It’s taken a decade for broadcast networks and streaming services to finally meet in the middle, so now you can stream live content along with your movies and TV show offerings all without the expense of cable. There are many combinations of services to choose from, and your DIY package will be a result of the entertainment that you and others in your household like to watch, along with your budget. Let’s take a look at how you can build your own TV package.
You may have a number in mind for the most that you’ll pay for TV, but to start with a level playing field, let’s begin with the average cable bill in America this year, which is $105. This figure has increased 74 percent since 2000, according to a report from Kagan, S&P Global Market Intelligence, and for the purpose of this exercise, we’ll use that as our monthly cap. We’ll assume you are already paying for internet service — a must for cord cutters in the digital age — and that won’t count in our budget.
Likewise, your hardware choice, whether that’s a smart TV or a TV with a streaming device, won’t count against the monthly figure. During this holiday season, you should be able to find a name brand, 55-inch, 4K smart TV at around $400. If your current non-smart television has a USB port, you can add Google Chromecast ($25) or a Roku ($29) to add that “smart” feature, which refers to the ability to stream content from the internet.
Now that your hardware and internet service is in place, it’s time to choose your entertainment providers. These will all come as apps. The most popular streaming services, such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, are already installed in smart TVs and streaming devices. All you have to do is decide which ones you want to pay for each month. All three cost about the same for a basic subscription, running from $6 to $9 a month. (An Amazon Prime subscription runs $119 per year and includes video streaming, along with free two-day shipping and a number of other benefits. You can purchase just Amazon Prime Video for $9 a month — a relatively unknown option.)
Amazon has a fairly large inventory of shows included in its fee and offers others for a small fee per episode. All content is included in both Hulu and Netflix subscriptions. All three services are pay-by-the-month unless, of course, you opt for an annual Amazon Prime membership. Otherwise, you are not locked into a contract and can cancel at any time.
Digging a little deeper into these three services reveals some extra values. For instance, to stream shows in HD on Netflix will add $3 to your monthly bill, while 4K bumps it up to $14. There are no ads on Netflix. While Hulu doesn’t charge extra for higher resolution content, it does charge an extra $4 for an ad-free option for a total of $12. If you are accustomed to watching broadcast TV, the ads may not bother you, but know that you will see the same three or four ads many times while streaming on Hulu, so the surcharge may be worth it to you. Amazon does not charge extra for HD content and there are no ads other than its own promos that it runs at the start of a program.
What about live TV? Hulu is the only one of the big three to offer live TV. This combo package will run $40 with commercials and $44 without them. In addition to all of Hulu’s streaming content, you’ll have the three major local channels and then a number of specialty channels such as bravo, HGTV, A&E, the History Channel and the Travel Channel. You will also have a handful of kids channels, including Disney, along with major news outlets and a variety of sports channels. If Hulu sounds appealing, sign up for the basic account at $6 and then use the one week free trial of the upgrade Hulu with Live TV and make your decision at the end of that week.
Hulu is not your only option — YouTube also has a live TV service that includes more than 60 networks for $40 a month. The YouTube TV app comes with Samsung, LG, Sharp, Vizio and Hisense smart TVs and is preloaded on Roku, AppleTV and Chromecast. It is also available as an app for both Android and iOS devices. Once you have set up your account, you can watch on all of your devices with up to three live streams at a time, a good option when there’s more than one person in the household.
The last option comes from the major networks, all of which have their own apps. For instance, for $6 a month, you can stream CBS live or watch shows the day after they’re aired for free. If you have a favorite network, its app plus one of the basic streaming services may be just the package for you, which will total less than $20. What will you do with your $80 savings a month?