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Pulling the Plug on Cable

Adam and I recently made the decision to drop cable. We haven’t done it yet, but we took the first step yesterday. I know we’re far from the first to try this out (and the last to research some of these services), but we’re still excited.

Follow the link to read about our process. It’s detailed. So only read if you’re interested in doing this for yourself. Seriously. It’s long.

Here was our thinking:

1. We already buy some shows through iTunes that we want to be able to watch again later because they are SO good (Downton Abbey, I’m winking at you)! Would we save money just buying a few additional shows (and forcing ourselves to drop others) instead of paying for cable? (The added benefit being not having to watch ads.)

2. If we drop cable, how will we continue watching NBA games, news/weather and a couple of shows we’d rather not buy because they have no re-watch value but still want to see?

3. If we’re buying more shows than we have been until now, how will we store them? Will we need to buy a Mac mini and/or a couple of large external drives?

This was our process:

Savings: Part I

Here’s the basic math. Our cable service costs $71/month before taxes and fees. This adds up to more than $850/year (I’m not adding in those fees & taxes, but they’d probably boost it another $150-200. But let’s just stick with $850 since I like to calculate the lowest possible savings, knowing it’s likely more rather than what could happen with the reverse.)

We made a list of the shows we weren’t already buying that we would like to keep watching. A couple we would like to buy; some we’d prefer to stream on subscription or rent (not currently available through iTunes, but maybe in the future). Those being mostly contestant-based shows where, once you know the winner, you don’t ever need to watch again.

So let’s talk about streaming options…


We signed up for a free month of Netflix last night. So far, it seems like a great way to access dated content. I mean that as a slam, but I also don’t.

While you can’t get anything current, it provides access to lots of movies for very little money ($7.99/mo.) and lots of older TV shows (or older seasons of current shows), some of which cost quite a lot to buy (e.g., Star Trek – over $100) but can be watched inexpensively through this service.

However, it does not solve our problem of wanting to stream current shows.

So, why not just wait a year for those shows to become available? You don’t need to watch them immediately as they air to enjoy them, do you? I’m glad you asked because I agree and that was our initial thought.

But apparently, the large majority of the shows we want to watch in particular are not available digitally, but only through Netflix’s DVD mailing service, which is a separate monthly fee of $7.99. Which means we’d probably have to do that instead of the digital subscription in order to get what we want, but then we’d not only be waiting a year after each show to get to watch it (and potentially have the outcome ruined), but we’d also have to deal with physical DVDs getting mailed and returned, which is really not the easy solution we’re going for here.

We’re thinking of keeping Netflix after the free trial month anyway for some of its other uses, but that’s neither here nor there.


On first glance, signing up for service with Hulu Plus seemed to be exactly what we wanted. It has a huge advantage over Netflix in the TV department, although there is a trade-off. Unlike with Netflix, you can actually get current episodes the day after they air for the same $7.99 monthly fee, but you get ads in the content to help pay for the privilege.

Still, I’d be willing to put up with a few ads to save money. And we were pleased to find that we could stream Hulu through our Xbox LIVE membership.

Only … most of the shows we want are not provided directly through Hulu, but are linked to their TV network’s website, meaning you can’t stream it to the TV. You’d have to watch it on a computer. So not only would we have to watch the content with ads, we wouldn’t be able to watch those shows on our TV. Kinda seems worse than cable, huh?

So, without a really good content streaming subscription available, we wondered, “How are we going to store all of these shows if we have to buy them?”


Imagining the storage space needed for a few years’ worth of shows is scary. It starts to get pricey real fast. An external drive a backup drive get you into the hundreds of dollars immediately.

So, we did a little more research on the Apple TV 2 and decided to buy one yesterday. This newer model stores everything “in the cloud” instead of on a local drive, meaning that all of your purchased content resides on Apple’s server, but you have access to it 24/7. Problem solved!

For only $100, that is a great deal. We would’ve spent a lot more on storage equipment.


One of the neatest features of the Apple TV 2 is that you can subscribe to various sports leagues. Without paying anything, you can see what games are airing that night, check standings and watch game highlights.

For the NBA League Pass subscription, you can watch up to 5 teams for the whole season. I’m not sure how that works since we haven’t signed up yet. I imagine you’d have to select the teams you want and then they’d allow access to just those. For us, we really just want the Magic.

The pass is $109 for the season. It seems like a lot, especially since most TV shows don’t exceed $50 even if you’re buying the HD version, but if you consider that there are 82 games in a season, it’s only $1.33 a game. (Way less if you’re watching all 5 teams.)


The last remaining thing is to be able to check the news or weather. I mean, really, for the most part you can find everything online nowadays. But for instances where we need to see what’s going on with a storm or simply want to see what’s happening, I think we’ll probably buy a cheap antenna.

Savings: Part II

After deciding to use the Apple TV 2 for our content and stream our content from Apple, I chose the additional shows we wanted to buy if we dropped cable and decided which we’d rather watch in HD and which didn’t matter so much. I wrote down the prices listed on iTunes and added everything up.

Then I added the NBA League Pass and our Netflix subscription (since I figure we’ll probably keep it so we can have cheap movie nights and so on) and our total came out to a guesstimated $650-$700.

Remember what cable costs? That’s right. Assuming an expenditure of only $850 (though we all know it’s more) and comparing it to a non-cable expenditure of $700 or less (minus the startup cost of buying the Apple TV 2 and an antenna, which will wash over time), that’s a minimum savings of $150/year.

It may not seem like a lot, but here are the benefits for me:

We won’t have to watch commercials in our shows anymore.

We’ll be encouraging ourselves to watch less TV once we’re paying for shows individually.

Even if it’s a small savings, it’s a savings. And that’s $150 (or more) that we can spend on something else this year for ourselves.

Copyright 2004-2020 Elizabeth Shiver