Back when they first hit the scene in 2016, live TV streaming services positioned themselves as the TV of the future. No long-term contracts, no installation appointments, no bloated bundles — only pay for the channels you want and stream them right to your TV.
Much of that has held true. While there’s still no true à la carte TV streaming option — you’ll always pay for a bunch of channels you don’t watch — cable replacements have been by and large a cheaper alternative to traditional cable or satellite TV.
It’s beginning to look like that might not be the case for much longer.
Some live streaming services are raising prices and getting worse
When you look over TV streaming trends for the past few years, a clear pattern emerges: Providers are raising prices regularly, and that’s not necessarily accompanied by an increase in value.
Take DIRECTV NOW, the leader of the live streaming pack for its first several years. For its first two years, prices for its base plan remained steady at $35 per month. In July 2018 it raised prices to $40; eight months later, it raised them again to $50.
What’s more, the product arguably got worse over that time frame. Its total number of channels dropped from 100 to 54, losing popular names like Discovery, History and A&E.
That trend doesn’t hold true for every live streaming service — Sling and Hulu have only raised prices by $5 over the course of their existence — but it does point to early savings as unsustainable.
Most are raising prices and adding channels
DIRECTV NOW is the only service that’s significantly slimmed down its packages while also jacking up prices. Most have justified their price hikes by adding more channels.
YouTube TV is the starkest in this regard. Since its debut in 2017, it has more than doubled its package size, going from 40 channels initially to more than 80 today. Over that period, its also raised prices from $35 per month to $50.
Hulu + Live TV shows a similar trend. While it’s only raised prices by $5 in its two year history, it’s added 13 more channels, including big names like Discovery, Animal Planet, and Freeform (formerly ABC Family).
Get ready to pay more for on-demand services, too
Prices for on-demand services have stayed flatter over the same time period — only Netflix has consistently raised prices over its history — but the sheer quantity of options will soon become overwhelming. There are already 200 streaming services and counting in the U.S., and some big players will enter the ring by the end of the year.
Look no further than Netflix and The Office. Recently, Netflix sent out a resigned tweet saying their most popular show would be leaving the service at the end of 2020:
It’s hard to overstate how big of a deal this is. According to a Wall Street Journal report earlier this year, The Office was streamed for a total of 45.8 billion minutes between August 2017 and July 2018 — nearly 3% of the service’s total minutes, 14 billion more minutes than second-place Friends and almost double Netflix’s biggest original hit, Stranger Things.
The reason? NBC wants those viewing minutes for itself when it launches its own streaming service, set to launch early next year.
Of course, this is nothing new. Disney was the first to play this card, announcing in August 2017 that it would pull all of its content from rival streaming services in order to boost its own platform, which launches this November.
Add Apple TV+ (set to debut this fall) and AT&T’s Warner Media (content from HBO, Cinemax and Warner Bros.) to that mix, and users are suddenly looking at the shows and movies they love spread out over at least seven different streaming services. Once you figure in the seemingly routine price hikes, streaming starts to look like an expensive alternative to cable.
|Hulu (No Ads)||$11.99/mo.|
|Amazon Prime Video||$8.99/mo.|
What do these streaming trends mean?
The average American already pays around $107 a month for TV. With the rising prices of live streaming services and addition of more on-demand services every day, it’s not hard to see how your monthly TV budget could rise past that number.
The good news? More and more companies are investing in free, ad-supported streaming services. NBC, for example, bucked the trend of its competitors by making its upcoming service entirely free. You’ll still be able to watch The Office, as long as you’re willing to put up with a few commercials.
There are also a number of other cord-cutting options like TV antennas that can significantly reign in your monthly TV expenditures.