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Get cable TV on the cheap

New lower-priced cable plans allow subscribers to scale back their monthly bills without cutting the cord completely.

By MSN Money Partner Jan 27, 2012 5:26PM

This post comes from Kelli B. Grant at partner siteSmartMoney.


Analysts project food, airfare and gasoline will all cost more this year. But consumers may be able to shrink one bill: cable TV.


While subscribers to fiber-optic service and satellite saw last year's average monthly bills jump 15% and 12%, respectively, research firm Centris found that cable subscribers are now paying 1% less -- an average of $69.70 per month. (Which is also cheaper than the average $76.80 for satellite and $99.67 for fiber-optic.)


Experts say it's the start of a shift as cable companies introduce new, lower-cost plans with a more limited selection of channels to grab market share from other pay-TV providers -- and to keep budget-conscious customers from cutting the cord altogether. "They need to upgrade their overall offering to compete," says Bob Harris, chief executive for utility comparison site WhiteFence.


Among the new offerings: Cable provider Cox Communications recently announced it would roll out a $35 "TV Economy" package with a smaller selection of channels in all of its markets. After testing a similar $30 "TV Essentials" deal in 2010, a Time Warner Cable spokesperson says it now offers the 12-month promotion to all subscribers, with a jump after the first year to roughly $50 a month, depending on the region. "Folks are still making decisions with their wallets in mind," says a spokesperson. "Obviously, anything that appeals to customers makes us more competitive." And in select areas, Comcast is testing a basic "MyTV Choice" plan that costs $25 a month, plus $10 apiece for extra channel bundles.


Such plans aren't a perfect fit for all subscribers. Favorites such as ESPN are notably absent from the scaled-back channel lineups, and so are now-commonplace features such as DVR and video-on-demand, says Dan Rayburn, a principal analyst for Frost & Sullivan. "For some people, that will be OK, but it's not going to satisfy the majority of users," he says. "I don't know that those are really packages that will go mainstream."


It still may be worth a look. By comparison site BillShrink's estimate, the average consumer could shave as much as $800 off his or her pay-TV bill over the course of a year.


Assess supplier options

There's usually just one cable provider in a given area, but with telecom and satellite companies continuing to branch out, consumers generally do have at least three choices for where to get their content, says Harris. (WhiteFence details options by address, as does BillShrink.) Post continues below.

Prices can vary substantially, and even if you're not ready to switch, mentioning a competitor's offer can often trigger a better deal. The catch: getting a provider's best price often requires bundling in Internet and home phone service, too. Experts suggest checking for reviews of service in the area to ensure you're not switching to tortoise-speed Internet or a spotty phone connection. Providers may also offer different deals to consumers who sign up via phone or online, so it's worth calling after crunching the numbers online.


Slim channel choices

Cable providers are on to something with their new plans: Most households don't need nearly as many channels as they subscribe to, says analyst Rayburn. Customers should ask their provider if there's a smaller bundle they can shift to -- for example, a Time Warner Cable spokesperson says the new "TV Essentials" is actually a mid-range plan offering 38 more channels than the $20-a-month basic offering. Although Comcast's $25 offer is currently only in select markets, all subscribers have access to a 50-channel plan for $30, says a spokesperson. "Our goal is to have something for everyone," she says.


Online offerings such as Hulu and Netflix could help make up for missing channels. But scale back carefully. Some packages aren't eligible for those cheap home-Internet-TV bundles, Rayburn says. That, and the subscription costs for an add-on video service, could actually make it cheaper to stick with more channels.


Cut the cord

Just 5% of households have a broadband Internet connection and no pay-TV option, according to Nielsen. "Realistically, there haven't been that many cord-cutters," says Rayburn. But he says that thanks to growing options for streaming via Amazon, Netflix, Hulu and other sites directly to a television, going without pay-TV can be an option.


"If you don't watch that much TV, you don't need cable," he says. Depending on their viewing habits, however, cord-cutting consumers may need to cobble together a workable solution using a few subscriptions and an over-the-air antenna for broadcast stations.


More on SmartMoney and MSN Money:


Jun 14, 2012 4:02PM
I cut the cord long ago.  I put 2 (1 UHF and 1 VHF) antennas above the 8' mark in my attic where they are invisible and taking up no useable space.  They are about 2'x2' each and I get 35 channels over the air.  I hate the sleazy cable company (who lamely tries to change its name) more than any other entity in the world, and not paying them was worth the effort.  The final straw for me was actually not wanting to accept their crappy cable box with its unresponsive remote.  Now my TV works better than ever.  I encourage you to do the same.
Jan 28, 2012 3:58AM

I always laugh when I hear people talk about their high cable bills! Instead of paying $60 to $100 a month for cable or satellite I opted for buying used dvd's and blu-rays instead. My goal is to spend at least $60 every month.. I have been at for 13 years now and have over 1700 dvd's and bluray's in my collection. I read the news online daily and subscribe to services like netflix to supplement what i'm missing.. Most of my friends and family are always so jealous of all the the material I have and often ask if they can come over and watch movies or just borrow something! -As for regular TV shows the solution is simple; I simply have a digital TV tuner/outdoor antenna and a DVR I purchased online. I can watch movies and TV shows from any of my sources: DVR, NETFLIX(RENATL),NETFLIX (STREAMING), DVD, BLU-RAY :)

My costs are:

1)$30/month internet (broadband)

2)$15/month Netflix

3)$250 HD DVR AND DVD RECORDER (one time purchase online which I don't have to rent, I own it!) 

4)$60 For USED discs (never new!)


I usually spend about $100 a month on internet and and my home library of movies and TV..

I literally have more movies than I have time to watch!

Even If I came into money troubles I could easily sell my collection for a quick $2000! Try doing that with your cable bill!


Jan 28, 2012 2:29PM
It only makes sense to cut the cable - it's not necessary for tv watching. I've been watching TV and Movies online through the TVDevo website for and movies on Redbox.
Doing so has allowed me to cancel cable TV from the budget as it no longer makes sense to pay the monthly bill.
Sep 5, 2012 9:31AM
Why cut the cord when you don't have to pay monthly?

3500+ channels

unlimited usage

no hardware needed

Jun 18, 2012 11:24AM
Get this! Where I live there is a local cable company offering an economy TV package for $20 a month: the content? Local stations rebroadcast. SERIOUSLY??? And what makes it worse is there will be effin morons who don't know they can just put up a $10 UHF antenna and get all of those channels FOR FREE.
May 2, 2012 4:46PM
ROOF ANTENNA = free TV, up to 100 channels in some markets. $100-200 with installation

C-BAND OR KU BAND FTA DISH = free satellite, lots of international programming, PBS and spanish language, sports and in the wild news reporting feeds.   $300-1000 with installation.

Cable and TV satellite bills can cost $75-150 a month now, the pricing is just insane.

May 10, 2013 2:16PM

And over half of the channels you get are infomercials. They tell you that you will receive over 1oo channels for a price, then you find most of them are trying to sell you stuff.

Jun 11, 2012 6:31PM
I signed up with - they offered free installation and setup, low monthly fees, and 24hr on call assistance if needed.
There are plenty of ways to cut corners and save money!

Sep 5, 2012 9:32AM
Oh, and I forgot...

NO monthly fees! :)


May 10, 2013 6:46PM
what an awesome thought, to have the ability  to stick it to the cable companys like they do to you, I:m one of the idiots that pays a small fortune every month at the rate of $156 per month for cable and internet.seems if your a home owner you have more options than a apartment renter.  live in Miami bch most landlords here will not allow dishes on their buildings,which I can kind of understand nobody wants 50 dishes bolted all over the  bldg. .therefore the only choice left is cable and of course theres only one.,they are atlantic broadband ( what a monopoly ) included in my price are the premium channels like (HBO) which has 5 hbo channels ( sounds like a lot ) its not, problem is they all play the same dumb program you get it in (hd,) , (spanish), (non-hd ) and so on.but its still the same program on all the channels what a waste and a rip off.and yes 3/4 of channels offered is stuff nobody watches,just filler channels but your paying for YES,YES the bill has my tv,my money give me the option to watch what I want !! 
Jun 2, 2013 8:02AM

Any device that runs XBMC is all you really need

My setup is Jynxbox Android + XMBC + 1channel plugin = MOVIE HEAVEN.

Look how easy it is to find any movie within seconds and free
May 10, 2013 3:36PM

the trouble with cable and sattelite is they force you to pay for a lot of channels you don't want, I don't watch sports, but you have to take espn and others . espn is expensive therefore they force everyone to buy it. home shopping, foreighn channels,lik telemundo etc. I don't watch those either but there are a lot of those included, infmercial channels they are included, who wants those? pay per view? they say you get 100, or more channels for the price but 2/3 of the channels are these filler channels, not acrtual channels people really watch. I had 200 channels with dish at 70.00 per month, I only watch about 15 of the channels, most were spports, spanish, infomercials, home shopping, pay per view, Like I said just filler channels and a lot of them were repeats under a different channel no. duplicate shows. so yeah, cable priced by what you order and only that, would be a better idea. I think if sports fanatics want espn, then make them pay a premium price for it, don't ding everybody to make up the cost!!


Aug 3, 2013 12:16PM
I'm sick of the big cable companies trying to push you into high end cable packages where all you get is 500 foreign channels. i recently signed up for Low Income Cable (no income requirement). It's fast, cheap and no hassles.
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