(UPDATE 10/30/19: Added multiple new streaming services and updated the status of some others … primarily the sudden price increases and also decline of several cord-cutting / “skinny bundle” ventures. We hardly knew you, Playstation Vue.)
No longer are we sweatpant-clad, popcorn-fed, tube-gazing masses beholden to the whims of the local cable company.
But cable-cutting isn’t just about getting back at the man.
With content coming faster and thicker than ever, you now have the means to create your own bespoke viewing experience, all while cutting out all the crap you pay for but never use.
So we put together a brief guide to getting started, from full-sail replacements (think Sling TV) to content aggregators (think Netflix) to — wait for it — the best free options currently available.
Apple TV+ (launching Nov. 1)
Cost: $4.99/month or one year free with purchase of a new Apple product
What You Get: An inexpensive, ad-free streamer with a lot of new shows featuring A-level talent (Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell, Jason Momoa, Aaron Paul, M. Night Shyamalan) and, unfortunately, middling reviews. Also, as you’re a subscriber, you can pull in your other paid services (HBO, Starz, etc.) through the revamped Apple TV app.
DisneyPlus (launching Nov. 12)
Cost: $6.99/month or $69.99/year
What You Get: Simply put, pretty much the entire Disney archives, plus the best of Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic, plus new series from all those studios and entities. Also, every episode of The Simpsons. The only downside is that you’re pretty much going to be living in a PG or PG-13 world — although the Disney-owned Hulu (see below) should make up for that.
Peacock (launching April 2020)
Cost: Ad and paid tiers, price TBD
What You Get: Reruns of The Office, plus access to all of NBC’s rather vast vault of programs. Movies from Universal, DreamWorks Animation and Focus Features. And a slew of new programs, including a lot of reboots (Battlestar Galactica, Punky Brewster, Saved by the Bell), along with new shows with Demi Moore, Ed Helms and Alec Baldwin. And a fair amount of programming from Telemundo.
Quibi (launching April 2020)
Cost: $5/month with ads, $8 without
What You Get: Meg Whitman and Jeffrey Katzenberg are going in a completely different direction. They’re getting top directors like Steven Spielberg and Catherine Hardwicke to make 10-minute episodes of shows, with around 7,000 pieces of content lined up for the first year.
HBO Max (launching May 2020)
What You Get: The WarnerMedia streaming service (with the worst logo ever) will look more like a cable channel — for example, new shows will be weekly, not dropped all at once, and recommendations will be made by real, live humans, not an algorithm. Besides 31 original series — on top of HBO original series and DC Universe shows — viewers will have access to older HBO content, full runs of shows like The Big Bang Theory, Friends and South Park and movies from Warners, MGM and Criterion. It’s basically HBO (or HBO Now) plus a lot of new and classic content, so $15 seems like a good deal.
TRUE CABLE REPLACEMENTS
These are the true OTT (for over-the-top) solutions that will allow you to replace your cable box or satellite entirely (and never have to jump on one of those maddening customer-service calls straight out of Dante’s Inferno again). All are ready to operate on your existing devices via web-based platforms or apps.
Cost: $25/month for either Sling Orange or Blue, or $40 a month for both, with options to add on premium channels like HBO and Showtime
What You Get: Sling offers a pretty well-rounded group of channels with the combo option. You get ESPN, FX, Comedy Central, AMC and around 40 more. However, only select markets get the networks — FOX, NBC and ABC.
Cost: $50/month with options for premium channel add-ons
What You Get: Access to more than 60 networks with a pretty decent collection of sports options. The beauty of Youtube TV is that you can watch live TV but also have access to a cloud-based DVR tool with unlimited storage, meaning you can go full bear mode and hoard all your favorite binge watches to get you through winter. You also get up to six accounts per household with individual logins, so you don’t have to worry about Pretty Little Liars clogging up your feed.
Hulu with Live TV
Cost: $44.99/month with options for premium channel add-ons and additional storage
What You Get: Live TV and on-demand access to 50+ channels, including local affiliates and networks such as CNN, Cartoon Network and FX (no Comedy Central, though). You get up to 50 hours of DVR storage, along with the ability to watch on two screens at once. But the biggest draw is that you also get access to Hulu’s full library of syndicated and original programming, which includes all that sweet, sweet Seinfeld.
Playstation Vue (Update: Shutting down in January 2020)
What You Get: Surprisingly, you don’t need a Playstation to use this service — it’ll work on any “smart” device. At the lowest level, you get access to what Playstation calls “popular TV,” which includes FX, NBC, Fox, ESPN, TNT and some 50 others. The next level gets you sports networks, while the highest level gets premiums, including HBO and Showtime. You can save shows via DVR for up to 28 days.
AT&T TV Now (Update: Formerly DirecTV NOW)
Cost: $50-$70/month, plus options for premium add-ons
What You Get: Anywhere from 65-125+ channels depending on the package you choose, with no noticeable omissions from the heavy hitters. Much like Playstation Vue, no actual satellite dish is needed, which means no climbing the roof to fix a spotty signal. Premium channels like HBO and Cinemax are available as add-ons at $5 per month.
What You Get: Fubo claims to be “The perfect mix of sports and entertainment. Live and on demand.” They definitely offer a much more robust offering of sports options than most of the previous options mentioned, along with most cable TV mainstays (again, Comedy Central is absent). If you’re someone who’s been hesitant to cut the cord because of the live sports aspect, this is probably your best bet.
What You Get: Basically the opposite of Fubo, this service caters to those who don’t know the Lightning from the Thunder and want to avoid paying the inflated costs for sports channels. This service basically offers all the entertainment channels sans sports, with more than 40 options that range from the Travel Channel to the Food Network.
AT&T Watch TV
Cost: $15/month, or free for existing AT&T Customers
What You Get: Access to 30+ channels including Comedy Central, AMC and TCM. You won’t have access to local channels or much in the way of sports, but you will have access to more than 15k on-demand movies and shows.
Otherwise known as streaming services, these options are best served as supplements to your existing cable package or one of the OTT alternatives listed above. Most specialize in creating their own content and/or maintaining archives of old films and TV shows.
What You Get: You already know what you’re getting with Netflix: endless movies and shows to scroll through for 45 minutes before you finally give up and pick something you’ve already watched. But in all seriousness, their library remains second-to-none among streaming services, and the platform is investing more and more in original content. The higher price tiers get you better resolution and more users.
What You Get: Free two-day shipping! Plus access to a huge catalog of movies and shows, some of which are Amazon Original content that you can only get on Prime (Goliath, Mozart in the Jungle, etc.). A great auxiliary service to add to something else on this list, plus the added utility of near-instant shipping.
What You Get: A highly curated selection of international and indie films for true cinephiles. Basically the antithesis to Netflix, with a much smaller but more thoughtfully curated library. Consider this the 2018 version of your local movie store’s “Staff Picks” shelf.
FilmStruck (Update: Discontinued as of November 2018)
What You Get: Created in collaboration with Turner Classic Movies and The Criterion Collection, FilmStruck really, really cares about good — and largely old — cinema. Not only do you get access to culturally/historically significant and critically acclaimed films, but also exclusive behind-the-scenes and bonus content. If you majored in Film Theory, this is the service for you.
What You Get: We’re sure you’re wondering what you can get for about $2-$3 per month, but the real question is what can’t you get. SelectTV is an aggregator of all the free content you can get across the web, and organizes and filters it for you to consume, including live streamed sports and other live content.
PROPRIETARY SERVICES FROM EXISTING NETWORKS
You know those “premium” channels that account for half your cable bill? Almost all of them offer their own streaming services now. If you use one more than the others, this might be a better way to go.
What You Get: Award-winning television for more than three decades.
What You Get: All the original content offered by Showtime, of which there is a lot. If you haven’t watched I’m Dying Up Here, it comes highly recommended by the InsideHook staff.
CBS All Access
Cost: $6/month with ads, $10/month without
What You Get: All CBS content, local affiliates and CBS NFL content, plus several originals (including two Star Trek series).
What You Get: The same thing as HBO and Showtime, plus access to all historical content from the network.
THRIFTY? HERE’S SOME FREE STUFF.
A somewhat unique take in that all of the content is actually live, with a TV-Guide-like user interface where you can scroll through and see what’s playing.
Ad-supported movies and TV shows. The movie selection is pretty legit, with options from big studios like Lionsgate, Paramount and MGM.
A lot of internet/publisher-based channels, but also access to sports and news outlets.
Sony the Chicken Soup for the Soul people, they offer free, ad-supported movies and TV shows, with some pretty good titles available, including the original Karate Kid, Talladega Nights and Seinfeld.
Another ad-supported platform featuring movies and television. Not a great selection, but there are a few gems if you look at the right times.
Movies and TV shows, gratis, through the popular movie database.
On the Web
If you really want to be thrifty, a lot of cable channels will show recently aired episodes on their websites for free for a limited time after the initial air date. It varies from network to network, so you’ll need to rely on some good ol’ trial-and-error to figure out what’s available.
Your Local Library
Don’t sleep on your local library, which will probably have a ton of popular film and television content available for rent. And in keeping with the times, many have begun to offer digital options for accessing their content.
Additional reporting and updates by Kirk Miller
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