Here is an overview of the best cable TV alternatives you can use to 'cut the cord' and lower your monthly expenses. There is a ton of great content available through various cable TV alternatives, but cutting the cord isn't for everyone. Cable TV is a good value for households that watch a lot of TV, and it's currently the only way to watch every game from local sports teams or premium networks such as Showtime or Starz. If you're willing to make some sacrifices or aren't concerned with that, here are the best cable TV alternatives that will help you cut the cord.
Live TV after you cut the cord
There aren't a ton of cable TV alternatives for viewing live TV, but there are more than there were a year ago. An antenna is a great and affordable way to watch live local channels (ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, NBC, PBS, etc) after you cut the cord and I strongly recommend getting one if you live in an area with satisfactory reception.
Sling TV streams ESPN, AMC, CNN, Disney, TNT, and other cable networks for $20/month, but only one person can stream at a time. Most of the good channels don't have an on-demand feature so you must watch live. Playstation Vue offers a larger number of live cable channels (but no ESPN) starting at $50/month. CBS also offers All Access for $6/month, which includes live streaming in select markets.
Cable TV alternatives for live sports
Live sports is one of the most frequently cited reasons not to cut the cord I hear when talking to people. I've been a big sports fan my whole life and have never had cable except when I had roommates in college. I can get away with this because the NFL is my favorite sport and is widely available free with an antenna on CBS, FOX, and NBC. These networks and ABC broadcast plenty of other live sports, especially on weekends: NBA, MLB, NHL, NASCAR, College Football and Basketball, PGA Tour, Olympics, etc.
ESPN, TNT, and about 10 other channels are now available over the internet through Sling TV for $20 per month. This will get you more NFL, NBA, MLB, and college sports and is a great deal for sports fans that don't need to watch all of their local teams' games. The upcoming Playstation Vue streaming service will have lots of sports available through FOX Sports, NBC Sports, and regional networks, but will likely cost much more and won't include ESPN.
Each of the big four American leagues also have streaming packages (NFL Sunday Ticket, NBA League Pass, MLB TV, NHL GameCenter), but they aren't cheap and blackout any games broadcast on TV in your local area, whether it's on a regional sports channel or national channel. These packages only make sense for fans that live in a different region than their favorite teams or diehard fans.
Stream TV on-demand
All the broadcast TV channels stream their shows free online anywhere from 1-8 days after they air. Some cable channels do this for a portion of their shows as well (A&E, Bravo, History, MTV, VH1). Check to see if your favorite shows are available free before buying them or subscribing to Hulu Plus.
Almost all TV shows can be purchased on iTunes or Amazon. Episodes from most networks are available the day after they air, but premium cable networks such as HBO and Showtime wait up to 9 months before releasing seasons. Episodes typically cost $3-$4 in HD. This can add up quickly, but is much more affordable than a cable subscription if you're only buying a handful of shows a year.
Netflix and Amazon Prime also have great libraries of on-demand TV shows and movies, plus some fantastic original content. Shows typically appear about 9 months after completion of the last season. Hulu has a limited selection of episodes of many shows for free, and an $8/month Hulu Plus subscription will allow you to watch all current and past episodes of more shows, but it doesn't include the best cable shows from AMC, HBO, Showtime, and others.
Gear to cut the cord
You may want to use a portion of the money saved after you cut the cord on gear to get the most out of these cable TV alternatives. If you want to watch your local channels live an antenna is a great product, starting around $30. That antenna can also be used with a DVR. The Channel Master DVR+ ($300) and Tablo ($200) are two great options that don't require any monthly fees.
There are several ways to stream content to an HDTV: game consoles, blu ray players, streaming boxes, and some TVs have apps built-in. For streaming boxes I recommend the Apple TV ($70) for people with lots of other Apple products, and the Roku ($50+) for everyone else. Other options are the Google Chromecast ($35), Amazon Fire TV ($100), and Google Nexus Player ($100).
A quick note on ISPs when you cut the cord
You'll probably stream a lot of video from these cable TV alternatives and you should avoid internet providers with data caps if you can.
The cable TV alternatives mentioned here are more than enough content for millions of people, including me. I rely on Netflix and live sports with the antenna for most of my viewing. I've embraced the limitations of these cable TV alternatives, and now prefer to wait for shows to come to Netflix or iTunes so I can watch them on my own schedule without any commercials.