Our cable TV expenses got totally out of hand and I had no idea.
We get internet, TV and mobile phone services from one telecom provider so the huge bill includes everything. I never took the time to investigate just how much we were paying for each. You know how it goes – over the years you add this, add that and before you know the bill hits $300+ per month. WTF?
A few months ago it was time to see just how much we were paying for TV. The fact of the matter is we hardly watched Cable TV anymore. Turns out our cable TV was costing $89 per month for a whole wad of channels we hadn’t watched in months (some we had never watched). It was insanity.
Another reason we had no idea how much we were spending on cable TV is that we pay this one big bill automatically on our credit card each month. While convenient and avoids late payments (due to laziness), we were paying mountains of cash for stuff we weren’t using and didn’t realize it. Moreover, of course our provider talked us into emailing us the monthly bill instead of sending a paper copy (hey, we wanted to do our bit for the trees), but who has time to dig around in a mess of emails each month looking for some telecom bill.
Then one day I needed to adjust our mobile account for a trip and logged into our account. I noticed that our cable TV cost was $89. If we watched 3 hours of cable TV per day, I’d have no problem paying that but we watched almost no TV. We were throwing our money out the window.
I called up our telecom provider and canceled everything but the bare essentials package, which we needed to retain HBO (which is the one cable TV channel we watch regularly – I gotta watch Ballers and of course couldn’t miss Game of Thrones).
Current cable TV alternatives
JOKING!! Blockbuster, once one of the biggest video rental chains on the planet no longer exist. Oops, they kinda missed the streaming boat.
Correction, there’s one location left in Bend, Oregon. If you’re lucky enough to live in Bend, you can still rent DVDs at the local Blockbuster. I suspect the days are numbered there as well.
Actually, the death of Blockbuster marked the end of an era; a Friday night tradition of heading to the video store and loading up with viewing for the next week. My wife and I did this for years. I kinda miss strolling the DVD aisles carefully choosing the week’s entertainment. Okay, I don’t miss it that much. I LOVE On-Demand TV plus the other cable TV alternatives set out below.
It must be a tough pill for Blockbuster shareholders to swallow thinking about the fact Netflix CEO offered to sell Netflix to Blockbuster for $50 million.
I swear On-Demand TV was invented for parents with young kids who can’t remember the last time they went to the movie theater. That’s us.
Our kids are 7 and 4 years of age. Other than going for kids movies, it’s rare we get a chance to head to the movie theater, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the Oscars every year. With On-Demand TV we can pay $7 and enjoy new releases. While movies aren’t released to On-Demand services at the same time they hit the theaters, it doesn’t take long.
Let’s not forget the awesome 65″ Samsung TV we have for watching movies with a killer Bose sound system and of course all the microwave popcorn we can eat. Who needs the movie theater anymore?
Did I say all you do is click a few buttons and start watching. It’s brilliant and painless (until the bill comes… dang, did we rent all those movies? Oops).
I mention Hulu with great sadness because we’re in Canada where Hulu is not available. What’s up with that? I suspect I’d subscribe in a heartbeat to this service because there’s nothing sweeter than binge watching our favorite shows.
If you live in the US and are looking for alternatives to cable TV, Hulu is a must-get streaming subscription.
Last I checked, Hulu is a whopping $5.99 per month. That’s less than some lousy cable channel bundle offered by our telecom.
There’s hope though. Disney bought Hulu and plans to launch in Canada soon. Hurray!!!!
Netflix is the bomb. Don’t tell Reed Hastings, but I’d pay $30 per month for Netflix. Instead, we pay around $10 per month. Heck, it’s worth the price for the kids’ shows which our kids enjoy immensely. However, my wife and I watch truckloads of Netflix. It’s our go-to viewing entertainment.
While ad-free, I don’t expect it to be so forever. At some point they will hit subscriber saturation. To make more money they either increase subscription rates and/or put ads into content. I don’t mind too much. I’d prefer they increase subscription rates (to a point), but even with ads Netflix beats cable TV because you can watch what you want when you want.
Did I mention that these are the golden years of entertainment – watch almost anything you want whenever you want. I love it.
Amazon Prime Video
I’m ashamed to say I’ve never watched Amazon Prime, yet we’re Amazon Prime members. We never got around to setting it up on our TV. Besides, Netflix and HBO is more than enough for us so far. Sometimes more is not more.
So much to watch, so little time.
However, it appears that Amazon is committed to growing their streaming service. With one of the biggest corporate war chests in the world, it’ll be hard to compete. With a $10.1 BILLION net profit in 2018, they have mountains of cash to invest in content. The scary thing is their profits just keep growing.
However, Amazon isn’t the only corporate behemoth in on streaming. Apple is another entity flush with more cash than they know what to do with. What do you do when you swim in cash? You hop into a sexy industry with A-list actors and actresses just so you can hobnob with them at fun corporate events.
Speaking of massive cash war chests, YouTube which is owned by Google is also swimming in money with no end in sight.
YouTube takes a different approach to the other streaming services. YouTube monetizes with advertising but makes content free. There is a premium subscription service, but I suspect most people suck it up and deal with the ads. I can place my cursor over the “Skip ads” button blindfolded now.
I wasn’t always a YouTube watcher but find myself on it more and more in recent years. I really enjoy watching funny snippets of TV shows and stand up comics. Before I know, instead of working I’ve spent 2 hours laughing my guts our watching Ricky Gervais standup and Larry David bits from Curb Your Enthusiasm.
In fact, YouTube has more content than you could ever watch in a lifetime. If paying for any streaming service or cable TV is beyond your means, YouTube will do the job.
Kids love YouTube too (although kid content may decrease now that YouTube is going to stop targeting ads to kids).
Vudu is owned by Walmart and it’s a movie and TV show on-demand service. You pay per online rental. There is no subscription. No contract. Just pay as you go, which sits well with many people. With over 100,000 titles, there is plenty to choose from including very recent theater releases.
Vudu is a viable service because it’s always there in the event you can’t find something on Netflix. You simply download it on your device and/or TV and start watching. It includes a good selection of free options (with ads).
I wonder if other content providers with streaming services will license the content to Vudu. After all, with a pay-per-use model, the streaming services enjoy another revenue source via another entertainment option that doesn’t compete head-on. Vudu kinda competes with streaming services, but not head-on given the pay-per-use model.
Prices range from free to $7 or so for movies. TV shows cost more, but then you get the entire show or a season.
AT&T TV Now
AT&T TV Now is a hybrid of regular TV and streaming. You gain access to many traditional TV channels as well as other content. Basically you get live TV but can stream TV shows that have already aired. There are many pricing packages to choose from. Choose a few channels or all of them.
Why not take a stroll down nostalgia lane to the days where the radio was the only option (before TV). People sat around the radio listening to their favorite radio shows. How fun. Well, the same concept is back with podcasts, which are blowing up itunes. Everyone and their dog publishes a podcast. The rest listen.
Don’t scoff. Listening to a good podcast is every bit as entertaining as watching a good TV show or movie.
Most podcasts are free (yaaaay). You can listen at iTunes, Spotify and Stitcher.
Long live the library!!!
I’ve been a library patron for decades. I’ve read hundreds, maybe thousands of books courtesy of libraries. Same with watching DVDs.
While not always the most convenient (it’s hard to compete with On-Demand and streaming services), if you’re low on funds, your local library has a lot to offer.
Video game streaming subscriptions
If we’re talking about at-home entertainment as an alternative to cable TV, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention gaming subscriptions. I’m not a gamer, but no doubt gaming subscriptions and consoles are growing leaps and bounds and will continue doing so for years. The gaming industry is massive. People into gaming probably like it more than watching programs on TV.
If you like the idea of gaming instead of watching TV, learn about the most popular gaming streaming services here.
Read a book or magazine
I have the Amazon kindle app on my iPhone but I do prefer physical books.
Regardless, reading is a viable cable TV substitute, but you already know that if you’re a reader. If you don’t read much, you probably don’t care.
Alternatives to Cable TV Coming…
Just when you though the streaming industry was saturated, it’s going to get a lot more competitive. That’s bad for Netflix and Hulu but great for us (as long as Netflix doesn’t go belly up).
Here are some streaming services to be launched in 2020 (not to be confused with the classic TV show).
Apple TV Plus
Apple is getting in on the streaming racket in late 2019. It will include some custom TV shows with a lot more in the pipeline. In fact, they’re budgeting $6 BILLION for content. That’s a lot of content. Of course, $6 billion is a drop in the bucket for Apple. It’s gonna be hard for the non-behemoths to compete against Apple and Amazon when it comes to spending.
HBO Max (coming)
HBO Max is launching soon which marks the beginning of mega competition within the TV streaming market. To date, Netflix and Hulu dominated, but more services are entering the mix. Some have tried and disappeared. However, HBO is a powerhouse (deservedly so) and so I think HBO Max is gonna make it work. After all, we pay $18 per month for HBO from our Telecom provider. It’s the streaming model so we can watch any HBO programming any time we want, which is super sweet.
But it’s not just HBO.
HBO Max is by WarnerMedia which includes HBO, CNN, TNT, TBS, truTV, Turner Classic Movies, Cartoon Network, Crunchyroll, and Adult Swim — along with new original content from proven behind-the-scenes talent and big-name actors [source: Thrillist].
Disney’s advantage when it launches its streaming service is that it has a huge catalog of content to launch with. We’ve all heard of Disney because they’ve been pumping out movies and TV shows for decades. They’ve bought the rights to plenty of content as well. No doubt Disney will crank up the content volume to bolster its streaming service in an effort to dominate.
And get this, Disney had a higher net profit in 2018 than Amazon. Disney raked in $12.6 billion in profits. That’s a lot of content.
NBC Universal (coming)
NBC Universal which is owned by Comcast is going the advertising route to keep subscription cost down. I think it’s a smart move as it distinguishes itself from competitors. It’ll be free for NBCU’s 52 million subscribers… who will need to tolerate ads (unless you pony up a monthly fee which will remove the ads).
Quibi is short for “quick bites”.
The service will deliver content to mobile phones, not televisions. In fact, Jeffery Katzenberg doesn’t liken it as a substitute to TV.
For those of us who haul a smartphone around everywhere, Quibi could be a complementary entertainment service we use while out and about with our phone and then put our feet up in the evening in front of our mammoth screens to watch our other favorite streaming services.
Streaming Service Analysis
Who is going to win the streaming war?
That’s hard to say. Impossible really. Each has their advantages. Here’s my “armchair” streaming service analysis in the nutshell:
Netflix: huge existing subscribership and first to market. They’re well-positioned right now but they need more cash to keep pumping out content. They are losing some content licensing deals as other streaming services launch.
Disney+: Huge profits along with a massive catalog of content make it likely that Disney has a good chance of staking a sizeable claim in the streaming market.
Amazon Prime Video: With millions and millions of Prime members, it has a huge audience who happily pay annual fees. Amazon also has billions in profits to deploy into content. They should not be undermined but it really depends on how much Amazon decides to invest in its streaming service.
Apple TV Plus: Like Amazon, Apple has mountains of cash for content. They also have their devices in the hands of millions of people so delivery is a no-brainer. Also like Amazon, it depends on how much and how quickly they can get content to market.
NBC Universal: While a sizeable company (owned by Comcast) with plenty of content, they are going to have to crank out content which shouldn’t be a problem since it’s owned by yet another behemoth with $11 BILLION in profits in 2018.
Hulu: Well established with plenty of content and subscribers. As long as they can pump out more content, they’ll stay in the game.
HBO Max: With an exceptional catalog of content, I suspect HBO will do well. I love HBO shows and as long as they focus on the quality they’re known for, they should do well. HBO Max is priced at the higher end of the pricing spectrum so they don’t need as many subscribers to make it work.
Quibi: I’m not sure how this will play out. It’s geared toward millennials and I’m not a millennial. I doubt I’d pay the $5 or so for quick bite content, but then I’m not their target audience. Quibi has huge financial backing with two powerhouse industry folks at the helm so it definitely can’t be overlooked. When YouTube was in its infancy, I didn’t care for it either, but now I enjoy it and clearly it’s a success.
The billion-dollar question is whether people will subscribe to multiple streaming services or pick one and use only that. I believe people will subscribe to multiple streaming services. I know I will (and do). After all, they’re still very cheap; much cheaper than cable TV packages. You’ll be able to subscribe to two or three services for less than $25 per month in total. That’s still very good value for money.
Watch out for monetization testing
You can bet your bottom dollar that one or some streaming services will test ads in the content. The potential revenue is huge. However, the problem is that may annoy people so much they turn to a non-ad provider. It’s a tricky situation to be sure. If all streaming services go the ad route, all will profit but user experience will suffer.
IMO, streaming services should offer an ad or no ad option. If you want it free or ridiculously low price, you put up with ads. If willing to pay more, you enjoy no ads. NBC Universal will be going this route which is smart.
Will a “one-price-for-all” materialize?
Will multiple streaming services join forces to provide more? Maybe, but I doubt it. There’s the monopoly issue to avoid, although I’m sure in the long run there will be acquisitions. After all, Amazon and Apple could possibly buy controlling interests in the smaller streaming outfits.
Perhaps some black-market devices will materialize where with one monthly price gain access to everything. I’m not a user of such devices, but no doubt they’ll be a hit.
It boils down to content
The winners will win because of content. It’s that simple. People are happy to pay $5, $10 or even $20 if there is plenty of new, high-quality content being delivered regularly. It sucks when you finish a show or a batch of movies to have nothing new to watch.
Will streaming services niche down to specific markets?
I would not be surprised if streaming services choose to cater to specific audiences. For example, Disney is well-situated to focus on children’s entertainment with all the animated films in its catalog. Hulu offers just TV shows (as far as I know… I’m in Canada so don’t have the service). Netflix to date serves everyone (and does a decent job doing so). HBO Max will likely focus on an adult audience with high-quality programming. Beyond that, who knows how it’ll shakeup.
Consumers are the big winners
At the end of the day, consumers win. I don’t think anyone would say “let’s go back to the cable TV model.” Streaming is blowing up in popularity because we love it. We love all the amazing content that we can watch whenever and wherever we like. It’s a huge win for consumers.
The obligatory “wrap up” (aka conclusion)
With a little research and open-mindedness, you have many options for entertainmentnt other than cable TV. In fact, we don’t watch cable TV anymore because of all the great cable TV alternatives out there. I said it once and I’ll say it again: so much entertainment, so little time.