Rich Schultz/Getty ImagesOn Monday, CBS and Time Warner Cable finally ended their contract dispute, restoring CBS' networks to subscribers in New York, Dallas and Los Angeles after a monthlong blackout. For football fans in those markets, the decision came just in time: The NFL season officially kicks off this week, and CBS carries many of the games.
I'm a football fan in New York, but the decision didn't really affect me, as I'm not a Time Warner subscriber. In fact, I don't subscribe to any cable provider: When I moved into my latest apartment I decided to "cut the cord" and go without cable.
It's a decision that's saved me a substantial amount of money on monthly bills, and I've managed to get by with a Netflix subscription and other streaming options. But there's one very big downside of cord-cutting: You can't watch live sports. And now that football season is upon us, I'm weighing the options to determine the most cost-effective strategy for watching football without cable.
Option 1: Watch at a friend's apartment. I call this the "freeloader" option. But it's not exactly free. Because I don't want to be the guy who just mooches off his friends' cable subscriptions, I do feel an obligation to bring over a six-pack of beer or some snacks for every game. That's going to run me in the vicinity of $10 for every weekend, which adds up to about $40 a month - around what I'd be paying for a shared cable subscription. Still, that's not a big downside: Even if I were watching at home, it's likely that I'd be snacking and having a couple beers. At least this way I'm doing it with friends.
But it's not a consistent option. Not all of my friends are going to be planted on the couch at home every Sunday, and even when they are, they don't necessarily want to have guests. So I'd like to find a way that I can watch at home.
Option 2: Get an antenna.Unlike baseball, which is typically carried by regional cable sports networks, most football games are carried on the networks: CBS or Fox for the Sunday games during the day, and NBC for the Sunday Night Game. That means you can get them over the air with a digital antenna that can get an HD signal, most of which will run you in the $35 to $60 range.
That comes to about $10 per month of football, though the actual per-use cost is much lower if you're going to use it for subsequent seasons (and for watching non-football network television).
One downside is that you don't get cable channels, which means you can't watch Monday Night Football (which switched from ABC to ESPN in 2006). And another issue is that the signal is inconsistent - when Consumer Reports tested 10 antennas in July, it found that it couldn't even rank them because each model's performance varied so much. Antenna technology has a come a long way, but like the rabbit ears of old, they're still prone to giving you static at crucial moments.
Option 3: Subscribe to Aereo. During the CBS blackout, Aereo got some attention as an antenna alternative. The service works by receiving network signals at a remote location and then beaming those signals to subscribers, allowing you to get network channels over an Internet connection. Assuming you have a consistent Internet connection, it's less prone to signal disruptions than an antenna in your living room or on your roof. And it also has DVR options, allowing you to pause, rewind and even record the game for later viewing.