• Jason Howell

To Cut or Not to Cut? My Hypothetical Exploration of Cable vs. Streaming



A video posted by Cheddar illustrated how “the golden age of streaming is coming to an end and we are now entering the subscription era, an era that might cost more and require way more effort than cable ever did.” The report that all the major networks will have their own streaming services by 2022 has strong implications for the changing streaming landscape.


There was a time when Netflix was arguably the singular face of streaming. If a show or movie was good enough, it would eventually end up on Netflix. Netflix was a powerhouse that didn’t seem like it could be touched.


But then Disney+ rolled out, and the phrase “Disney purge” began being thrown around as if signaled doomsday for Netflix.

Now, all of a sudden, rather than streaming being a small handful of companies, everyone is coming out with their own streaming subscription service. And with it, not only will they likely take the content that was previously hosted elsewhere, but, like Netflix, they are also producing their own original content that only subscribers to their services can see. CBS All Access has two Star Trek shows (Picard and Discovery) available exclusively to their platform and Disney+, among many other things, has rolled out their latest venture into the Star Wars universe, the series The Mandalorian.


The narrator in the Cheddar video did an experiment based on his own viewing habits which ultimately showed the cost of internet plus the streaming services he’d want was more than his traditional cable-internet package. This got me anxious to try this experiment for myself.


My experiment


As I am part of the number for whom cable is part of a package with phone and internet (internet, of course, being essential for a streaming service), for this hypothetical scenario, I am going to pretend that I am starting fresh and that my TV and internet are separate. Though I firmly believe in maintaining a landline, since more and more people are doing away with home phones and sticking to mobile, I will go on and exclude that from this experiment.


I’m going to start by comparing prices for TV and internet (be advised, these prices may be geared toward my specific area, may include offers for new customers only, and do not include additional charges for equipment rental).

I compared Verizon Fios and Comcast Xfinity. As a new Verizon customer, I can get 100 Mbps internet speed for $39.99/month, 125+ channels for $50, or $89.99 for both. For Comcast, I can get 100 Mbps internet for $39.99, 140+ channels for $59.99, or I can get an internet-TV bundle for a 2-year agreement with $69.99 for the first year and $89.99 for the second. I will go on and consider the second price, making Verizon and Comcast even.


Live TV is important to me when considering the streaming vs. cable debate. So now that we have internet and TV prices listed separately, let’s look at a few of the online TV services.

  • YouTube TV (70+ channels)- $49.99

  • Philo (50+)- $20

  • Sling (blue package, 47)- $30

  • Hulu plus Live TV (60+)- $54.99 (also includes Hulu’s streaming library)

Now, I’m going to list every streaming service I would have if I could.

  • Netflix- $8.99 (basic service)

  • Hulu- $5.99

  • Disney+- $6.99 or $12.99 for a package that includes Hulu and ESPN

  • DC Universe $7.99

  • WWE- $9.99

  • Boomerang- $4.99

  • VRV- $9.99

Now, let’s start doing the math. Since I would want both Hulu and Disney+, it would only make sense to get the upgraded package. And VRV bundles titles from other services, including Boomerang and CrunchyRoll (which I was previously subscribed to). So, we can eliminate Hulu and Boomerang from the list.


So when I do the math for the remaining services (Netflix, Disney bundle, DC, WWE, and VRV), the grand total is $49.95/month just on streaming services. And that does not include live TV.


We’ve already determined the traditional route with a cable-internet package to be $89.99. So, let’s compare. If I was willing to part with live TV (no more Food Network, Animal Planet, etc.), under the assumption that I could still get local channels by using an old-fashioned antenna with my TV, the cost of internet ($39.99) plus my subscription package would come to $89.94 per month.


Now, if I wanted to cut cable but was willing to part with my subscription package, then we would consider the live TV options:

  • Internet plus YouTube TV equals $89.65

  • Internet plus Philo equals $59.99

  • Internet plus Sling equals $69.99

  • Internet plus Hulu+ equals $94.98

If you’re looking to cut cable to save money, these options are pretty much the same. For me, Sling isn’t enough of a price difference to make the switch. Hulu+ includes access to the streaming library, but when you subtract the cost of the basic subscription, it’s still even.


Philo would be enough of a drop to consider the possibility of switching, and the savings could be put toward a subscription service. Under this option, traditional package minus Philo equals $20, almost as much as getting Netflix and Disney+ bundle together. If I dropped Netflix, I could consider other options from my list.


Now, if I want TV and my subscription package, on top of internet, then we’re climbing up in price. If, for example, I added my subscription package to the YouTube bundle, the total would be $139.60. Add it to the cable bundle, and it would be $139.94.


The big questions

As I mentioned, the cable costs do not factor in equipment service and rentals (my own set-top box rental is $11.99 per unit), so the final costs may ultimately still go in favor of the cord-cutters. But with more and more subscription services rolling out and pulling content in so many different directions, the difference may not be as obvious as it was just a few short years ago.


People debating on what route to choose will have to ask a few questions, which, I feel, ultimately complement each other:


1: How much money am I willing to spend to get what I want?

While the scenarios I listed may still go in the cutters’ favor, I did not list any sports packages (besides WWE and ESPN, only for its inclusion with Disney) or any of the premium movie channels like HBO. I also did not list CBS All Access, even though I am a longtime Star Trek fan.


2: How much effort am I willing to put in to maintain my services?

If you subscribe to everything you want, it can be tedious to maintain multiple subscriptions with separate billing cycles, especially as prices continue to fluctuate (more often trending towards increases).

And if another service rolls out and yanks the content you love from a service you’re subscribed to, or if Disney buys out another service that you already have a separate subscription to, that can be a lot to keep up with.


3: How much time am I willing to put into my use of these services?

This, for me, is the most important question. If you’re paying so much a month for a streaming subscription, how much do you have to watch to get your money’s worth?


When I go to an all-you-can-eat buffet, I usually gorge myself, not because I’m a glutton, but because I don’t feel like I’ve gotten my money’s worth if I haven’t eaten enough to satisfy me the rest of the day. The same could be said about streaming services; it’s reaching the point where if you’re not willing or able to devote x-amount of hours every day to watching these programs, it’s not worth it, especially if you’re subscribed to multiple services.


And that echoes a point made in the Cheddar video, that in order to save money, some people will have to go on a content diet.


Earlier, I listed several subscription services I was interested in, and, if money was no object, I could subscribe to all of them. But when it’s time for me to actually commit, I’m probably going to limit myself to one or two. I am currently a Netflix subscriber, and I would love to do Disney+, although if I had to choose, I likely would not do both.


And I think more and more people are going to have to ask those questions. What content is most important to me? Who has the most for the best price? Or should I subscribe to this service for a few months while I binge-watch this program, and then cancel that so I can switch to this other service? And where else is my content available?


Conclusion


What I personally feel is going to happen in this debate is that people will realize that they don’t need that much in terms of paid entertainment. For years, our parents have chastised us for watching too much television. Well, that may ultimately be rectified if we ourselves decide that it’s not worth the extra cost.


If you’re reading this article expecting me to give my definitive answer on the cable-streaming debate, I cannot oblige. Ultimately, the question over what is better rests upon you, on your own individual needs. My hope is that my little experiment has gotten the proverbial juices flowing to help you consider your options and make an informed decision.


The narrator in the Cheddar video said it best when he said, “. . . in the battle between streaming versus cable . . . the more things seem to change, the more they actually stay the same.”


So what about you? Are you sticking to cable or have you switched to streaming? Or are you trying to balance the best of both worlds? Let me know in the comments below!