Life After Cable

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Posted: Dec 29, 2011 12:01 AM

If one of your goals is to cut expenses in the new year, you might be considering jumping on a bandwagon we've been hearing a lot about lately: canceling cable.

Now, even that half-million number is really small potatoes. The cable industry is hardly quaking, particularly after a year full of Netflix screw-ups (that company lost 800,000 subscribers in the third quarter alone). But if the trend continues -- and with the economy still on the rocks and non-Netflix Internet streaming options popping up all the time, it very well may -- it could mean considerable changes for the industry.

So here's my question for you: Could you cut the cord? In my house, this isn't a discussion worth having. My husband is a big baseball fan. He wants to watch the Phillies play in real time, and he can't do that without our MLB package. But if your family isn't into sports, you may be able to save close to $100 a month by watching your favorite shows online. Here are a few details:

-- You can't watch in real time.

In most cases, you're going to have to wait until at least the next day to catch your favorite shows online, but if you make frequent use of the DVR anyway, that's not an issue.

Hulu Plus, which is $7.99 month, streams current TV shows from popular cable and network channels such as ABC, Comedy Central and NBC. However, you cannot get CBS, and FOX recently implemented an 8-day delay. Right now, you can watch the likes of "Saturday Night Live," "The New Girl," "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "Family Guy."

"With Hulu Plus, you have access to shows that aren't on regular Hulu, and you get more HD content," says Andrea Woroch, a consumer savings expert. Even better: I'm betting you have a PlayStation, Xbox or Roku. Those devices (or an Internet-enabled television) will let you watch Hulu Plus content right on your TV.

-- You may need to bring back the antenna.

Yes, it's true. Believe it or not, you may be able to get quality programming (even HD) by attaching some cheap ($20) rabbit ears to your TV, says Woroch. Of course, it's network only, but if that's what you watch, this is an easy fix. You can use a site like antennaweb.org to input your address and information about your location -- whether there are tall buildings or trees nearby, etc. -- and it will estimate what channels and level of reception you're likely to receive.

-- Consider supplementing with Netflix.

Particularly if you watch a lot of movies or use the video-on-demand or pay-per-view features that come with your cable, you may want to pay for a subscription to Netflix's mail-order DVD service ($7.99 a month for its one-disc-at-a-time option) or the instant-only option (also $7.99 a month). The gist of Netflix Instant is the same as Hulu Plus, although the selection isn't nearly as extensive. You can connect the service to your TV through a game console, the Roku, or an Internet-connected Blu-Ray player or television. You can also use an HDMI cord (and perhaps an adapter) to connect a laptop or iPad.

-- Meet in the middle.

Maybe you can't live without "Monday Night Football" or "Entourage." No big deal -- there are still ways to cut your bill. One is to cancel HBO and other premium channels when your favorite shows are in the offseason. Another is to call your company and merely threaten to cancel -- a strategy that seemingly works every time, if you use it sparingly and do a little homework about the competition's pricing before you pick up the phone. I've had $10 or $15 shaved off my bill on more than one occasion.

With Arielle O'Shea

(Jean Chatzky is financial editor of NBC's "Today" show, a contributing editor at More magazine and the author of "Money 911." She recently launched the JeanChatzky Score Builder in partnership with smartcredit.com. Check out her blog at jeanchatzky.com and follow her on Twitter @jeanchatzky.)