A Poor Woman’s Cable: Streaming TV

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Shona

About 10 years ago, I ditched cable TV. Initially it was because I was hardly ever at home, I had a decent DVD collection, and of course, it just cost way too much. About 4 years ago, I signed up for Netflix (I used to do their DVD-by-mail service, remember that?) and I haven’t looked back since! In the past year or so I’ve also added other streaming TV services as well. While the monthly fee for these services is still relatively cheap, the costs do keep inching up; and now some states are beginning to tax these services (just like they do with your cell phone service). So since I’m in a position where I need to count my pennies, a serious review of my various streaming services is in order.

Note: there are plenty of online reviews of streaming services, including this great one by PC Magazine that will give your more detail in regards to program offerings and technical specifications!

So here’s my rundown of the streaming TV services that I currently use:

Hulu

hulu

For me, this is a new one. I used to watch various things on Hulu for free. However I signed up for a free trial (which is only a week long currently) when I noticed that they have a lot of network TV shows that I wanted to see. Even better, you can see the current seasons of many of these shows…unlike Netflix where you are limited to old seasons.

From what I can tell, Hulu is the best option for streaming TV if you are looking for a general replacement for (basic) cable. It’s a nice mix of network programming and movies. Their ‘Hulu Originals’ are not nearly as high in quality as Netflix. However they do have a deal with Showtime where you can get access to their programming. For and extra fee of course.

Monthly Fee Free Trial? Pros Cons
$7.99 ($11.99 without commercials) Yes – 1 week Current seasons of network programming is the biggest draw for me Lackluster original programming

Netflix

netflix

Like I mentioned previously, I’ve been using Netflix for years. As time has gone on, I’ve grown a little bored with their selection overall. I don’t know if that’s because they don’t refresh their content enough (even though it seems that every time I turn around, there is a listing of new things that are coming to Netflix); or if the content being added/maintained just doesn’t interest me.

For me, Netflix is all about the original programming. Shows like Orange is the New Black and Marvel’s Daredevil are just fantastic. If you dig deep, there are also some great documentaries and retro movies as well. I also find it very accessible. If you link it with your Facebook account, you can log on from a variety of devices anytime, anywhere. I’m not saying that you can’t do this with the other services. But that little Netflix app seems to be everywhere…

With that being said, if I had to consider giving up a streaming service, it would be Netflix (but I would still be bummed to let it go 🙁 )

Monthly Fee Free Trial? Pros Cons
$7.99  (but soon to go up to $8.99 or $9.99 from what I hear) Yes – 1 month Excellent original programming Their selection of movies seems to be getting thinner. And current seasons of many TV shows are not available.

Amazon Prime: Instant Video

amazon prime instant video

Now here’s one that I always forget about. I have Amazon Prime which includes access to their Instant Video area. For me, I only pay $49/year for their student membership (a holdover from my graduate student days); which works out to be about $4/month. And that’s also bringing other Amazon perks like free shipping and music streaming. So in regards to costs…it’s definitely worth it.

It seems that if you wanted to, you could subscribe to just Amazon Instant Video for $8.99/month. But I’m not sure why you would do that when a full Amazon Prime subscription is $99/year…which turns out to be less ($8.25/month). Perhaps you get a break on some of the content that is still only available via “renting” (with some movies, you have to pay an a-la-carte rental fee to view, even if you have Amazon Prime). I really don’t know since that’s not the account I have.

I’ve watched Humans and True Blood on Amazon Prime. What I think is really cool is that you can hover over a scene that is playing, and you’ll get a transparent light box that pops up and tells you the names of the actor in the scene. For some reason, I just find that to be such a cool feature. Especially since I’m the type to read up on movies on IMDB or Wikipedia while I’m watching them 🙂

Monthly Fee Free Trial? Pros Cons
$4.03 Not with the student account (video access doesn’t come until you pay) The most bang for your buck for sure Overall selection is not bad…but still much smaller than competition.

Conclusions on Streaming TV

All three streaming services have their strengths; and for their combined monthly cost of $20, I do not have any real complaints. I will say that I also don’t have any real addiction to the boob tube and probably put in, at most, 5 hours per week of watching TV…mostly on the weekends. But plenty of flexibility is there. When I get visitors…from little kids to senior citizens, I can always find something for them to watch on TV.

With that being said, it’s clear that Netflix is the standard that every other streaming services wishes to get to. If I had an awesome home theater setup and took my TV/movie entertainment more seriously, I would certainly bump up my subscription plan to include the multi-device, HD service (maybe even DVDs in the mail). It’s not that much more, and would definitely be worthwhile. To me, Hulu is the best stand alone replacement for basic cable; especially for the TV shows. And Amazon Prime is fantastic for those who really need to watch their money. Especially since there are many other savings bundled together with Amazon Prime (you can use this calculator to see how much Amazon Prime would save you on shipping alone).

5 years ago, people thought I was really disadvantaged not having cable TV. Today, outlooks have changed and in all honesty…it’s gotten much better in regards to the range of programming that is available via these streaming TV services. Also, the costs are still really low compared to every other source of entertainment and communication (i.e. high-speed internet, cell phone, going out, etc.). So I see it as a win-win…and will keep enjoying all of these services.

Author:
Real estate professional with an MBA in Marketing ~ writer and multiculturalist.