I Tried to Make a Streaming TV Value Guide, but I Failed and Wrote This Instead

About a month ago, I wrote a guide for those who wanted to find the best value for a streaming service with live TV channels. A few days after it published, my selection for the best value upped its price by ten bucks, blowing my comparison apart like a cherry bomb in a Thanksgiving turkey.

I went to update the article, elevating my second-best pick…only to find that it had risen by fifteen dollars a month, basically tanking the entire premise. Oh dear.

While my example is annoying, it’s not unique by any means. Cord-cutting services increasing their prices—often without any measurable improvement in actual selection or value—is a common complaint. Netflix, YouTube TV, Hulu, and AT&T Now have all seen price increases, with predictably sour responses from customers. The end result is that, if you’re shopping for value, it’s hard to know what the best deal is at any given time. That’s true both because the prices keep changing, and because “value” is also pretty subjective when it comes to these services.

a screenshot of a Hulu email
“You know that TV service you got because it was really cheap? Not so much, sorry.”

For example, whether you prefer Hulu + Live TV, AT&T Now, or YouTube TV (all of which offer “cord-cutting,” cable-like service including live access to premium channels, news, and sports) depends on a lot of factors. There’s the difference in price in favor of YouTube, and it has a much, much better interface, but Hulu’s library of on-demand shows and original series like The Handmaid’s Tale is much more robust. AT&T Now comes with HBO and its much-loved original programming, which is a paid upgrade on its competitors. The “best service” depends on a lot of variables, not all of them as easily quantifiable as the price.

But if price is your primary concern, know that those annoying, incremental price increases aren’t likely to end soon. Far from the dream of a la carte TV channels we all hoped for, streaming services (especially those with live TV channels) are looking more and more like their old cable counterparts. The producers of TV channels will want a bigger piece of the subscription pie as more and more people move from conventional cable or just upgrade from nothing.

While that’s going on, the services are in an arms race to secure more and bigger exclusive series. In fact, this escalation is a lot like the price jumps cable and satellite providers used to see, as content providers like Disney, Time Warner, and CBS occasionally hiked their business-to-business rates. Former cable customers will surely remember those public battles, fought in the margins of commercial breaks, with something less than fondness.

All this combines to form an inescapable conclusion: streaming TV services, both with and without a live TV option, are going to continue getting more expensive. And as long as they remain cheaper than the only true a la carte option—buying the shows you want to watch episode-by-episode or season-by-season—customers are probably going to grudgingly put up with it.

Various streaming service logos.
Michael Crider

But as frustrating as it is to see cord-cutting services become less and less cheap, it’s worth remembering that it’s still a lot better (and cheaper) than the alternative. Cord-cutting services don’t need any extra hardware beyond the computer, phone, and smart TV you already have. They don’t require a contract or commitment, so you can jump from one to the other with ease to find the best deal.

Or you can move from service to service, exhausting their supply of exclusive shows, minimizing the number of subscriptions you have to pay for at any given time. It’s worth pointing out that cable and satellite prices continue to rise even today, as the services bleed customers and their owners diversify into cord-cutting ventures themselves.

And to wrap things up, bargain hunters, don’t forget the old-fashioned way. If you’re near a major city, you can always get local channels for free with a digital antenna. Sure, it won’t come with a DRV function, lots of cable content is missing, and you can’t get it on your laptop or phone very easily. But you can’t beat free.

Michael Crider Michael Crider
Michael Crider has been writing about computers, phones, video games, and general nerdy things on the internet for ten years. He’s never happier than when he’s tinkering with his home-built desktop or soldering a new keyboard. Read Full Bio »

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