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Crossing the Stream

David Powell  |  February 15, 2021

IT BEGAN AS A trickle. Now, it’s a flood—and my family’s been swept up in it. For the past decade, we’ve streamed on-demand movies and Netflix shows, but we also continued to pay far too much for live TV using either cable or satellite services. No longer.

As Jannette Collins noted in a recent article, there are now numerous internet streaming services, including some free options. Our family has used some of these, but we still kept costly TV service for live broadcasts of news, sports and first-run shows.

To be sure, some live TV internet streaming services offer nearly all the same channels as cable and satellite providers. But “nearly” is a problem, especially for sports fans. Out-of-market football games were one reason I resisted switching to a live TV streaming service. If you want to watch all live NFL games for a team outside your local market, you’ll need DirecTV—and you’ll pay dearly for it.

There are reports that DirecTV’s NFL contract ends in 2022, at which point more streaming options are expected. NFL’s own Game Pass subscription service lets you stream any game after a daylong wait. With sports fans, patience is a rare commodity. My spouse and I have a bottomless well of patience and willpower for investing, but little interest in watching day-old sports.

Quality concerns are the other reason I’ve waited to “cut the cord.” We have a solid home network with an internet connection that consistently delivers at least 50 megabits per second, my minimum bar for good live TV streaming. But for a good streaming experience, service providers also have to invest in reliable infrastructure, and that takes time.

I first tried live streaming baseball games on MLB.TV in 2011. For the first few years, the quality of MLB’s service was a bit rough. But MLB.TV has matured nicely. Today, its live games seem on par with cable or satellite, plus the service offers time-saving features I love.

Finally, I took the plunge in December with a free two-week trial to YouTube TV, a Google subscription service focused on delivering live and recorded TV programs from local broadcast channels, as well as popular cable and satellite channels. At $65 a month, it’s one of the more expensive live TV streaming options, but it offers all the channels we regularly use. We loved our trial experience so much that we kept it and ditched our satellite service, saving $80 a month. The YouTube TV app is available for nearly every device.

Before crossing into the world of streaming, there are two other considerations, each with a potential budget impact.

Internet data caps. The amount of data you use for an hour of streamed content will depend on the high definition (HD) resolutions available from your streaming services, and whether they’re supported by your TV and home network. Many home broadband internet providers cap free data at a terabyte (1,000 gigabytes) per month, which is fine today. On Netflix, you can stream around 12 to 15 hours of 1080P HD resolution movies every day before you hit that limit.

But that terabyte monthly data cap will look less generous as 4K and high-dynamic range TVs and content become mainstream, because it takes more data to stream that same hour of higher resolution, better-looking movies. If you want to avoid data cap fees or paying for unlimited internet data, look for streaming services that let you choose a lower resolution. As you ponder the issue, be mindful of work and school data usage, especially with many of us working from home during COVID-19.

Aggregate subscription costs. Tempted to spend some of your cord-cutting savings on additional streaming services? Content kings like Disney are airing new content first on their streaming services, increasing the appeal of these services. With many cinemas shuttered during the pandemic, even films that would have launched in theaters are appearing first on streaming services. Problem is, these additional subscriptions can quickly add up, turning your initial savings into a hole in your pocket—one that’s easy to overlook.

David Powell has spent his career writing software and leading engineering teams. During his 40 years working in tech, he has come to respect the limits of human imagination in any planning. Like the rest of us, David looks forward to a post-COVID world with lots of travel, shaking hands and dining in restaurants. Follow David on Twitter @AmpedToGo and check out his earlier articles.

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David Baese
David Baese
4 months ago

David – When it comes to enthusiasm and commitment for professional sports teams it gives perspective to remember that all the players are millionaires with cheerleaders. How much do you think they care about you personally? Can’t you really wait a day to watch their games for free? – Dave

wtfwjtd
wtfwjtd
4 months ago

How about using something like Tablo? I got one of these a couple of years ago, and for us it works very well. I put a couple of TV antennas in the attic, co-phased them and pointed them in two different directions, and we get something like 25 different Over-The-Air broadcast stations locally. This is more than enough for local news events, and gives a moderate sports-watcher like me enough to watch as well. There are even several local channels that run lots of TV oldies, such as Richard mentions in his comment. Not to mention PBS, and other stuff…

I think their guide subscription costs something like $50 a year, and is well worth it. Between this, Prime, and Netflix, we have more than adequate TV-watching choices, at far less cost than our old cable setup.

Mike
Mike
4 months ago

My internet provider is Century Link too. By the time I add Internet ($55) and Youtube at $65 you might as well have cable tv. We went OTA about 3 years ago from DirectTV, use Netflix and have Prime too, although we’ve used Prime very little for streaming. Through my library I get access to ACORN which has great British programming. There are some great library benefits to check out – at least our local one (Scottsdale and Phoenix.)

R Quinn
R Quinn
4 months ago

I don’t get all the streaming. I’m still stuck in the rabbit ears and aluminum foil era. I find little of value on live TV so I’ve reverted to my DVR recording old British comedy and mysteries, coupled with 50 and 60s sitcoms. I was considering YouTube, but after you mentioned the prices, that ain’t going to happen. I’m happy with all the free stuff on YouTube. A good archeological dig in York or a night with Ozzie and Harriet are quite entertaining.

greglee
greglee
4 months ago
Reply to  R Quinn

Do I have a treat for you. I subscribe, through Amazon, to two British streaming services: Britbox and Acorn, which have a vast number of mysteries, Midsomer Murders, Father Brown, Poirot, Miss Marple, Rumpole of the Bailey, and many others I didn’t know about previously.

Roboticus Aquarius
Roboticus Aquarius
4 months ago
Reply to  greglee

That works pretty well, we did very limited period subscriptions. We own the entire Poirot series on DVD, which is our absolute favorite, so we don’t need to subscribe to that. That series was so well done.

Maybe TMI but when we went to a murder mystery dinner, I went as Captain Hastings, my wife was Miss Lemon, and we did indeed solve the mystery…

johny
johny
4 months ago
Reply to  R Quinn

Mr. Quinn, were you not shopping for a Jaguar in a previous article? I was taken aback reading your comment about Youtube prices. I assumed you were more than comfortable financially. But perhaps this is exactly why you can afford Jaguars.

james mcglynn
james mcglynn
4 months ago

You can also share your Youtube.tv with family in other cities-similar to sharing Netflix accounts.

Ormode
Ormode
4 months ago

I watch a lot of YouTube, and it’s all free. A lot of the stuff is not for everyone, but you may find something to interest you – millions of people have watched series like the Potter’s House. Sometimes real life is more entertaining than overdone melodrama.

Scrooge_McDuck88
Scrooge_McDuck88
4 months ago

I use a bill shopping platform called Squeeze. Squeeze.com they helped me find the best streaming packages and saved me on a few bills. The cool thing is they keep notifying me of when I can have savings on my auto-insurance and homeowners. Pretty sweet!!

Roboticus Aquarius
Roboticus Aquarius
4 months ago

This is about the only arena where I can claim to be an ‘early adopter’. DW and I have never been that big on TV. When we bought our house in ’96, the cable prices gave us sticker shock, and we turned it down. We got offered a free package and took it, and the cable company forgot about it, so we had free cable for almost two years. When they wanted us to pay, we dropped it again.

Netflix had just started and we bought in, mailing dvd’s back and forth. When they went to streaming, we followed right along.

We have Amazon Prime for other reasons, and between that and Netflix there is plenty of entertainment. We recently got a year of Disney+, which was all about Hamilton. I suspect we won’t renew unless we get hooked on the new Star Wars and Marvel stuff.

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