Cable vs. Streaming – Everything You Need to Know in 2021

Today, there exists a dizzying array of entertainment options all available at the tap of a finger. Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu are now firmly cemented in the mainstream (yep, pun intended), but cable TV is still a go-to for many Americans. With so many ways to configure your TV-watching experience, what’s the best way to personalize your entertainment lineup without overspending?

Picking a provider

Prioritize your favorite shows and channels

Before diving into research, it’s wise to start by writing out a list of the shows and channels you know you don’t want to miss out on. Consider which are must-haves for you personally – you might be surprised at how small the list is! According to The Motley Fool, “The average man reported watching 12 channels, while the average woman only watched 10. That’s 5.7% of the nearly 200 channels respondents reported receiving as part of their cable packages.” To avoid overspending, find a plan that gives you your must-haves without too much extra. 

You might also want to consider how much you value having live TV. If you’re a sports fan, or like to stay up to date on episodes as they air, then live TV is likely a priority. However, if you just like to browse for something fun to throw on in the evenings, then it’s possible that you could be a good candidate for cord-cutting or cord-shaving (more on this below).

Streamline your research

Shopping around might be worth your while, especially if you’re moving or just haven’t done this in a while. You can easily research and compare which internet and TV service providers are available in your area by using sites like Allconnect. Just input your address, and let their system do the rest. Starting here can help you eliminate options that are out of your service area or out of budget right away, saving you from wasting time crawling website to website.

You might want to ask friends, family, or neighbors what their experience has been like with certain providers to get additional insight. Or, take a look at the chart below to see how different providers scored on customer satisfaction:

From the ACSI Telecommunications Report 2019-2020

Tips to lower your cable bill

Look into bundling

Bundling TV and internet definitely can save you money – but not always. To avoid a mistake here, make sure to calculate the price of each individual service you want and add up the total. Then, compare that with the bundle price.

If you’re using Allconnect to research providers, you can easily find which bundled options are available in your area by using the internet, video, and phone checkboxes in the “Build your package” section after inputting your address.

Take advantage of promotions and deals

Once you have a few options in mind, start hunting for promotions and deals. Cable companies usually have something to offer here, especially for new customers. If you don’t find anything promising on their website, give them a call and ask! It can be helpful to do your research before getting on the phone, though – if you know what you can get elsewhere, you can try negotiating for a better deal. 

If you’re using a promo to save money, be careful to note when it expires and what your costs will look like afterward. This can save you from an unwelcome surprise down the road!

Other ways to lower your cable bill

Try removing unused premium channels, trimming down the number cable boxes you have, or getting rid of your DVR. It’s also always a good idea to read the fine print when signing up for a new plan to avoid unexpected fees. If you notice any unusual fees on your bill (a common occurrence), call to ask why they’re there and see if you can get them removed.

To stream or not to stream?

Cord-cutting, cord-shaving, and cord-stacking

You may have heard of cord-cutting, but what about shaving and stacking? Let’s get savvy on the terms:

  • Cord-cutting refers to the practice of getting rid of subscription TV entirely, relying on streaming services only. 
  • Cord-stacking, on the other hand, alludes to having both streaming and subscription TV.
  • Cord-shaving is a more strategic version of cord-stacking that allows you to reduce overall spending. You can achieve this by cutting back to a cheaper subscription TV plan with less channels, using streaming services to fill in the gaps. Just be sure to do the math to make sure you’re not accidentally increasing your overall cost.

How to cut the cord completely 

In 2019, cord-cutting accelerated, with major cable and satellite TV operators collectively losing about 5.8 million subscribers.[1] If you’re one of the millions of Americans considering forgoing cable altogether, here are a few tips.

First, remember that you can still get local broadcast channels for free over the air. You just need a TV with a digital tuner (standard on most TVs) and a digital TV antenna. This setup gives you options for watching local news or big events like the Olympics while relying mostly on streaming services for daily viewing.

Major broadcasters like ABC, NBC, FOX, CBS, and the CW also have varying amounts of free content available on their websites. If you don’t mind watching on other devices, this can be a great way to see some of your favorite shows without paying a dime.

If you love having live TV but don’t want a traditional cable package, try services like DirecTV Now, Playstation VUE, or Sling TV.

Finally, consider getting a streaming device such as Google’s Chromecast, Amazon’s Fire TV Stick, or Roku so that you can stream from services like Hulu or Netflix. Of course, if you already have a smart TV, a streaming device isn’t necessary.

The lowdown on streaming services

Between Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, Hulu, CBS All Access, Disney+, HBO, Peacock, and more, there are loads of options! Signing up for everything at once can become pricey, so prioritize based on your show preferences. This article from Vulture gives a simple breakdown of pricing and features for every major paid streaming service, updated for 2020.

Looking for a deal? If you’re partial to Hulu or Netflix, you’re in luck! Sprint has recently announced that you can get Hulu for free with their Sprint Unlimited plan, and you can get Netflix for free with Magenta family plan from T-Mobile.

From the ACSI Telecommunications Report 2019-2020

The verdict?

Whether you’re a cord-cutter, cord-stacker, cord-shaver, or content with traditional subscription TV, it’s worth taking a look at all of your options every so often to find ways to trim costs while getting the most out of your TV-watching setup. 

On cable TV they have a weather channel – 24 hours of weather. We had something like that where I grew up. We called it a window.

Dan Spencer

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