Americans have slashed spending on restaurants, travel and live entertainment. But we’re spending more on subscription services—especially video-streaming subscriptions. A recent survey on digital media trends by Deloitte, the tax and business consulting firm, found that not only have more consumers signed up for video-streaming services since the COVID shutdowns began, but the average streamer pays for more services than ever.
“In the early days of the coronavirus, there was a significant shift in viewership in all kinds of TV,” says Bruce Leichtman, of Leichtman Research Group, which surveys TV-consumer behavior. With 80% of Americans owning internet-capable TVs, the vast majority have both a pay TV service (meaning cable or satellite TV, or live TV streaming over the internet) and a streaming video-on-demand service (such as Netflix or Hulu), according to Leichtman.
Since the pandemic hit the U.S., nearly 10% of consumers have both added and canceled at least one paid video-streaming service, according to the Deloitte survey, suggesting that more churn is in store as consumers seek more value. And as more media providers join the fray—including Disney+, Apple TV+ and HBO Max—competition is growing and putting pressure on providers to expand content and reduce prices.
How to save on streaming
With so many streaming choices, it’s tempting to load up on subscriptions—but the cost can quickly add up. If you already have a few streaming services, consider canceling the ones that you use the least. You can always re-subscribe when a service releases new content or adds a feature that makes it more worthwhile. And with the pandemic pressing pause on many sports, you may not need to subscribe to a live TV service if you originally signed up primarily to watch games. A digital antenna may be all you need for access to local channels.
Sharing subscriptions is another way to save. Some services make this easier than others—the Netflix premium plan (which allows four simultaneous log-ons) and Hulu (with the $9.99-per-month unlimited screens add-on) are particularly family-and-friends friendly.
If you want access to a single show, you may be better off paying per view than subscribing to a service. For example, an HBO Max subscription costs $14.99 per month, but one episode of Game of Thrones on Amazon’s Prime Video costs $3.99—or $24.99 for the entire season.
Bundling services is another way to trim costs, and the savings are even greater if you are willing to put up with some ads. The ad-free Hulu, Disney+ and ESPN+ bundle goes for $18.99 per month, but you can also do the same bundle with the ad-supported Hulu version for a monthly charge of $12.99.
Take advantage of free viewing, such as Peacock TV’s standard plan, as well as free trials. Netflix offers a 30-day trial, and most other services let you sign up free for a week. You can find longer free trials with certain services if you download them from a particular device or if you also subscribe to another related service.
With AT&T TV Now, for instance, you can get a free trial of HBO Max for 30 days, rather than the standard seven days. And you can get a free year-long subscription to Apple TV+ with the purchase of an iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV or Mac. Sprint includes Netflix subscriptions with some of its cell phone plans.
Video on demand
Streaming services have expanded, especially with the introduction of newcomers HBO Max and Disney+. But with all of the available choices, it’s tougher to figure out what gives you the most bang for your buck. Look at the options and piece together what works best for you based on the content you value most, your budget and what you can get for free, suggests Dan Rayburn, a streaming-media expert.
While there are many options, the following streaming services are the major players.
Amazon Video This is a good choice to sample a wide variety of TV shows and movies, as well as a host of popular original content a la carte. Recent hits include the Emmy-award-winning series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.
Amazon Prime members ($12.99 per month or $119 per year) get access to Amazon’s streaming video library, or you can choose a stand-alone Amazon Video subscription ($8.99 per month).
Apple TV+ Apple releases new original content every month. Popular titles include dramas inspired by true events, such as The Morning Show and The Banker. For kids and families, Apple TV+ offers such titles as Snoopy in Space, Helpsters (from the makers of Sesame Street) and the Apple original Ghostwriters. Apple TV+ also has a wide array of documentary films and original series.
If you buy an Apple device, Apple TV+ is included free for one year. A monthly subscription is $4.99 per month after a free seven-day trial. You can also share your subscription with up to five family members.
Disney+ The arrival earlier this year of Disney+ from the media Goliath caused existential angst among the other streaming services. That’s because a subscription gets you access to the full library of Disney and Pixar classics, Marvel epics, and the Star Wars sagas. The live-action film version of the musical Hamilton arrived on July 3, and Beyoncé’s digital album, Black Is King, was released on Disney+ on July 31. You can also watch Artemis Fowl, a sci-fi fantasy based on the popular series of young adult books, originally intended for release in theaters this year. This fall, Disney is set to release The Right Stuff, a series about the early days of the NASA space program based on Tom Wolfe’s bestseller.
The standard Disney+ plan costs $6.99 a month. It is no longer offering a free trial.
HBO Max Unlike HBO Now and HBO Go, HBO Max is a stand-alone streaming platform on which you can stream all HBO titles, plus other popular series and blockbuster movies. HBO Max also plans to unveil new, exclusive originals for everyone in the family.
The service has an expansive library of TV favorites, such as Friends and Adventure Time, combined with the full HBO library of exclusive originals like Game of Thrones and Westworld, plus classic movies like Casablanca and Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.
HBO Max costs $14.99 per month. You can sign up for a seven-day free trial.
Hulu Hulu also streams popular TV shows, films and a wide range of exclusive content, including critically acclaimed TV series and films. For example, The Handmaid’s Tale and the 2020 Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Parasite, are Hulu exclusives. Upcoming original releases include The Dropout, starring Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon, based on the ABC News investigative podcast, as well as the book-to-screen adaptation of Nine Perfect Strangers, starring Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy.
Hulu offers two options for video-on-demand subscriptions. The base price is $5.99 a month for streaming with advertising, but for $11.99 a month you can get the same service without ads. Hulu subscribers can stream from no more than two screens simultaneously, but you can add unlimited screens to either Hulu plan for $9.99 per month.
Netflix The 23-year-old subscription service offers a wide variety of award-winning TV shows, movies, anime and documentaries, all commercial-free. Netflix dominated the Emmy awards this year, surpassing HBO for the record for most nominations ever—among them Ozark, The Crown, Stranger Things and Unorthodox. The service also recently added some notable Oscar winners to its streaming library, including Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Jurassic Park.
Netflix offers three plans, all of which grant access to the full library and can be canceled at any time. The premium plan goes for $15.99 a month and offers Ultra HD streaming quality and the ability to watch content on four devices at a time. The standard plan, for $12.99 a month, offers high-definition streaming, and you can watch on two devices at a time. The basic plan, at $8.99 a month, will get you standard-definition streaming limited to one device at a time. If you have not previously subscribed or it has been a while since you have, you can sign up for a 30-day free trial.
Live TV streaming services
Internet live TV streaming services, a subcategory of pay TV, offer an alternative to consumers who want to forgo expensive cable or satellite TV but still want access to live content, such as sports, news and local channels. Sometimes referred to as “skinny TV,” live TV streaming services generally offer fewer channels than traditional pay TV but at lower prices and without locking you into a contract.
Subscribers to traditional pay TV pay upward of $100 a month, on average, according to a survey by Leichtman Research Group. Internet live TV streaming services typically cost from $30 to $65 a month (with no installation fees).
AT&T TV Now AT&T offers two versions of its streaming service, Plus and Max. Both let you stream live prime-time favorites, breaking news, nonstop sports and thousands of on-demand titles. At $55 per month, Plus offers more than 45 channels, while Max, at $80 per month, offers more than 60 channels and considerably more sports coverage. Both services provide ESPN and NBCSN, but Max more than triples the number of sports channels and includes HBO Max. Nickelodeon, Nick Jr., Cartoon Network and the three Disney channels are available on both versions.
Fubo TV For $54.99 a month, you get 110 channels of live news, sports and entertainment, as well as 30 hours of DVR space and streaming on two screens at once. The family package ($59.99 per month) adds 500 hours of DVR space and an extra screen. The Ultra package ($84.99 per month) builds on the family plan with Sports Plus—24 additional sports channels, including international offerings beIN Sports and TUDN—as well as extra news and entertainment channels. Fubo also recently added ABC, Disney, ESPN and National Geographic to each plan.
Hulu+ Live TV You get live sports, news and programming on more than 60 channels, including ABC, CBS, CNN, ESPN, Fox and MSNBC, plus local news channels in many cities. You can stream live games (when available) from major college and pro leagues, including the NCAA, NBA, NHL, NFL and English Premier League (football). For kids and family, Hulu+ Live TV also offers a Kids profile, which consolidates kids’ channels such as Disney and Cartoon Network in one place. And Hulu+ Live TV offers full access to the Hulu streaming library (the ad-supported version).
The monthly charge is $54.99, after a one-week free trial. You can watch on two screens at a time or pay an additional $9.99 per month for the unlimited-screens add-on. You can add on DVR storage of up to 200 hours with full fast-forward capability for $9.99 a month (otherwise you’re limited to 50 hours with no skipping past ads).
Peacock TV NBC’s new service gathers content from the network’s various channels in one place. The standard account (free, with no credit card required) has live news from NBC News, CNBC, MSNBC and E! News. You also get a handful of live TV features and a library of movies and TV shows for on-demand streaming, including kids’ shows and movies. Peacock Premium costs $4.99 per month after a seven-day free trial and offers full access to Peacock’s original content; the ad-free Premium option costs $9.99 per month. Both Premium versions also have live sports, including English Premier League football games.
Sling Sling has two options, each for $30 a month. Sling Blue offers 45 channels that are more focused on news and entertainment, including Fox News, MSNBC, CNN and Bravo. Sling Orange, with 30 channels, has more sports coverage and family-friendly fare, including ESPN, HGTV, CNN, A&E and the Food Network. Free trials last only three days, but Sling is also promising a one-year price guarantee at sign-up. For kids and family, Sling Blue offers Nick Jr., Sling Orange has Disney, and both have Cartoon Network.
YouTube TV With more than 85 channels and unlimited cloud DVR storage, YouTube TV is the Cadillac (or Tesla) of live TV streaming, at the upscale price of $64.99 a month. You can have up to six accounts per household and watch on up to three screens simultaneously. Content-wise, YouTube TV gets you wide access across a broad range of categories. For sports, it offers the NBA and MLB networks, the Tennis Channel, the Golf Channel, ESPN, and NBC Sports. You can also tune in to PBS, BET, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon, in addition to local channels and ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. For kids and family, YouTube TV offers three Disney channels—Disney, Disney XD and Disney Junior—as well as Cartoon Network and PBS Kids.