How to Replace Cable TV for Only $25 a Month

·10 min read

Disney+, Paramount+, and Peacock offer a wide range of broadcast channels, cable networks, movies, and original shows

By James K. Willcox

These days, many of us are looking for ways to trim budgets—and ditching costly cable or satellite TV services is a common place to start. According to 2021 survey conducted by Statista, the majority of cable and satellite TV users in the U.S. pay more than $100 a month for those services.

Streaming video services can be a significant expense, too. Nearly half of all U.S. homes now subscribe to four or more, says the market research firm Parks Associates.

So, if you’re like me, you’re likely struggling to keep up with all the shows and movies you want to watch, at a price that won’t sink your budget.

Many services designed to replicate traditional TV packages—FuboTV, Hulu + Live TV, and YouTube TV—have been hiking their prices lately, with most now costing $65 per month or more.

What if you’re prepared to pay only half that? Can you still find a compelling assortment of content complete with local broadcasts?

Believe it or not, the answer is yes.

With the launch of several newer streaming services, including NBCUniversal’s Peacock and Paramount+ from ViacomCBS, we decided to see if we could assemble a TV plan on an ultra-tight budget of just $25 per month.

While the package we created—a Disney+ bundle combined with Paramount+ and Peacock—might not fit every need, it does deliver a robust assortment of broadcast channels, cable networks, movies, and original shows. You might decide to swap in a few different services, such as HBO Max, and still be able to hit a satisfying monthly budget.

Because people tend to add Netflix and/or Amazon Prime to other streaming plans, we took both out of the equation. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to subscribe to them. Setting those aside, here are three services that provide a wealth of content options for $25 per month or less.

Paramount+

Let’s start with Paramount+, which has replaced CBS All Access as ViacomCBS’ streaming platform, because it seems like a no-brainer for sports fans. It has a deal to show all the local-market NFL games on CBS’ schedule through 2033, plus NCAA basketball and PGA golf, including the Masters and the PGA Championship.

Paramount+, which replaces CBS All Access, is the streaming home to ViacomCBS programs, plus original shows.

CBS's media dept.

Paramount+ has two subscription options. If you can live with a few advertisements, the Essentials plan costs only $5 per month ($50 for a year if you pay up front). Or you can watch ad-free on the Premium plan for $10 a month ($100 if you pay by the year). The big difference is that you don’t get your live local CBS station (except for NFL games) with the Essential plan. So you might want to pay for the pricier tier if you can’t get live CBS shows any other way, or if you want to watch shows in 4K HDR (including Dolby Vision), and get mobile downloads, which are exclusive to the Premium plan.

Both services give you access to all shows from CBS, more than 3,500 episodes from BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount, the Smithsonian Channel, and other jointly owned properties. There’s also a growing number of original shows, such as "Halo," based on the video game; "1883," the prequel series to "Yellowstone"; several series based on "Star Trek"; “The Mayor of Kingstown"; and the limited series, “The Stand," based on the best-selling Steven King novel.

Current movies include “A Quiet Place Part II.” Other new blockbuster movies that will hit the service after they appear in theaters include “Mission: Impossible 7” and “Top Gun: Maverick.” For kids, there are two “Spongebob Squarepants” properties: “Kamp Koral,” an original children’s series, and “The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run.”

Paramount+ is available on Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, and Roku streaming players; Android and Apple iOS smartphones and tablets; LG, Samsung, and Vizio smart TVs; and PlayStation and Xbox game consoles.

Total cost: With Paramount+ onboard, we’ve now spent $5 of our $25 budget, leaving $20.

Disney+ Bundle

Given the assortment of high-powered entertainment brands under the Disney umbrella, it’s no surprise that we’re adding Disney+ next. At $8 per month—or $80 if you pay for a year—Disney+ is already a must-have for 43-million-plus subscribers in the U.S. and Canada.

With content, from Disney, Lucasfilm, Marvel, NatGeo, and Pixar, Disney+ is a compelling option. We like the Disney+/Hulu/ESPN bundle.

Disney

Here’s why: Disney owns Lucasfilm (the “Star Wars” franchise), Marvel Studios (“The Avengers,” “Black Panther”), and Pixar (“Toy Story,” “Up”). The recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox gives it 20th Century Studios (“The Simpsons”) and the lion’s share of National Geographic content, too.

The updated library of content includes the much-anticipated "Beatles Get Back" from Peter Jackson, Disney’s "Encanto," "Eternals," from the Marvel universe, and the Star Wars series "The Book of Boba Fett." New original series include "Hawkeye," from Marvel, plus a third season of the popular series "The Mandalorian,” also set in the “Star Wars” universe. Coming shows include several new Star Wars adventures, including "Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi," with Ewan McGregor reprising his role, and "Secret Invasion," a Marvel series with Samuel L. Jackson again starring as Nick Fury.

While Disney+ is pretty compelling on its own, we decided to splurge on the bundle plan, adding Hulu and ESPN+ to the service for $14 per month.

Hulu—now wholly owned by Disney—fills a pretty big hole with content from popular broadcast and cable channels. Some shows can be watched in real time, but most are available either one day or one week later. That’s a good way to get programming from ABC, AMC, Bravo, Big Ten Network, CBS, E, ESPN, Fox, Fox Sports, FX, NBC, NFL Network, Oxygen, PBS, Syfy, and USA Network.

However, earlier this year NBCUniversal said it will stop providing current-season shows, such as "Saturday Night Live" and "Chicago Fire," to Hulu starting later this year. Instead, these and other shows will move over to NBC’s Peacock streaming service. (Don’t worry, that’s also on our list, below.)

This bundle also gives you a nice assortment of classic TV shows (“30 Rock” and "Modern Family," Hulu originals (“The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Dopesick,” about the opioid crisis, starring Michael Keaton; and “Pam and Tommy,” about the tempestuous relationship between Pamela Anderson and the Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee. Other Hulu originals include “Nine Perfect Strangers,” starring Nicole Kidman, and "Only Murders in the Building,” starring Steve Martin and Martin Short. You also get exclusive access to films such as “A Quiet Place” and “Parasite.”

ESPN+ adds sports to the mix, everything from major league baseball to college football and basketball, hockey, soccer, and UFC fights. You also get access to documentaries such as the “30 for 30” series.

Disney+ is available on LG and Samsung smart TVs, plus Android TVs and Roku TVs. You can also access the service from most streaming players, game consoles, Android and iOS smartphones, and web browsers.

Total cost: With Paramount+ and the Disney bundle, we’ve now spent $19 of our $25 monthly budget. That doesn’t leave much money for a third service, but read on.

Ad-Supported Peacock Premium

Peacock, which launched nationally in 2020, is a great way to round out the package with NBC shows and Universal movies.

Unlike the services above, it offers a free ad-supported tier in addition to two paid tiers ($5 per month with ads, $10 without) featuring more robust content options.

The new Peacock service provides NBC shows, Universal movies, sports, and original programming.

NBCUniversal's media center

The free tier gives you access to about two-thirds of Peacock’s 20,000-title library of movies, classic shows, news, sports, kids programming and Spanish-language offerings. NBC’s current-season broadcasts are also available one week after they air.

But we think it’s worth spending $5 per month for the ad-supported paid tier. To start, you get next-day access to those NBC shows. Better yet, you get the full complement of programming from NBCUniversal’s properties: Bravo, Syfy, Telemundo, USA Network, and Universal Studios. More recently, Peacock reached a deal with Universal that will see that company’s new movies stream exclusively on Peacock after leaving theaters. The deal starts this year and includes such movies as “Jurassic World: Dominion” and “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

Peacock is also licensing shows from ABC, A&E, and Fox. And it has a deal with ViacomCBS to add content from CBS, Paramount, Showtime, and Viacom, plus movies from Blumhouse, DreamWorks, Focus Features, Illumination, Universal Pictures, and Warner Bros.

Peacock’s original programming is a third great reason to subscribe to a Premium plan; free-tier subscribers get only a sample program or two. Original series include a reboot of “Joe vs. Carole,” a scripted adaptation of the “Joe Exotic: Tiger King" podcast; Dan Brown’s "The Lost Symbol,” and “Yellowstone.” Among the newest titles are “Bel-Air,” a more serious reboot of "The Prince of Bel-Air“; “Paris in Love,” about Paris Hilton’s wedding plans, “One of Us Is Lying,” about high school students in detention making it out alive.

For sports fans, Peacock will stream Premier League soccer games, golf tournaments, and WWE Network matches. It also recently signed an extension with the NFL to show Sunday night NFL games that air on NBC through 2033.

You can access Peacock through Comcast’s own Xfinity X1 cable and Flex streaming platforms, as well as on Amazon Fire TV boxes and TVs; Apple devices (Apple TV and Apple TV 4K, iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch); Google Android TVs; Roku players and TVs; phones, tablets, and Chromecast; and through LG and Vizio smart TVs. The service is also available on Xbox One and Sony PS4 game consoles.

Total cost: By adding Peacock to our plan at $5 per month, we’ve raised the total to $24, leaving you with an extra buck for popcorn.

So How Did We Do?

In the end, we proved it’s possible to get a fully featured TV plan for less than $25 per month. In fact, if Peacock Free meets your needs, you can dip below $20 per month. But if you need to get CBS broadcasts, we recommend stepping up to the $10-a-month Paramount+ plan, which would bring the total to $30 a month.

Any way you decide to go, you get a pretty compelling assortment of broadcast TV, cable content, movies, sports, and live events.

And don’t forget that you can supplement everything here with the classic TV shows and movies offered by free ad-supported streaming services such as Pluto TV, Tubi, and Xumo.

Of course, we know that some people do need to get live local broadcasts. You can do that for free using an antenna.

Got cord-cutting tips of your own? We’d love to hear what you’re doing to tame your monthly TV bill. Let us know in the comments below!



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