Use A Digital Antenna And Drop Pay TV

Buy a $40 Antenna and Save on Your Cable Bill

Welcome to Saving Money with Andrew!

Readers of a certain age likely remember the B.C. (before cable) era, complete with television static, adjusting antennas, and 4 or 5 channels on analog TV. Sometime in the 1980’s or early 1990’s, most of us “stepped into the light” of cable or satellite TV, discovering the joy of hundreds of channels. Most of my generation (early Millennials) came of age when most key cultural touchstones were on Nickelodeon, MTV, and ESPN, and cable TV viewing was the single largest use of time other than school and sleep.

The world has changed. The average American spends 5.4 hours per day on a smartphone, with 13% of millennials and 5% of boomers reporting over 12 hours daily. Most of cable’s offerings are now either largely obsolete or available online for free or at low cost:

  • High quality, entertaining, and educational childrens’ programming is broadly available online, often free on demand (such as on PBS Kids).

  • MTV has lost nearly all cultural relevance - any music video is available on YouTube in seconds.

  • ESPN clings to its place in sports, even though the most-viewed live sporting events are generally broadcast on network television (CBS/NBC/ABC/FOX).[1]

  • A large share of cable TV viewing today is just Fox News and MSNBC, the two dominant cable channels. A depressing thought as both have been shown to have strong partisan impact, to contribute to radicalization, and to have destructive impact on families.

And yet, despite declining viewing and free or low-cost alternatives, 78% of American households still have Pay TV subscriptions with an average reported TV bill of over $96/month, more than double the average smartphone cost per user.[2]

Have you considered dropping pay TV altogether and getting your local broadcast channels for free “over the air”? You can do this using a digital antenna (some great recommendations here), saving $500-1000/year. For a one-time charge of about $40, you can keep your local CBS/NBC/ABC/FOX stations, broadcast in high-quality digital HD.

If $40 is too much, or you don’t even have a TV but would still like to watch your local channels, there are other ways to access local TV for free, though their legality is in dispute. Locast, a service that relies on a nonprofit exemption from the copyright laws, offers free local TV service via various mobile apps. The broadcast networks are suing to try to shut it down.[3] It will be fascinating to see how this develops.

What could you do with the savings from dropping pay TV? Think about it. And if you decide to keep pay TV service, follow my earlier advice to Save on Your Cable Bill.

I hope this has been helpful. If you liked it, please share it with a friend! Also, please send me your feedback, requests, and success stories.

[1] A cable TV subscription is still probably essential if you are a true die-hard sports fan.

[2] Measuring the cost of pay TV is difficult because of bundling, and in fairness I am comparing the cost of pay TV per household to the per user cost of phone service. But by any measure it is significant.

[3] A similar for-profit service, Aereo, shut down in 2014 after a loss at the US Supreme Court.