Cable vs Streaming: Cut the Cord or Buy a Bundle?

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Last Updated: Jul 13, 2021
Cutting the cord
Customers often choose bundled Interent and cable just to avoid complexity, but both options can be simple to set up.

The Bottom Line: If you want to get internet without cable, you should consider all of the factors before making the decision. Many Americans can benefit from cord cutting, but some families might not be saving very much by getting rid of cable — if anything at all. It’s all about what you want you like to watch.

When you call to order internet service, you can pretty much guarantee that you’ll hear a sales pitch about why you should add TV, phone, and even home security to your order.

The trend towards internet-only service has reduced cable TV subscriptions significantly in the past few years, especially among younger customers. So, it’s no surprise that providers are keen to lower the rates and keep people hooked on TV.

But will cord cutting actually save you money? With more networks creating streaming services, and the prices for them increases, it may be cheaper for some to stick with traditional bundling.

Cable Vs. Streaming: Which is Better?

Unfortunately, there’s no quick answer here. Internet and TV providers now offer lower-priced, stripped-down versions of their traditional TV plans as streaming services to appeal to cord cutters. For example, Spectrum offers the TV Essentials plan which includes up to 60 channels (including on-demand content) for $19.99 a month. While it seems like a good deal, TV providers often leave out popular sports networks and even local channels. That’s where streaming services thrive.

Streaming services like Hulu + Live TV and YouTube TV offer live TV along with a large library of on-demand content. However, live TV plans from streaming services can cost anywhere from $20-$80. If you were to only subscribe to one streaming service, streaming hands-down would be the less expensive option. But that’s not the case for most people — nowadays, most households have at least two streaming service subscriptions, or a cable TV plan and at least one streaming service account. Why? Because you won’t find Bridgerton on cable TV, and it’s unlikely to find the Grammys or American Country Music Awards on Netflix or Hulu.

Finding your answer will come down to two main factors: price and content.

Price

Cable Streaming
Avg. Monthly Price $45-$135 $20-$70
Price Increase after promotional period Yes
Around $10-$40 per month
No
Equipment Fees Yes No
Contract Yes
More often than not
No
Usually
Broadcast and regional sports fees Yes
Usually $10+ per month
No

If price is your main deciding factor, there’s no question — streaming is a better option than cable even if you choose a live TV streaming service like fuboTV. Streaming services generally don’t charge equipment fees, broadcasting fees, or require contracts. The budget-conscious will appreciate the consistent prices most streaming services offer compared to cable TV. While some providers have increased their prices over the years, the price increase on streaming services hovers around $1-$2 every few years.

Content

Cable Streaming
Number of channels 150-400+ 30-95
Access to premium networks Yes
Included with some plans
Yes
For add’l monthly fee
On-Demand Library? Yes
Mostly reruns
Yes
Includes original content

Live streaming services have less channels than cable TV but make up for it by offering the most popular channels. For example, YouTube TV offers NFL Network, the International Film Channel (IFC), and Nicktoons, all of which are channels often reserved for higher-tier (and more expensive) cable TV plans. Yet, many choose to stick with cable TV because there’s a wider variety of live channels and it takes less effort to decide what to watch since you can just flip through. (How long have you scrolled on Netflix before finding something to watch?)

Cable TV bundles make the most sense for customers who have large households or families, with a large number of users streaming simultaneously. Unlike internet streaming, your cable TV won’t slow down or buffer no matter how many televisions are on at the same time.

“Over the Top” (OTT) streaming services are great, but with streaming, you’re basically going “a la carte” on TV. If you only subscribe to one or two streaming services, sure, it’ll save you money; but if you also want NFL Sunday Ticket, HBO, Showtime, etc., the cost of adding each item individually adds up fast.

Why Bundling Might Be Cheaper Than “Internet-Only”

Internet and TV Bundle
Netflix and other cord-cutting services make a compelling case to switch to Internet-only service.

If you’re going to sign up for every streaming service on the market, you’re not going to end up saving money. Likewise, if you have a large household, you will likely need to upgrade your internet package to compensate for the increased number of simultaneous streams.

Here are some reasons why bundling internet and cable can be cheaper than streaming alone:

  • Some cable “Smart TV” packages come with Netflix and extensive viewing libraries included for free! So, if you wanted it all, now you have it! This is certainly cheaper than buying every streaming service that could cover all the channels you might watch with a Smart TV bundle.
  • Data caps. A high number of users and streaming devices will mean that you will likely need to upgrade your internet service or change your internet service provider (ISP) if they try to cap your viewing.
  • Sports aren’t cheap. If you need specific channels, such as sports channels like NBA League Pass, your price can increase substantially if you try to avoid cable.

Internet Without Cable: Data Caps

Internet Data Limits
Data caps can make streaming less viable as a TV option for some customers, especially those using DSL or satellite Internet service.

One of the biggest worries when it comes to an internet-only plan is the chance of getting capped by your ISP.

Gamers and heavy streamers are the two groups that have to worry about a data cap the most.

Essentially, most ISPs have an “upper-limit” to how much internet bandwidth they will allow you to consume each month. Once you reach that limit, you will get “throttled” — or significantly slowed down — by your ISP.

Interestingly, a staggering 37+% of peak traffic in North America is taken up by Netflix. In some cases, as much as 70% of the internet “pipe” is taken up by streaming video.

Those stats make it clear that heavy streamers are among the most likely to hit their data caps.

What About On-Demand and Smart TV?

As of 2018, some providers have begun cutting deals with streaming services like Netflix and Peacock. This means that some streaming services are sometimes bundled with your internet service as a perk for TV customers.

To make things even more complicated, some providers have “smart TV” options that include perks like mobile viewing, extensive on-demand libraries, and other things that used to be streaming-only.

Overall, this is good news for consumers, since it means more flexible options. The trend is beneficial for customers who would have bought TV bundles anyway, since it basically throws in Netflix and streaming options for the kids, while Dad can keep watching local channels and sports just like before.

Broadcast TV for Cord Cutters

Without cable, you’ll probably have to rely on over-the-air broadcasting for your local sports and news. Broadcast TV is actually surprisingly good as of 2018, and is undergoing a bit of a renaissance as picture quality improves and window-mounted receivers become viable.

Broadcast TV used to be a pain for renters and apartment dwellers, since it required a large antenna on your roof. These days, you can just search for window-mounted models on Amazon and you’re good to go. Some of these devices are the size of a dinner plate — it’s really remarkable that they work.

You can check broadcast channels available at your address here to see what your options are.

The Bright Side to Getting Internet Without Cable TV

Even though we have mostly been considering reasons why you might want to give cable-cutting a second thought, it really is possible to save a lot of money by getting internet without cable TV.

If one or more of the following things are true for you, you probably stand to save a lot of money by getting rid of cable:

  • You don’t watch much TV. If you don’t watch much TV, you probably won’t be signing up for every streaming service out there — and you’ll save a lot of money in the cord-cutting process. You can get Netflix-only streaming for as low as $9 per month!
  • You don’t have many people living with you. With a small number of users, you don’t need as much bandwidth. Another perk is that you can sign up for cheaper streaming deals that charge you less for a lower number of simultaneous users. For example, if you want four users on Netflix at the same time, your bill goes up from $9 to $16 monthly.
  • You’re not much of a sports nut. Streaming sports is what kills the cable-cutter. For example, NFL streaming services can be very expensive; the 2019 full-season pass is regularly $293.94.
  • You want the fastest internet available. Without cable, you will have more budget to increase your internet speeds.

Will Cord Cutting Save Me Money?

Saving Money
Cord cutting is often the best choice for younger or single customers, while families and larger households save money by opting for traditional cable bundles.

If you’re willing to compromise on the amount of shows you watch, then yes, cord cutting is the best budget deal.

Now that providers are finally starting to “sweeten the deal” on cable bundles with perks like free streaming accounts and more extensive on-demand libraries, TV bundles are a more appealing option than they used to be.

Our recommendation: if you’re on the fence, try cutting the cord and see how you feel about it. You’ll almost certainly get a sales call from the provider pushing you to add TV service in the months after signing up. If you decide you want TV after all, it will be cheaper to call and add it on than it would be to call and cancel it.