Everything is streaming nowadays. The Oscars. The Super Bowl. Your favorite TV show. The latest Star Wars. (Well, eventually.)
People are increasingly giving up on cable TV. By the end of last year, an estimated 22.2 million people had canceled cable or some other traditional TV service. And the number of adults who have never subscribed to cable rose to 34.4 million last year, according to eMarketer.
There are a bunch of reasons for this, but two of the big ones are price and convenience. Streaming TV is often way, way cheaper than traditional cable bundles. And unlike cable TV, you can usually watch your subscriptions from anywhere, on any device with a screen.
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you already use some streaming services — be it YouTube, Netflix, HBO Go, or something else. But the big question in recent years has been whether streaming is at a point where it can fully replace your cable subscription: the live shows, the extensive channel listings, the sports.
And the answer is... it depends. If you demand every channel and every live sporting event, then you’ll want to stick with traditional TV. But if you don’t need every channel in your cable package, there’s a good chance you can save money by switching to streaming.
Here’s what you’ll need.
A streaming device
The first step is to buy something that’ll let you watch streaming services on your TV. If you have a smart TV, then you’re probably set. Just download apps for Netflix, Hulu, and whatever else you want to use.
If you don’t have a smart TV (or if you just hate your smart TV’s interface), then you’ll need to buy a streaming box. There are a ton of these, and they’re all pretty good. There are great options from Roku and Amazon, especially if you don’t want to spend too much money. I use Apple TV. It has everything I need, and the newest model supports the latest major audio and video standards, so it’ll work if you buy a fancy new 4K TV and sound system.
Once you’ve got a streaming box, you might have to install apps for all the streaming services you want to use. You’ll also have to tediously log into them all once you sign up. Fortunately, when that initial process is over, you shouldn’t have to do it ever again.
Something to watch
You probably know about Netflix and Hulu, the two big online-only streaming services producing their own shows. But increasingly, you’re also able to subscribe to some major TV channels online, too, like HBO and Showtime.
Services like these provide huge back catalogs to watch; in the case of Netflix and Hulu, those back catalogs are largely from other TV networks.
These services all include movies, too. Though I wouldn’t recommend subscribing to any one service specifically for its films. Their selections are all limited, and I think you’d be better off just paying to rent movies now and then, instead of adding another subscription. If you only watch one or two movies a month, you’ll probably have a better selection that way.
This is basically the setup I’m in. I only pay for a few select services, but they each have enough to watch — including plenty of popular, current shows. Sticking to this can be relatively inexpensive, so long as you don’t add on too many services.
If you’re looking for something that more closely resembles your existing cable package, that’s totally doable, too. And you can still spend much less than a typical cable bill, which is typically over $100.
Over the past couple years, services have been popping up offering live, streaming TV. But the big deal here is that the bundles are much smaller than what you often get on cable. DirecTV Now offers 60 live channels for $35 per month. Sling TV offers 30 channels for $20 per month. And the packages can get more granular than that. Here’s a quick overview we made of some options:
There are some limitations here. In particular, you’ll want to check that these services include all your local stations before subscribing. Also, if your existing cable package is bundled with your internet plan, it’s possible this won’t look like as much of a deal.
If you think you can pare down to just the big channels, though, then one of these bundles might work for you.
Here’s where things get tricky. If you don’t need to catch every game and are happy to just watch some primetime and playoff games, then you’ll probably be fine with any live TV service that gives you the major broadcast networks and ESPN. You can find that from many of the services above.
But if you’re trying to watch everything, it can get a little more expensive and confusing.
If you’re out of the market for your team, your best bet is a league-specific streaming service. For example, there’s MLB.TV, NBA League Pass, and NFL Game Pass. These services should carry pretty much everything you can’t get elsewhere. But the games may not always be live. (Also keep in mind: these services are subject to regional blackouts, so if you live in Philadelphia and want to watch the Phillies, you’ll be out of luck because it’ll be playing on a local station.)
There’s a lot of picking and choosing to do. And if you’re used to watching cable, there may be a bit of a learning curve here — there’s no more channel surfing, for instance. But streaming can end up being more convenient when you’re used to it since you aren’t locked into your TV, and you have a good chance of cutting down on your bill in the process.
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