Television is America’s great guilty pleasure. We realize that we watch too much of it, and we think we pay more for it than we should. But we get a lot of enjoyment watching a movie or playoff game with family and friends, so most of us will keep on doing it.
Consumer Reports offers these ways to save money:
For free TV, cut the cord
Does opening your bill for cable or satellite TV make your blood boil? You’re not alone.
Monthly pay-TV bills averaged around $86 in 2011 (the most recent data available), according to research firm NPD – and that doesn’t include Internet or phone service, which can easily push the tab for a triple-play package to $150 or more. If you just can’t take those bills anymore, here are a few options:
• Look, up in the sky. With a UHF-VHF antenna, you can enjoy free – that’s right, free – over-the-air HD broadcasts from local stations such as ABC, CBS, NBC and others. You may pull in a few dozen channels with news, movies and foreign-language programs.
• Not free, but cheap. If the antenna offerings aren’t enough, you can round out your viewing preferences with an online service such as Netflix.
Shave it a little
Even if you hate the price of your cable service, you might still love some of its programming. Pay-TV services are coming out with lower-priced plans to hang on to potential cord cutters who can’t live without “Boardwalk Empire” and other HBO originals. Time Warner Cable, for example, offers a $30-per-month “Starter TV with HBO” package with about 20 mostly broadcast channels plus HBO and HBO GO; an HD box adds $10 per month.
• Downsize. A bare-bones package might not suit you, but perhaps you don’t need everything you’re paying for. Consumer Reports suggests evaluating how many channels you actually watch. You might find that a lower, cheaper tier of service would satisfy you, especially if you supplement it with a streaming service.
• Negotiate. If you don’t want to change your current TV package, see whether a promotion will save you money. Ask for the disconnect or cancellation department. You’ll speak to a customer retention specialist whose job is to keep you as a subscriber.
• Switch. You may conclude that it’s time to switch to another provider, which might give you a better deal as a new subscriber. In many areas, there’s only one cable company, but satellite TV is available in most parts of the country, and Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-verse serve many areas.
• Streamline. Think about cutting equipment. Is it worth paying for DVR service or a set-top box for all of the TVs you have connected? Consider keeping cable on your main TV and use an antenna for a bedroom TV used mostly to watch news or talk shows. You’ll save $6 to $10 per month on box rental.
Stream what you want when you want it
Streaming video services are the big bang behind your exploding viewing options. Those online services offer thousands of movies and TV programs, old and new, that you can enjoy on your own schedule.
To stream video you need a broadband Internet connection (Consumer Reports’ experts recommend 5 mbps or higher, provided by most cable services) and either a TV with built-in Internet capability or a device that you connect to the set – a media player, an Internet-enabled Blu-ray player or a game console.
Most services charge either a subscription fee, usually $10 or less per month, or several dollars for each movie or TV episode you stream. One major service, YouTube, has a huge selection of free movies and TV shows, though it’s known mostly for amateur videos. But video quality varies more than with the paid services, which usually offer very good quality on a decent Internet connection.