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How to Watch Your Favorite TV Shows for Less Money

Updated: 04/25/2014 1:50 PM
Created: 04/24/2014 9:35 PM KSTP.com
By: Stephen Tellier

If you've ever fought over a remote control, you know everyone watches TV a little differently.

But now, Minnesotans have many more choices than simply deciding which channel to watch: Cable, satellite, streaming video -- or how about an old-fashioned antenna?

5 Eyewitness News spent weeks exploring the pros and cons of each and every option, to help find the best value for you and your family.

We spoke with two very different kinds of viewers: Matt Noel, a law student and sports fanatic; and Patsy Piazza, a working mother of three. Both had cable bills close to $200 per month. They found a combined savings of $2,600 per year.

"I need to see March Madness," Noel said. "I'm obviously going to need to see the playoffs, whatever the sport."

Noel hails from Los Angeles. He's a Dodger die-hard and Laker lover. When we first talked to him, his cable bill was $190 per month.

"I want to watch my teams, so I'm willing to pay for it. However, it's a really big cost," Noel said.

But does he really need to pay that much to watch the sports and shows he loves?

"In the future, I'm going to try to figure out ways I can watch my teams without having to pay the huge cable bill that comes with it," Noel said.

But after all the digging we did, we found the options are somewhat limited for folks like Noel. You can buy NBA, MLB, and NHL packages separately from cable, which allow you to watch live games, for $10-or-so per month, each. But if you root for Minnesota's teams, and you live in Minnesota, your favorite teams will be blacked out locally.

So if live TV -- especially live sports – it’s indispensable to you, cable likely is, too.

But what if your family plays sports more often than it watches them?

"We have three boys, and so we're outside doing things a lot," Piazza said.

The Piazza boys don't need a ton of time in front of the tube. But their mother found it hard to control content when they did watch TV.

"It was the commercials and the other things that were aired during that time which were not appropriate for kids," Piazza said.

Then there was the cost.

"You get used to your automatic bill pay so you stop thinking about it -- until you start to calculate, 'Wait a second. I'm spending $180 every month on something that I don't necessarily need in my home,'" Piazza said.

So she pulled the plug. Her family bought an antenna for $100, which gives them access to 21 channels. The reception is perfect.

Now, her boys get to watch the same shows she watched as a kid.

"They love 'Gilligan's Island,' actually," Piazza said.

They also stream many current shows airing on ABC, NBC, and FOX online, using the free version of Hulu. Their only monthly cost is $30 for Internet.

The Piazzas have saved about $1,800 in one year. That's about six months of private school tuition for one of her boys.

"You can save money pretty quickly and still get a quality Internet at a very decent price," Piazza said.

Two different viewers, two very different solutions.

But what's the best option for you?

First: Shop around. Compare prices for cable, DirecTV and Dish. Basic TV for all three starts at $30 per month, but check for promotions -- they're popping up all the time.

If you're looking for something different, let Sam help you out.

"They hear smart box, they hear smart TV -- these devices are things that are new and they sound rather terrifying," said Samuel Wesp, a sales consultant with Best Buy in Roseville. "This is how you normally get what's on your computer onto your TV."

Wesp said smart boxes aren't as scary as you might think.

"Instead of having to have everybody crowded around the computer, now everybody can sit in front of the TV and see everything at a much more comfortable distance," Wesp said.

There are several brands to choose from, for a maximum price of $100.

"Most popular, and probably one that is best known in the public, is one of the original founding companies of doing the media box, is going to be Roku," Wesp said.

Roku offers three models, and now, a streaming stick, which hit the market last week.

"Instead of having a box and then a cable, this just plugs right into your TV and does all the stuff that the box normally does, on its own," Wesp said.

Amazon Fire TV is nearly as new, and sells for $100.

"This now has a quad core processor inside of it, so this one is one of the fastest-moving media boxes that we have on the market right now," Wesp said. "Apple TV is usually something that I would say is best for somebody who uses a lot of Apple products -- if you have an iPhone, you have an iPod, you have an iPad."

And for the frugal, there's Google Chromecast.

"This one is huge because it is so cheap. This one usually retails at about $35, whereas the next cheapest box is about $50," Wesp said. "It's just a little thumb drive, plugs right into your television."

The con? It's not a standalone product like the other boxes.

Then, once you have the ability to stream video, you need video to stream. Many channels are free. The best are not.

"With Netflix, you have a massive library that you can view countless movies on, tons of different television shows for $8 a month. Then, you go over to Hulu. Hulu is going to have a lot of your current shows that you would normally want to watch on cable network television, and they're just going to premiere it about 24 hours after it's aired on live television, and that's just another $8 a month," Wesp said.

It's certainly not the traditional cable TV experience. But it's making itself at home in more and more Minnesota households.

"I think once you take away some of that temptation, they begin to quickly forget that it was there," Piazza said.

There are also ways to save money without ditching cable.

After closer inspection of his bill, Noel found he was paying $8 per month to rent a modem from Comcast. So he bought his own for $66 dollars. That, coupled with one call to Comcast to push for a better deal, brought his bill down $70, to $120 per month.

Comcast said anyone concerned about their bill should first do what Matt did -- call them. Mary Beth Schubert, vice president of corporate affairs for Comcast, provided the following statement:

"Initially, there are options for consumers to consider when looking at their total bill for telecommunications services in the home. The first is bundling. Rather than taking a product-by-product approach to their in-home services, we encourage customers to seriously consider bundling all of their services - TV, Internet and phone - in an effort to save money on their total bill. Not only is there the very real possibility of lowering their bottom-line monthly expense, but also taking advantage of the convenience and flexibility of working with a single provider for their TV, phone and Internet service, and the full benefit of integrating their products on a single platform. And with Comcast, we offer customers an additional money-saving service option with our Xfinity Home security and home management option, providing even greater savings and a monthly discount on their homeowners insurance."

"Another way consumers can save money with Comcast is through an extended timeframe service agreement. This type of long-term commitment to bundle services with Comcast can offer incredible discounts over the contract term. Many of our new and existing customers have taken advantage of this opportunity. Also, customers always have the option of discussing a less expensive service tier option with one of our experienced customer service agents. Our goal is to make sure customers have the right package of services to meet their telecommunications needs at an affordable price."

"Lastly, I'd like to point out the great value customers are getting with our TV Everywhere features. Comcast customers have the opportunity using their Xfinity TV service wherever they are - in the home or on-the-go, through the Xfinity Go app for iOS and Android devices, and online through XfinityTV.com. In fact, our customers can watch live programming anytime, anyplace, from more than 50 network partners such as ESPN, CNN, Disney, National Geographic, Discovery, USA Network, History Channel, all major broadcast networks, and a host of others. This is in addition to thousands of additional programming options available through our video on demand feature, again available on TV, online and through the Xfinity Go app."


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