Streaming Services vs. Cable Smackdown: Is It More Affordable? (2023)

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Is it worth ditching cable altogether if streaming is really cheaper? We will analyze the numbers for you.

Streaming Services vs. Cable Smackdown: Is It More Affordable? (2)
Streaming Services vs. Cable Smackdown: Is It More Affordable? (3)

Kourtnee Jackson Writer

Kourtnee covers TV streaming services and home entertainment news and reviews for CNET. She previously worked as an entertainment reporter for Showbiz Cheat Sheet where she covered film, television, music, celebrity and streaming platforms.

Professionalism Kourtnee is a longtime cable TV expert who subscribes to streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, HBO Max, Crunchyroll, Sling, Spotify and more. As a real user of these services, he follows news in the field of streaming, the latest re Reference

  • Although Kourtnee has yet to win any journalism awards, she has been a Netflix subscriber since 2012 and knows the magic of hidden codes.

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Streaming Services vs. Cable Smackdown: Is It More Affordable? (4)
Streaming Services vs. Cable Smackdown: Is It More Affordable? (5)

Ti, Pendlebury Editor

Ty Pendlebury graduated in journalism from RMIT in Melbourne and has been with CNET since 2006. He lives in New York where he writes about streaming and home audio.

Professionalism Ty has worked for radio, print and online publications, and has been writing about home entertainment since 2004. While studying at RMIT, he majored in photography. He is an avid record collector and music streaming enthusiast. Reference

  • Ty has been nominated for an Australian IT Journalism Award in the Best New Journalist category, but has only won one award so far. As a young man, he was given a free session at a local supermarket's photo studio.

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Kourtnee Jackson


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HowNetflixgetting ready forclose your DVD businesswe can think about how streaming services have evolved over the last decade. Ad-supported pricing, password sharing and price increases help us make purchasing decisions. You may have switched toteam transmissionand you forgot how much cable or satellite television really costs. Maybe you were withXinfinityLubSpectrumforever as you are used to the bundled rate. Either way, are you getting the best value for money?

Streaming Services vs. Cable Smackdown: Is It More Affordable? (6)

With its contracts and fees, cable TV isn't cheap at all. The alternative is a setstreaming services, but paying multiple subscriptions - or even alive tv streaming servicelike DirecTV Stream - can also compete with your cable TV bill. According to a study from July 2022Park's associatesroughly a quarter of American households subscribe to nine or more streaming services, while 50% of us subscribe to at least four.

Right now, you can cut the cord entirely and just use streaming services likeHulu,Disney Plusor YouTube TV. You can also keep satellite or cable TV as your main course by subscribing to a few streaming platforms on the side. There is also the option of watching 100% of what you want exclusively on cable TV.

All these choices can quickly become overwhelming, but don't worry. Here,we do mathto find out how you can save money in most parts of the US with the best combination of cable, streaming and internet. (You can also find outhow much you can save by shopping at costcocompared to a regular supermarket iis it cheaper to buy Xbox Game Pass or individual games.)

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Cable vs Streaming vs Live TV

WorkMonthly cost
Basic cable TV and internet 132 dollars
Premium cable TV and internet 199 dollars
Basic streaming (without internet) 33 dollars
Streaming premium (without internet) 62 dollars
Live TV and Internet streaming 129 dollars

*Average cable TV costs in 6 cities
*Average live TV costs for 5 services

How we did the calculations

To compare the cost savings between streaming and cable, we started with the monthly cost of cable in several US cities. While streaming service prices are the same no matter where you live, we analyzed data for major cable providers in New York, San Francisco, Houston, Atlanta, Kansas and Maine. Here's what we found using a representative supplier from each city.

Monthly cost of cable in 6 sample US cities*

Internet onlyBasic TV + InternetPremium TV + Internet
Grantville, Kansas (Cox) 50 dollars149 dollars210 dollars
Atlanta, Georgia (AT&T/DirecTV) 70 dollars162 dollars270 dollars
Houston, Teksas (Xfinity) 61 USD91 USD151 dollars
New York, New York (Fios) 60 dollars135 dollars180 dollars
Portland, ME (duh) 76 dollars122 dollars195 dollars
San Francisco (Xfinity) 83 dollars133 dollars189 dollars
Average 67 dollars132 dollars199 dollars
*plus taxes and fees, rate may require automatic adjustment

If these numbers seem low at first glance, that's because they don't take into account taxes and fees, which make up a significant portion of your monthly cable TV costs. They differ in location, equipment and type of services (e.g. regional sports networks), so it was not possible to include them exactly in the above prices.

However, in our research we discoveredtaxes and fees may increase by $30-$50for a monthly fee.Xinfinityfor example, it charges for TV (up to $25 a month) and regional sports (up to $19), plus $5 for each additional Flex TV module.Verizon Fiosit charges for boxes ($6 each) and DVR service (another $12 and up), but doesn't charge for streaming TV.Spectrumcharges monthly for TV ($21), box and remote ($10), and DVR service ($13 and up).HelmsmanandDirecTV/AT&Tcharge similar fees and local taxes differ from each provider.

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The above tables reflect the average priceAfterall one-year or two-year promotional prices expire.Prices also include discounts on automatic payments and electronic payments, which are usually $10. Competition in metropolitan areas like New York can lower prices compared to places like Portland, Maine, or rural Kansas, so you can spend a little more or less, depending on availability.

Keep in mind that most internet plans available today should be like thisfast enough to stream Netflix contenteven in 4K quality. The "slowest" budget plan we've seen is 25Mbps (AT&T), but Netflix recommends at least 5Mbps for 1080p or 15Mbps for 4K resolution. This means that even the most basic connection should work fine if you only want to watch one TV at a time. If you have a larger household, a 50Mbps or even 100Mbps plan should be sufficient, and I've found that most budget plans allow for this.

The cheapest is streaming only, no live TV

The cheapest option? Get the cheapest internet plan you can and subscribe to Netflix, Disney Plus, Max and Hulu - individually or all together - and skip live TV.

Comparison of monthly costs for streaming services

Basic with adsPremium/no advertising
Netflix 7 dollars15,50 USD, 20 USD
Hulu 8 dollars15 dollars
Disney Plus 8 dollars11 dollars
Maks 10 USD$16, $20

If you want the basic versions of all four services listed above, the sum will be$33 per month. Add the average cost of internet services ($67) and you're paying $100 a month.That's $32 less than the average price of basic TV and Internet($132 from the table above).

Netflix without adsandDisney Plus with adsgive subscribers more options.

Want live TV? Streaming is still (usually) cheaper

If you want cable TV without fees or contracts, the next best thing would be live TV. These services include a program guide, DVR andthe most famous channelsyou are used to using a cable. However, they cost more than on-demand services like Netflix.

In the chart below, we've compared the average cost of cable TV in the six cities listed above with the cost of the best live TV streaming services.

Cable TV costs versus live TV costs

InternetBasic TVTotal (Live TV + Internet)
Average cable 67 dollars65 dollars$132 (excluding fees and taxes)
Sin 67 dollars25 dollars92 dollars
TV on the bar 67 dollars40 dollars107 dollars
YouTube TV 67 dollars73 dollars140 dollars
Live TV on Hulu Plus 67 dollars70 dollars137 dollars
DirecTV stream (iz RSN-a) 67 dollars100 dollars167 dollars

You can see right away that paying for internet only is about the same price as paying for a live TV service like Hulu with Live TV orYouTube TV, which just increased its pricefor $8 to $73 per month. If you pay $67 a month for internet and $70 for Hulu Live TV, that's a total of $137. Stick with the cheaper Sling TV, which has a decent number of cable channels and drops to $107. Also note that Hulu and YouTube Live TV services include unlimited DVR and are not charged extra.

You may be able to find a configurable cable/Internet TV package for $105 to $125 or an inexpensive, stand-alone Internet service. But as we mentioned above, once you doIncluding taxes and surcharges, live TV is usually cheaper.

Streaming Services vs. Cable Smackdown: Is It More Affordable? (9)

Some sports fans might actually save money with cable

The last line in the chart above shows the cost of DirecTV Stream, where Internet actually costs more than cable, not a typo. This service costs $100 per month for the Choice plan that includesregional sports networks, also known as RSN.These are the networks that serve the majorityNBA basketball,Hockey in the NHLand (spring and summer)baseball equals MLBmatches of your local team. These RSNs are usually included in local cable TV packages, so most cable TV subscribers don't have to worry about getting access to shows on these channels.

Due to copyright agreements, most live TV streaming services, such as YouTube TV or Hulu with Live TV, do not support multiple RSNs. The DirecTV stream is an exception. It has almost every RSN channel, most notably the Bally Sports (formerly Fox Sports) channels offered by Sinclair, but you have to choose the $100 plan. Another alternative is Bally's Plus, a $20/month option that offers access to multiple RSNs, but you still need another live TV service to watch national games as wellNFL football.

Read more: The best sports streaming service for 2023

Ultimately, depending on your location, getting a cable TV subscription that includes sports channels like ESPN, FS1, TNT and your local RSN, as well as local CBS, Fox and NBC stations for the NFL can actually be cheaper and easier than streaming.

What are the advantages of subscribing to cable or satellite TV?

Access to local news, live sports and network programming as they air is a trade-off that some viewers refuse to accept. Streaming services offer some, but not all, of these options. Another benefit is that you can save a few bucks by bundling all your services into a phone plan. Carriers such as Verizon and AT&T offer additional discounts.

Streaming Services vs. Cable Smackdown: Is It More Affordable? (10)

What are the benefits of switching to a TV streaming service?

Although streaming prices are constantly rising, there are no taxes or hidden costs. You also don't have to worry about equipment leasing fees, contracts (unless you have an annual plan), or waiting (or paying) for a cable operator to arrive for a repair or installation. You have the option to opt out of ads and not spend money on channels you don't want or watch. What else? Since you pay monthly as you go, there are no penalty fees for early cancellation and deactivation. You can watch content on demand with the ability to share the cost of your account by sharing passwords. And all this without a credit check.

Which one is best for you?

If you want to save money, it's best to subscribe to the cheapest internet subscription and get a subscription to Netflix and/or Hulu. you are done. However, if you find yourself missing out on live TV, the cheapest option is to add Sling TV to the mix. However, even signing up for Hulu Plus Live TV and Web will cost less than a premium cable subscription and provide a similar number of channels. Not to mention the vast amount of on-demand content that Hulu makes available - they now also include Disney Plus and ESPN Plus.

Unless you're a sports fan who needs or cares about a local RSNstreaming delay, the main potential downside to cutting the cord is convenience - especially if you're changing channels - since you'll now have to navigate through apps instead of using the channel buttons on the remote. If you're happy with your cable subscription, you may not have to worry about cutting the cord, and saving money can be as simple as cutting out some packages you don't use. You can always top it up with a subscription to Hulu, Disney Plus or Netflix.

While the switch to cable can seem daunting, it can still offer a cable TV experience if that's what you want and save you some decent cash in the process. For more tips on saving money on a house party, check out our articles onrotation of streaming services,the best antennasi acomparison of media players.


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