For some cord-cutting, extricating themselves from cable isn’t just about a lower TV bill. It’s also about escaping from advertising.
When you hole cable or satellite TV, it is possible to set up a plan in which you will never have to sit at commercial breaks again. While the right combination of hardware and streaming services can cost a bit more, the added cost is worthwhile if you hate being cut by advertising.
Here’s what you need to consider for an ad-free off-code setup:
Use ad-free streaming services
The most obvious way to avoid ads as a code-cutter is to choose commercial-free streaming services. That way, your viewing experience will never be cut off by annoying ad breaks.
The list of ad-free streaming services is long, so subscribing to many of them at the same time would waste an absurd amount of money. My advice, as always, is to choose one or two “base” services that will win most of your TV viewing, then add or release others on a month-to-month basis.
As I noted last week, Netflix, Amazon First Video, and Hulu have the largest selections of streaming TV shows by far. Netflix and Prime are ad-free by default, with the former costing $ 13 per month for HD video or $ 16 per month for 4K HDR, and the latter costing $ 9 per month for just video and $ 120 for Annual and other Prime benefits (free shipping, etc.). Hulu’s commercial-free service costs $ 12 per month, twice the cost of its standard plan.
From there, you can start hooking up to additional streaming services based on your needs and interests:
- Disney + ($ 7 per month or $ 70 per year) is great for Marvel and Star Wars fans, as well as for family-friendly lineup.
- HBO Max ($ 15 per month) combines HBO’s prestigious program with other content from the WarnerMedia catalog.
- CBS All Access ($ 10 per month or $ 100 per year without ads) provides access to the next day CBS show with a growing number of originals.
- Peacock ($ 10 per month, launch July 15) has the NBC show and the Universal movie.
- Showtime ($ 11 per month), Starz ($ 9 per month), and Epix ($ 6 per month) has all the same programs as their cable channel counterparts.
- Apple TV + ($ 5 per month, $ 50 per year, or free for a year with a new Apple device) offers a small but growing number of original movies and shows.
- YouTube Premium ($ 12 per month) remove ads from YouTube across all your streaming devices.
Some streaming services are available for free, even without advertising. Hoopla and Canopy let you check free movies and shows with a library card (if your local library is involved), while PBS and PBS Kids apps provide many on-demand videos from the public broadcaster. (An optional $ 5-per-month PBS Passport donates your rights to a larger selection.)
If you still need more to watch, there are even more streaming services to meet specific niches. Some notable examples that are completely commercial-free:
- Kitchen Food Network ($ 5 per month or $ 40 per year) has cooking solutions and ad-free episodes of many Food Network shows, and it is now free for one year if you sign up for an Amazon device.
- Channel Criteria ($ 11 per month or $ 100 per year) offers critically acclaimed and classic movies, short topics, and documentaries. (Here’s our review.)
- Crunchyroll ($ 8 per month) is the premiere service for animators.
- DC Universe ($ 8 per month or $ 75 per year) has superhero movies, shows, and animated series.
- Pari + ($ 10 per month) has original Black culture movies and shows, plus some content from the TV network.
- Tremble ($ 6 per month or $ 57 per year) will freak you out with horror movies and thrills.
- Britbox ($ 7 per month or $ 70 per year) and Acorn TV ($ 5 per month or $ 50 per year) has movies and shows from England. (Here a useful comparison.)
- Smithsonian Channel Plus ($ 5 per month) has documentary and nature series.
- Hallmark Movies Now ($ 6 per month or $ 60 per year) has many of these movies similar to cable channels.
Choose live TV wisely
Purely ad-free streaming services like Netflix are nice, but they won’t let you watch the current cable channel program. For this, you will need a live TV streaming service such as YouTube TV, Slingshot TV, AT&T TV Now or Philo.
All of these services include cloud-based DVRs, so you can record live programs and skip through advertising, but there are some caveats: Hulu + Live TV, for example, charges $ 10 per extra month for ad-skip features , bringing the total cost to $ 65 per month. And with AT&T TV Now, there is no visual thumbnail preview when you fast forward to recording, so you can’t easily identify when ad break ends. (Correction: Visual preview is available on Roku’s AT&T TV Now app, but not on Apple TV or Fire TV.)
Manually skipping through ads yourself will be a nuisance regardless of the service you choose. Given the rising costs of channel bundles, and the increasing amount of content available elsewhere (see the section above), you might just consider getting by without them.
Consider rolling your own DVR
If your code-cutting plans involve an antenna, an on-air DVR can give you ad-hopping power.
The Dual Lite Chart ($ 140) and Quad DVRs ($ 200) program files from an antenna, and can then stream the video to the Chart app on a wide range of smart TVs and streaming players. Once you’ve recorded a show, it can automatically skip over the ads as well, though it will cost you a bit extra: the Table DVR subscription costs $ 5 per month, $ 50 per year, or $ 150 for all life; ad-skip costs $ 2 per month or $ 20 per year on top of that.
Plex DVR works similarly, recording from an antenna and streaming the video to the Plex app. But instead of just skipping over ads, Plex can remove them from the recording outright. The hardware for this can get cheaper — you must provide your own media server device, TV tuner, and storage, and a Plex Pass subscription for recording costs $ 4 per month, $ 40 per year, or $ 120 for life – but it’s a powerful solution once you’ve set it up.
Channel DVR is pricier at $ 8 per month or $ 80 per year, but the software is a bit slick overall. It supports automatic commercial skipping, and has one very neat trick: If you’re signing up to a paid TV service and have a login for streaming apps, you can record cable channel streams as well. The hardware requirements are similar to Plex but with enough technical means, you can put Channels for cheap on a raspberry computer microphone.
Finally, TiVo is still around, and its on-air DVRs have the same SkipMode button as its cable box. The only problem is that TiVo now stuffs ads pre-rolled into its recordings, though you might be able to get rid of them by complaining.
Avoid streaming devices with banner ads
Even if the shows you’re watching don’t have ads, your streaming device might make you step on a few ads to access them.
Roku devices display a large banner ad next to your app list, taking up about a third of the screen. While this doesn’t directly hinder navigation, it leaves less space for apps, so you’ll have to scroll around more to get what you want. The shortcut buttons on Roku remotes are also an advertising form, and you can’t reprogram them.
Amazon’s Fire TV set also has advertisements in the form of “Sponsored” fix content on the home screen. You will need to navigate past these ads while searching for recommendations. The a la carte purchase and rental that Amazon suggests on its home screen is a form of advertising as well.
If you’re bothered by these tactics, an Nvidia Shield TV or Apple TV will provide a clean experience, with no ads clogging up their respective home screens. I would give a little edge to the Nvidia Shield TV here, if only because Apple does a lot of self-promotion in its universal guide app (also confusingly called Apple TV), but you can easily avoid that menu with an adjusted setting.
But like everything else, the ad-free experience doesn’t come cheap. Both Nvidia Shield TVs and Apple TVs start at $ 150.
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