NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Ever click through all 700 HD channels on your cable or satellite service channel lineup only to announce, "Nothing's on..." with a long sigh? Maybe you added a streaming service such as Netflix (NFLX - Get Report) , Hulu Plus or Amazon (AMZN - Get Report) Prime to get more shows when you want them. Or maybe you want to cut the cable cord entirely and just use video streaming but are worried about missing live sports and live news. To your cord-cutting arsenal, you can add SlingTV, a new streaming package by Dish Network (but without the dish) released in March that just might make cutting the cable cord a viable option. Now there's another choice: CBS (CBS - Get Report) will sell Showtime as a standalone over-the-top content (OTT) through Hulu for for $8.99 a month, cheaper than the $14.99-per-month HBO Now.
“Sling TV includes ESPN and CNN among others and is a great option for people who want to cut the cable cord but can't live without those additional live sports and live news channels,” says Andrea Woroch, a consumer savings expert.
Officially termed SVOD (subscription video-on-demand) and OTT TV-watching, online streaming services like these add more options to the traditional TV channel lineup from a paid cable or satellite provider.
Digital TV Research projected the number of worldwide households using SVOD would grow from 21 million in 2010 to 83 million in 2014 and 199 million in 2020.
With SVOD apps using a streaming device connecting your TV to the Internet, there is now the option of cutting out the paid cable subscription service (and bill) entirely, but there is a learning curve and you'll need a major attitude adjustment. Once you've learned to watch TV this new way, you'll be getting so much more from your TV while paying much less.
Cancel the cable/satellite service...and bill
If you've been paying for cable or satellite TV, you paid an average of $86 per month in 2011, according to The NPD Group. Rising to a 2015 prediction of $123 per month, you could be spending $1,476 per year, just for pay-TV programming.Could you use that extra $100 elsewhere in your budget? If so, simply call up your provider and cancel your service. Be prepared for the provider to offer to reduce your rate or try to get you to bundle up and pay even more. Once the cable or satellite box is gone, you'll need to reconfigure your TV for SVOD viewing.
Connect your TV to a video streaming device
If you hate watching TV on your iPad or computer, you'll need to connect your TV (via the HDMI port) to a video streaming device which connects it to the Internet wirelessly, as 47% of households already did in 2014, according to NPD Group. Then, you suddenly have access to a whole new world of viewing content in the form of "apps" that represent each channel you already know and love plus many more you've yet to discover. John Buffone, Connected Intelligence industry analyst for The NPD Group, says one of the big changes this year is increased affordability of these devices with an average one-time price as low as $35. "Since cost is removed from the equation, you can try the one that appeals to you most," he says.
- Roku: ($49 at Walmart online) is a tiny device loaded with hundreds of free and paid SVOD apps accessed with its own remote.
- Chromecast: ($34.99 at Walmart online) uses your Smartphone, laptop or tablet as the remote. When accessed via a laptop it can pull up any webpage onto your TV.
- Apple (AAPL - Get Report) TV: If you're a big Apple user, the Apple TV (which now has a reduced price of $68) device can access all content from your iPhone and iPad as well as a huge library of TV and movie viewing apps. HBO Now will be available exclusively on Apple TV.
Other choices include streaming devices from NetGear and the new Amazon Fire TV ($99 on Amazon.com). Blu-ray Disc players and gaming consoles such as PlayStation 3 or Xbox One also double as streaming video devices.
Pay for a few cheap SVOD services
SVOD or OTT paid subscriptions are extremely inexpensive, a mere fraction of what your cable TV bill was. It used to be if you didn't know about a show you simply missed it or you'd jump in mid-season. Now you can "marathon" or "binge-watch" as many episodes as you want when you want, some from the very beginning of the series. At $7 to $10 per month, these services each offer something different, with a lot of cross over, so choose the one(s) most meaningful to you.
- Netflix: You can watch an entire production, every season from the pilot to series finale or the last completed year for most major TV series (updated often) such as "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad" plus have access to some exclusive, original award-worthy Netflix series you may have heard about: "House of Cards," "Orange is The New Black" and "Hemlock Grove" among many 2014 newcomers. There's also a huge catalog of documentaries, kids' shows, reality TV, stand-up comedy and movies. Netflix learns what you like and suggests new shows and movies without ads or added fees. New 2014 members pay $8.99 monthly while existing subscribers keep their $7.99 monthly fee. Use the Netflix free trial month to see if shows you want are available. If not, you might also need Hulu Plus.
- Hulu Plus: This SVOD service differs in providing current season TV viewing the next day after episodes actually aired. So, for example, if I love to watch Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" (not available on Netflix), I can watch it whenever I want on Hulu Plus which offers many episodes of the current season, but not the entire season or series like Netflix. Hulu Plus also has many original and exclusive shows and costs $7.99 per month with no additional fees, although the ads are annoying. Now, some networks are getting smart and not selling the rights to their shows universally or on Netflix or Hulu Plus, and that's when you need Amazon Prime.
- Amazon Prime: CBS's "Extant" with Halle Berry and "Under the Dome" have exclusive streaming agreements with Amazon Prime, the only place you can see the show on-demand and if you do not have local network access. It's also the only place you can find all previous seasons (1-4) of "Downton Abbey" included (but not the current season, which you can access for free on the PBS app on a Roku every week after each episode airs). And most recently, Amazon gained permission to exclusively stream a vast amount of past and present HBO content and has been pumping out original shows such as the Golden Globe-winning series "Transparent." While they do offer viewing from the pilot to present, the current season and sometimes the prior season are pay per view which defeats the purpose of having Amazon Prime, although you do also get that free two-day shipping. And, they just raised the yearly price from $79 to $99 per year in 2014, (still, that's just $8.25 per month).
- Sling TV: Now you can finally close the gap on some cable channels that are just not available on any other TV streaming service such as ESPN, ESPN2 and CNN. Sling TV by Dish Network offers an app for any Roku (it is not currently available on Apple TV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast). Still the current hook-up availability includes 20 popular channels you may have been missing for just $20 per month. Sling TV will also offer you AMC (for your "Walking Dead" fix), IFC and a movie package. Beware: while you can download the app onto all your devices, only one person can watch Sling TV on your account at one time. Sling TV has a 7-day free trial so you can evaluate whether you watch it enough to warrant the additional $20 per month.
- HBO NOW: For $14.99 a month, Time Warner (TWC) is offering HBO's Internet-based stand-alone service HBO Now, which allows consumers to HBO's award-winning original programming like "VEEP" and "Girls."
- Showtime: Starting on July 12 in advance of shows Ray Donovan and Masters of Sex, the commercial broadcast network will offer, Showtime will be offered for $8.99 a month through Hulu as the first premium service to be offered through to Hulu's subscriber base of almost 9 million people nationwide. Of course, new and existing subscribers will have to also pay $7.99 for Hulu use. Showtime had previously said it would offer a $10.99-per-month stand-alone Internet iteration of premium channel Showtime -- including an Apple partnership.
So for the three major SVOD services, you have a massive amount of new, current and past programming to explore via apps on your streaming device to use at will for just about $24 per month compared to that $100 monthly paid cable or satellite subscription. If you add SlingTV, you’re up to $44 per month plus tax. Woroch advises you use all the free trials for streaming subscriptions if you want to cut the cable or satellite cord entirely too see which you want to watch the most.
And, there are hundreds more free TV channel apps including those from most network and cable TV channels offering a lot of free content such as History Channel and PBS.
Do you want local network channels? Sports?
Now, if there is still a network show in season that you can't live without such as "The Big Bang Theory" or your local news or even special network events such as the Olympics or local market sports coverage which you want to watch as it airs or it is not available or it is not available on any of SVOD services or devices, then you might want to get a local network antenna.
Depending on many factors, they can range in their one-time price from $30 for an indoor antenna to $250 for a large outdoor antenna installed. There is no single type of antenna that will work for everyone as TV reception depends on your distance from the broadcast signal, its strength, obstructions and more.
Check the Consumer Electronics Association's www.AntennaWeb.org to identify appropriate antenna attributes based on your location. Do you need full market sports coverage?
With your network antenna you'll have the local market sports coverage from Fox and CBS plus NBC's Sunday Night Football and CBS's Thursday Night Football. But if that's not enough, you may need a pricier SVOD app such as MLB.TV which cost $125 last season ($10 per month) for access to every out-of-market season game.
DirecTV will sell you NFL Sunday Ticket without a full satellite subscription, but it costs hundreds of dollars per season.
This fall, Yahoo! (YHOO) will stream one NFL game, a deal that cost the technology company a reported $20 million. To boot, fans of America's pastime can get wide access to baseball diamonds across the country: MLB streams out-of-market games for $99 per year, available through Roku, Xbox, AppleTV and Sony PlayStation.
Forget TV schedules forever
Back when DVR became popular, you could record shows and watch when convenient for you, but with limitations.
"These new apps coupled with the devices remove the need to remember schedules or record shows," Buffone says. "They are simply there when you want to watch them."
For those addicted to "Game of Thrones," there's HBO Now. Or for those desperate to watch the current Season 5 of "The Walking Dead" or the much-awaited prequel to "Breaking Bad" -- "Better Call Saul," which premiered on AMC this past February -- there's Sling TV. Inevitably, in some cases, it's impossible to see some show sand current episodes without paying for cable or paying per episode on Amazon Prime. But, channel lineups and licensing agreements are constantly changing and many other major players are scrambling to get into the streaming game.
Woroch adds, ““The problem now is that people want it all and now that Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime are all producing exclusive shows -- think: Netflix’s “House of Cards” among many others -- consumers may want to keep all the streaming subscriptions including the paid cable.”
For this reason, Buffone says most people won't actually cancel their cable subscription and adopt this cheaper, more flexible way of watching TV and instead add SVOD on to their paid subscriptions. What about you?