No, multiple streaming services does not mean "we're basically back to cable"

Around the internet, all the time I see people get angry at the number of streaming services available, and declare that it’s like having cable all over again, or that it’s worse than cable. This is just wrong.

First, 2008-2014 Netflix (or whatever the golden years were) was never going to be the norm. It was always a historical fluke. You can’t have all the video content in the world for $12/mo. Spotify does that for music, and music is way cheaper to produce, and even then Spotify still runs at a loss. It’s just not viable. Content would not be made under the model where a significant amount of the viewing public paid $12/mo to see all of it.

Early Netflix was a result of content companies thinking streaming was just a niche fad, and they made almost all their money from broadcast cable. They were willing to sign away the rights to their content for peanuts because it was “free money” to them on a niche viewing method that they didn’t invest at all in. But after streaming took off, it became clear that streaming was going to be the future for a large portion of the viewing audience, and at that point they could no longer treat streaming as a novelty and bonus income, it had to be a main part of their future plans.

It is simply financially impossible for there to be one streaming service for $12 a month that would carry all the content that cable used to.

“Oh, but now that I need to subscribe to 10 different streaming services, it costs as much as cable!” they say.

First, why do you need 10 different streaming services at once? How much content can you possibly watch at one time? With cable, since you were interested in different channels at different times a day, and you had to have those channels to catch the shows you wanted as they aired, and you were limited to watching only what was on for a given moment, it made more sense that you had to have a lot of channels. But people who stream don’t watch TV like that anymore. They typically watch 1-3 shows on their own schedule on demand. Why, then, do you need to have every single service simultaneously?

The monopoly of cable makes it almost impossible to cancel your cable service easily. You have to basically harass them into cancelling your service, or to reduce and re-subscribe particular packages. But that’s not true for streaming. It’s trivial to simply pause your subscription for as long as you like and come back to it. So if you have 2 or 3 streaming services at once, for maybe $20 or $25 a month, you’ll have more content than you could possibly watch in any reasonable amount of time. When some show you really want to see comes to some other streaming service - then just subscribe to that one for a month. Or rotate your subscriptions. Pause netflix, subscribe to HBO plus. There’s no real reason anyone has to spend more than $25 a month or so on streaming, and anyone who subscribes to 8+ different streaming services and then complains about the price is a dumb dumb.

But even if that weren’t true, even if you did have to have all the streaming services for some reason, it’s still not as expensive as cable. If you had Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, paramount+, hbomax, peacock, discovery plus, amazon prime (which is kind of a special case, because a lot of people have prime for other reasons anyway), you’re looking at something like $75-90 a month depending on which tier of service you chose. The average cable TV bill is $116. So even with that ridiculous, unnecessary lineup at all times, it’s still cheaper.

But let’s ignore that and say they cost the same. Streaming is still better:

Most streaming is ad free. Some streaming is ad-supported (in which case you pay no subscription) and some streaming is ad-optional, in which case you’re saving a few bucks a month not to buy their ad-free tier. The power never to see ads is within your hand. A full 1/3rd of viewing time on cable is spent on ads. Right there, alone, makes streaming vastly superior to cable.

You are not at the mercy of appointment viewing. You don’t have to flip through channels to see what’s on, you don’t have to sit your butt down at exactly 9pm on Wednesday night to catch the 19th singing show of the week (seriously, the amount of singing shows on prime time is ridiculous), you get what you want when you want. Cable services do offer some on-demand content, but it’s nowhere near as good: it’s not complete, it’s often ad-supported, it’s often done through awful interfaces on cable boxes that are slow, clunky, and painful to use. Every computer, phone, smart TV, and tons of other devices have the ability to run streaming services however you like, and if their interface sucks, you can simply go to another service, whereas you’re basically just stuck with whatever absolute garbage software/cable box comcast gives you.

The amount of content available to you at any particular time is higher than cable. You’re limited to whatever cable has on at that particular moment, but you have access to entire libraries of streaming content with any of the streaming services that could easily include hundreds or thousands of hours of content that interest you.

Now a lot of people will say “well it’s not about cost, it’s about convenience, I’d be willing to pay more to have all of my content in one place”

I usually see this as an excuse to justify piracy, so I don’t think it’s made in good faith. I think if you made one super streaming service for $80 a month that had everything, then these people wouldn’t get it because they don’t want to pay $80 a month for TV.

But let’s examine that idea for a moment:

Competition between services benefits the customers. They have an incentive to make their interface and user experience better, they have an incentive to try to get all the content they can, and an incentive to make good original content. If there were one big streaming service, like if Netflix was the only one, they could just sit on their laurels and trust their monopolistic status to make people come to them. Hey… what does that remind you of?

Additionally, while sometimes creating their own streaming service involves pulling content away from previously licensed services (like taking The Office off Netflix), it often involves bringing new content that was not previously available on streaming to the market. As an example, Discovery+ brought thousands of hours of content from discovery, HGTV, food network, history, and others that simply wasn’t available for streaming before. And people rolled their eyes and said “oh wow another streaming service” instead of thinking “awesome, a ton of new content that I couldn’t have watched before for $5/mo”

And, really, how big a deal is it to switch from the netflix app to the disney+ app on your computer, tablet, or smart TV? It’s a 2 second operation. A prime example of a first world problem.

The fragmented streaming model allows for cheaper viewing, as I outlined above. If there was one giant service and it was $80 a month, then you’d have to pay $80/mo no matter what. You couldn’t do the same thing and rotate your subscriptions and only pay $10-25 a month and eventually get all that content, you’d have to pay 3-8x more for, ultimately, the same content.

That one streaming service would have incredible power over the content industry. They could decide if shows are made or are canceled, what catalogs to show and which ones to ignore, which ones to pay and which ones to strong arm into a lower priced deal. This gives them a huge amount of content control that would almost certainly be bad for both the content makers and the consumers.

Really - when we had cable, there was a big push so that people could buy channels a-la-carte. What we have now with streaming is not quite a-la-carte, but it’s a lot closer than what cable TV has to offer. And the irony is - the people complaining that the streaming industry should be consolidated down to one service are the ones who seem to want to re-create cable TV. But then they complain that having a fragmented streaming market is “just like having cable all over again”, which is illogical and really does not appreciate how good streaming is or how bad cable TV is.

2010 Netflix was an unsustainable fluke. Don’t get hung up on the idea that it should be how things will always be. If that were the case, there wouldn’t be enough money for new content to get made with everyone expecting the world for $12/mo. The current market with competing streaming services is vastly better than cable ever was, and better than a realistically priced giant singular streaming service would be.

I agree with your general sentiment, and have said similar before. But there is one somewhat worrying trend that some have mentioned: the bundling. If the streaming services start getting bundled together where you pay for stuff you aren’t interested in, then it gets more like cable. But, still, we’re nowhere near that being a problem, and I suspect we won’t let it become like cable.

I will point out that “appointment viewing” hadn’t been a thing on cable since the invention of TiVo and DVR. However, you still had to wait until after the show aired, while most modern shows dump a whole season at once. I have seem some people who don’t like how some shows are starting to go back to the older way of handling that.

I will say that I do think constantly juggling your subscriptions to make sure you can watch everything is annoying. If you want to not have to deal with that, then you get to cable pricing. So I can see why some people are upset that there are just so many streaming channels. It would arguably be better if things were divided by genre, in such a way that you could never have to subscribe to the type of content you don’t like to watch.

That was the ideal: unbundled cable. You just bought what channels you liked, and not the rest, and your bill went down proportionately. That isn’t want streaming provides, but at least there now is a way to keep costs down while consuming the same amount and style of content. It just takes a bit of work.

That said, I myself wind up watching YouTube a whole lot more. I don’t actually have any streaming subscription at all: I share my sister’s Netflix, but never watch it. And I have Amazon Prime for other reasons. I guess maybe you could count that I paid for Curiosity Stream to get Nebula, but that was to support YouTubers, and to get access to some extra Adam Neely content. It’s more like using Patreon, which I also use, which is paying the video creators voluntarily.

Oh, and I rolled my eyes at Discovery+, but mostly because I don’t really think that brand has much to offer. The old, good stuff has been on YouTube forever. And the new stuff tends to be trash TV. YouTube took over the educational video market.

I’m not going to say that multiple streaming services means we’re basically back to cable - but it does in fact mean that for some people. This may describe people you know

But people who stream don’t watch TV like that anymore. They typically watch 1-3 shows on their own schedule on demand.

but it doesn’t describe everybody. Maybe the “on their own schedule on demand” describes everyone who is willing to stream but I’m not so sure about the 1-3 shows part. And even if everybody did watch just 1-3 shows at a time , that doesn’t mean that all members of a household watch shows on the same streaming service. I am trying to ditch cable, but because my husband is a sports nut , my choices are

  1. Keep cable
  2. Ditch cable and be unable to watch any games that are not broadcast on an over the air network.
  3. sign up for something like Fubo TV - which is “cable without the cable” 113 or so channels including live sports , a cloud DVR service and a limit on how many screens can stream at once starting from $64.99/month.
  4. Ditch cable, don’t get Fubo , pay for subscriptions to MLB TV etc- except the local teams are blacked out on those services so it’s really #2.

That’s only for the sports - there are also five or six cable stations that he watches regularly. And while you might eventually be able to watch a series from a cable network on a Netflix style streaming service- it will be at least a season or two behind.
The reality is, if I ditch cable, I’ll still have to subscribe to Fubo or something like it. I will save money , because I won’t be paying for DVR service or multiple boxes. But it will mean I’m back to something very similar to cable - paying for 113 or so channels on Fubo when I really want only ten and then adding streaming services a la carte just like I used to add premium channels like HBO

I generally agree with the OP - we don’t have cable TV here, but satellite TV is essentially the same model, and I am close to cutting that off. Our satellite subscription is 10x our Netflix subscription. So I’m totally fine with that, Amazon Prime, Crunchyroll and (whenever they get around to bringing it here) Disney+, and still feel like I’m saving money for a vastly superior product.

The one caveat is that we don’t watch sports, which is the one thing that continues to sell dishes here.

Yes. Rick and Morty does this, and it pisses me off.

With your $75-90 you forgot the cost of content delivery. Which is another $50/month For streaming but free for cable. So you’re streaming options would be $125-140 or more expensive than average cable.

I may only watch 1-3 shows at a time but so do my kids. I also don’t want watch the same show every day. We have 4 streaming services and we watch at least 3 of them every week. If my wife had her druthers we’d add at least one more since shows she’d like to watch weekly aren’t covered in our current blend and then I could see adding apple or Netflix occasionally since ether have stuff I’d like to check out. For a family we spend ~$30/month on our streaming services and that plus internet has us well over $100/month so it’s no savings over cable.

I had YouTube TV at, I think, $45 a month. A bit pricey for a streaming service already. Then one day they added another 10 channels, none of which I was interested in, and jacked the price up $15 a month in one go. I cancelled immediately, and it was not hard to do.

My typical streaming experience is to binge everything I’m interested in on one service, then move to another. My plan is to re-sign up to disney+ as soon as S3 of The Mandalorian starts and binge watch everything on there until the end of the season, then cancel again. Rinse and repeat every year (as long as they have “must watch” programming on there).

You are assuming that, if it weren’t for streaming, people wouldn’t pay for internet. That’s a bit ridiculous in 2021.

Not even close. If you’re not streaming you can get by with a much lower internet tier. I specifically chose average broadband price. I could just use the internet on my phone or get a cheap century link phone line internet plan to surf the web and the occasional video chat. My parents have a 25mbs down service with a 10 gig per month max that is $20 per month. Even if you only assigned the cost over basic internet streaming is the same a cable.

My preference would be true on demand for all content, with very low cost per view. This preference is exactly the same with cable as with streaming services. The problem to me with both is the static subscription cost. It cost me the same whether I watch 300 hours a month or 0 hours a month. I would rather pay for what I actually watch. The reason people end up with all of the different services is that each one has some unique content that they want access to. If I want to see Ted Lasso, then I have to have Apple+. If I want to see White Lotus, then I have to have HBOMax. etc. This is no different than the old premium cable subscription model. Why can’t I watch Ted Lasso for one dollar an episode, and White Lotus for one dollar an episode, without the monthly subscription? Regarding the other content available in the subscriptions, just like Ted Lasso - I can decide if I want to watch it and pay the dollar. If I watch 100 hours in a month then it costs me $100, if I watch 0 hours in a month then it cost me $0. And as I always said about cable, I can only watch one thing at a time, why am I paying for everything else when I’m not watching it?

But that’s just me.

I don’t think Rick and Morty necessarily counts as ‘going back to the older way’. It’s a cable show, which has always been that way.

I think @BigT is more referring to services like AppleTV+ and Disney+ doing a weekly release schedule (like every Friday) even though they are entirely streaming services.

I get it through Netflix.

You can, I believe, buy each episode separately for some services. White Lotus is available on Amazon Prime for $3.99 an episode (no, it will never be a $1 an episode). Apple doesn’t want to make Ted Lasso purchasable by the ep, but just sub for a month and watch all 12.

But it’s not a Netflix show. Netflix just pays to get the rights to Cartoon Network.

Only if your “not streaming” there excludes games, and not if there are 4 of you in a house, all doing online things at the same time.

Also, “occasional video chat” is like 30% of the new workday for many people.

Yes, I’m aware but there’s no reason Netflix can’t bundle it, the way they do with all the other shows they get from outside providers. I watch a lot of K-dramedies, they don’t dole those out one episode at a time.

So, what you are saying is that Netflix in the country you are in, waits until the show has been fully aired and then releases episodes once a week? So basically, as Season 5 is being released weekly in the US right now, they’ll wait until Fall when it’s been fully released and then drop it weekly?

Speak for yourself; I wouldn’t be able to do my job, play my favorite games, or make full use of about a dozen appliances around my house without high speed internet, and I think that’s a lot more typical of a modern household than your experience is, because my parents are pretty bad with technology yet they are in a similar boat (minus the games, they definitely aren’t into video games :wink:)

No, they release them within a few days of US release. I’m saying they could wait until it’s all released, and then release it altogether, the way they do other shows. Yes, I know, I can just wait until the season’s complete and watch it then, but I get just a little spurt of irritation every time I scan through the Trending list, or the Continue Watching list and there is an incomplete show…

Definitely Middle Class Problems, you don’t have to tell me.

When I cancelled DirectTV (owned by AT&T) to go entirely to streaming, my internet bill (also AT&T) immediately jumped up an additional $50 per month. Not a coincidence I’m sure. For the same speed. So I didn’t save as much as I thought.

Ok, it may have something to do with the US or maybe it’s just because I’m not watching any current television series that originally aired in a different country - but my impression is that Netflix really doesn’t wait until a full season is out and then make all the episodes available at once. What usually happens is that Netflix doesn’t have the rights to air the season that is currently running ( and won’t get the rights until sometime later, if ever). So it’s not Netflix holding the episodes back, it’s the rights-owner.