Streaming TV options have been gaining momentum for several years now. Thanks to these services, users can now watch their favorite shows on nearly any device and from almost any location. But the streaming revolution leaves a lot of people wondering if this also marks the end of cable TV.
The short answer is no.
Streaming television isn’t going to make cable disappear entirely. Streaming options have, however, already started to change the television viewing landscape — and for viewers across the country, that shift means more options, lower costs, and a better TV experience overall.
Why Streaming Is So Attractive
For as long as cable packages have been around, people have complained about paying for a bunch of channels they never watch. But now, streaming television has created a world where viewers can pick and choose — and pay for — the options they want and nothing more.
In addition to standard streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, individual networks are also starting to offer streaming options. Individuals can now subscribe to HBO or Showtime without a cable plan. And with such notable networks already offering stand-alone packages, it’s not a huge leap to assume that many more will soon follow suit.
Overall, due to the industry’s ever-increasing flexibility and customization, streaming television options provide a sound way to consolidate less-comprehensive viewing needs.
Bursting the Streaming Bubble
Unfortunately, for those looking to completely replace all their favorite cable channels, streaming services may not be the best option. Cable offers all the major networks plus a slew of other channels like ESPN, TNT, CNN, and MTV, while most streaming TV platforms only include limited seasons and episodes of select shows. Cord-cutters may be abandoning cable subscriptions for the likes of Netflix and Amazon, but as a result, they also miss out on a lot of live programming, including local news and major events like the Super Bowl and the Oscars.
Then there’s the issue of price. Let’s imagine for a moment that a user could subscribe individually to each channel they like to watch. If their typical viewing schedule includes sports, a couple major network prime time shows, cooking tips from the Food Network, and “Big Bang Theory” marathons on TBS, they’d need to subscribe, at a minimum, to five channels.
Michael Nathanson, a MoffettNathanson analyst, recently calculated the price for those individual channels. According to his estimations, those five channels would cost around $45 — about the same price an expanded basic cable package costs. Additionally, in order to view those channels on a television instead of a computer or tablet, a subscriber would also need to purchase special equipment like a Roku or Apple TV.
Packages with Netflix and Hulu seem a bit more affordable, as each start at around $8. Users would pay around $16 to subscribe to both. A limited basic cable package, which includes the major networks (NBC, ABC, FOX, CBS) as well as government and public stations, usually runs between $15 and $20. For people who want local news and sports, basic cable clearly offers a more comprehensive plan than streaming subscriptions — and the price is comparable.
So what does cable TV have that streaming services don’t? Buying power. The reason a cable provider can offer more than 100 channels for an average of just $65 is that cable companies get discounts for buying (and delivering) channels in bulk. There’s no way that individual viewers — or, as yet, streaming services — could negotiate the same pricing the cable companies can.
How Cable Companies Are Competing
Of course, streaming services have still made quite an impact on the current pay TV complex. Since third-party streaming options have become more accessible, some major providers have started rolling out streaming services of their own. And while these new cable streaming plans currently act as more of a bonus perk for current subscribers, they’re on track to become viable stand-alone subscription options for people who watch TV exclusively on a computer or mobile device.
In addition to this increased streaming availability, the competition between cable and streaming services also has great implications for plan prices. As more customers opt for cost-effective streaming packages, cable companies may work to provide affordable cable options to win back a portion of the market.
More competitive options are always a good thing, and in the TV industry, viewers should continue to expect progressive development as a result. Because cable can deliver so much that streaming services can’t — and vice versa — it’s unlikely to become an all-or-nothing game anytime soon. So while there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for viewing needs, consumers will have a lot more flexibility to figure out the ideal way to get the TV they want for a price they’re willing to pay.