Live-TV streaming services can be as expensive as cable. Here's how to choose the right platform for you

by Hanna Horvath
Live-TV streaming services can be as expensive as cable. Here's how to choose the right platform for you

Cable TV can be expensive, leading families over the past few years to cut the cord and opt for leaner, cheaper services — like YouTube TV, Sling TV or FuboTV — that offer TV over the internet. But those options aren’t so cheap anymore.

Streaming TV companies initially promise low prices for channels you would get in a cable package. Now those prices are going up. YouTube TV recently raised its to $65 per month, after it added eight ViacomCBS channels including Nickelodeon, Comedy Central and BET. When the live streaming service initially premiered in 2017, it was $35 per month and only featured local channels in select regions.

Having multiple streaming services can also add up. If you have YouTube TV and Sling TV, which costs $30 per month, that adds up to $95 per month for both services. To compare, the average rate for basic cable in 2018 was $107 a month, slightly more than the cost of live-TV streaming service, based on findings from Leichtman Research Group.

“People think, ‘Oh, I’m just going to cut the cord, it’s so simple,’” said Dan Rayburn, streaming media expert and consultant. “When really, it’s not cheap. It’s just a TV bundle packaged as a cord-cutting option.”

Ditching cable may seem like an attractive solution to rising costs, but streaming services fees are also rising. Here’s what to consider before cutting the cord.

Choosing the right package

The biggest difference between cable and streaming is access to live content. You’ll want to think about your consumption habits when weighing the pros and cons of cable versus streaming, said Rayburn.

This includes:

  • What content you watch: Ask yourself what you can’t live without. Original shows like Black Mirror are exclusive to sites like Netflix, but you’ll only find live sports games on cable and live-TV streaming services like FuboTV.
  • How many channels you use: If you’re paying for multiple live-TV streaming services offering overlapping channels, consider consolidating into one log-in with cable.
  • How many screens you need: Some live-TV streaming services have account limits, which hinders your options.
  • What quality you want: Cable is traditionally higher quality, said Rayburn. But that may not matter to you: Quality is less of a concern if you’re watching on your phone versus an 80-inch TV.
  • How much you’re willing to pay: It’s OK to have a mix of live streaming services and original content platforms like Netflix, but you don’t want to oversubscribe just because prices are low. (If you’re looking for ways to save on these types of services, we have a guide).
  • Bundling TV and cable: Some providers allow customers to “bundle” their cable and internet for a lower rate. If that’s an option in your area, it’s likely a good deal, said Rayburn.

The bottom line

Broadcast costs will likely continue to climb, said Rayburn. Channels are upping the price to stream their live content, so streaming services are simply passing the costs to consumers, he said. These companies must pay broadcasting companies for channels, and if the broadcaster raises the price, streaming services will raise their prices. For example, cable provider Altice raised its prices $30 in February after channels like HBO and Showtime went from $90 to $120 per month.

“These services don’t own the content for the most part,” said Rayburn. “They don’t get to pick and choose pricing. It’s ‘take it or leave it’ at this point.”

For some, ditching live TV altogether makes sense, especially now as live sports are off the table. Others are watching more TV than ever due to social isolation, and want more channels, said Rayburn. Cable packages provide that variety and in some cases may be more affordable. No matter what you decide, make sure it fits your content needs — and budget.

If you’re not willing to give up live TV just yet, there are other ways to save. Check out this list of 25 ways you can start saving right now.

Image: Hugo Barbosa