Is the cord-cutting future cheaper than cable?
Cord-cutting is the future, but is it actually going to be cheaper?
According to just about everywhere, the pandemic of 2020 sped up the number of Americans cutting the cord, also known as moving away from a pay TV. Cord cutting continues happening in record numbers. While the number of those still subscribing to a pay TV services like cable and satellite still outnumber those who are not, that number is dropping rapidly. That number is falling throughout the demographic spectrum, meaning people of all ages (and other statistics) are cutting the cord. However, it’s also important to make a distinction between cord-cutters and many (but not all) weirdo millennials, as many in my generation are apparently known as “cord-nevers” according to nocable.org.
Essentially, all of this means that at some point in the near future, pay TV like cable and satellite services will go the way of newspapers, napkins, and other industries that my weirdo millennial generation has supposedly had a hand in killing. Regardless of who is responsible, the big question most of us want answered about cord cutting is if it’s going to be cheaper than pay TV?
The short answer; it depends.
The slightly longer explanation… it can be cheaper to cut the cord, but it depends on three factors.
First, it depends on how much one is currently paying for internet and whatever cable TV company one is currently or was previously subscribed (unless it’s for anyone in 8 mid-Atlantic states, but I’ll get to that a little later). The second factor depends on how much any cord-cutter (or cord-never) wants to spend in order to get all the content they want. The third factor, though minor, is still important, as it entails measuring one’s desire for live TV in some form.
Through sheer curiosity, I decided to do a little research (and math) to determine if cutting the cord is in fact cheaper (in the long run) than cable for right now. The good news is that as of this writing it can in fact be cheaper to cut the cord. The slightly bad news is that it can be a little overwhelming attempting to procure all the content one prefers. This is in part due to the wild west nature of streaming services, not to mention that many of our favorite movies and other content continues to find itself in walled off streaming silos without much overlap.
But, that’s what this little article is for as I try to map out four possible scenarios for cord-cutters and cord-nevers to determine not only if it’s financially advantageous to cut the cord, but to also see several scenarios for a mix and match opportunities between live, streaming TV and/or just settling for streaming services. It’s important to note, all the numbers shared skip special first year deals for a majority of cable and satellite offers. As most folks know, after that first year both internet and cable bills, at least in Specturm’s case, can rocket up between 18–64%. In Comcast/Xfinity’s case, one can see their cable bill potentially rise 52% after introductory prices. All of this is why most people are spurred to cut the cord in the first place!
How Much Does Cable Cost These Days Anyway?
If I’m being honest, between all the traveling and alternative lifestyles I’ve enjoyed over the past few years, it’s been a while since I’ve paid for cable myself. So, I had to look up the numbers to get ideas of what the major internet & cable companies are charging these days.
These numbers are important to understand in order to see not only how much cable & internet cost together, but how much one is willing to spend to see if its even worth it to cut the cord. Again, keep in mind I’m only sharing numbers that are beyond the 1 year special rate that a majority of companies provide. I’m also NOT including equipment rentals in the prices due to those being optional for some. And for the sake of brevity (not to mention my sanity) I’m only including the largest & most well known cable companies that also offer internet; those being Spectrum, Comcast/Xfinity, Cox Communications & Verizon. I recognize there are other, smaller ISP’s out there that folks use, but because a majority of people in the US use one of these four major companies, they’re what I’m going with. But anyone who uses a smaller (ISP) can certainly follow along and plug in their numbers in my formula. Finally, I am modeling cable prices on comparable packages that offer equal or nearly the same amount of channels for similar prices.
According to cableTV.com Spectrum charges somewhere between $99 — $175 for both internet and cable after the first year introductory price. Depending on the Spectrum cable package chosen, one can watch anywhere from 65 to over 175 channels on Spectrum. This means, if one decides to cut the cord on Spectrum but stick w/ any of their unlimited data, no contract internet plans (of which all of them are), one will have roughly $25–$120 amount to spend for some streaming services to match the cost of Spectrum cable + internet. This is the magic number to keep an eye on if you’re a user of Spectrum. Prices are based on Spectrum TV choice package which includes 65 channels and Spectrum’s cable Silver package for 175 channels)
Naturally, the magic number is slightly different for users of Comcast/Xfinity. The combined price of internet + cable for Comcast/Xfinity is somewhere between $170-$196 (for their package that includes 140 channels). Now it’s important to note that Comcast/Xfinity charges slightly different prices depending on what region certain states fall into, not to mention the fact that Comcast/Xfinity does kinda sorta charge for going over certain data limits (in addition to several other hidden fees). However, I’m not including those numbers in this story as it varies too much from region to region.
Having said all of that, the magic number for Comcast/Xfinity is that users of this company have roughly $70–$96 to spend for some type of streaming services to match the cost of Comcast/Xfinity cable + internet. Prices are based off of either northeast or western internet rates plus the Comcast/Xfinity cable digital starter package of $100 with 140 channels and internet speeds of 200 mbs.
Then there’s Cox Communications. The magic number to remember for Cox is having roughly $50-$79 to spend for some type of streaming services to match the cost of Cox Communications internet plus cable, which runs roughly between $100 — $165. Prices are based on either Cox StraightUp Internet or Cox Internet Ultimate 500 with Cox’s contour TV starter with 75 channels or Cox’s Contour TV preferred with +140 channels. In addition to those channels, Cox also offers several add-on packs (channels) for sports and other entertainment. As with Comcast/Xfinity, I’m not including any Cox Communication hidden fees in the numbers.
Finally, there’s Verizon, whose inclusion may prove controversial in this article considering they only service 8 states plus D.C. However, since Verizon is a major company that offers internet as well as cable to 8 mid-Atlantic states, I’m including them. If I’m being completely honest, users of Verizon internet & fios TV may want to stop reading now. For those unaware, users of Verizon’s low cost internet & fios cables are probably saving the most money out of everyone else, spending a surprising $89–109 for cable and internet! Prices are based off of Verizon $39 internet with 200 mbs and somewhere between 125 — 390 channels based on either their “your fios tv package” with 125 channels) or the “more fios tv package” with 300 channels. Just based on the numbers alone, Verizon customers are getting the most for their money’s worth without a doubt.
However, since Verizon is still so limited in scope, chances are most people are using one of the other big three cable & internet providers.
The Leaders of the Cord-Cutting Resistance
While most Americans subscribe to at least one of the now 8 burgeoning pay streaming services, it’s important to make a distinction between two major streaming tribes.
Tribe one is all about that app. They’re the major players we all know, the elite 8; Peacock, Paramount+, Apple TV+, Disney+, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix & HBO Max. These are the streaming companies of which the majority of cord cutting conversation revolves around. While cord-cutters are under no obligation to subscribe to all 8 streaming services, I decided to combine all their monthly fees and broke them down into two different tiers; the ad-supported and ad-free tiers. PLEASE NOTE, Apple TV+, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video and Netflix DO NOT have ad-supported tiers, but for the sake or organization, I’m including them in tier 1 with the other streamers who do offer ad supported tiers.
The combined monthly total of all ad-supported streamers in this tier comes to roughly $62 a month. Not too shabby. However, if one wanted to shell out a few more shekels for an almost completely add free streaming experience, the combined monthly total for all 8 streamers runs roughly between $80-$85 a month. I’m also including the updated Netflix price hike.
Wen it comes to choose between one or several of the streaming services, that can be overwhelming in and of itself, but a great article by Business Insider breaks down the amount and quality of content each streaming service offers. Long story short, Amazon Prime Video offers the most movies out of any service (but HBO Max has the most “high quality” movies) but Netflix offers the most TV shows (including the most “high quality” TV shows).
While this does feel like a lot to keep track of for now, it may also be worth noting that some of these streamers might not be around in the future. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal,
“…the likelihood of all these offerings surviving over the long term is slim; according to Ampere Analytics, the average U.S. household now subscribes to just a little over four streaming services.”
Then there’s tribe two. This class of streamers is all about streaming live TV. Chances are, Americans have probably heard of several, but not all of these companies; Philo TV, Sling TV, Hulu + live TV, Youtube TV and Fubo TV. It’s this class that not only tends to cost a little more, but also where things can get a little more complicated due to the various deals these companies have made to silo off certain channels. Luckily, it’s fairly easy to keep track of the channels that are utilized by each service thanks a master list of available channels are on the big 6 live streamers.
All the live TV streaming services compared: Which has the best channel lineup?
Deciding to cut the cable TV cord doesn't mean you have to give up your favorite channels. You can them live, including…
We’ll check out the costs for all of these services when we look at the four cord cutting strategies. I just wanted to introduce the major players so none of this comes as a surprise when we break down the three strategies below.
Something to keep in mind, though, is that Hulu + Live TV also recently announced a $5 price hike. But the silver lining is that jump in price apparently comes with both Disney+ and ESPN+ as bonus subscriptions. Hulu + Live TV also offers several add ons packed with additional channels, which might be interesting to some sports fans.
The 3 Noble Paths of Cord-Cutting
While the majority of the cord-cutting debate revolves around prices and if it’s cheaper, it really depends on everyone’s cord-cutting strategy in addition to how much we’re willing to spend. The first strategy is all about saving as much money as possible with 3 different options on how to do that. The second strategy involves spending nearly as much or as much one is originally spending for cable with 3 different options in that one as well. The third and final strategy is for those with money to burn but are still looking to chop that cord.
Path 1 — Cheap AF
For those wanting to spend as little as possible for cord-cutting, chances are such folks don’t mind seeing a few ads if it means not having to pay as much for cable.
Option A — Streaming on the Cheap
As stated earlier, if one were to combine all 8 streaming prices into one monthly lump sum, it would cost roughly $60 a month. If we were to look back at the magic numbers from the Spectrum, Comcast/Xfinity and Cox Communications, we’d see that spending roughly $60 does indeed make cutting the cord cheaper. However, if one is worried they are not meeting all of their streaming needs, there are other free streaming services out there that can be combined with the elite 8, like Crackle, Tubi, ImdbTV, Roku, Pluto and Vudu.
Option B — B is for the Best of Both Worlds
This plan for streaming on the cheap and keeping your bill below the what one would pay for cable involves a combo of streaming live TV and utilizing a few of the elite 8 streamers. Since Philo TV is the cheapest of the live streamers, clocking in at only $21 a month for 63 channels, one could theoretically toss in a few of the elite 8 streaming services to give themselves a more well-rounded entertainment experience. Personally, I’d recommend combining Philo TV with the Disney deal of Hulu, Disney+ and ESPN+ since there’s not much overlap in terms of channels, meaning you get a little bit of everything.
Technically, cord-cutters could also choose ONE of Sling TV’s two color-coded packages (Sling Orange or Sling Blue, both costing $35 a month for one or $50 a month for both with over 50 channels) plus one or two of the elite 8 streamers and still be saving on some cash. However, one would need to do a little research to determine which Sling color is more their style. If you’re more into movies, might be a safe bet to go with HBO Max and Amazon Prime Video. If you’re into sports, here’s a big HINT — According to Business Insider, Sling Blue offers NFL network, NBC Sports Network, Fox Sports and also local nightly news channels.
Option C is for sports-Centric
For those who gotta have their sports, this option is the cheapest one around. This option involves signing up for the Sling TV Blue package (which is definitely more football focused) for $35 a month plus the “Sports Add On” for an extra $11 and finally toss in a monthly subscription to ESPN+ for another $6 a month which comes out to a total of roughly $52 a month.
However, as Business Insider points out, it’s important to note that ESPN+ is not the same as having ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNews and does “not grant you access to live games being broadcast on those networks, including any live games during Monday Night Football and Sunday Night Baseball.” Hence, this is where Sling Blue and the “Sports Add On” come in hardy.
Path 2 — Same as Cable
As the name implies, my second cord-cutting strategy would bring ones streaming bill to roughly the same price as if one were paying for cable and internet. I’ve also broken up this strategy into 3 tiers, one dedicated to just the big 8 streamers and the other that involves a combo of streaming live TV and a select one or two of the elite 8 streamers.
Option A — A is for Ad-Free
Option A is simple and straightforward, as in focuses on only throwing a few more bucks into the pot to have a mostly ad free experience with the elite 8 streamers. I say mostly ad-free because, it’s important to note that many of the streamers will still show ads to their own shows and programming. But at least one won’t see nearly as many ads as they would on live TV.
This option costs roughly $80-$85 dollars for a premium ad free experience, but it can cost roughly $10 more at $96 if one decided to take the Disney deal ad free along with the other streamers.
Option B — Better Choose Carefully
Option B is for those who gotta have some live TV in their life, but also a little streaming. It’s all about choosing which live TV streamer best aligns with your entertainment priorities and then choosing 1 or 2 streamers to fill out what’s missing. Again, keep in mind the following options are merely suggestions, but at least it’s a place to start.
If you’re looking for a combination that offers the most options in terms of what to watch, then you’d probably want to grab a subscription to Hulu Live TV or both Sling packages, topping them off with Prime Video and/or HBO Max. In case you’re wondering why choose Amazon Prime Video over Netflix, the answer is simple. As mention before, Amazon has way more content than Netflix and Hulu combined, and now that Amazon has purchased MGM studios, it stands to gain an even larger content library. This is in addition to the fact that every year or so Netflix raises its subscription prices. So I predict in a few years Netflix is going to be more expensive than the rest of the streamer.
If you’re looking for a good balance of live sports & entertainment, then it might be best to go with Fubo TV + HBO Max for a tight $80 a month.
If you’re super into heroes saving the world (and the occasional villains), then it’s definitely worth grabbing a subscription from Philo or Sling Blue, then shucking out some extra shekels for Disney+, HBO Max & Amazon Prime Video.
Maybe you’re the type that prefers to their entertainment also double as education, meaning lots of documentaries and some history channels. If that’s how you roll then it’s probably best to roll with Hulu Live TV plus Netflix and HBO Max for close to $105 a month (plus whatever you pay for cable).
Option C is still sports-Centric
For anyone that’s gotta keep track of the scores or root for their fave team, then option C is where you need to be. There are three main options to choose from, depending on budget and what sports one is into.
You could keep it simple and just sign up for Fubo TV and be done with it. That’s because Fubo TV has centered their whole live TV streaming around sports in the first place. Throw in ESPN+ and you’re spending around $71 a month, which is pretty much the price of paying for cable. Another option that keeps one in the same range as spending for cable is getting both Sling Orange and Sling Blue plus Sling’s Sports add on extra which takes one to roughly $71 a month as well.
But if one’s into sports but still want a little entertainment on the side, then it’s best to jump into Sling Blue, with the sports extra package along with Amazon Prime Video, due to Amazon gaining the rights to Thursday night football for a bit. Add in ESPN+ and DAZN and all that will run roughly $81 a month plus whatever one pays for cable.
Path 3 — Want It All (Glutton for Fun-ishment)
The final path is for those either with money to burn or just gotta have it all. Mind you, this choice is totally going over what one would normally pay for cable, but at least everything is included!
For this choice, one would want to go with Youtube TV since it offers more channels than than any of the other live streamers.
Then, if one wants all the streamers, the only choice left is to decide if it’s better to get choose the cheaper option (as mentioned earlier) where some of services like Hulu, HBO Max, Paramount+ and Peacock all have limited commercials (for $60 a month). The cheaper, ads included option combined with Youtube TV’s cost of $65 a month that would cost roughly $125 a month (plus whatever one pays for internet service). Or maybe it’s better to go totally ad free as also mentioned above (for $80 a month) if money is no object. With Youtube TV’s cost of $65 a month (but cost is made up w/ unlimited DVR storage), your total comes out to somewhere between $145-$151 a month, plus however much is one is paying for internet.
As you can see, it depends on what you’re looking for in your entertainment needs. It can be done to have it cheaper than paying for cable, but it also depends on if one wants some form of live TV. What makes it confusing is that some channels are available across most live TV streaming platforms, some are exclusive to certain ones. Luckily, certain apps like Reelgood organizes where your favorite movies and TV shows are found. But sports is a whole different thing to consider when choosing what you want out of cord-cutting. This is on top of the continued volatility some live streaming services have encountered throughout the last year, notably the recent dispute between Youtube TV’s parent company Google and Disney, causing the live TV streaming to briefly pull 18 Disney owned channels off it’s service over a weekend, forcing them to also briefly slash their price to make up the difference. The point being, is that this current time is fraught with ever changing information as certain media companies attempt to silo off their content, which makes it hard to find what you’re looking for all in one spot. Hopefully, this cleared up some of that confusion.
I am by no means an expert accountant or a paid marketer here to promote streaming services or cable TV. I was merely curious to know if cord-cutting was actually cheaper than cable. So, I decided to do my own research. This is what I discovered. I will do my best to update this information when possible. Updated to reflect Netflix price hike and Business Insider article that analyzes streaming content.