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Cutting the Cord Can Get You More of What You Want to Watch. Here’s How.

When you cut the cable cord, suddenly you, not your provider, are the programming planner. With the freedom to choose your own TV channels and networks without being tied to a set package, it can get a little overwhelming. But it’s easier than you think to create your perfect viewing experience. You just have to go step by step.

1. Create your must-have list

Make a list of the favorite shows and channels of everyone in your household. Maybe you love TCM, NBC and PBS. Do you get your news and sports from CNN and ESPN? Do you live for HBO dramas? How about FX and Comedy Central? Do your kids watch Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel?

Now rank your favorites. Getting to know your go-to’s will help you identify the mix of services that will get you what you want.

2.  Check out channels on live TV and on demand

Streaming services break down into two major categories: live TV and on demand.

Live TV: YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, Sling TV, AT&T TV, Philo and FuboTV

These streaming services most closely mirror having a cable box or satellite and let you watch programs—news, sports, network shows—from your favorite channels in real time.

You only need one of these services. Each carries a mix of channels and offers a range of prices and tiers—from a bare bones plan from Philo to a premium service like YouTube TV, which offers most popular channels from AMC to VH1.

If you don’t want a whole package, you can also opt for single-channel services like CBS All Access or NBC’s Peacock, which will give you most of the shows and movies on those networks live. Plans are inexpensive and can help fill in a service like Philo or Sling TV, which don’t always offer local stations. And be sure to take a look at CNET’s comparison guides to the major live streaming services and to free streaming services.

On demand

These are the services with the programming your family, friends and neighbors are talking about. They are comprehensive and updated consistently throughout the year. Depending on the shows you like, you may decide to subscribe to more than one. Here are some of the most popular on demand streaming services:

Netflix – Outstanding selection of content, including network shows like “Breaking Bad” and “The Good Place,” movies of every genre, Oscar nominees and documentaries like “Making a Murderer.”

Hulu – While it offers the news and local “scroll-through” programming you might want, you’ll also have access to TV series like “Lost,” newer shows like “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a ton of movies like “Austin Powers” and the acclaimed “Run,” plus Hulu’s own growing slate of Emmy-winning originals.

Disney+ – Different from the Disney Channel, this service has ALL the classic Disney films, Mickey Mouse cartoons, Marvel movies, Pixar animations and the entire “Star Wars” oeuvre. You’ll also find the National Geographic hub here.

HBO Max – This includes HBO’s acclaimed prestige dramas like “The Sopranos,” new series like “The Undoing,” movies from Warner Bros (17 of which are releasing on HBO Max at the same time as in theaters in 2021), DC Universe flicks and all the Harry Potter films, along with Studio Ghibli’s catalogue of gorgeous anime.

Prime Video – Much original programming like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” plus the ability to purchase entire seasons of many hit shows. An annual Amazon Prime Membership includes access to this streaming service.

3. Sign up for your selections

Now it’s time to turn on your device or Smart TV. Here’s what you’ll see: A whole lot of icons of pre-loaded channels that you can sign up for.

Downloading a service is always free and many have free trial periods to test drive them before you have to pay for a subscription. There are no contracts, meaning you can cancel anytime and re-up whenever you choose.

When you’re ready to subscribe, just click on the icon app and enter your info in the prompts. If you have a Roku device, you can store your credit card to use automatically or pay directly with the specific providers. Sign up for as many services as you want, and remember, you can always add or subtract without penalties. If you don’t see an app for a channel you’d like, you can do a search for it right from your TV or device.

Check out these service combos to get started

If you have kids, watch sports and news and want the most direct cable replacement:

  • YouTube TV (more top channels than any competitor, includes ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, PBS, CNN, the NFL Network, ESPN, Disney, Nickelodeon, the Discovery network and more, along with a best-in-class cloud DVR with unlimited storage)

If you like classic and prestige TV, new movies, comic book heroes, sports and reality shows and enjoy some channel flipping:

  • The Disney/Hulu/ESPN on demand bundle
  • Netflix or HBO Max
  • Philo or Sling TV

If you like to watch the new prestige shows that everyone is talking about, want basic local cable channels, but don’t care about live TV:

  • Netflix
  • HBO Max
  • Prime Video
  • Acorn (for everything from the UK)
  • Add on Locast (if you want an inexpensive way to watch local sports and news content)

If sports and classic movies are your thing:

  • FuboTV (a sports-focused service that broadcasts more than 30,000 live sporting events and includes MSG, MSG+ and NESN)
  • HBO Max (which includes the Turner Classic Movies archive along with a vast library of Warner Bros. films)

If you can’t miss a game (any game):

  • FuboTV Elite (includes premium extras like NBA TV and NHL Network), or
  • YouTube TV (a great all-around option for sports fans, with access to ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC, along with national coverage from ESPN, TBS and TNT, plus networks like CBS Sports Network and FS1, MLB Network and NBA TV, plus you get all of YouTube TV’s extensive non-sports channels)
  • Hulu + Live TV (if you’re a Yankees fan, this is currently the only service that includes the Yes Network where you can see every game)

If you’re a true film buff:

  • IFC Films Unlimited
  • The Criterion Channel
  • Mubi
  • Ovid.tv

If you love to learn and enjoy documentaries and nature shows:

  • CuriosityStream
  • PBS Video / PBS Passport
  • Discovery+ (includes SCI, Animal Planet, History Channel, Travel Channel)

If you’re a horror and home-improvement aficionado:

  • Shudder
  • Discovery + (includes HGTV, DIY Network and Food Network)

If you love heartwarming, family-friendly, feel-good content:

  • Hallmark Channel
  • Discovery+ (includes Lifetime, TLC)
  • Disney+
  • PBS Video / PBS Passport

Make sure your internet service is up to the streaming

When you cut the cord, it’s important that your internet connection can handle the added traffic. High-quality video requires faster internet speeds, and if you have a big household of potential streamers, fiber is the way to go. The basic rule is: the faster the better.

Product features may have changed and are subject to change.

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