“We have all these channels and there’s never anything on!”
“I can’t believe the cable bill is going up again!”
Sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone when it comes to feeling like you’re not getting your money’s worth paying for cable. New data from global information company The NPD Group shows that television channel subscriptions fell 6 percent in the last two years, while streaming services grew 4 percent.
The good news is there are more and more options if you’re willing to explore TV and movie streaming services. The key is to really think about your viewing habits, and that of your family members, to figure out if going with a la carte streaming subscriptions will help you save, or at least be a better use of your entertainment budget.
Take a look at our breakdown below (and our past article, “Ditch your cable TV, and save money“) to decide which of these streaming services might be right for you…
What started off as a snail-mail video store boasting thousands of movie titles has morphed into a super popular streaming subscription service. As reported in BusinessWeek, “at peak times, Netflix viewers represent about a third of U.S. broadband Internet capacity, according to some estimates,” and the company reported huge financial gains in its most recent quarterly report.
- Cost: About $9 a month
- What you get: You can watch Netflix content just about anywhere, from your phone to your tablet, your computer to your TV (using just about any popular video game console). If you’re a TV show binge-watcher, and don’t mind revisiting some older (or lesser known) movie titles, you’ll have a lot of viewing options to enjoy.
- Cool factor: Disney content is a big draw if you have small children. And, of course, Netflix made big news this past year by offering its own original series including “Orange is the New Black,” “House of Cards,” and the return of “Arrested Development.”
- What you won’t get: Netflix doesn’t have the most recent movies like its mailing program used to. And you won’t find the latest episodes of popular TV shows either. If you like to stay up to date on new shows, this probably isn’t the best service for you.
It’s the premium version of the free Hulu.com service, in which you can watch mostly television shows and some movies.
- Cost: $7.99 a month
- What you get: Hulu Plus offers the entire current seasons of hit network shows, as well as every episode of many classic TV shows.
- Cool factor: Nickelodeon and PBS Kids programs draw in the kiddies, while the grown ups can catch up on their favorite shows whenever they’d like.
- What you won’t get: There aren’t too many movies. This is mostly a service for TV devotees. Oh, and there are commercials (bummer!).
Amazon Prime Instant Video
As part of the Amazon Prime membership, you’ll be able to watch video content on a Kindle Fire HD, game consoles, streaming players, smart TVs, and mobile devices.
- Cost: $79.99 a year. Try it for 30 days for free. See what you think.
- What you get: A fairly decent selection of movies and TV shows. Like Netflix, there is some “binge watching” opportunities. For example, while older seasons of “Downton Abbey” would normally cost $2.99 per episode or $14.99 per season if you rented it via Amazon, they are free with the Prime membership.
- Cool factor: Remember that Instant Video is part of a package of perks for Amazon loyalists. You also get free books to read on your Kindle, and free two-day shipping on anything that’s Prime eligible. It’s definitely a worthy investment if you’re a frequent Amazon shopper anyway.
- What you won’t get: The chance to pay in monthly installments. It’s $80 up front (ouch!). Without Prime, you may still choose to rent/watch Instant Video as you go, but that could quickly add up as rentals are $1 to $6 a piece.
iTunes (with Apple TV)
If you’re an Apple devotee, you might consider getting an Apple TV device to give your TV content streaming capabilities. The device (around $99) also includes access to Netflix, Hulu Plus, and a variety of other streaming services in addition to all of your existing iTunes content.
- Cost: $1 to $5 per rental item
- What you get: You can seamlessly bring all of your iTunes content to your living room screen. You can also use Airplay so that whatever you’re watching on your iPhone or iPad (such as YouTube videos) can be viewed on the TV.
- Cool factor: If you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod, you can integrate your personal photo and video collections on your big screen, too.
- What you won’t get: Without a monthly subscription option and not a whole lot of free content, the rental fees will add up. And, you can only watch iTunes content on your TV if you shell out for an Apple TV ($99).
For all of the streaming services above, you probably won’t need to buy extra hardware if you already have a gaming system, a Bluray player, or a Smart TV (with the exception of Apple’s iTunes which requires AppleTV).
If you do need hardware, the least pricey option is the fairly new Google Chromecast ($35), which is a plug-in adapter that will allow you to stream video and music on your TV. It supports Netflix, YouTube, HBO GO, Hulu Plus, Pandora, and Google Play Movies and Music mobile apps. Roku is still a popular choice as well, with a few different price points depending on your needs.
So what’s holding you back from ditching cable?
If you’re a big sports fan, cable is still the way to go if you enjoy watching a lot of professional games and/or sports channel content like ESPN. However, with all of the streaming services catching on, don’t be surprised if the sports world begins to follow suit.
For instance, Fox streamed the Super Bowl this year via the Fox Sports Go app and on FoxSportsGo.com. And, the WWE recently announced a live Internet streaming wrestling channel with on-demand content for $10 per month. The fee will include access to all of its pay-per-view events, which are up to $55 each, so it may be well worth it for wrestling fans.
The other hold out is HBO. While it does offer HBO Go as a streaming service, it’s only available to those who subscribe to the channel on cable. If you’re a fan of their orginal programming (like I am), it could be a tough one to give up.
If sports and HBO decide to cut cable ties, however, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in a couple of years in which one could subscribe to Netflix, HuluPlus, a couple of sports networks, and budget in a few bucks for the occasional movie rental beyond what an Amazon Prime membership offers. Added together, it will still be cheaper than the average cable bill! Plus, with the ability to log on to these services in a variety of ways even on the go, it could keep a whole family entertained at home and beyond.
Have you made the move away from cable? And if so, are you saving money?