See the results of our 2021 Family Budget Survey. Click Here to Learn More!
Streaming Services: Are They Worth It?
Man lived thousands of years without television. If you wanted to watch television in Ancient Greece, the closest you could get was attending the theater and there were only two channels: comedy or drama.
Fast forward to the 1920s when the son of a Utah farmer, Philo Farnsworth, created the first true television. For decades, viewers could only watch network programming and tv shows. Then came the advent of cable, and the number of channels multiplied to thousands.
Enter 21st century disruption: In February 2007, a little DVD mailing service called Netflix started streaming movies online and television was changed once more. Now there are perhaps too many streaming options available, and more are coming all the time.
“With Disney+ dropping soon, we are going to see the industry get hit with its first real game changer since Hulu started offering same-season streaming options,” says Jason David, CEO of Software Portal. “The problem is that, with all of the new options available now and coming soon, there is not one service that is the clear winner.”
At the same time, with so many streaming services available, they all may be winning at taking your money, which begs the question: Are we spending too much on streaming services?
Mastering the stream of content
Streaming service can be cheaper than cable, but it’s not cheaper to pay for all of them at one time. The small monthly fees can quickly add up, bringing you right back to paying more for television service. Sticking with one service may be a good choice, but there are other options, as well.
Instead of choosing one champion, David recommends playing streaming “hopscotch.” In other words, sign up for and cancel subscriptions year to year, or even month to month (as long as there are no cancellation fees), based on your preferences (and budget). You will want to keep track of which shows and movies are coming to and leaving various streaming services so you can manage your memberships accordingly.
In some instances, you may be able to bundle your services or find hidden discounts. Let’s take a look at some of those options.
As David mentioned, Disney is the newest colossus to step into the streaming arena. Disney has spent the last couple decades swallowing some of the largest media properties on the planet, so their upcoming Disney+ (pronounced Disney Plus) service will have some very popular properties for a monthly price of $6.99 per month, or less if you prepay for the year. This is cheaper than Netflix’s subscription price (at least at the time this article was written) in addition to other popular streaming services in the marketplace.
Aside from classic Disney animated films, Disney+ will also offer live-action Disney movies, Marvel movies, Pixar movies, Star Wars movies, and more. While Disney will not immediately release its full catalogue upon launch of the new streaming service, they do plan to regularly update the offerings, while debuting exclusive original series, as well. Expect to see new shows in both the Marvel and the Star Wars universes (Who is ready for the Mandalorian?). That is in addition to the extensive backlog of Disney and Fox shows. For those of you looking to hang on to the Disney Channel for your kids, you can expect a new High School Musical series, as well. If you are willing to trade one streaming service for another, this could be a good deal.
And then there are the bundles: If you don’t care about ads or live-streaming, and if you aren’t willing to give up your other TV shows or streaming services, there is the option to bundle a basic Hulu package and ESPN+ with your Disney+ bundle — all for less than the cost of three lattes.
Hulu was originally created as a joint venture between NBC and Fox, and like Fox, is now mostly under Disney control. As such, it is unclear exactly what Hulu’s future might be as each of its “parents” put out their own dedicated streaming services, but Disney has said that they will maintain and grow the service.
Hulu has a large range of plans available for the Hulu-curious to peruse. The array of options and add-ons almost starts to resemble a flowchart, so you may be better off looking at the possibilities for yourself.
Hulu does stream advertisements on its lower tiers, but it is also one of the only streaming services to currently offer episodes of “traditional television” as they air. This add-on is not currently available with the Disney+ bundle.
Netflix really kicked off streaming as an alternative to more traditional television. They were still just a mail service when Youtube launched, but it is only more recently that Youtube has tried to compete as a long-form streaming alternative.
Even after years of gradual price raises, Netflix’s $12.99 per month membership is still much lower than a $107 cable bill. That is why Netflix has been a preferred refuge for cord cutters.
But as other entertainment conglomerates have gotten into the streaming battles, they have started pulling their content from Netflix to build up their own offerings. Two of the biggest examples of this phenomenon are the upcoming departure of The Office to NBC’s future streaming platform and the exodus of the titular Friends to the soon-to-launch HBO Max.
Still, Netflix has been investing a lot of money into original movies and other types of original content. If it is good enough for Martin Scorsese, it may be worth keeping around if it does not push your budget too far.
Bundle tip: T-mobile customers who have more than one line on certain plans can quality for a Netflix credit! For some, this means free Netflix, for others, a $2 subscription fee, but either way, it’s definitely a savings off the full-price option.
Amazon’s streaming service, Prime Video, offers access to programming as part of the company’s Prime membership, which costs $12.99 per month or $119 per year. If Amazon Prime is already part of your regular budget, you win!
While they may not offer the volume of exclusive programming that Netflix does or Disney+ will, it comes with all the other benefits of Prime membership.
Bottom Line: It’s About Priorities
Just as with any budgeting decision, selecting the right streaming option is all about setting priorities and limits. If you can bundle some of these services into already existing costs, like your monthly phone bill or Amazon Prime membership, it can save you a pretty penny. In other cases, going for a package deal may also be the right choice for your budget.
We hope you enjoyed this brief streaming safari. It was not even close to comprehensive regarding current offerings or what is still to come. But we assume you skimmed this while binge watching the newest streaming original or rewatching a sitcom you have seen hundreds of times, so feel free to return your full attention to that.