Oh, the times, they are a changing … and there's more jingle in the pocketbook!
The cord has been cut, the savings are stacking up and it hasn't been all that painful, thanks to free FAST channels (scroll down for explanation).
For many years, my basic and extended cable subscription was included in my condo’s HOA fee. Not this year (2024). To everyone’s dismay, we were forced to cut the cord with Xfinity due to price hikes.
At one point, my monthly bill out of pocket was nearly $250, with internet and a “preferred package” so my husband could watch westerns, but with no added sports packages, HBO or other premium extras.
At first, when my coaxial cable was disabled, I moaned and groaned and complained because I like familiarity and am resistant to change. But when my 12-year-old non-smart TV finally went kaput, I bought a new Fire TV from Best Buy for under $200. I was gleeful with the results.
After hooking up my brand new Fire TV, I set about to master its functionality by navigating the user interface, which is similar to what I was used to on my Roku Stick. While the default dashboard has plenty of options, it also allowed me to download apps and install them.
You get to choose which ones appeal to you, whether you’re into more sports, kid-friendly or reality shows, etc. Plus, you can hand pick your subscriptions like Netflix, Prime, Max, Paramount+, Peacock, Apple TV, Hulu, Disney+, ESPN+, Starz, BritBox, Shudder, AcornTV, Sundance Now, Crunchyroll, FuboTV, Philo, DirectTV Stream, etc., with whatever fits your budget.
What are FAST channels?
Nearly all providers now offer FAST channels, whether you have additional devices like Chromecast, Roku, Apple TV, a Fire Stick or not. No additional device needed on smart TVs.
FAST stands for Free Ad-Supported Television. It's a new wave of streaming services offering live TV channels and on-demand content without requiring a subscription or bill at the end of the month.
Here's what you need to know.
What you get:
- Hundreds of channels: Free apps like Freevee, Xumo Play, Pluto TV, The Roku Channel, Tubi, Plex and Samsung TV Plus boast diverse libraries with hundreds of channels each. They cover news, live sports, movies, classic TV shows, kids' programming, entertainment, lifestyle, DIY shows on home improvement, reality TV, travel, westerns and more. Plus, there are channels dedicated to history, game shows, regional access, crime and cooking, etc.
- Variety of content: You'll find movies, TV shows, live news, some local channels, themed channels (think educational, comedy, cartoons, anime), and even original content from some FAST providers.
- No subscription: The best part is, it's all completely free! Just create an account (optional on some platforms, not necessary on others) and start watching.
What to expect:
- Ads: The catch, of course, is that you'll see commercials sprinkled throughout the programming. Actually, the ads are usually shorter and less intrusive than those on regular cable TV.
- Limited content: While libraries are expansive, they might not offer the latest blockbusters or the newest season of your favorite show. Think classic hits and hidden gems rather than hot-off-the-press offerings. I have rediscovered many shows I thought were long lost. Rewatching them now can be a refreshing distraction.
- Varying platforms: Different FAST services are available on different devices. Some apps may work on your tablet but not your smart TV, and vice versa. Check compatibility with your devices before getting too excited. I discovered that once I got familiar with my Fire TV, I didn’t really need my Roku device anymore because I could still access a multitude of “channels” inside the Roku Channel app.
- Casting & Mirroring: I often find myself looking up what to watch on my laptop and then finding it on the TV. But if you are unable to locate a particular show, you may be able to use the cast or mirroring feature, including Apple Play, to stream from your device to a smart TV.
Is it right for you?
It is, if you want to ditch the monthly box rental and subscription fees.
Here’s a list of free FAST options to get you started:
- Pluto TV: A diverse library with classic TV shows, movies, and themed channels.
- Tubi: Huge collection of movies and TV shows, including some originals.
- The Roku Channel: Offers various live TV channels and on-demand content.
- Amazon Freevee (formerly IMDb TV): Features movies, TV shows, and originals from Amazon Studios, plus an archive of music videos in dozens of genres.
- Samsung TV Plus: Comes pre-installed on Samsung smart TVs, with over 300 channels.
- Xumo Play from Xfinity also boasts over 300 channels and requires no registration or subscription fees.
- Crackle from Sony Pictures, includes expansive film archive, plus mini-series, British comedies and dramas, Sci-Fi, true crime, Black entertainment, biographies and more.
- TED: App offers myriad Ted Talks, plus TEDx and features from the TED Radio Hour.
- Plex: Stream your own media or discover a storehouse of movies and shows from a curated archive.
- PBSkids has educational and entertaining videos, plus games for the younger set.
So, if you ditch the cable bill and give FAST a try, you might be surprised at how much free entertainment you can unlock.
Things to keep in mind regarding national and local news:
- While I can no longer watch full-length programs on specific channels at the time they air, I am able to watch CNN Headline News and MSNBC Highlights that refresh every few hours, plus there's LiveNOW from FOX.
- All-news channels 24/7 without the familiar faces, include breaking news. With local news apps from CBS, ABC and NBC, you get access to what's happening locally, nationally and internationally, morning, afternoon and evening. Not only do they replay segments and shows throughout the day, but they also provide in-depth B-roll story details that don't make the top headlines.
- Plus, if you’re a die-hard news junkie, you can download the Tune-In app, so you can listen to full audio of cable TV news shows like MSNBC or CNN or FoxNews, C-Span and others.
- I also purchased an OTA (over-the-air) antenna from amazon.com for less than $20 and I get 66 local broadcast stations, UHF and VHF, including some shopping and Spanish channels in case the internet goes out, albeit not much help during a storm.
A word about cloud DVR service
A NOW TV package from Xfinity is basic cable and on-demand programs + cloud-based DVR service for up to 20 hours. It offers 40 channels and costs $20 a month with a $15 one-time activation fee. It does not allow full access to cable news shows.
None of the FAST channels include DVR service but some do offer cloud DVR storage for a subscription fee.
Note: I did try a Tablo ($79-$99), that is a little box that allows over-the-air recordings from an OTA antenna but I returned it since it does not function without internet.
However, if you crave the latest content, ad-free viewing, or specific shows or channels, a paid streaming service might be a better fit. The (remote) control is in your hand.
Streaming services like Sling TV, YouTube TV, and Hulu+ Live offer access to local channels and cable channels like MSNBC, CNN, FoxNews, C-Span, etc. but for a monthly service charge.
Streaming Services & fees:
- YouTube TV:Offers most local channels and major cable news networks like CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. The price starts at $74.99 per month.
- Hulu + Live TV: Similar to YouTube TV, it offers a good selection of local channels and cable news channels for $69.99 per month.
- Sling TV: Offers two separate packages: Blue and Orange. Blue includes some local channels and national news channels like BBC World News and HLN, while Orange has ESPN and Disney channels but no local broadcasts. Combining both packages (Sling Blue + Orange) gives you the most comprehensive news coverage, but it also costs the most ($55 per month).
Suggestion: There are currently (in 2024), numerous smart TV platforms. Pick the one that best suits your budget.
- Google TV (or Android TV) with Chromecast
- Amazon Fire TV
- Vidaa TV on Hisense models
- LG webOS TV
- Samsung Tizen TV
- Roku TV
Personal note: I'm amazed at all of the choices. Want to watch your hometown news from another state? Want to see shows from in a different language or another country? Streaming channels mean they are internet-based, hence the programming possibilities are almost endless.
It may take some getting used to, and you may have to spend a little more time poking around, searching and browsing what's available. But once you get familiar with the process, and learn how to save favorites and navigate the TV multiverse, you may find you really don't miss much at all.
Keep in mind, prices and channel availability may vary since there are other variables, such as device and platform software, and internet speed, etc.
We hope this helps you make informed decisions regarding how and what you watch these days. We'll be adding to and updating this post as we learn about new features of interest, so please check back …
Happy channel surfing!
Also read: The Affordable Connectivity Program provides free and low-cost broadband to people who qualify. Note: This program may be curtailed in April of 2024 if government funding is not extended.
Things to do and places to go in South Florida this week:
Wednesday, February 21, 2024
Thursday, February 22, 2024
Friday, February 23, 2024
Saturday, February 24, 2024
Sunday, February 25, 2024
Monday, February 26, 2024
Tuesday, February 27, 2024