Even if you watch a dozen or so shows a year, buying those seasons may be less expensive than paying for a cable subscription—and you’ll be able to watch on your TV, computer, phone, or tablet. We looked at 16 of the most popular TV shows across different networks back in 2016 (including Game of Thrones, The Big Bang Theory, Mr. Robot, The Blacklist, and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood), and the average price for a full season of these shows from the Google Play store was just under $25. On iTunes they were just under $32 a season, while on Amazon they were just about $29. Given that the average monthly cable bill at the start of that year was $99 per household, you could afford to buy between 38 and 48 TV-show seasons a year, depending on where you buy them, for the same price as cable, and have more flexibility in watching them. (This calculation doesn’t include shows that are exclusive to Netflix or Amazon, as you would have to subscribe to those services even if you have cable.)
These services offer the network TV channels you crave: ESPN, AMC, TBS, and a whole lot more. You can subscribe to premium channels like HBO through these same services (they're usually available as add-ons for a set price), and you'll also get major broadcast networks like ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC – though the catch with those four is that they'll be available in select markets only. The major skinny bundles also offer a mix of regional sports networks (in their relevant markets only), meaning you may be able to cancel cable and still watch your favorite local professional and college sports teams.
The WD TV is kind of a "jack of all trades, master of none". It does a good job of playing your own files while being easy to use, streaming from a few different services (but not a lot of them), and being configurable only where it counts. Tech-savvy media center users may find it a little basic, but it's the perfect box for someone who wants more than Apple TV can offer, but without the work that goes into Google TV, Boxee, or a homebrew XBMC box.
For example, CBS offers a lot of free full episodes with even more when you sign up for CBS All Access ($59.99/yr with limited commercials or $99.99/yr without commercials after a 7-day free trial). For many shows, like 60 Minutes, you can watch the last 5 episodes for free. Some others have an entire season for free – such as Big Brother: Over the Top.
You might think that local news and cable news would be easy to find via your set-top box, but even if you get a live TV subscription, it may be missing your local channels, and it may not have your preferred cable pundits. (Fox News, for example, isn’t available on every service.) Hulu With Live TV will get you a lot of what you need with minimal hassle, but do check out your local line-up on the Hulu website first.
There are many differences. SlingTV is the cheapest, but it's missing many channels unless you pay extra for them. And If you're a fan of Nickelodeon or PBS, you won't be able to see the kids' TV favorite on YouTubeTV, SlingTV, Sony PlayStation VUE or Hulu with Live TV, but you can get Nick with DirecTV Now. And if you have an Amazon Fire TV Stick as your streaming device to bring Internet to your TV, you can't see YouTubeTV.
Wireless: You could also skip cables completely and just go wireless. This isn't quite as simple as it sounds, though. There are far too many considerations to get into here, but a few things to keep in mind: 1) They're going to cost more than cables; 2) 4K options often only work in-room, and can be blocked by anything, including cabinet doors and even people. Though wireless seems like it should be easy in this era of near-ubiquitous Wi-Fi, it's not. If you're considering this, definitely do your research before you buy.
This does not mean, however, that you can never watch ESPN again after you cancel cable. Nearly every major media brand is moving toward offering its own standalone subscription service. Until then, though, if it’s important to you to maintain some continuity with your current cable-viewing habits, proceed to the next section for your best options.
Cons: Those unlimited screens come at an extra cost. Available only to Hulu With Live TV subscribers, the add-on costs an additional $14.99 per month, nearly twice the price of the basic subscription itself. One of users' biggest gripes with the service is that it doesn't allow for offline viewing. A lot of subscribers also recommend the no commercials add-on.