6 Reasons to Downgrade to Basic Cable


How much TV do you watch per day? If you’re like me (I watch a few hours of mostly news programs, reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond, Real Housewives of New York and Family Guy), you’re into the basics and really shouldn’t be paying more than $10 to $25 a month for cable. Seriously, do you even care for anything that lies above Comedy Central?

Basic cable is a smart way to save and can help you pocket anywhere from an extra $20 to $80 a month, depending on the service you currently have.  Basic service typically includes 30 to 40 channels including local network channels, as well as popular channels like ESPN, MTV, Discovery and AMC, among others.  It costs anywhere from $10 to $25 a month.  Standard digital cable, the next step up, can carry up to 100 channels. Time Warner’s (Stock Quote: TWX) standard service cable service, for example, has about 90 channels and costs around $45 a month. Beyond that there’s premium cable, which usually carries hundreds of channels, sometimes including premium movie channels like HBO, Cinemax and Showtime. Comcast’s (Stock Quote: CMCSA) Digital Premiere plan, its top package, carries hundreds of channels plus four movie channels and sports programming. That’ll run you $85 a month.

If the savings aren’t enough to get you on the basic bandwagon, perhaps the following list will.

1. It’s not Grandpa’s basic cable. You may think it’s old school to just have basic cable but about 60% of Americans have just that, according to the 2006 Arbitron Cable Television Study. And more than half are between the ages of 25 and 54.  See? It’s cool!

2. You may score upgrades for free. Competition is fierce among cable operators right now to attract both new customers and keep current ones.  Many new deals for prospective customers include free upgrades or low-cost bundled deals that combine cable, Internet and phone. So when you opt for basic, call and ask your cable provider if you can get any free upgrades like HBO, a digital video recorder or an extra phone line, even if just for a few months.  If not, threaten to leave and watch them sweat.

3. The web can supplement. Between Fancast and Hulu, you can watch a lot of your favorite shows and movies online for free.  Bummed you missed last night’s episode of 30 Rock? Don’t feel sorry because you didn’t pay up for Tivo (Stock Quote: TIVO) or another DVR system. Hop onto Hulu and watch it for free.

4. The library can supplement. Get your Sopranos fix at the library, where you’ll likely find boxed DVD sets of your favorite premium shows from HBO and Showtime. All you’ll need is your library card.

5. You can always barter. You can always barter for movies and premium shows. At Swaptree, exchange your unwanted DVDs (as well as books, music and video games) for something you really want.   The last time I checked there were 100,000 potential swaps proposed by people looking for a “like new” copy of the hit teen flick Twilight.

6. Original programming is improving. The competition for quality series is growing and it’s happening largely in basic cable land. Shows like Rescue Me, Mad Men, Lost, Chuck, Nip/Tuck and The Closer are winning awards and growing their fan base. HBO’s not the only place for good original programming anymore.


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