How to Replace Cable TV for Only $25 a Month

Disney+, Paramount+, and Peacock offer a wide range of broadcast channels, cable networks, movies, and original shows

Person watching TV Photo: Grace Cary/Getty Images

Given the sheer number of streaming video services now available, you—like me—might be struggling to keep up with shows and movies at a price that won’t sink the budget.

Recently, we’ve seen that services designed to replicate traditional TV packages—such as FuboTV, Hulu + Live TV, and YouTube TV—have been hiking their prices, with most now costing $65 per month or more.

What if you’re prepared to pay only half that? Can you still find a compelling assortment of content complete with local broadcasts?

Believe it or not, the answer is yes.

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With the launch of several new streaming plans, including NBCUniversal’s Peacock and Paramount+, from ViacomCBS, we decided to see if we could assemble a TV plan on an ultra-tight budget of just $25 per month. While the package we created—a Disney+ bundle combined with Paramount+ and Peacock—might not fit every need, it does deliver a robust assortment of broadcast channels, cable networks, movies, and original shows. You might decide to swap in a few different services, such as HBO Max, and still be able to hit a satisfying monthly budget.

Because people tend to add Netflix and/or Amazon Prime to other streaming plans, we took both out of the equation. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to subscribe to them. Setting those aside, here are three services that provide a wealth of content options for $25 per month or less.

Paramount+

Let’s start with Paramount+, which has replaced CBS All Access as ViacomCBS’ streaming platform, because it seems like a no-brainer for sports fans. It has a deal to show all the local-market NFL games on CBS’ schedule through 2022, plus NCAA basketball and PGA golf, including the Masters and the PGA Championship. (But Super Bowl LVI will be on NBC this winter.)

CBS All Access screen
Paramount+, which replaces CBS All Access, is the streaming home to ViacomCBS programs, plus original shows.

CBS's media dept. CBS's media dept.

Paramount+ has two subscription options. If you can live with a few advertisements, the Essentials plan costs only $5 per month ($50 for a year if you pay up front). Or you can watch ad-free on the Premium plan for $10 a month, or $100 if you pay by the year. The big difference is that you don’t get your live local CBS station (except for NFL games) with the Essential plan. So you might want to pay for the pricier tier if you can’t get live CBS shows any other way, or if you want to watch shows in 4K HDR (including Dolby Vision), and get mobile downloads, which are exclusive to the Premium plan.

Both services give you access to all shows from CBS, more than 3,500 episodes from BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount, the Smithsonian Channel, and other jointly owned properties. There are also a growing number of original shows, such as “Star Trek: Picard,” “The Good Fight,” a reboot of “The Twilight Zone” from actor-director Jordan Peele, and the limited-event series “The Stand,” based on the best-selling Steven King novel.

Current movies include “A Quiet Place Part II.” Other new blockbuster movies that will hit the service after they appear in theaters include “Mission: Impossible 7” and “Top Gun: Maverick.” There’s also a much-anticipated adaptation of the video game “Halo,” which was originally slated to appear on the company’s Showtime network. For kids, there are two “Spongebob Squarepants” properties: “Kamp Koral,” an original children’s series, and “The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run.”

Paramount+ is available on Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, and Roku streaming players; Android and Apple iOS smartphones and tablets; LG, Samsung, and Vizio smart TVs; and PlayStation and Xbox game consoles.

Total cost: With CBS All Access onboard, we’ve now spent $5 of our $25 budget, leaving $20.

Disney+ Bundle

Given the assortment of high-powered entertainment brands under the Disney umbrella, it’s no surprise that we’re adding Disney+ next. At $8 per month—or $80 if you pay for a year—Disney+ is already a must-have for 50-million-plus subscribers.

Disney+
With content, from Disney, Lucasfilm, Marvel, NatGeo, and Pixar, Disney+ is a compelling option. We like the Disney+/Hulu/ESPN bundle.

Disney Disney

Here’s why: Disney owns Lucasfilm (the “Star Wars” franchise), Marvel Studios (“The Avengers,” “Black Panther”), and Pixar (“Toy Story,” “Up”). The recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox gives it 20th Century Studios (“The Simpsons”) and the lion’s share of National Geographic content, too.

Among the original fare are “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” and “WandaVision,” both from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, plus the popular Star Wars property, “The Mandalorian.” It also has movies such as “Artemis Fowl,” “Hamilton,” “Mulan,” and “Cruella.” On tap are a few new Star Wars-based series, including “The Book of Boba Fett,” plus reimagined movie versions of “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “Three Men and a Baby.”

While Disney+ is pretty compelling on its own, we decided to splurge on the bundle plan, adding Hulu and ESPN+ to the service for just $14 per month.

Hulu—now wholly owned by Disney—fills a pretty big hole with content from popular broadcast and cable channels. Some shows can be watched in real time, but most are available either one day or one week later. That’s a good way to get programming from ABC, AMC, Bravo, Big Ten Network, CBS, E, ESPN, Fox, Fox Sports, FX, NBC, NFL Network, Oxygen, PBS, Syfy, and USA Network.

This bundle also gives you a nice assortment of classic TV shows (“30 Rock” and "Modern Family," Hulu originals (“The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Little Fires Everywhere”), and exclusive access to films such as “A Quiet Place” and “Parasite.”

ESPN+ adds sports to the mix, everything from major league baseball to college football and basketball, hockey, soccer, and UFC fights. You also get access to documentaries such as the “30 for 30” series.

Disney+ is available on most streaming players; Android, LG, Roku, and Samsung smart TVs; Android and iOS smartphones and tablets; game consoles; and web browsers.

Total cost: With Paramount+ and the Disney bundle, we’ve now spent $19 of our $25 monthly budget. That doesn’t leave much money for a third service, but read on.

Ad-Supported Peacock Premium

Peacock, which launched nationally in 2020, is a great way to round out the package with NBC shows and Universal movies.

Unlike the services above, it offers a free ad-supported tier in addition to two paid tiers ($5 per month with ads, $10 without) featuring more robust content options.

NBC Peacock screens
The new Peacock service provides NBC shows, Universal movies, sports, and original programming.

NBCUniversal's media center NBCUniversal's media center

The free tier gives you access to about two-thirds of Peacock’s 20,000-title library of movies, classic shows, news, sports, kids programming and Spanish-language offerings. NBC’s current-season broadcasts are also available one week after they air.

But we think it’s worth spending $5 per month for the ad-supported paid tier. To start, you get next-day access to those NBC shows. Better yet, you get the full complement of programming from NBCUniversal’s properties: Bravo, Syfy, Telemundo, USA Network, and Universal Studios. More recently, Peacock reached a deal with Universal that will see that company’s new movies stream exclusively on Peacock after leaving theaters. The deal starts in 2022 and includes such movies as “Jurassic World: Dominion” and “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

Peacock is also licensing shows from ABC, A&E, and Fox. And it has a deal with ViacomCBS to add content from CBS, Paramount, Showtime, and Viacom, plus movies from Blumhouse, DreamWorks, Focus Features, Illumination, Universal Pictures, and Warner Bros.

Peacock’s original programming is a third great reason to subscribe to a Premium plan; free-tier subscribers get only a sample program or two. The service launched with nine series, including “Brave New World” and “Psych 2: Lassie Come Home,” and newer titles include “Dr. Death,” “One of Us is Lying,” and “Dan Brown’s Lost Symbol.”

For sports fans, Peacock will stream Premier League soccer games, golf tournaments, WWE Network matches, coverage of the Beijing Winter Olympics, and Sunday night NFL games that air on NBC.

Peacock is available on Amazon Fire, Apple TV, Chromecast, and Roku streaming players; Android, LG, Samsung, and Vizio smart TVs; Android and iOS phones and tablets; and Microsoft Xbox One and Sony PS4 game consoles.

Total cost: By adding Peacock to our plan at $5 per month, we’ve raised the total to $24, leaving you with an extra buck for popcorn.

So How Did We Do?

In the end, we proved it’s possible to get a fully featured TV plan for less than $25 per month. In fact, if Peacock Free meets your needs, you can dip below $20 per month. But if you need to get CBS broadcasts, we recommend stepping up to the $10-a-month Paramount+ plan, which would bring the total to $30 a month.

Any way you decide to go, you get a pretty compelling assortment of broadcast TV, cable content, movies, sports, and live events.

And don’t forget that you can supplement everything here with the classic TV shows and movies offered by free ad-supported streaming services such as Pluto TV, Tubi, and Xumo.

You can also use an antenna to increase your local broadcast options.

Got cord-cutting tips of your own? We’d love to hear what you’re doing to tame your monthly TV bill. Let us know in the comments below!


James K. Willcox

I've been a tech journalist for more years than I'm willing to admit. My specialties at CR are TVs, streaming media, audio, and TV and broadband services. In my spare time I build and play guitars and bass, ride motorcycles, and like to sail—hobbies I've not yet figured out how to safely combine.