Is Streaming Really a Better Option Than Cable?

We live in a cord-cutting world. Where once consumers had only cable and it's multiple networks and associated fees to turn to for some of the most in demand entertainment offerings, in recent years streaming services have popped up, offering consumers a wider range of options wrapped in the idea of a bargain: why pay the high cost of cable for limited offerings when you can have a whole world of entertainment for $10 a month? It seems like a no-brainer, or at least it did when streaming networks were few but impressive. It wasn't long ago that consumers had only Netflix and Hulu to choose from with both filling in quite a few entertainment gaps to make it worthwhile to say goodbye to the cost of cable.

But that's changed. Netflix and Hulu still exist, but now they have competition from pretty much every television network and media corporation. This year alone HBO Max and Peacock have joined the streaming party while Disney+ and Apple TV+ hit the scene last year. There are also other, more niche services like Shudder for horror and Funimation and Crunchyroll for anime, DC Universe for all things, well, DC related. And it isn't a situation where you can just choose one and be good. With the arrival of platforms such as HBO Max, Peacock, and Disney+, programs that were once available on Netflix have been departing -- think Friends and The Office -- to ultimately move to other services. It's reached a point where to get pretty much everything requires multiple subscriptions that seem pretty affordable individually (usually under $15 per month or even less) start to add up to be every bit as pricey as cable television is. It begs the question: is streaming really a better option than cable?

There are a handful of things to consider when it comes to the value of streaming versus cable. While generally the answer to any "is x really a better option than y" ultimately comes down to the individual consumer, when it comes to streaming generally we have to consider the financial aspect, the convenience aspect, and bang for the buck, and potential hidden costs. Let's break them down.

First, when it comes to the financial aspect -- specifically meaning the direct cost of streaming services -- if you're subscribing to multiple services streaming may not be a better option than cable. It actually, depending upon your specific cable provider and its offerings, may be more expensive if you subscribe to a full slate of streamers. Last fall, when we looked at cost of all of the then-available streaming services, the total came to $133.87. Since then, new services have come online and while some do have free, ad-supported versions such as Peacock, HBO Max does not, adding $14.99 to that total. It all adds up to the point that if you're getting them all, it's roughly equivalent to the cost of a cable subscription.

Let's say that you opt not to subscribe to every streaming service out there in your cord cutting adventure. Maybe you opt to get Netflix, HBO Max, and Peacock. You'll definitely save money, but you will end up missing out on content. Wanting sit down and watch the Marvel movies? You won't find most of them with our example lineup. They've moved to Disney+ (though at the time of this article's writing Ant-Man and the Wasp is still on Netflix). Same goes for Star Wars. What about Titans? You've heard good things about that show, so you go to check it out on HBO Max, but it's not there. That's currently only available on DC Universe. As you can see, while you can definitely save money by not getting every service available, you lose out on access to content.

And even if you do decide that having all the streamers is worth it for the sheer convenience of having access to so much content and much of it available on your mobile devices so you can take it with you anywhere, it's worth considering that not only is not everything available on streaming, but what is available this month may not be there the next. Streaming services change their content catalogs monthly with offerings coming and going regularly.

There's also the idea of hidden costs that is worth considering as well. When you opt to use streaming services, you're not just paying for the cost of the streamer. You have to have an internet connection that will support your streaming. That's an additional cost. If you want to be able to watch your streaming services on your television, you'll need to either have a television capable of supporting your streaming apps or an additional device to stream to your television. You may even need multiple devices as not all streaming platforms are supported by things like Roku. There's also another "hidden" cost when compared to cable and that is the lack of bundling. While some streamers let you bundle to save a few dollars -- such as Disney+ with Hulu and ESPN -- most don't.

6comments

Ultimately? Streaming doesn't really save anything over traditional cable. While there are definitely pros to cutting the cord and going full streaming, there are just as many cons as cable. The biggest one is cost -- both direct and hidden -- but access to content also is a factor. As more and more streamers get into the game, the streaming landscape looks a lot more like what cable looks like, with individual networks offering their own content and with each one requiring a subscription in order to access but without any of the benefit of possible bundling deals or specials through your cable provider. What once seemed like a great alternative now is really more of a next generation of the previous system. Bottom line is that there are obvious benefits, but consumers have ended up in basically the place they started from when it comes to cost making streaming not exactly a better option.

Now, it's your turn. Do you think streaming is a better option than cable? Have you fully cut the cord? Let us know your thoughts on the streaming versus cable discussion in the comments below.

Disclosure: ComicBook is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of ViacomCBS.