Why do I pay for awful stuff I never watch? Such has been the universal consumer lament since the dawn of cable TV. You want only ESPN but have to fork over extra cash for 16 home shopping channels. It will get worse. Studies show the average cable bill will climb to $200 a month by 2020. The good news is that the old way of watching TV is over, gone the way of the VCR and the TV antenna. You can now drop your cable subscription and stream your favorite shows to a device—a game console, a laptop, even a mobile phone.
Cobbling together a plan to meet your viewing needs isn’t too hard. For $8 a month, Hulu Plus has a huge selection of major network shows. By fall, Apple will offer a 25-channel streaming package for $40 a month, including CBS, Fox and ESPN, for use on all devices, including iPhones. Sling TV’s “Best of Live TV” package currently offers 20 networks for $20 a month, including CNN, TNT, AMC and ESPN, with additional channels available in bundles, such as “Sports Extra” (ESPN News, ESPN U, etc.) or “Hollywood Extra” (EPIX, Sundance, etc.), for $5 more. Sony’s PlayStation Vue offers the most channels: 50 for $50, including TNT, NBC and AMC (albeit without ABC and ESPN). Vue is available only on PlayStation and the price is comparable to that of a basic-cable bill, but it includes a customizable interface and a DVR that stores shows in the cloud, not on your PlayStation hard drive.
The most compelling reason to dump cable is HBO Now. The $15 monthly service began as an Apple exclusive but is now offered by Sling TV and Cablevision, among others. HBO Now archives everything from Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire episodes to documentaries and other content.
Despite the many options, you can still encounter programming gaps. You probably won’t see local news, though you might find it free online (check Livestream.com and LiveTVCafe.net). And while you can subscribe to MLB, NHL and NBA streaming packages for $50 to $130 per season, watching every local game won’t be possible due to blackout restrictions, as often happens with cable. The biggest hang-up? The NFL, which offers a streaming package only to DirecTV subscribers and non-subscribers in limited markets.
Still, change is on the way. Eleven million households in the U.S. (roughly 13 percent) have only broadband internet and no cable-television subscription. Studies predict that in two years that will jump to 17 million. In five to 10 years, you can expect to cherry-pick anything you want to watch, from network shows to online hangouts with the stars. Cable won’t be king. You will.