Spending: Should you cut the cable cord?
Those are just a few of the reasons why dealing with a cable or satellite-TV provider is so frustrating -- and costly. According to the Federal Communications Commission, the average cable bill is $62 a month, or $744 a year. And prices can go a lot higher depending on the plan you choose. You could be happier (or at least richer) if you ditched cable and took advantage of the growing options for watching TV shows and movies online.
And yet we have a complicated relationship with our cable providers. A recent survey by CouponCabin.com found that 45 percent of U.S. adults think that cable TV is a waste of money. Still, about 86 percent of households with a television set still subscribe to a "multichannel video service," such as cable or satellite TV, says Bruce Leichtman, president of Leichtman Research Group. Subscriptions have declined by just one percentage point over the past couple of years. Instead of replacing cable, many customers are adding Internet video options to their palette.
That means people are likely spending more money on video than the numbers show. But unless you are addicted to watching "Mad Men" on Sunday nights or you're an avid sports fan, you can probably get your TV fix from the Web via streaming video for a lot less money. The usual suspects, such as Netflix and Hulu, continue to provide access to large collections of movies and previously aired TV shows.
And a start-up called Aereo is testing the waters for streaming more TV online. For $8 a month, subscribers can view programming live from major broadcast networks and local channels and record shows to view later. Aereo is available in a few cities now, and it has plans to expand. The company has clashed in court with broadcast networks about the legality of its business, but so far Aereo has prevailed.
Methods of slinging Web video beyond your PC screen are expanding, too. Google, for example, recently introduced a $35 device the size of a USB flash drive called Chromecast. Plug it in to any HDTV and you can stream content wirelessly from compatible services, including Netflix and YouTube. Your computer, tablet or smartphone acts as a controller. Video services are also responding to customers' increasing appetite for viewing programs on their mobile devices by offering smartphone and tablet applications.
(Lisa Gerstner is an associate editor at Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to email@example.com. And for more on this and similar money topics, visit http://www.Kiplinger.com.)