En español | Judy and Andrew Serbinski enjoyed their fix of favorite stations such as the Food Network and Turner Classic Movies. But after years of dealing with signal interruptions, poor customer service and high bills, they decided to pull the plug on cable TV. Three years later, they have no regrets.
"We were never thrilled with the quality of most TV programs," says Judy, 63, who now fills the viewing void with Netflix. "Cutting the cord is very freeing, not to mention cheaper."
The Serbinskis, of Franklin Township, N.J., aren't alone. Experian Marketing Services estimates that as of last year more than 7.6 million American homes had cut their cable or satellite television, up from 5.1 million in 2010.
Small wonder, considering the average monthly bill for expanded basic cable is $64, roughly triple what consumers paid in 1995. And the NPD Group, a marketing firm, predicts that the average monthly cable and satellite tab will be $200 by 2020.
Pay-TV operators are not eager to talk about the trend: Comcast and DirecTV declined to comment for this article; Time Warner Cable, AT&T and Dish Network didn't respond to requests for an interview. But if the numbers don't add up for you, consider cutting the cord and turning to an antenna or the Internet for your viewing pleasure.
An antenna lets you receive free over-the-air high-definition channels from NBC, Fox, CBS, ABC, PBS and others (check tvfool.com for coverage in your viewing area).
Decent over-the-air TV depends on where you live and the line of sight between your antenna and broadcast towers, says Dan Tynan, Yahoo! Tech columnist. A set-top antenna, he says, costs around $40; a roof- or attic-mounted one can run $100 or more. They're available at major retailers such as Walmart or Target. "In some small markets, you can get a dozen channels," notes Tynan. "In larger markets, over 100."
Viewing on demand
A robust Internet connection, on the other hand, permits online channels to be streamed to your Internet-connected television, PC, tablet and smartphone. Paid services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime offer thousands of films and TV episodes on demand, and original series such as House of Cards and Alpha House. These and many ad-supported free channels — including YouTube and Crackle — can be viewed via smart TVs or Wi-Fi streaming devices such as Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, game consoles and many Blu-ray players.
"Streaming offers the ability to choose your own content and decide when you want to watch," says David Fannon, executive vice president of Popcornflix, a free movie streaming channel. Wi-Fi streaming does require some technical savvy to get that content up and running; additionally, good viewing quality requires a high-speed Internet connection. Other options include renting discs from Redbox (with kiosks at supermarkets and drugstores), and libraries, which often lend DVDs for free.
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