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Streaming’s promise fades: Rising costs, ads resurrect cable nightmares

Just a few years ago, streaming seemed like the answer to our cord-cutting dreams. Instead of paying big bucks for 100-plus channels — most of which you never actually wanted — you could choose streaming services a la carte. They were cheaper and blessedly ad-free. When comparing streaming to cable, the former notched every win.

But in a short period of time, streaming has gotten a lot more expensive. Not only are there more services overall, they have raised their respective prices at least once — and sometimes, two or three times — in the past year. Almost all of the ad-free services had turned their cheapest basic plan into an ad-supported one. If you don’t want to see ads and if you want live broadcast feeds, you have to pay more.

And some of the streamers are teaming up to offer discounted bundles. Soon, you can get Disney Plus, Hulu and Max together for less than the three cost separately, and it makes financial sense even if you don’t want one of them. Just like it was with cable.

Oh, and most live sports and new programs still require access to broadcast and cable channels, which means you need a live TV streaming service on top of Netflix, Max, Disney Plus, etc.

The streaming dream has turned into a nightmare.

I cut the cord to save money — but I’m back to paying cable prices
Three years ago, I decided to finally cut the cord on cable. At the time, I was paying about $92 for access to broadcast and cable channels (and DVR storage). It was ridiculous since my cable usage had diminished in favor of Netflix, Disney Plus and what was then called HBO Max.

I didn’t want to completely give up access to broadcast and cable channels — like ABC for “Grey’s Anatomy” and Bravo for “Top Chef” — so I opted to sign up for Sling. I still use it to this day, but the price has gone up to $65 for the Orange and Blue package in my city.

That’s cheaper than what I was paying for cable, but not by much. And if I’d chosen YouTube TV ($73), the difference would be even less.

But what’s really driving up my streaming bill to rival cable is the cost of the other streaming services. Right now, the total cost of all eight major streaming services is $58 per month. And that’s for the least expensive plans.

Service Cheapest plan price Ads?
Netflix $7 Yes
Disney Plus/Hulu bundle $10 Yes
Prime Video (standalone) $9 Yes
Max $10 Yes
Paramount Plus $6 Yes
Peacock (until July 2024) $6 Yes
Apple TV Plus $10 No

Of course, nobody needs all eight of those services, and I certainly don’t subscribe to all of them at any given time — even though I write about streaming entertainment for a living. But I do pay for four or five at a time.

But even just having Netflix without ads ($15.49) and Max without ads (after a recent price increase, $17) drives up my total streaming bill above my old cable total. Sure, I could opt for the lower-priced tiers and suffer through ads. It’s a difficult pill to swallow, though, since those services launched as ad-free experiences. Still, I may have to grudgingly accept it soon if streaming prices continue to balloon.

Content scattering makes it impossible to cut streamers
The easy answer to the dilemma of rising streaming costs is: just do without. Carrying that out is the difficult, nearly impossible, part.

For example, if you’re a big NFL fan, you’ll need three streaming services on top of NFL Sunday Ticket (via YouTube TV) to watch every single game in the 2024-25 season. The whopping total cost: $714.98.

Even if you think your must-see TV list is short, it often ends up being longer than you think. Let’s say you love “Real Housewives” and “Vanderpump Rules” (Peacock, soon to be $8), your kids can’t live without Pixar movies (Disney, $8 with ads) and your partner is a news junkie who requires live CNN and MSNBC (Sling Blue, $40). And of course, your household must have Netflix ($15.49 ad-free) because who doesn’t? Even that “short” list will cost $72 a month — not that much less expensive than cable. Tom’s Guide

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