Thanks to Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services, recent surveys have revealed that the hottest trend in TV viewing has become “binge viewing” – continuous viewing of a TV series from start to finish. TV viewing via online streaming player, such as Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire TV can be more enjoyable for less than typical cable costs.
How does online streaming work?
An online streaming player such as the Roku provides easy access through different “channels”, such as Netflix, Hulu, and many others using the viewer’s internet access. Access varies, but generally there is either a monthly subscription or a pay per view component to viewing a channel’s content. In each channel, the content includes TV shows, movies, internet TV / YouTube videos, online news and radio content, and games such as “Angry Birds”.
How does it beat cable?
Remember watching “24” or “The Sopranos” and having to wait a week or more to see the next episode? Online streaming allows you to watch an entire series at once without the hassle of either recording the show or being available to watch at the show’s scheduled broadcast. Plus, other than limited commercials on some channels (such as Hulu), there are no commercials watching TV through this medium instead of cable.
What’s the cost?
This is where it gets tricky – yes, online streaming is cheaper. However, if you are not careful, you can spend just as much as the full cable package. Consider if the average cable / internet system including DVR capability and premium channels (HBO, Cinemax, etc.) costs $200. The breakdown for a Roku is something like this:
– One-time fee for the device: $50 – $100
– Average of cost of Netflix, Hulu, and third channel: $24 per month
– Cost of Amazon Prime (to allow access to more content without pay per view costs): $79 per year
– Increase internet usage: $79 per month
Overall per month fee for one year: $118
So, with $80 worth of pay per view purchases or other monthly subscriptions, the cost of a Roku would be about the same as cable.
What’s the disadvantage of online streaming?
In a nutshell – live events. Watching live sports or live reality contests (i.e. “American Idol”) is difficult without cable. Some channels (MLB.TV for baseball; WatchESPN for other sports) have added live streaming, but these are limited and can be expensive. Also, most shows that are currently broadcasting require pay per view charge.
Is this the end of cable?
Not exactly, but the end is in sight. Other than the limitations in live TV, online streaming can provide nearly the same content as cable while supporting “binge viewer” habits. Costing less than cable, it makes sense for those who not only for “binge viewers”, but those who do not have time to watch TV at prescribed times, or for those who only watch TV occasionally.