The Cost of Cord Cutting

Joe Caiati penned a great piece yesterday discussing the cost of cord cutting:

With Netflix and others releasing episodes of their programming all at once and Hulu getting network television shows a day later, the demand has only risen for more companies to join up and offer their service sans-cable – which is great, but now getting pretty expensive.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how much it costs to have access to premium streaming services, and as Joe points out, if you want access to a wide array of media from a few different sources you’ll quickly run up a monthly bill rivaling the cost of many cable packages.

This is what I currently pay, every month, for access to media:

  • Internet Access: $88
  • Netflix Streaming and Discs: $18
  • HBO Now: $15
  • WWE Network: $10

That’s a whopping $131 every month — far more than the $89 for TV and Internet offered to Joe through Time Warner Cable — the same offer I frequently receive advertisements for in my mailbox. Granted, I’m probably going to be dropping my HBO subscription now that the latest season of Silicon Valley is over. But, $116 is a lot to spend on something I could potentially replace with an $89 cable package, a TV capture card, and Elgato’s EyeTV software. I wouldn’t have the Internet speeds I get now (50Mb down, 10Mb up), but I’d walk away with a lot more money in my pocket.

Unfortunately, the world in which channels are unbundled just isn’t as nice as we all hoped it would be. Smaller cable channels struggle to make money and larger providers charge a premium for content they know we “can’t live without.”

Eventually, something’s going to give. Either there will be a large-scale return to cable by those who left it long ago or content providers will wise-up and start bundling their content in Hulu or Netflix-like packages which offer a better bang for your buck to consumers.

A neat option that a buddy of mine suggested to me is to alternate between a Netflix and a Hulu subscription — every few months switching which service you get your media from. He’s been doing it for years and it helps to minimize his monthly payments while still virtually having access to a large assortment of content. And he isn’t strict about how often he switches services, he basically makes the swap whenever he feels like he’s running out of good content on whatever service he’s currently subscribed to. But, one of the great things about online streaming is that most companies don’t require you to sign up for multiple months of service all at once — if you just want to have HBO Now during the month of July you can sign up and cancel before it auto-renews. That’s not possible in the world of cable where they often lock you in for a year or more.

And, there’s still the possibility that Apple could solve this with their often-rumored subscription television service. I doubt they’re going to offer the kind of content I’m most interested in (Merlin Mann watches it, too), but it will likely cover a wide-enough variety of content that the mass market could happily get by subscribing to it exclusively.

As an aside, whenever I start thinking about how much I spend on streaming content alone, I end up at the same question: should I really be spending so much money on content that distracts me from what I think of as the most important aspects of my life? Should I be spending $43 on mostly meaningless content that typically pulls me from writing, reading, learning, and spending time with my fiancée?

Maybe I’ve been spending too much time reading Shawn Blanc’s writing lately — although, I doubt that’s even possible — but I have half a mind to pull the plug on all of my streaming media services. I rarely feel better after I watch a movie or a show, I usually just feel guilty that I didn’t spend that time on more meaningful endeavors.

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