Streaming services raise prices again. Here’s how to avoid overpaying.
A few things in life are inevitable: bad weather, taxes and streaming-service price hikes.
Inflation is currently driving up prices for medical care, airline tickets and housing. But long before inflation was on everyone’s lips, Netflix green up pointing triangle and other streaming-video services were gradually raising prices. They blame ever-increasing production and licensing costs.
Netflix’s main plan—high-definition video with two simultaneous streams—was $8.99 a month in 2014, and now it’s $15.49 a month. The company’s competitors, including Disney+, Hulu and Apple’s Apple; green up pointing triangle TV+, are jacking up prices, too. Even Amazon ; green up pointing triangle raised its monthly fees for Prime, which includes streaming video.
What’s worse, many of us juggle many services. I can’t miss “Succession” on HBO Max or “Severance” on Apple TV+. Among U.S. households that pay for video streaming, nearly 60% have three or more subscriptions and over half pay at least $20 a month, according to Nielsen. In response to the deluge of options, services are exploring discounted bundles with rivals, which are sounding a bit like the cable packages we thought we left behind.
Speaking of cable, the live-TV streaming services—which were already much more expensive because they attempt to replicate a full cable lineup—are raising prices again. Sling TV’s basic package has doubled since 2017. Music services, too, have crept up, though not as dramatically. Most recently, Apple increased its Music subscription by a dollar a month.
If you’re not paying attention, these increases can eat away at your monthly budget. But you can save with some strategic subscription tracking, plan switching, service hopping and (legal!) account sharing.
Move to a cheaper tier
If you’re willing to endure commercial breaks, you can save by choosing ad-supported plans.
Paramount+, Peacock, Hulu and HBO Max already have them. Netflix on Nov. 3 introduced a $6.99-a-month tier with ads, $3 less than its basic membership. The company said customers can expect four to five minutes of ads per hour on average. Children’s profiles won’t see advertising. There are a couple of trade-offs: The ad plan doesn’t allow offline downloads and some content is blocked.
Disney+’s green up pointing triangle $7.99-a-month plan with ads will be available on Dec. 8, when its ad-free tier increases to $10.99. The company promised to keep interruptions down to four minutes each hour and said children who use their own profile won’t see ads.
Play musical chairs
While annual subscriptions typically come with discounts, going month-to-month offers more flexibility. Once the “House of the Dragon” run ends on HBO Max, you can cancel that plan, then sign up for Apple TV+ in time for a new season of “Ted Lasso.”
When you sign up for a service and all the episodes you want are available, unsubscribe right away and start binge-watching. If it isn’t a free trial, most allow you to stream until the end of the billing cycle. (One exception is Amazon Prime, which ends the day you cancel.)
Share logins and split the bill
Family plans offer a discounted group rate that gets cheaper when divided by more people. They generally let you split a subscription between four to six people, and allow multiple devices to stream content simultaneously.
Many services—including Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Disney+, Sling and HBO Max—stipulate that plan-sharers need to live at the same address. Others, however, don’t.
Amazon Prime and all of its shipping and content benefits—starting at $14.99 a month or $139 annually—can be shared by two adults who don’t live under the same roof. And Apple One, a bundle of services including Apple Music, TV+ and more, can be split between six people who live in the same country, for plans starting at $22.95 a month. (For music only, Apple Music’s family plan is now $16.99 a month, but is still a good value if you share.)
Account moochers’ days might be numbered. In March, Netflix rolled out fees for extra users to crack down on password sharing in some countries in Latin America, and said it might launch a similar system in the U.S. next year.
If you’re sharing services with friends, the Fuse bill-splitting app can simplify the transaction. When you add your group’s Fuse-assigned debit-card number to a subscription, the company automatically deducts everyone’s shares from their linked bank accounts.
Track down your recurring costs
Comb through your credit-card statements and app-store settings for hidden subscriptions you aren’t using. After performing an audit, I discovered I’ve been paying for an old password manager for two years—even though I use a different service!
It is especially easy to miss app subscriptions. iPhone users: Open Settings, tap your name, then Subscriptions. Android users: Go to the Play Store, tap your profile picture then Payment & subscriptions. You might have also signed up for premium channels through other platforms. Check Memberships and Subscriptions in your Amazon account settings.
Apps can also help track recurring costs automatically, but you have to be comfortable with sharing financial-account credentials with third parties.
Rocket Money, formerly Truebill, is an iPhone and Android money-manager app that is particularly good at sifting through bank and credit-card statements. Recently, the app alerted my colleague Christopher Mims that his Hulu monthly plan had gone up by over $2. Rocket Money’s free version offers plenty, though its premium plan (yes, another subscription) starts at $3 a month, with features such as your very own service-canceling concierge.
Check out free options
Just a casual watcher or listener? There are many free streaming options for video and music. You just might have to sit through some ads, and be OK with missing out on the most popular shows of the moment.
You can listen to Spotify free with commercials every few songs. You can’t play specific songs on demand. You have to shuffle playlists or albums of your choosing and can’t skip more than six tracks an hour. Amazon recently expanded its Prime Music catalog, included with a Prime membership to 100 million songs, rivaling the catalogs of Spotify and other streaming audio services. But a similar shuffle-only catch applies. On-demand play requires an extra $8.99 a month.
For free movies and TV shows, Amazon’s Freevee, Paramount’s Pluto TV, Fox Entertainment’s Tubi and the Roku Channel have intermittent ad breaks. To avoid ads, try services such as Kanopy and Hoopla, which require a membership at a participating local library.
You might be surprised by how much content is available without a paid subscription. Check Reelgood, a video-search engine with a handy filter for free offerings. If you enjoy a good rerun or a cinema classic, there is plenty for you—without the creeping prices. The Wall Street Journal