Cord-Cutters Beware

According to the Leichtman Research Group, the average paid-TV (satellite or cable TV) bill is $106/month and rising.

Cord-cutting streaming substitutes AT&T TV Now (formerly DIRECTV Now), Sling TV, YouTube TV, and Hulu + Live TV average around $50/month to start. And the basic channels are the same as paid-TV.

So, what’s not to love about streaming? The problem is this: Like the T-1000 liquid metal killing machine in Terminator 2, the add-on services, fees, channels, and other assorted nickel-and-diming of streaming services can easily reassemble into a Frankenstein monster of piled-on costs that gallop right past your old paid-TV bill.

You also need to consider the fact that many paid-TV services are packaged with Internet service. Leave one service and you break the bundle — meaning your Internet price goes up. You may also need to upgrade to faster Internet service to stream TV.

Streaming service logos

Streaming services goosed the cord-cutting revolution by offering a dramatically lower-priced alternative to three-digit cable/satellite bills. However, it didn’t take long for all the streaming services to get greedy. Both AT&T TV Now and YouTube TV boosted their basic channel subscription prices soon after launch, and AT&T TV Now celebrated their name change from DIRECTV Now with further price increases. Sling TV raised the price of its basic streaming video package to $25/month — not including a staggering array of paid add-ons for desirable channels and features that could easily triple your $25. Also, most streaming services’ DVR features have gone from free to a tiered pricing system.

AT&T TV Now’s basic package (45 channels) costs $50/month. Their former $40 basic package (60 channels) is now $70/month. Adding channels increases the rate to $93, $110, or $135 (not a typo), among other choices. AT&T TV Now’s Cloud DVR lets you record a paltry 20 hours of content, which expires in just 30 days. A higher-capacity DVR is rumored, but that will cost you.

Hulu + Live TV starts at $54.99/month after a December 2019 price increase. An “Enhanced DVR” that lets you fast-forward through commercials (in other words, a DVR) adds $10 to the bill. “Unlimited Screens” adds $10. If you package them all, you get a discounted price of $70.

YouTube TV started at $35/month and jumped to $40/month soon afterward. On April 10, 2019, the price jumped again, to $50/month. You can add services such as Fox Soccer Plus for $15/month.

How could all this price creep happen again? Didn’t these new services learn anything from paid-TV, the bottom-dwellers in consumer satisfaction for decades?

These new services act the same because these new services are the same. AT&T TV Now and Sling TV are owned by satellite TV operators AT&T and Dish Network, respectively. Hulu is owned by Disney and cable giant Comcast.

And you can’t have any discussion about cord-cutting without Netflix. While the service is a gold mine of content, Netflix also rewards its viewers with frustratingly regular price increases, now $16/month for their 4K plan.

Let’s put together a package and see how much you “save” with streaming:

  • Hulu + Live TV package with DVR: $65
  • Monthly charge for Netflix: $16
  • Cost to break paid-TV/Internet bundle: $25
  • Monthly charge for faster Internet to stream in 4K: $20
  • Monthly charge to watch the new Star Trek without commercials (CBS All Access): $10
  • Monthly charge to watch anything by Disney in 2019: $7
  • Monthly charge for Amazon Prime Video: $10
  • Total: $153/month, plus taxes and fees.

You could go whole-hog and replace the Hulu package with the AT&T TV Now “Ultimate” package for $135, driving your total cost to $223. And there are additional services to which you could subscribe, such as Disney+, Apple TV+, HBO NOW, DC Universe, ESPN+, PGA Tour Live, NFL Sunday Ticket, MLB TV, and more. But you get the idea. This ain’t right.

I’m pro cord-cutting, but not like this. We cut the cord more than 5 years ago and never looked back. Here’s how we did it:

  • Purchased an attic antenna for free live broadcast TV and split it to our four TVs.
  • Purchased a TiVo DVR with lifetime service.
  • Added Netflix for content.
  • Steadfastly stayed away from Trojan horse streaming services such as Sling TV.
  • Made our peace with no longer having access to Monday Night Football.

After the initial outlay for gear, which paid for itself in four months, our monthly TV fee is now the $16 for Netflix. That’s it. Will that work for you? Only you can decide. What I’m saying here is this: if The Man sticks it to you, there is a way to stick it back to The Man.