Netflix sent me and my family some greetings recently. It was nice of the streaming service to drop us a line, but I really wish they shouldn't have, especially given the contents of the message.
"We hope you’re enjoying Netflix, and we're always adding new TV shows and movies for our members to enjoy," Netflix happily informed us, which is a more gentle way of saying that as of January, we were going to be paying an extra dollar more each month for the privilege of accessing Netflix's streaming content.
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You don't really need to be fluent in corporate-speak to interpret what's going on here and why. Netflix produces a lot of original programming, from Oscar-contending movies to buzzy TV shows and specials. That takes cash to fund, and Netflix expects you and me to be ponying up more of it.
That's a fair enough proposition — Netflix isn't running a non-profit here so as production costs on its ambitious slate of programming rises, that's a cost that's going to get passed on to viewers. There's just one problem with this otherwise sound line of reasoning: I just don't watch enough of Netflix's originals to feel like I'm getting good value for the $13.99 Netflix wants me to pony up each month.
Netflix vs Hulu vs Disney Plus
I'm not saying we never watch Netflix. My daughter enjoys watching amateur bakers face-plant on Nailed It, and I binged my way through three seasons of Glow some time ago before the plug got pulled on any future episodes. But in terms of regular appointment viewing, Netflix is pretty low on our list.
The back catalog of movies is thin if you enjoy the classics — someone should tell Netflix that there's an entire century of movies that were made prior to the 2000s — and the number of films that are there seem to be shrinking at the expense of the Netflix originals the streaming service wants to put front and center.
In fact, it's safe to say that Netflix's communiqué of imminent price hikes has the members of my household asking whether Netflix is still worth it. I imagine a lot of Netflix subscribers are probably asking the same thing as their bills go up.
To answer the question, we need to consider our own individual streaming habits. Our family cut the cable cord more than 18 months ago, and it's largely been a regret-free move, with the exception of the occasional sporting event stuck behind cable's paywall. Having streaming services that offer a wide array of movies and TV shows has helped stem the loss, but at the same time, we're eager not to add so many services that our monthly streaming bill winds up topping anything we ever shelled out to our local, hateful cable provider.
To that end, besides Netflix, we currently pay for Disney Plus, which I believe is now mandated by federal law if you have a child. Hulu's ad supported streaming service is included with our Pandora subscription and because we pay for Amazon Prime, we also get Prime Video. Our support of our local public broadcasting station gives us the extended programming of PBS Passport.
The thing is, we watch all the rest of those channels. Disney Plus lets me re-explore the Simpsons back catalog with my daughter, Hulu offers plenty of on-demand shows we might otherwise miss when they aired in real time and Amazon's selection of movies and shows is pleasingly eclectic. They're all on our watch list — Netflix is not.
Doing the math
And that's the first step I'd suggest to anyone trying to decide if a streaming service is still worth paying for. Add up what you pay to stream things each month and see if it's more than you'd really like to be spending. Paying out $4.99 here and $5.99 there doesn't seem like much in isolation, but you'd be surprised how quickly all those services can add up.
If the amount you're actually paying is greater than the sum you thought you were doling out — or if the price of one of those services is about to inch upward — it's probably time to consider mashing the Unsubscribe button on at least one or more of those services. What helped our family make a decision was keeping log of everything we watched for about a week — jotting down the program, what service it streamed on and whether we could live without it if that service were to suddenly disappear.
That should help provide some clarity as to which subscription services you actually watch and which ones are surprisingly expendable. Another trick is to look at guides for shows currently streaming on the services you're paying for — Tom's Guide rounds up what's new on Netflix, the best movies and best TV shows on Hulu and everything new on Disney Plus for your convenience. Mark down the programming on those lists that grabs your interest. If you've got a list that's not very long — or you’re staring at a blank sheet of paper — you may have stumbled upon your answer.
If you’ve got a good reminders program on your smartphone, just set a reminder for the day or so before you get billed for the streaming service in question. That makes it easy to review your monthly streaming habits and — if necessary — cancel before another month of billing kicks in.
After going through all this, all the members of my household reached that consensus that Netflix is a goner, just as soon as my wife and I finish working our way through The Good Place. (This just in: That four-year-old show is very good!) After that, we'll either pocket the money we would have spent each month on Netflix or re-allocate it to HBO Max, a streaming service that seems to deliver more of the kind of programming we want, whether that’s an extensive library of movies or newer shows like Succession and Harley Quinn.
At least until it tries to raise prices on us, too.
Life is tough, isn't it?