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Cord Cutting Isn’t as Popular as You Think
Netflix killed Blockbuster, and many people think it killed cable, too. But cable service is alive and kicking—and we don’t see it going anywhere in the foreseeable future.
Let’s talk about why.
Who is (and isn’t) cutting the cord?
Cord cutting isn’t as popular as we sometimes think.
Back in the Great Recession, 8% of Americans reported increased use of internet and/or free antenna television and decreased use of cable.¹ At the time, it seemed this would become a broader trend as the world tightened its metaphorical belts.
But according to the Pew Research Center, as of 2021, more than half of Americans still subscribe to cable or satellite.² That’s a lot of cord cutting, but it’s not the exponential increase you’d expect over 12 years. It works out to only about 3% annual growth since 2009.
While lots of people love to stream, many still enjoy their favorite shows on live cable TV.
How much does cutting the cord cost?
At first glance, streaming seems more affordable than cable. But is it?
Folks tend to stack their streaming, a.k.a. subscribe to multiple services at once. According to J. D. Power, as of 2021, the average household spends $55 a month on four to five streaming services.³
That’s just the average, though. Let’s say you’re all about streaming, and you have every popular service. What would that look like? We researched which services have the most subscribers and used them to create a list of the most popular ones.⁴
- Netflix: Starts at $9.99/mo.
- Amazon Prime Video: Starts at $8.99/mo.
- Disney+: $7.99/mo.
- Paramount+: Starts at $4.99/mo.
- Hulu: Starts at $5.99/mo.
- HBO Max: Starts at $9.99/mo.
- Apple TV+: $4.99/mo.
- Peacock: Starts at $0.00/mo.
- Discovery+: Starts at $4.99/mo.
- STARZ: $8.99/mo.
- ESPN+: Starts at $6.99/mo.
Grand total? $73.91. And that’s without any upgraded, ad-free accounts.
In contrast, most people don’t buy more than one cable service at a time. (It’s theoretically possible, but it’s a logistical nightmare.) The average cost of our top recommended cable providers is between $49.60 and $101.60 a month.
So the typical household may not save any money by cutting the cord. You could actually spend an extra $5 or more each month if you’re switching from low-cost cable.
But if you have a more expensive cable package, you could save up to $50 each month when you switch to streaming.
In short, while in some cases streaming can be more affordable than cable, there are no guaranteed savings. It depends on your cable package and how many streaming services you want. You’ll need to do some serious math before you cut any cords.
How hard is cutting the cord?
Being a cord cutter has its advantages. You can watch TV shows anytime, anywhere, as long as you have a streaming device. Your streaming apps are built right into your smart TV. Also, cord cutting itself is easy (just cancel your cable service and sign up for all the streaming services you want).
But some aspects of cord cutting can be challenging.
With cable, you can watch live sports, channel surf, and not suffer from choice overload. It’s not hard to figure out what to watch because you have limited options. And you can discover gems just by sticking around after your favorite show ends.
With streaming, you often face analysis paralysis. First, you have to decide which service to browse. Then you have to decide what to watch. The pressure!
And while streaming services imitate some of the benefits of cable—such as queuing up suggested content after you’ve finished a show—they haven’t quite figured out how to truly copy the live TV experience. (Except for with upgrades like Hulu Live + TV, but that’s a whole other shebang.)
So if you aren’t super picky about what you watch and you love live TV, you might be happier sticking with cable.
To entice and appease cord cutters and “cord-nevers” (i.e., people who have never paid for cable), some providers now sell their own internet streaming services, set-top boxless plans, DVRs, and basic network TV.
Lots of folks have adopted cord cutting. But not everyone digs it. For some people, streaming isn't the end-all-be-all, and that’s okay.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both streaming and cable. Streaming gives you more options, but cable is easier in a lot of ways. It makes sense that people might prefer one over the other.
Cord cutting FAQ
What are the best streaming services?
In our opinion, the best streaming services are as follows:
- YouTube TV
- Sling TV
There are also other popular services you can choose from, like Apple TV+, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, HBO Max, and STARZ.
What are the best cable providers?
We like the following cable TV providers:
To pick our faves, we look at the dollar-to-channel ratio, content variety and popularity, and DVR services.
How else can you get live TV?
If you aren’t sure about cable or streaming, there are other ways to enjoy live TV. You can use an antenna to pick up local channels or sign up with a satellite TV provider.