Cutting the Cord: The True Cost of Streaming vs. Cable

There is a lot of talk about Millennials and others “cutting the cord” and getting rid of their cable and satellite providers. It’s true that in many cases, shows can be streamed rather than watched on television at a certain time. The precursor to streaming, the DVR, showed people how nice it was not to be tied to a network schedule and to skip commercials.

There has also long been an outcry for a la carte services or being able to just order the channels you actually want to watch rather than put together cable packages. Well, thanks to modern streaming devices and smart TVs you can do that, sort of.

However, like any system, it is not perfect, and there are costs associated with streaming you might not be thinking of. Here are some of those costs, and how they may or may not influence your decision to cut the cord.


The Hardware

Guess what? You are going to need hardware for streaming TV and movies, but you also need hardware to get access to your cable or satellite services. So what is the difference? Well there are some key things to consider.

Cable: First, you will need a cable box for cable services. What that box looks like and what I costs will depend a lot on your provider, and options you might want. If you are going to record TV shows and watch them later, you will need some kind of storage, either a hard drive in your receiver like DVR or an external one that will work with your provider.

Dish: You will need some kind of receiver for your satellite signal too, usually one provided by your provider. You will probably be offered the same options as cable, one with some storage memory so you can record live TV and watch it later. Of course, you will also need a dish on the side or roof of your home. This is usually purchased or rented or leased from the satellite provider. Of course, if you live in an apartment, there may be certain rules about having a dish and where you can put it.

Also, whether you own or rent your home or live in an apartment, if the satellite view is blocked by weather or some other physical phenomena, you will have to go clear it or work to reestablish your connection. In snowy climates, this can become a regular chore.

Streaming Boxes or Sticks: The other option is a streaming box or stick. These vary in range from $29 for a simple streaming stick that has no memory and may be slower than other options to a couple hundred bucks for 4K enabled boxes. These devices are offered by everyone from Apple and the Apple TV to boxes like Google ChromeCast, Roku, and the Amazon Fire boxes.

Because of the variety in prices, you will want to compare and shop for the best Android TV box for you and your situation.

The point is that you will need a box or device of some sort to stream movies or to hook up to cable. The lease cost of these from your cable or satellite company can really add up, especially if you lease them for a couple of years. Streaming boxes will cost you much less, as will a Smart TV if you are satisfied with the apps they offer.


Subscription Services

Now that you have your hardware, you will need to get your programing from somewhere. While with cable and dish, you get your programming as part of your packages, with streaming whether through a Smart TV or streaming box or stick, you will need to subscribe to the channels you want.

Amazon Prime now offers the option to add things like Starz, Showtime, Cinemax, and HBO if you are missing those movie channels. While there used to be few choices, and streaming seemed to be far behind DVD releases, that is not the case. You can “rent” or even digitally purchase recent movies from Amazon, HULU, iTunes, and more.

In addition, many streaming channels also offer their own original content. Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, and now YouTube are looking for and producing their own shows that are exclusive to their subscribers, a big draw for many.

These range in cost from $9.99 a month to a Prime Subscription for as low as $79 a year, something that offers additional benefits at, Be careful though. Subscribe to too many, and your cost can be nearly as much or more than you would pay for cable.


Oh, Those Sports

One of the big drawbacks to streaming used to be live sports. However, new models are making it even easier to follow your favorite team without cable service. ESPN and other sports networks are making themselves available on apps like Sling TV, a service that offers either packages or a la carte channels for a monthly fee.

Social networks and even Amazon are venturing into streaming live sports, and a few NFL games were aired live on Amazon this season. Twitter is also in the game as is YouTube. The more common cutting the cord gets, the more options sports fans will have for streaming their favorite team.


Internet Service

Obviously to stream television shows and movies along with live events, you will need an internet connection, and here is where it can get tricky. Cable companies are often internet providers as well, and want you to package both services. Just getting internet can be more expensive without cable.

Also, some providers have limited plans, and if you are streaming music and movies often, you will “exceed” their limits. In these cases you end up paying for the data it takes to stream beyond your those limits. This can be expensive. Of course, a way to avoid this is to shop around for high data or unlimited plans, and if you can’t find one, being conservative about what you watch and when, making sure you are not leaving your TV connected and streaming when no one is really watching.

To get a true cost of streaming, you need to add up differences in your internet plan, cost of subscriptions, and comparison costs of hardware. In the end, streaming will usually win out, but if you have a different outcome or needs regarding TV you watch, streaming may not work for you.

Cutting the cord can be a great way to save money, but be careful and weigh the true costs using these points as a guide.

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