Are multiple streaming services really cheaper than cable? Plus, how much to budget on streaming?

The increasing number of streaming services in recent years has also seen an increase in some concerns. Specifically, a growing number of price hikes, plus every media and tech conglomerate wanting their own streaming service. The increase in conglomerate-specific services has also seen said companies yank programming off popular catch-all ones like Netflix. (See "Peanuts" and Apple TV+.) And on top of all that is the expensive nature of live streaming services that're cable TV replacements, like Hulu Live or YouTube TV.

Thus, some are wondering if we were better off with a traditional cable TV subscription, given all of the above. But is this really the case?

Assumptions

Comcast van
"Comcast" by JeepersMedia is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Flickr)

I'm making several assumptions for the following:

  • For on demand services, I'm only looking at the most prominent ones: Netflix; Amazon Prime Video; Hulu; Disney+; ESPN+; HBO Max; Apple TV+; Peacock; and CBS All Access (soon to be renamed Paramount+). Sorry, fans of PBS Passport, Shudder, or Boomerang.
  • I'm counting the Disney+/Hulu/ESPN+ bundle as one "service," but otherwise not looking at any deals (such as cell phone company bundles).
  • For live streaming services, I'm mainly using YouTube TV as an example.
  • For cable TV and broadband, Consumer Reports reported in an October 2019 survey the average monthly bill for such is $217.42. While the results don't split out which bills they surveyed are "double play" or "triple play" (i.e. cable/broadband or cable/broadband/phone services), the cost difference between the two seems negligible. It's also in line with anecdotal observations of people complaining about what their cable/broadband bills run.
  • For just broadband service, Reviews.com reports an average monthly bill of $79. That seems to fit my own observations of what I'm paying, plus impending rate hikes.
  • There's several price hikes coming within the next month or so of the time I wrote this post, so I'm factoring those in now.

Situation #1: Standard tier services

Looking at the standard (or most popular) tiers of these services:

  • Netflix (HD tier): $14
  • Amazon Prime: $13
  • Disney+/Hulu (with ads)/ESPN+: $14
  • HBO Max: $15
  • Apple TV+: $5
  • Peacock (full programming tier, with ads): $5
  • CBS All Access (with ads): $6
  • YouTube TV: $65
  • Total: $137
  • Total with broadband cost: $216

Situation #2: High-end streaming service versions

For the enthusiasts that want the highest quality streaming services, i.e. ad-free and/or 4K quality:

  • Netflix (4K tier): $18
  • Amazon Prime: $13
  • Disney+/Hulu (no ads)/ESPN+: $19
  • HBO Max: $15
  • Apple TV+: $5
  • Peacock (full programming tier, no ads): $10
  • CBS All Access (no ads): $10
  • YouTube TV: $65
  • Total: $155
  • Total with broadband cost: $234

Situation #3: Only standard tier on demand services

If we ignore live streaming and only look at standard tier on demand services:

  • Netflix (HD tier): $14
  • Amazon Prime: $13
  • Disney+/Hulu (with ads)/ESPN+: $14
  • HBO Max: $15
  • Apple TV+: $5
  • Peacock (full programming tier, with ads): $5
  • CBS All Access: $6
  • Total: $72
  • Total with broadband cost: $151

My recommendation: Pick only several services or set a streaming budget

TV remote
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters / Unsplash

Finally, there's what I actually recommend, either:

  • Limit yourself to several services at the most, and ignore/rent/binge for only a month anything else.
  • Use a set monthly budget for streaming services.

If going with a set budget, several possible examples are below:

$25/month (budget)

At this tier, you're limited to one major service plus one or two inexpensive ones, but this still can provide plenty of programming.

  • Netflix: $14
  • CBS All Access (with ads): $6
  • Apple TV+: $5
  • Total: $25
  • Total with broadband cost: $104

$50/month (moderate)

At this tier, the traditional "big three" (Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu) can be covered, plus a few extra services.

  • Netflix: $14
  • Amazon Prime: $13
  • Disney+/Hulu (with ads)/ESPN+: $14
  • CBS All Access (with ads): $6
  • Total: $47
  • Total with broadband cost: $126

Another option at this tier's an inexpensive live streaming service. Sports fans might want Sling TV's Orange service, which provides ESPN:

  • Sling TV Orange: $30
  • Netflix: $14
  • CBS All Access: $6
  • Total: $50
  • Total with broadband cost: $129

$75/month (luxury)

At this amount, various options are available, including one of the pricier live streaming services.

  • YouTube TV: $65
  • Apple TV+: $5
  • Peacock (full programming tier, with ads): $5
  • Total: $75
  • Total with broadband cost: $154

There's also a cheaper live streaming option like Sling TV:

  • Sling TV (Orange and Blue tiers): $45
  • Netflix: $14
  • HBO Max: $15
  • Total: $74
  • Total with broadband cost: $153

All of the on-demand streaming options under Situation #3 above:

  • Netflix (HD tier): $14
  • Amazon Prime: $13
  • Disney+/Hulu (with ads)/ESPN+: $14
  • HBO Max: $15
  • Apple TV+: $5
  • Peacock (full programming tier, with ads): $5
  • CBS All Access: $6
  • Total: $72
  • Total with broadband cost: $151

I set $75/month as a top tier option. Anything more than that (say, at the $100 mark) likely won't save much money over a standard cable TV/broadband package.

Conclusion

To answer this post's question: yes, streaming services can cost as much as what cable TV costs... but mostly if you're buying all of them, and especially if you're also adding a live TV service. If carefully picking services, it's still much less than what many cable TV/broadband packages run—even if throwing in a few secondary ones like the aforementioned Boomerang, Shudder, and PBS Passport.

Live TV services are mostly aimed at sports fans (thus their steep prices), or those that absolutely need local channels/live programming; if those aren't your cases, sticking with on demand options will be much cheaper.

Thus, the answer's not to go back to Comcast for TV; instead, you should carefully pick which services are needed. Contrary to the hype, you don't need to buy every streaming service under the sun.

"HBO Now Apple TV" by Harrison Weber is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Flickr / cropped from original)

Support the blog

Anthony
I'm Anthony, the owner of Diverse Tech Geek.

Comments

Comment on this post through either my Facebook page, Twitter, or my contact page. Thank you!