAQ.

What is the cheapest cable company?

Children watching TV
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Astound Broadband’s Basic TV + 300 Mbps Internet offers 70+ channels and speeds up to 300 Mbps starting at $33.49 a month in some regions. (Prices and availability might not be different where you live.)

However, you’re better off getting an OTA antenna and skipping the Basic TV plan altogether.

The best cheap TV plan that we actually recommend is Spectrum’s only TV plan: at $59.99 per month for 150+ channels, it’s a great value.

What is the cheapest way to watch TV without cable?

Friends watching TV
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If you have internet, the live TV streaming service Philo has 60+ channels, unlimited DVR, and three streams for $25 a month.

But if you don’t need your local channels, Pluto TV offers 250+ live channels and tons of on-demand titles for free.

How do I get basic channels for free?

TV
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You don’t need to sign up for a monthly plan just to access basic cable channels. You can easily access your local stations with an OTA (over-the-air) antenna.

They don’t cost very much compared to how much you’d spend on a pricey monthly bill.

How can I watch cable TV for free?

television
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We don’t know of a legal way to watch cable or satellite TV for free. But you can get 250+ channels from Pluto TV for absolutely nothing.

Note, though, that Pluto is ad-supported so you’ll have to watch commercials — and Pluto’s channels are mostly loops of older movies and shows — but it’s all quality stuff from networks like Animal Planet, MTV, Shout! Factory, and Showtime.

You also won’t get your local channels — but an inexpensive over-the-air (OTA) antenna like the Mohu Leaf 50 is reasonably priced (around $60), and it’ll pick up every free channel for 60 miles.

What is the cheapest internet-and-cable TV bundle?

A couple smiles while watching TV on the couch
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If you can get it in your area, Astound Broadband has a cheap internet-and-cable TV bundle.

You can get its Basic TV package (70+ channels) with high-speed internet (up to 300 Mbps in some regions) in a double-play deal that starts at $33.49 a month (for the first 12 months).

How can I reduce my cable bill?

A man watches TV in surprise
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To reduce your cable bill, try these suggestions:

  • Drop down to a cheaper package.
  • Call your provider’s customer retention department and see if you can negotiate a discount — especially if you’ve been a good customer. You can also inquire about cheap cable TV for low-income households.
  • If you can handle commercials, drop cable altogether and use only free, ad-supported services like Pluto TV, Tubi, and more.
  • Xfinity internet-only customers: check out Xfinity Flex, the provider’s content-rich combination streaming device and service.

Methodology

Investing
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Our TV experts regularly research, test, and watch for affordable TV options, then share their thoughts on the services’ value, features, and functionality with our readers.

For more information on our process, see our How We Rank page.

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