What Does It Mean to Cut the Cord?

How to free yourself from cable and satellite TV

Many TV viewers, frustrated with cable and satellite customer service and costs, are "cutting the cord." Cord-cutting is when someone cancels traditional cable or satellite service to receive TV programs via a different option. It's not hard to make the switch; here's what you need to consider before you make a decision.

Cutting the Cord: What You Need

There are three cord-cutting options available: antenna, streaming, or a combination of the two.


The antenna is the way TV started and it's making a big comeback with cord-cutters.

AmazonBasics Indoor TV Antenna

If you connect an indoor or outdoor antenna to your TV, you can receive programs from over-the-air local and network affiliate TV channels free. This is a great way to receive programming from the major TV networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, WB, and PBS).

Older analog TVs, and many HDTVs made before 2007, require a digital converter box that's placed between the antenna and the TV. 


If you have a smart TV, media streamer box or stick (Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast, Apple TV, etc.), or smart Blu-ray Disc player, and subscribe to an internet service, you can access TV programs and movie content without an antenna or cable/satellite service.

Roku Express (top) - Roku Ultra (bottom) Media Streamers
Images provided by Roku

Popular streaming services include Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, Amazon, Apple TV+ Crackle, Vudu, YouTube, and more.

Combination of Antenna and Streaming

This is the most comprehensive cord-cutting option as it enables you to access local TV channels without paying a fee, and plus additional content via the internet.

The availability of the above alternatives to cable/satellite service makes cutting the cord definitely attractive. However, there are both benefits and drawbacks.

Benefits vs. Drawbacks: Our Findings

Cord-Cutting Benefits
  • Potentially lower costs.

  • No cable or satellite contract.

  • No recurring cable/satellite box rental costs.

  • Pay only for channels/services you want.

  • Receive free local channels via antenna.

  • Streaming services can also be viewed smartphones and tablets.

Cord Cutting Drawbacks
  • Not all streaming services are free.

  • You might need to retain cable/satellite to access some streaming services.

  • There is no streaming device or smart TV that offers all services. 

  • Monthly internet data caps may limit the amount you can stream without added costs.

Let's dig a little deeper into our cord-cutting findings.

Lower Costs and No Contract

You're no longer tied to expensive cable service or locked into a satellite contract. Each service does charge fees but the lack of a required contract lets you test out and try a variety of services as you go.

Keep in mind that you may incur early termination fees if you decide to cancel a satellite service.

A La Carte Channel Selection

You can choose what channels and services you want. You don't have to pay for channels and programs you don't want unless you subscribe to a service like Hulu or Sling.

Screenshot of Sling TV on the Apple TV

Lower Equipment Costs

Although you still have to pay for a smart TV, media streamer, and/or antenna in order to receive the channels and programs you want, that's a one-time cost, not a recurring monthly fee that's required for a cable/satellite box rental.

Watch on Portable Devices

In addition to TVs, you can watch streaming content on smartphones and tablets. This is great when you're traveling or otherwise not at home if internet access is available. Today's smartphones have such large screens that watching the news or catching a show while waiting in line somewhere is a pretty easy thing to do.

Not Everything Is Free

Although over-the-air TV reception and many streaming channels are free, there are many streaming channels and services that require a monthly subscription or pay-per-view fee.

If you only pay for one or two subscription-based or pay-per-view services, you can save money over cable/satellite. However, if you keep adding more pay services, those fees can add up, and you might again find yourself with a hefty monthly subscription or pay-per-view bill that could rival that old cable/satellite bill.

You May Still Need Cable or Satellite

Even if you go with streaming, access to some streaming services requires that you are also an active cable/satellite subscriber. It's rare, but it does happen.

This means that although some of the channels you enjoyed on your cable or satellite service are available via streaming for free when you try to access some streaming services that also have cable channel equivalents, you may be required to provide verification that you also receive that channel via a cable or satellite service.

Not All Media Streamers Offer the Same Services

Smart TVs and Blu-ray players, as well as standalone media streamers, don't all offer the same selection of channels and services. Roku devices are the most comprehensive with more than 5,000 possibilities (depending on location), but there are other media streamers available (such as Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast, and some game consoles) that may, or may not, have the channels and services you desire.

Streaming Limits

If you choose to access all your TV viewing through streaming, be aware of any limits on the amount of video you can stream each month. Streaming in SD or HD is usually not a problem, but 4K streaming may eat up a lot of your monthly allocation. Also, if more than one person in your household is streaming at the same time, that also affects how much of your allotment you use (as well as the speed of your internet service). If you go over your limit, your internet bill goes up.

Before You Cut, Evaluate Your Options

Before canceling your cable or satellite service, make sure your planned cord-cutting options will work for you.

For the antenna option to work well, you need to be in a location where it's easy to receive over-the-air TV broadcast signals. A good idea is to connect an antenna to your TV and see what local channels you can receive. 

For streaming, check the smart TV, Blu-ray Disc player, or media streamer you have, or are considering, to see if they offer the streaming channels and services you desire. If live television is a priority for you, for instance, do you want all channels possible from a service like Hulu or just a few favorites that are available on specialty services like Paramount+?

Make a list of the total costs of the options you are considering to see if you will actually save money. You'll know then if it's smart to cut the cord and cancel cable.

  • What is the best cord-cutting service?

    The best cord-cutting streaming service for you will offer the channels and add-ons at a price point that makes you happy. Streaming services that can serve as cable TV alternatives include YouTube TV, Sling TV, DirecTV Stream, and Philo. These services offer various packages with popular cable TV channels.

  • What cord-cutting services carry NBC?

    Some streaming services include NBC in their packages, such as YouTube TV, Hulu Plus Live TV, fuboTV, and Sling TV. Notably, the streaming service Peacock TV is a division of NBCUniversal; it includes hundreds of movies, TV shows, past and current NBC hits, and more.

  • What cord-cutting services carry the NFL Network?

    You can access the NFL Network, which carries Thursday Night Football games, via fuboTV, YouTube TV, Hulu Plus Live TV, and Sling TV's Blue package.

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