WASHINGTON — When Mary Sherwood was injured in a motorcycle accident two years ago, she knew she’d have to make room in her budget for the medical bills. Her $115-per-month cable subscription was the first thing to go.
But even though Sherwood can afford to renew the subscription now, she isn’t interested. The 34-year-old account supervisor from Lee’s Summit, Mo., is one of a small but growing number of Americans who choose to forgo cable or satellite television in favor of streaming video on the Internet — for a fraction of the cost.
For a total of about $23 a month, Sherwood can watch all her favorite programs through the streaming subscription services Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus.
To catch Kansas City Chiefs football games, she tunes into free over-the-air network TV using a low-cost “rabbit ears” digital antenna, which sells for as little as $8.
“Once you make the switch, I don’t know why you would want to go back,” Sherwood said.
The vast majority of Americans — 95 percent — still watch television using traditional cable or satellite options, according to Nielsen. But the number of households that choose to opt out of cable or satellite TV is on the rise, from 2 million in 2007 to 5 million in 2013, Nielsen’s data show.
Rapid advances in streaming technology and faster broadband speeds make the transition easier than ever for those looking to “cut the cord.” Consumers can get high-definition images and a la carte content with few or no commercials. And streaming allows viewers to watch television programs anywhere they go on laptops, smartphones or tablets.
Catching on to the trend, cable and satellite companies have begun to offer “watch anywhere” services that allow subscribers to get live TV and streaming content on their mobile devices.
Cord-cutting won’t work for everyone, however. Streaming isn’t ideal if you watch a lot of live television, whether you’re a sports addict or news junkie, or you just can’t wait until tomorrow to catch the latest “Breaking Bad” episode. And premium channels such as HBO or Showtime are available only through cable or satellite.
“At this point, (cord-cutting) is not a realistic option for most households just because the amount of choice that they want is not going to be available online. But it’s only growing, so I think that cable companies are definitely aware of this and reacting to it,” said Jerry Brito, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and the director of its Technology Policy Program.
As a result, consumers might see lower prices and more choice in the future, Brito said.
Cord cutters also can buy “smart” TVs with built-in streaming capability or stream Internet videos from gaming systems such as Xbox, Nintendo Wii or Sony PlayStation using low-cost subscription services such as Netflix ($8 per month), Hulu (free), Hulu Plus ($8 per month) or Amazon Prime ($79 per year).
Alternative TV viewing options
The latest model, Roku 3, sells for about $100 and works only on HD televisions. Other models start at about $50 and work on almost any TV.
Roku 3 allows viewers to stream 1080p videos from more than 700 channels, including Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, PBS and Vudu, an on-demand movie and TV streaming service. Roku also boasts that it offers the biggest selection of live sports streaming packages, from MLB.TV and NBA League Pass Broadband to NHL GameCenter and professional soccer.
Roku 3 comes with a remote control, but you also may use your smartphone to scroll through channels or start a show.
The third-generation Apple TV became available in March 2012 and supports 1080p video. Another update is rumored to be on the way soon.
Apple TV costs about $100 and can be hooked up to your television with an HDMI cable, sold separately. The device comes with a remote, and also may be manipulated from a mobile app.
The device also can stream TV shows and movies from YouTube and Vimeo or Netflix. Live professional baseball, basketball and hockey are available for streaming by subscription from MLB.TV, NBA League Pass and NHL GameCenter.
Western Digital WD TV Play
Priced at about $70, the Western Digital WD TV Play streams videos from Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu, Cinema Now and Pandora, as well as Spotify and YouTube, both of which aren’t available on Roku. But it doesn’t offer Amazon Prime or live sports apps, a drawback for some viewers. The Western Digital WD TV Play comes with a remote control and a USB port to upload movies and photos.
This 2-inch gadget plugs into HDMI connections.
With relative ease, the Chromecast puts the TV screen to work displaying anything that appears on your Chrome Web browser. It also works with a limited number of applications, notably Netflix and YouTube. Customers must use their smartphones, tablets or computers as remotes.
The Chromecast costs just $35.
Netflix charges customers $8 per month to stream unlimited movies and TV, including some popular Netflix-only shows such as “Orange Is the New Black” and “House of Cards.”
Vudu lets you pay per view. Movies in HD — including recent releases — are available to rent online for $2 for two nights. You also may buy TV seasons to download and own.
Hulu, Hulu Plus
Hulu’s free service lets viewers stream popular TV series and movies with some commercials on their computers for free, usually after they air. Sometimes the delay is just a day, but it can be as long as a week or even an entire season. For $8 a month, Hulu Plus customers get access to archives of past seasons, an extensive library of movies and the ability to stream videos to their mobile devices and television sets.
Amazon Instant Video
Amazon Prime membership costs $79 a year and includes free two-day shipping as well as free streaming of select TV series and movies. The videos can be downloaded to your Kindle Fire device or cloud to store and watch later. However, many popular shows aren’t included in the Prime membership, and must be bought a la carte. The selection is limited and Amazon still isn’t available on many box-top devices or TVs.