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How to Cancel Your Cable TV Service

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Stranded Broken TelevisionWant to find a hundred bucks a month in savings without giving up all that much? Cancel your cable television service. That sounds absolutely crazy, right? When people look to trim the fat from the budgets, they often don’t think to cut out their cable television because it almost feels like a utility. Along with your electricity, your water, and your telephone is your television and internet. Who can live in this day and age without those necessities?

But it’s not that crazy. It’s not that crazy and thousands of people are doing this because of all the free video content on the Internet. Forget the homebrew shows that had their start on the Internet, I mean major broadcasting networks putting the shows on TV for free.

In this post, I’ll describe an approach to finding out if canceling your cable TV service is the right move.

Keep A TV Log

For an entire month, record every show that you watch and how you watched it. Did you watch it live or after you recorded it on your DVR? Did you watch it a day after it broadcast or a week? After a month, you should have a good idea of the shows you watch and how you watch them.

The point of a TV log is to find out how much you are watching TV and whether you can find alternatives elsewhere. Find out how much you’re paying per episode and you might be very very surprised. If you’re paying $100 a month for cable and watch four shows that air weekly, you’re watching 16 shows a month and paying $6.25 a piece. Even if you watched 8 shows, that’s 32 shows a month at $3.125 a piece. Do you follow eight shows?

Find Alternatives Online

Most networks put their most popular shows online, either at websites like Hulu.com or their own sites. Fox lets you watch 17 of their shows line, including House, Family Guy, and The Simpsons. ABC has thirty-four shows online. NBC has pretty much every one of their shows online at NBC.com and Hulu (which was created by NBC Universal and News Corp). USA Network has six of their shows online (you can see them through Hulu.com too) and FX Network has five of theirs available (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia!).

The only downside with watching television shows online is that oftentimes the networks will delay when you can watch it. For example, if you’re a fan of House, you can’t see the latest episodes until eight days after they are first broadcast on Fox. If you like Flash Forward, you will only be able to watch the last five episodes on Hulu.

Check each of your shows to see if they are shown online, chances are they will be. As for commercials, they are done faster than it takes you to skip through them on your DVR.

Use Netflix for Previous Season

Want to know why Lost was so popular but can’t watch it now because it’s too far in? Watch it streaming to your computer or TV – you can get the first four seasons instantly. Netflix isn’t free, the cheapest plan that gives you unlimited online viewing is $8.99 a month, but it’s far cheaper than cable television.

After I wrote my Netflix review, I was amazed at the number of readers who told me that they canceled their cable TV service and subscribed to Netflix. Here are just two of the more recent comments:

Lauren:

I’m a Netflix subscriber and proud of it! Four months ago I cancelled my $120-a-month cable plan. Now I pay $9-a-month on Netflix to watch all my favorite shows and movies. We connect the big-screen tv to our laptop and watch everything on demand right there. Who needs Tivo when you can watch shows instantly for $111 cheaper?

Neil:

I’ve been viewing netflix and their imitators as an alternative to cable, which makes it a great deal. For a few dollars a month, I’ve replaced a bill that was over $40, and I can’t say I miss it.

Local News & Sports

The only thing you cannot get online, conveniently and prepackaged, is your local news and any sports programs. You can watch snippers of Sportscenter at ESPN.com but you can’t watch last night’s game or see the news. For this, you will want to buy an antennae that can capture television signals over the air.

Use AntennaWeb to find out what signals are available in your area and what type of antenna you’ll need to capture it. Then you’ll need to buy an antenna and plug it into your TV to get the local stations (make sure to point it in the direction AntennaWeb advises!). That’s the last issue solved!

Canceling your cable television may seem scary but think about what you’re be giving up… nothing (as long as you weren’t under contract). If you decide a few months into the experiment that you preferred to spend the money for cable television, you can always sign up and take advantage of new customer offers!

Have you canceled your cable and have some tips to share with other people looking to do the same?

(Photo: albany_tim)

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66 Responses to “How to Cancel Your Cable TV Service”

  1. Jim,
    I have another suggestion to alleviate the pain of dropping the cable tv subscription…

    My wife and I joined a gym that has individual tvs mounted to each cardio machine. They all have cable, and each individual brings headphones, allowing them to watch whatever program they want.

    It is a 24-hour gym, so we are still able to watch our favorite shows. We simply plan it out a little more, and go run/walk/whatever during the scheduled time.

    Our combined cost for the gym is less than a basic cable package, and we get a workout whenever we want to watch tv. Plus it helps to provide that motivation to go to the gym that most people can’t ever seem to find.

    • mikestreb says:

      Great idea. I think for me, after a few weeks, I would lose motivation and start weighing whether or not any of the shows I like is important. I have a feeling that I would caring about TV.

      But that’s just me. If you can stay motivated, I think your idea is great!

    • Martha says:

      That is a great idea, Seth!

  2. Chris says:

    We are dropping our cable since all the shows we watch are online. As far as the news goes, we got a digital converter box and it pulls in several of the news channels for free.

  3. pcallaghan says:

    Its amazing the amount of money people put towards cable. I don’t remember the exact amount people spend but its at least 40% of their discretionary funds… a lot of times more. The company I work for did a study on this, we are a cable provider so it was something worthwhile for us to know obviously. People need to re-evaluate exactly what they need on their tv, whats the point of having all these movie channels or premium channels when you watch 1 maybe 2 movies a month – that’s what On-Demand is for. Many people seem to have EVERYTHING when all they need is digital basic.

    • Caitlin says:

      whats the point of having all these movie channels or premium channels when you watch 1 maybe 2 movies a month – that’s what On-Demand is for.

      In lots of places things like On Demand are not available unless you buy the large packages with hundreds of channels. It’s dumb.

  4. Scott says:

    Seth has a great point. My wife Amy loves the Food network but she watches it at the gym rather than us paying $60 per month to get cable.

    iTunes is another favorite of ours if you’re not watching/following a lot of shows. $1.99 per episode (less if you buy a season pass) is far cheaper than cable. Plus we’ll take these shows with us on the road/travel, which you can’t do with Hulu or Netflix. I know many Americans living overseas live off of iTunes to watch their favorite American shows (unless they’re in China where iTunes is now banned).

  5. Keith says:

    I pay about $100 for a bundle package of cable (high def + dvr), internet and phone. Of the total amount, internet costs about $40/month and phone is about $20/month. I enjoy watching sports in HD including the NFL, NBA and MLB (as well as Discovery channel and Food Network to name a few) on my 52-inch HD television. $40/month for cable is worth it for me and my family.

    Furthermore, I get my DVDs from the library, so I save money there.

  6. Soccer9040 says:

    If it was easy to just get internet without cable I might try a little harder. I have uVerse which is a great service, but its a little expensive. I would spend the money for a box to hook the internet up to my TV, but I think its going to be a few years before we get a really great solution for watching all TV via computer.

    I don’t watch a ton of TV, but I do watch football/basketball/baseball and you just can’t find that online without paying for it.

  7. AmandaDRowe says:

    With a Roku box, you can get all the netflix content for less than $5 a month. I got rid of mine and am thrilled that I did. Also, it was so easy to buy an S video cable and hook up my computer to my TV. Now, with a wireless mouse and keyboard I have the best monitor imaginable.

  8. lostAnnfound says:

    We only have digital Basic cable and even that is $45.00 a month. The kids like free on-demand for their shows & we watch a few channels at best. I would prefer to see cable being offered ala carte, and then you can choose the channels that you want. Cable company says it offers over 100 channels on basic, but how many are for home shopping, sports, or in Spanish (not that I have anything against a channel broadcast in Spanish, just I don’t speak the language so I don’t watch those channels). Instead of being offered packages with more channels than I need or want I would prefer to pick the channels I want to watch. At least then I would feel like I’m paying for a service that I would get the most use out of.

  9. zapeta says:

    I like the idea of keeping a TV log to see if you watch and if it’s worth it. We’ve discussed canceling cable but we don’t like the idea of missing out on sports programming for the couple of teams we watch.

  10. mikestreb says:

    We tried the hulu/netflix combo when we moved into our new house. After a month, we broke down and signed up for DirecTV.

  11. cubiclegeoff says:

    We got rid of cable a year ago because it just wasn’t worth it. When there’s nothing to watch on tv (which is often) we just wasted time flipping channels. Now we don’t since we have fewer channels to check.

    We also just bought PlayOn which allows us to get stuff from hulu, netflix and other sites (including live sports, although not that clearly) through our tv (which has an internet connection) or our Wii. It cost us $30 on sale and has been well worth it without the hassle of hooking the computer to the tv. If we really want to see a sports game not on the main channels, we visit family.

  12. redivelli says:

    I called to cancel my cable earlier this year. My provider actually reduced my bill in order to keep my apartment plugged in.

    An alternative to cable for apartment renters. As a community event at my complex, we arranged to have a pizza, tasty beverage (read beer), and sports night every week so we can get together and mingle while watching our favorite teams. This is a win-win. You get sports and friends to split the pizza bill! I’m sure you could make this work with Lost or Survivor too (we used to do it with West Wing).

  13. mikestreb says:

    As soon as all of the online services that are out start offering shows in HD, then I am pretty much stuck with DirecTV.

    • saladdin says:

      I am such a weird technology guy. I have never seen a show in HD. And really have no desire to do so. I have never owned a cellphone or digital camera either. I’m like the worst consumer ever. Except at the BB store.

      saladdin

  14. Imani says:

    I gave up my cable television over a year and a half ago and don’t miss it one bit. All that money is sitting pretty in my ING account working for me.

    Internet TV more than meets my needs for the little programming I watch.

  15. Stacey says:

    Haven’t had cable for 2 years – we didn’t watch enough tv to justify the cost when we moved in, and quickly learned that networks offer just enough of their shows online to satisfy “cravings” when they hit. Even basic cable (less than 20 channels) is a rip-off here, about $40.

  16. Daniel says:

    I think it is interesting how tv subscriptions are becoming less and less important as long as you have a fast internet connection.

    I have been internet only for a year or two now. I can view most of my shows online. For other shows such as HBO series, I will arrange to watch with friends; making it more a social event then mindless TV viewing.

  17. jsbrendog says:

    i got lucky as i was paying 100 a month just for net and cable with verizon. Apparently, verizon must be destroying IO in my area because an IO rep came and knocked on my door and told me they would give me the triple play for 70 a month with dvr and speed boost free for a year with a 2 year price guarantee and no contract/temrination fee. leave no strings when I want. can’t complain about 25 (after taxes roughly) savings a month for more even though verizon fios >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> IO

  18. Jesse says:

    Just wanted to point out that having over air local channels will not get you all sports. For instance, more than half of the MLB playoff games were broadcast on cable this year (TBS). You’ll also have to have cable if you want to watch Monday Night Football (ESPN) or NHL hockey (Versus and your local Fox Sports affiliate). Sports are becoming less and less common on over the air local stations.

  19. hoht says:

    switched from watching regular t.v. to hulu and other stuff online. No more wasted time watching ads.

  20. Soccer9040 says:

    Something else I thought of after my 1st comment. This relates to the entertainment part of a budget. You spend more when you go out to dinner with friends or to a bar to watch the game with buddies. In my group of friends we have been having more and more dinners at peoples houses for whatever reason. Just this last weekend we were over at a friends house to watch an Ohio State football game. It was much cheaper to bring a side of something then to go out for the game.

    So my point is that by having a few nicer things (like cable) in your home you can save on other areas of your budget.

  21. Hank says:

    I tried to cancel my cable one time. I got so bored that I ended up spending more money on going to the movies, keeping myself entertained, etc. than the cable bill was costing me. For example, taking the family to the movies just once a month is almost the cost of basic cable because of drinks and popcorn. I did my own cost benefit analysis for dropping cable, and it is actually just too expensive to get rid of it.

  22. Caitlin says:

    I cancelled my cable earlier this year. I haven’t missed it, and it’s saved me $75/mo, which I’m now putting toward my student loan.

    If the cable companies offered a la carte channels, I might be interested in dealing with them. Say, if they offered individual channels for $1/mo. Even when I had cable, I only really watched 5 or 6 channels anyway. I’d rather pay them $6/mo for the 6 channels I watch, rather than $75/mo for 100 channels. Yeah, each channel would technically cost more than buying them in bulk does, but I’d only be paying for what I used.

    Now if only things like Hulu and Netflix (the streaming part, I don’t care about movie DVDs) were available outside the USA. :P

    Isn’t Hulu moving toward a pay-for-content system anyway?

    • Soccer9040 says:

      I had heard that about Hulu also. They have been busy adding content and “subscribers” to their free service for awhile. Now its time to flip the switch and monetize it. (Read: bait and switch…kind of)

      There are just too many small content providers. If you want to watch one show you need to go to that website, and if you want to watch another show you need to be using Hulu, and if you want sports it must be over the air. Its not worth it to me right now.

      I should keep track of how many channels I actually watch. If its low, I’m all for ala cart pricing.

  23. stuarsj says:

    Just threatening to cancel your cable to your service provider should save you some money. I called to do away with cable and just have internet, and they gave me a one year deal for both internet and cable that was cheaper than just paying for internet. I guess when that runs out; I’ll just try again.

  24. Julio says:

    My wife and I switched to an OTA antenna and found that free TV has plenty to offer. In our area we get about 25 channels (most in HD) which covered most of the shows we enjoyed anyway, so we don’t miss Cable at all. For movie nights we simply rent a movie from RebBox ($1 for new releases, so how can you go wrong?) That way we are watching a movie that we actually want to see, verses watching a movie simply because it’s on TV.

    The TV log is a great idea because it will not only show you what shows you are watching, but how much of your life you spend if front of a TV. Then you can start a new log to plan all the things you can do with the time and money you free up. :)

  25. anthonyvogl says:

    If there was a way to get just high-speed internet without cable service or a home phone, I would do it in a heartbeat and save the $70 we’re paying a month for AT&T Uverse. 90% of the programs we regularly watch are DVR’d and I think they’re available on hulu, except Criminal Minds. I’m tempted to work out a deal with a neighbor who has wireless internet to pay them like $10 a month to have use their internet. Might be lucrative for both of us. The only probl


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