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I cut the cable cord — so why the heck am I paying this much for streaming?

Computer with logo: Netflix , HBO MAX, APPLE TV PLUS, NETFLIX, PRIME VIDEO are online video streaming services
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Cutting the cord was supposed to save me money — and it has. What I didn't anticipate was how hard my streaming bill would hit my wallet. I just signed up for an 11th streaming service this week, and all so I can watch one show. 

Last year, I cut the cord and finally canceled cable, ridding myself of an astronomical $185 bill. Then, I signed up for Sling so I could still watch cable channels and it's worked out very well since. 

Yet, what I'm paying for TV now still rivals what I was paying for cable. The problem? There are more streaming services than ever. Each of the best streaming services has its own merits, in the form of exclusive originals. If I want to watch Tindler Swindler, I need Netflix. Obi-Wan Kenobi requires Disney Plus. I have HBO Max so I can watch The Gilded Age, Winning Time and movies like Drive My Car and Dune. Etc. etc. 

And recent return of a major show forced me to subscribe to yet another service.

Streaming services: What I'm paying for now

ServiceMonthly price
Netflix (Standard)$15.49
Prime Video$11.59
HBO Max$12.50 (amortized from annual payments)
Sling Blue and Orange$50
Hulu$5.83 (annual)
Disney Plus$3.91 (three-year deal)
Peacock$4.16 (annual)
Apple TV Plus$4.99
Showtime$10.99
Paramount Plus$8.99 (with discount)
Starz$4.99 (with discount)
Total$133.44

How a single show made me sign up for Starz

Outlander season 6 premiered this week, ending the nightmare that is Droughtlander. Yes, count me among the thirsty fans of the romance/adventure drama starring two extremely attractive people, Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan as once time-crossed lovers Claire and Jamie Fraser.

Caitríona Balfe as Claire Fraser and Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser in Outlander season 6

(Image credit: Starz)

Outlander airs exclusively on Starz, a premium cable channel. There's no way for me to watch the current season without a Starz subscription. That meant I had to pay for yet another streaming service — all for a single show. 

Not to say that Starz doesn't have other stuff to interest me. After signing up, I found titles to add to my watch list, like the new Shining Vale series with Courteney Cox. They've got a good selection of movies, too, including Spider-Man: Homecoming (which isn't streaming anywhere else). 

Still, adding yet another service to my monthly bill puts the squeeze on my budget. Unfortunately, this is the lay of the streaming land — and things could get even worse. 

How many streaming services can one person really pay for?

As I mentioned before, Starz is now the 11th streaming service I pay for. My monthly bill looks like this:

I should also note that I recently canceled AMC Plus (which I'd gotten to watch A Discovery of Witches). So, Starz could've been the 12th service! And there are a ton of services out there that aren't in my wheelhouse, but could be in yours, like ESPN Plus, Discovery Plus, BET Plus, BritBox, and others.

With Starz ($4.99 for three months with deal), my streaming grand total is now a whopping $133.44. That's a cable TV package right there. 

I'm never giving up Netflix, Prime or HBO Max, and Sling TV is the cheapest way to get all my cable channels. I could churn Apple TV Plus, Showtime, Paramount Plus, and Starz, as well as Peacock when my annual subscription is up. And I can't wait to start churning Disney Plus when my three-year deal ends in November.

If you're not familiar with the concept, churning involves cycling in and out of services. For example, you sign up for Apple TV Plus to see the new season of Ted Lasso, then cancel after the finale. Subscribe again when all of Severance is out, and then wait out Ted Lasso season 3.

Ted Lasso points-off camera.

(Image credit: Apple)

But churning takes a lot of mental effort and a good reminders app (our picks for the best productivity apps can help). Also, the streamers have really stepped up their arms race. They're all investing in more content to entice subscribers to stay and pay. Sure, I could cancel Showtime after Billions season 6 ends on April 10, but its intriguing First Lady anthology series — featuring Viola Davis as Michelle Obama — starts a week later. 

What I really wish is that there was a way to bundle these services at a discount, kind of like ... cable. Wow, maybe cable wasn't so bad after all. 

In other TV news, Peaky Blinders season 6 Netflix release date is finally confirmed, Disney Plus dropped the Obi-Wan Kenobi trailer, and HBO Max is making a Batman spinoff series.

In other streaming news: HBO Max and Discovery Plus will be merged into a new service, as Warner Bros. Discovery decides against bundles.

Kelly Woo
Kelly Woo

Kelly is a senior writer covering streaming media for Tom’s Guide, so basically, she watches TV for a living. Previously, she was a freelance entertainment writer for Yahoo, Vulture, TV Guide and other outlets. When she’s not watching TV and movies for work, she’s watching them for fun, seeing live music, writing songs, knitting and gardening.

  • Mr Rogers
    Cable vs Streaming--

    You don't drop cable for streaming just to save money. It's about watching what you want when you want it.

    Cable follows the old model that requires viewers to watch according to the provider's schedule.

    Streaming allows viewers to choose.
    Reply
  • SoCalJasonland
    Do you actually watch every one of those streaming services every month? I sign up for most of those services one at a time and cancel at the end of a month's cycle, when I run out of things to watch and switch to a new one. Amazon Prime is the one one we keep yearly and that is for my roommate's shipping needs, not because they have a year's worth of new programing.
    Reply
  • Mr Rogers
    SoCalJasonland said:
    Do you actually watch every one of those streaming services every month? I sign up for most of those services one at a time and cancel when I run out of things to watch and switch to a new one. Amazon Prime is the one one we keep yearly and that is for my roommate's shipping needs, not because they have a year's worth of new programing.
    No, but that doesn't change what I said. It had nothing to do with how many or which streaming services one needs. I was simply pointing out a (or possibly THE) fundamental difference between old-school cable vs streaming. It is NOT about cost.
    Reply
  • majellan77
    I welcome your problem. My GF refuses to ditch cable. It's taken her 7 long years to just about get how to use Roku. We have (for my sanity) ESPN+, Disney+, Netflix, Prime, Paramount+, Hulu. We've had cable for more than 20yrs and that remote is the only one she's comfortable using.
    Reply
  • Moose and Squirrel
    What a giant strawman.

    For starters, anyone "needing" to have every service at once isn't a thing unless you wanna pay for the pleasure. That certainly isn't any sort of comparison to cable, where you'd have to wait for something you want to watch to come on, if it ever did.

    So we changed out the apples for some big fat oranges right there.

    Second, I have many of these services and I don't pay full price for any of them. Deals abound.

    I get hulu for $1/month and that's been a thing for years now. AMC+ was $24 for 12 months, total. I get peacock premium from Comcast for free for having internet with them. Paramount+ is $99/year with deals that can cut that in half. I have a year that was $50/year when I signed up last year. Disney+ was 3 years for $140 when it launched. I'm still halfway through that. HBO Max can be had for $99/year as well.

    Netflix just doesn't have enough usable content that I care about. I certainly don't need any of it in real time, which you never had with cable in the first place. Put that $15/mo to use elsewhere and sub once in a while for a month to catch up.

    Pro-tip: If you MUST have netflix, downgrade to the $9/mo basic plan. I don't see any picture quality difference that means anything, and Netflix is one of the few streamers that wants extra for 1080p and 4k.

    If cable did indeed deliver every bit of possible content on demand at no additional cost, we might have a story here.

    What we have is "I want way more than cable ever offered me, for less $".

    If you want that, get youtube tv for $65/month and rejoice. Or wait for what you want to roll around to Sling at $35 and rising rapidly, while also offering only 720p picture quality just like netflixs basic plan. With lousy bitrate and resulting PQ.
    Reply
  • USAFRet
    majellan77 said:
    I welcome your problem. My GF refuses to ditch cable. It's taken her 7 long years to just about get how to use Roku. We have (for my sanity) ESPN+, Disney+, Netflix, Prime, Paramount+, Hulu. We've had cable for more than 20yrs and that remote is the only one she's comfortable using.
    I feel your pain.

    But for us, the only extras over the FiOS TV is Netflix and Amazon Prime.
    Reply
  • USAFRet
    Moose and Squirrel said:
    If you want that, get youtube tv
    Which requires what 'device' to access that?
    Reply
  • BeholdersEye
    admin said:
    The age of streaming was meant to help cut our costs, but the streaming service arms race has other plans. Newer, costlier plans, each with their own must-see TV shows and movies.

    I cut the cord — but I’m still paying a cable-d bill : Read more
    I simply don't understand your wacko logic, why is it you have this need to satisfy your instant gratification, it's your stupidity that is costing you money. Ah here's a thought....ONLY DO ONE STREAMING SERVE PER MONTH...
    Reply
  • Tanquen
    You just have to exercise some control and learn to wait. You don't need to watch every show the moment's available. Most shows end up on other services. I take my annual time off from work in November and December and that's when I pay for a month of Disney Plus or what have you to watch a few shows that have piled up.

    I just canceled Netflix after their price hike. Vote with your time and your dollars. Don't give in to theirs poopy practices.
    Reply
  • jasonmicron
    I'm sorry, but I don't buy this for a second. This is a hit piece.

    No one watches the amount of shows that you 'claim' to watch across that many providers. No one, unless you're Peggy Bundy from the TV show "Married With Children".

    That said, this is why many, many people consolidate these one-off shows onto a central server and share access to their friends. Plex, Emby, Jellyfin, etc. It isn't about trying to 'steal' content, it is more about convenience, which your article articulated perfectly: Why have all of these services for one or two shows and then continue to pay for the time that you're not even using the service when your shows aren't on?

    We're in a weird, weird situation where the consumer has more say over the content they want to digest than the provider (Cable and content creators). I think it would be smart, probably very profitable, for the content creators and content distributors to work hand-in-hand with Plex/Emby/Jellyfin/etc providers to figure out some way to make everyone happy and keep things on the up-and-up.
    Reply