Cable TV vs. streaming

Cable TV is deadlocked with popular streaming services like Netflix and Hulu for your views. In light of the high cost of cable, interest in cheaper alternatives has increasingly stimulated the streaming market. These services have experienced an exponential rise over the past decade as many viewers part ways with cable TV altogether. As of 2018, a whopping 74 percent of consumers used a video streaming service, while 33 million Americans cut the cord on cable.

Compare cable TV vs. streaming

Cable and streaming provide different ways of viewing television shows, sporting events and movies. With cable, you have access to pre-bundled packets of channels. There’s little choice when it comes to tweaking options to fit personal viewing preferences. Streaming services, on the other hand, often concentrate on providing specific types of entertainment. This makes it easy to select an option, or options, that deliver exactly the programming you’re most interested in viewing. Because you’re not paying for extra channels, streaming frequently costs less than a cable subscription. 

Streaming services are designed to permit viewing on multiple platforms. With most of these services, you can watch using desktops, laptops, smartphones, smart TVs and tablets. Apple TVs, Chromecasts and Rokus let you view streamed content on most regular TVs. Streaming provides more viewing options than a cable subscription.  

If you’re interested in trying things out, most streaming services offer some sort of free trial. Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video all provide a one-month free trial. 

Cable TVNetflix Hulu Amazon Prime Video
Price$20/mo.-$85/mo. average cost$8.99/mo.-$15.99/mo.$5.99/mo.-$50.99/mo.$8.99/mo. For non-Prime members
Free trial availableNoYesYesYes
Subscription vs. contractContractSubscriptionSubscriptionSubscription
Available across US?Varies per local areaYesYesYes
Upgrades/downgrades availableYesYesYesNo

Making the switch

Cord cutters will be happy to learn the affordable monthly rates boasted by popular streaming services. Netflix provides a three-tier system. The base rate is $8.99/mo, while its Ultra HD service will set you back $15.99/mo. Hulu also offers multiple tiers starting at $5.99/mo. with ads. or you can upgrade to a premium option with limited ads and live TV for $54.99/mo. Amazon Prime Video offers access to select channels, such as CBS or SUNDANCE NOW, but you’ll have to pay an extra fee.

Contracts can be a hassle with cable TV services like Cox TV, which requires a year-long commitment. Xfinity TV offers a no-contract deal for an additional $10/mo. on top of your desired package. The best no-contract cable TV option seems to be Spectrum TV, but it includes hidden fees. When it’s all said and done, streaming services tend to be the cleanest, most affordable, no-nonsense options.

User experience

Watching your favorite shows and movies from anywhere is a huge benefit of streaming services. You can watch from your computer, smartphone, tablet and many other types of devices. Some cable providers bundle on-the-go features letting you stream from multiple devices, but you might have to pay extra or take specific steps to watch content on your smartphone or tablet. This is a benefit that’s built-in to the cost and design of all streaming subscriptions. 

With cable, you tend to get a wider variety of channels than you do with streaming. But you also generally pay more. Unless you regularly watch all the channels your cable provider offers, it’s probably cheaper to go with a streaming service. And as a bonus, you frequently get access to some high-quality original programming. 

Personalization

Netflix and Amazon Prime Video provide a range of features, including closed captioning, the ability to download content for offline use, video descriptions for the viewing impaired and multiple profiles. 

You can also control what you see with your streaming services by setting parental locks and creating a personal watchlist to house your favorite titles. Netflix will also recommend selections that align with movies and series you’ve recently watched. 

Extras

Plenty of streaming services produce their content in the form of original series and movies. Netflix includes popular movies like Beasts of No Nation, The Irishman, Roma and many more. It also has series such as The Crown, House of Cards, Making a Murderer and Ozark along with a healthy list of other originals. You can also choose other streaming services with better options for you, like Amazon Prime Video. The eCommerce giant’s library includes award-winning films like The Big Sick,The Handmaiden and Manchester by the Sea. Other options include prominent series like Bosch,Fleabag and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Also to note, many streaming services provide your favorite classics.

Cable TV offers a mixed-bag of shows that start with essentials like ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC. Many have upgrades so you can access CNN, Discovery, ESPN, HBO, HGTV, Showtime and STARZ. However, paying for these upgrades can often be prohibitively expensive.  

Disadvantages

No one cable service covers the entirety of the United States, so you’ll have to find what’s available in your area. Many cable subscriptions are inflated with additional costs or include contracts and hidden fees. Also, keep in mind, its quality of content pales in comparison to streaming options, and you’re guaranteed ads. 

With the numerous streaming services out there, it’s difficult to determine which one is right for you. If you’re not interested in paying for multiple services, you may realize you can’t find everything you want under one option. And when it comes to live TV, streaming services jump dramatically in price and become more comparable to cable TV. 

The takeaway

There are many streaming services you can choose from. If you’re still on the fence, take advantage of one or two streaming service free trials to try things on for size. If you feel like you’re not getting quality TV for your monthly cable cost, it’s easier than ever to cut the cord in favor of streaming services. However, cable TV is not dead yet. Updating its features to remain competitive, many cable companies have added streaming options and continue as a viable option for live TV. 

Zack Kulm

Contributing Writer

Zack Kulm is a writer and contributor of soda.com. He covers a variety of topics from entertainment and gaming technologies to pop culture commentary. Kulm received a degree in English from Penn State University and Film Studies from Pittsburgh Filmmakers Institute. He also produces award-winning documentaries.