The pandemic has made the past few years unique in recent history, but one thing that remained constant is that people continued to drop their cable subscriptions (called “cutting the cord”). The number of people who cut the cord increased in 2023 compared to 2022, bringing the total number of cord-cutters in the United States to 55.1 million.
Whether or not this was part of some larger trend or somehow stimulated by the pandemic and the seemingly endless quarantines remains to be seen. Yet one thing is clear: the cable companies are in trouble.
However, just because "everyone else" is doing it doesn't mean you need to as well. There are still plenty of reasons why you might want to hang onto your paid cable plan.
Read on to get a full status update on the cable industry, as well as everything you need to know about cord-cutting so you can figure out if this is the right move for you in 2024.
The State of Cable
Before going too far into the details of each argument, here are some stats to help you understand just how serious a threat cord-cutting is to cable companies.
The Case for Cutting the Cord
The case for cutting the cord is a strong one. Here are the main reasons people decide to say goodbye to their cable company:
Many people cut the cord because of the cost of cable TV, which seems to go up every year. Comcast customers received notification in late 2020 that video service fees would increase by $5 and box fees would go up by $2.50.
If this were the only time this happened, it might not be that big of an issue. However, the reality is that the cost of a cable TV subscription has skyrocketed over the past twenty years, increasing an average of 5 percent per year. This increase has considerably outpaced inflation, which, according to Business Insider, averaged around 2 percent per year during the same period.
Interestingly, Comcast also introduced data caps and higher internet prices, suggesting it's still struggling to understand why people started turning away from them in the first place.
More Choice and Freedom
Cable TV plans may give you access to hundreds of different channels, but streaming platforms give you far more and better choices regarding content.
For example, Hulu is the go-to spot for hit television shows that are either currently running or off the air. Netflix has some fantastic original content, and Disney+ unlocks not only Disney classics but also Pixar (Toy Story, Finding Nemo), Marvel (Spiderman, The Avengers), and Lucasfilm (Star Wars) movies.
Streaming also gives you the chance to only pay for what you want. If you don't want Disney shows, then don't get Disney+. Cable doesn't really do this. Instead, you need to choose a package that most fits your interests and then deal with all the extra content that comes with it.
This one is admittedly a bit of a judgment call. Still, there's an argument to be made that the content produced for streaming services is better than the alternative, i.e., traditional cable TV and movies.
Part of the reason for this is that streaming services, seeking to remain competitive, are pouring money into original program development. The Queen's Gambit (Netflix), Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness (Netflix), The Mandalorian (Disney+), and Little Fires Everywhere (Hulu) were among the most popular shows across any platform, and countless others have gained critical acclaim.
Plus, this is where all the money is going. Netflix spends billions per year producing content, and Disney announced towards the end of 2020 an impressive gamut of Star Wars related shows that will keep fans busy for many months and years to come. In 2024 we are expecting to see more of them, and there will be more premium shows that come out now that production is in full swing after a slowdown from the pandemic.
Of course, there is plenty of good content on cable, but it does seem that the focus is shifting to streaming platforms.
Another significant advantage of cutting the cord is that you can say goodbye – for the most part – to the worst part about cable TV: the ads.
It's estimated we spend around four years of our lives watching advertisements. Considering the vast majority of them are silly, bordering on stupid, this fact often fills people with a burning frustration that feels suspiciously like anger.
Netflix, HBO Now, Amazon Prime, and Disney Plus do not have any advertisements, which is a huge boost. The cheapest Hulu plan, which costs $7 a month (or zero if you also have Spotify Premium), does include ads, but you can upgrade to the next level, which costs around $13 a month and get rid of the advertisements.
YouTube TV and other live TV streaming services show advertisements since they work in a similar way to cable. However, both of these services have a cloud-based DVR service that allows you to record your favorite shows or pause live TV so that you can skip over the advertisements when you watch. Be aware that YouTube TV will sometimes impose ads on you that you can't skip, so you can't completely escape them.
Cutting the cord probably won't eliminate corporate messaging from your life, but it will reduce it. That's often more than enough of an improvement for those sick of cable and its many antics.
Watch from Anywhere
Another benefit of streaming is that you can watch content from anywhere using your phone, computer, or tablet. All streaming services have apps, which is great for those who travel a lot or commute. You can even download content off the web to watch later without an internet connection.
Some cable companies are adapting and coming up with their own apps that let you access your subscription from anywhere, but for the most part, to watch cable TV, you need to be at home.
Lastly, streaming services are an excellent option because they allow you to share accounts. For example, Netflix's $19.99 a month plan allows you to make up to six accounts and stream using four different screens at a time.
This makes it incredibly easy to save money. You can get together with some of your friends and have each one sign up for a different service. Then, all you need to do is swap passwords. Depending on how many of you there are, you can get five or six streaming services for the price of one. This is an excellent opportunity that certainly helps make streaming a much more attractive option than cable.
With cable, if you want to share your subscription with someone, you need to invite them to your home.
How to Watch TV for Free
If the idea of cutting cable out of your life is appealing, but you want to take things a step further by avoiding paid streaming services, there are a few options out there that will allow you to watch TV for free.
Even if you don't mind paying for streaming, adding these services to your list of video content sources will provide you with an even wider selection of things to watch without costing you more money.
Use a TV Antenna
Probably the best way to watch TV for free is to buy an antenna. These cost between $30-$150, which is an upfront expense, but you can get up to 30 or sometimes even 50 channels at no additional cost once you have it.
This is because many channels, especially the mainstay networks such as ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX, all broadcast their signal digitally. Your antenna will pick it up, and you can get high-definition programming for free.
For some, this might be all you need. For others, it's an excellent way to complement your streaming packages since it gives you access to local channels, which often have live sports, as well as some additional programming you'd have to pay for if you had cable.
Free Streaming Services
Another thing you can do is rely primarily on the sites that allow you to stream for free. In truth, the content on these platforms isn't amazing - you get what you pay for - but there are some hidden gems in there that might make it worth it. Some examples include Sony Crackle and Tubi TV.
Free Trials and Rentals
You can also take advantage of promotions that give you access to streaming videos for free. For example, there are often videos on iTunes that you can rent for free, and sometimes there are some excellent finds.
Another option is to sign up for free trial periods for different services. Most give you a month free so that you can try it out, but you could cancel your subscription before the month is up and then sign up for another one using a different email.
This takes a bit of work on your part but for some, getting free content is worth the effort.
Use a Friend's Account
Another way to watch TV for free is simply to mooch off your friends' accounts. There's a good chance you know people who pay for streaming services, and perhaps you can lay on some of that charm to help you get access to their account without having to pay anything.
This might seem a bit strange but think about it. If your friend gets the service anyway, what's the harm in giving you access to it? Maybe you can work out some other type of transaction to make sure everything stays fair.
The Case for Sticking With Cable
Clearly, there is a compelling argument for ditching cable. Value has gone down, and there are loads of alternatives. However, cutting the cord isn't necessarily a home run.
Make sure to keep in mind the following points about why you should stick with cable before you cancel your subscription and start using something else.
Probably the best thing that cable offers is that it puts all of your entertainment in one spot. All you need to do is turn on your TV, open the guide, select a show, and watch. To get the most out of streaming services, you need to have several, and switching between them and managing each one can be, for some, a real challenge.
Most cable companies have On Demand services, so if you are bored of what's on cable, you can most likely find something else. And once again, everything takes place within the friendly confines of your cable system.
Having everything in one spot is often the main reason people choose to stick with cable. It's up to you to decide if this is the best thing to do or merely the result of people's general apathy towards trying something new.
Is It Actually Cheaper?
When cord-cutting first became a thing, it was most definitely cheaper. There were only one or a few streaming services, and those who cut cable did so knowing they would have access to less content.
However, as the trend has become more widespread, people are cutting the cord and expecting the same amount of value from their new services. If you take this approach, it's unlikely that switching from cable will really be cheaper.
For starters, to watch TV solely over the internet, you need to have a solid internet connection, which will cost you $50 per month or more. From there, you need to sign up for streaming services that are available in 2024.
If you want a live TV option, such as YouTube TV or Hulu + Live TV, that's going to be about $60 per month. Netflix's best plan costs $15 per month, Disney+ costs $7 per month, Hulu with ads is $7 per month, Amazon Prime is $13 per month, and HBO Max is $14 per month.
So, if you get a live TV service and one streaming service, you're already up to $130-$140 per month if we include your internet cost.
Of course, you likely have internet anyway, so this isn't an entirely accurate representation of the cost of cord-cutting. Still, if you are like most people and have two or three streaming services on top of a live TV option, then you're likely spending around $100 per month, roughly the same as you would pay for cable.
In these instances, the decision to cut the cord can no longer be about price. You may find that you prefer the experience streaming platforms offer, but switching doesn't save you money.
So, if you want to cut the cord in 2024 and save money, you need to resist the FOMO and accept that there is some content you won't be able to access.
One way to keep things cheap while maintaining access to multiple platforms is to share them with friends and family. This can dramatically reduce the cost of your monthly bills while not denying you access to all the great content that's out there.
Lastly, one of the key advantages of cable TV is that it provides you with access to live broadcasts, which refers mainly to sports in this day and age.
Of course, there are other ways to watch live sports, such as streaming online (but this is illegal) and signing up for a cable alternative such as YouTube TV. Most people find that cable is still the best if you're most interested in watching live sports, as it's where you can get ESPN and its supporting networks.
In 2024, it's becoming increasingly popular for some live events to stream directly on Hulu or Amazon Prime, but this is still not the norm. Relying on this will cause you to miss out on some live events. If these are important to you, you will need to figure out what your alternative will be since cutting cable will make things harder.
How to Save Money on Your Cable Bill
If you do decide to stick with cable, that doesn't mean you must pay more money. There are plenty of ways to find savings and reduce your monthly bill without downgrading your service.
We've outlined some of the most effective below:
Take Advantage of Promotional Offers
To attract new customers, most companies use promotional pricing, which means you get access to special deals when you sign up for the first time.
Unfortunately, most companies also raise the price when your promotional period ends, which usually happens after one or two years.
This is frustrating, but it's also an opportunity for you to save. Set yourself a reminder, and when the promotional period ends, call your cable company and let them know you'd like to extend it. If they say it's not possible, remind them that you can always switch companies. That usually gets their attention and makes it easier for them to magically find a deal that at first didn't exist.
Another option is to go ahead and change. Switching companies is a pain, but if you time it right, you won't be without service, and you can save money by changing companies and making use of introductory promotions that keep costs low.
Most people don't realize that they can negotiate with cable companies. You can work with a sales representative to build the package you want and save money on your cable bill.
However, when doing this, remember that you are in control. You possess the most valuable bargaining chip - you can always take your business elsewhere - and it's essential you make this known to cable companies so that they don't take advantage of you.
Often, if you let the company know you are planning to switch, they will be able to get authorization from their boss to give you a discount or add things to your package for free, so you'll be paying the same but getting more for it.
Bundle With Other Services
Lastly, cable companies also offer other services, such as wireless, home phone, and the internet. The reality is that you can often save a fair bit of money when you group multiple services, especially if you can do so as part of a promotion.
Plus, the convenience of working with just one company for all your home services is tough to beat, and it's a big reason why so many people wind up sticking with cable despite all the alternatives available to them.
Television has become an important part of our lives, but not so important that it's worth spending a fortune on a subscription. Those who want to stick with cable can find savings, and those fed up have other options. Either way, you should now have all the information you need to decide what will be best for you.
Do I need an HD antenna for over-the-air channels?
No. The FCC has decreed that anyone using an analog antenna should be able to pick up over-the-air digital channels as well. Try your current antenna before running out and dropping big coin on a new one. If your current one has seen better days, try a new one with amplification.
What is a smart tv?
A smart tv is an internet-enabled tv set that includes free and paid streaming apps like YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and more. You still have to pay for each, but a smart tv makes them easy to access through one dashboard. A smart tv also eliminates the need for a separate set-top box. You can also use your smart tv to browse the internet, play online games, and variety of other “internet only” activities.
What are the best free streaming cable services?
While “best” depends on what kind of content you’re after, some of the best-known free streamers are Pluto TV, Tubi, the Roku Channel, Freevee, Crackle, and Peacock. There are, of course, many more.
Why don’t free streaming services have current shows?
The bottom line is money. The free streaming business model is based on ads. In order to acquire licenses to “air” first run content, they would have to cough up a fortune. That’s why you tend to see older, second-tier content on these services. Those are the licenses that are available at the time that they can afford.
Can I get HBO without traditional cable?
For a long time, the answer would have been no but premium channels like Showtime and HBO are wising up to the ways of the new streaming television world. Almost any of these kinds of channels are now available through an app that can be played through your smart tv, smartphone, tablet, or laptop.