Cable and satellite TV providers aren’t entirely to blame for this trend. The main reason they’re raising prices is because they’re being squeezed by TV networks, which themselves are seeking more money to make up for a shrinking subscriber base. Discovery’s most recent earnings report, for instance, notes that “increases in contractual affiliate rates were offset by a decline in subscribers,” while Disney’s latest report notes that revenue growth for Disney Channels was “due to contractual rate increases, partially offset by a decline in subscribers.” Meanwhile, we’ve seen Comcast force regional NBC sports into basic TV service from small cable providers, and ESPN demand higher prices even as ratings decline.
Credit: ShutterstockTom's Guide compared all three services head-to-head-to-head, and discovered that Netflix is generally the best of the three. However, the services do not offer exactly the same thing. Netflix is a good all-purpose service, while Hulu focuses on recently aired TV, and Amazon Prime is part of a larger service that also offers free shipping on Amazon orders, e-book loans and other perks. (Viewers who just want Amazon Video without any other perks can now subscribe to it for $9 per month.)
The gold medal for cheapest cable TV company is shared by AT&T and XFINITY. Both providers start their package pricing at $19.99/month. But while AT&T’s U-Basic TV package includes 15+ channels, XFINITY’s Digital Economy Package includes 100+. DIRECTV’s Select package comes in third place at $35/month for 155+ channels. (Note: Pricing and availability may change and can vary by location.)
While Netflix ($8-12 per month), Hulu ($8-12 per month) and Amazon Prime ($119 per year) are the most recognizable streaming services, they are not the only ones available. In fact, traditional streaming services — wherein you pay a monthly fee to consume as much content as you like on-demand — are only a small part of the market. Depending on how much you're willing to spend (from nothing up to hundreds of dollars per year), you can get just about anything you used to enjoy on cable.
Take Spectrum for example. You can get cable TV for as cheap as $30 a month when you bundle with internet and home phone service. The total cost of your bill for all three bundled services would be cheaper than purchasing cable TV by itself from some other providers. Now that's what we call a deal! There's no need to go through the hassle of paying three separate bills every month, when you could just bundle them on one bill AND save at the same time. If you already have an internet provider that you love but you still want to experience the perks of a bundle, check out DIRECTV. This provider partners with most major internet providers, so you can keep the high-speed internet service you love, get all of your favorite TV networks, and save!
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One of the more popular options for watching streamed TV shows leaves out the media streaming software and network media device altogether, and has you just connecting your desktop or laptop directly to your HDTV. With this option you all you need is a TV and a desktop or laptop with a video output. Our laptop has a HDMI output, so it works well to connect it to our HDTV if we want.
With the least cable-like interface of the Big 5, Hulu's greatest asset is the integration of live TV with its significant catalog of on-demand content for one price. Unfortunately, the interface frustrations apparent with the standard service are amplified once you add live TV. The app generally confuses "simple" with "incomplete." It technically offers a guide, for example, but it's extremely bare-bones. Another issue is that you'll have to pay extra, a hefty $15 per month, to get the ability to skip commercials on Hulu's cloud DVR. Its channel count is solid, but YouTube TV at $5 less is a better value if you don't care about Hulu's catalog.