What does $50 a month buy you on TV? It could buy plenty

To save money, some consumers sign up for services like Hulu or Netflix to binge-watch a favored series, cancel when it’s over, and re-up when the next binge-worthy show comes along.
To save money, some consumers sign up for services like Hulu or Netflix to binge-watch a favored series, cancel when it’s over, and re-up when the next binge-worthy show comes along.(globe staff photo illustration)
You’ve heard it a thousand times: You won’t save much money by replacing traditional cable TV with Internet video streams.

Don’t be so sure. A survey of 500 “cord cutters” from the personal finance website LendEdu found they claimed an average saving of $115 a month — nearly $1,400 a year.

Many cord cutters combine free TV broadcasts with a few carefully selected Internet video streams, to get all the entertainment they want.

Could you do the same? It depends.

First, this assumes you’ve got a strong over-the-air signal to receive the major national broadcasters and local stations, and a strong enough Internet connection to stream live video, using either a smart TV or devices such as Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire.


Now, if you want a little more out your TV selections, but don’t want to pay very much — maybe $50 a month extra, tops — here’s how you can do it:

■  The best option for those who must have some cable TV is Sling TV, with not one but two cut-rate $25 plans: Sling Orange with 28 channels, including CNN and three from ESPN, and Sling Blue, with 42 channels but no ESPN. It does offer the NFL Network, FX, and BET.

You can find many more channel choices from other virtual cable offerings — such as Hulu with Live TV, YouTube TV, DirecTV now, and PlayStation Vue — but the services all run in the $40 to $45 range, thus gobbling up nearly all of your $50 budget.

■  You can make a good case for blowing your money on subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu. By offering hordes of original programs available nowhere else, these streamers have become the CBS, ABC, and NBC of Internet video. But you pay a separate fee for each of them.

Hulu — the version without live cable channels — costs $7.99 a month, or $5.99 during the first year. Netflix has a basic service for $7.99 a month that works on just one device at a time and doesn’t support HD video resolution. The premium package includes Ultra HD support and lets up to four family members watch simultaneously, for $13.99 a month.


Amazon Prime Video is an odd duck. It’s part of’s Prime buying club, where members get a lot more beyond streaming videos, such as music streaming, free two-day delivery of purchased items, and the right to borrow some electronic books at no charge. Amazon Prime provides all of this for $12.99 a month or $119 a year.

Sign up for all three of Hulu, Netflix and Amazon, and you’ll spend just shy of $35. If you’re also using Sling TV, you’ve gone about 10 bucks over your $50 limit. Your choice may depend on how much online shopping you do, or whether you can bear missing the upcoming final season of Netflix’s “House of Cards.”

■  Outside of the big three is a horde of other viewing options.

Some premium cable channels are available as pure Internet streams — HBO Now, for example, at $14.99 a month. Fans of “Homeland” and “Billions” can get Showtime for $10.99 a month. And streaming “Power” or “American Gods” on the Starz network costs $8.99 a month. CBS has joined the fray with All Access, an Internet-only service with movies, CBS TV series, and original programs available only online, such as “Star Trek: Discovery.” It’s just $6 a month if you don’t mind watching commercials, or $10 if you do mind.

Combined, these four can run about $45. But wait: Remember that you can cancel any of these services and re-up as needed. A “Star Trek” fan might stick around just long enough to binge-watch “Discovery,” then quit until the new season is ready. Rinse and repeat for each of these services.

In fact, you can do the same with Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime and save quite a bit of money by paying only when you’ve got something to binge on. With Hulu and Netflix, you can put your subscription on hold for up to three months.


So your total spend can vary greatly, especially if you’re diligent about purging channels after every viewing binge.

■  There’s also a robust inventory of niche channels that can fill your viewing inventory, ranging from esoteric documentaries to Saturday morning cartoons.

For the kiddies, there’s Noggin, a $7.99-a-month service that features Dora the Explorer, Paw Patrol, and other popular shows, and Boomerang, where you can get Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, and the Flintstones for $4.99 a month.

At the other extreme, there’s Shudder, devoted entirely to horror movies and suspense thrillers, priced at $4.99 a month.

Cheddar is a news channel aimed at millennials, at just $2.99 a month.

For documentary fans, the Smithsonian Earth channel focuses on nature shows and is priced at $3.99 a month. CuriosityStream has lots of science shows for $2.99, while History Vault features exactly what you’d expect, for $4.99.

There are a lot of great British TV shows, and two different ways to get at them: BritBox, from the BBC and ITV, is $6.99 a month, while rival Acorn TV costs $4.99. Both are full of the kinds of shows you often find running on PBS, only many more of them.


If you don’t mind subtitles, there’s Walter Presents, a channel devoted to TV dramas from the rest of Europe. It’s stuffed with high-end shows from France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and pretty much the entire European Union, for $6.99 a month.

For old-school American movies, Filmstruck is your best bet. It costs $6.99 a month, or $10.99 for a version that includes the Criterion Collection, a vast library of foreign classics.

See where this is headed? A diligent viewer can put together a diverse selection of entertainment for not much money.

You might opt for a “basic cable” package like Sling TV Orange or Blue, and then add Hulu and Amazon Prime. That’s just under $46 a month. I’ve got to have my old movies, so throw in Filmstruck. That’s $53. Close enough to our $50 limit.

And depending on your tastes in TV, you might get a little closer.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.