Let the streaming wars begin!

Disney’s set to win this, hands down. Every kind in America knows Disney made a service and all the stuff they used to watch elsewhere is now exclusively there.

“Mom, I’m signing up for the free trial.”  Declan knew the release date for Disney Plus. He’s been waiting to binge watch Star Wars.

“Okay but it’s probably not free.”  He signed up. I got a copy of the account email just about the time he came back around.

“Mom, I need your credit card.” I don’t give my credit card, I was planning on signing him up for Christmas anyway. “Put it on your Christmas list.”

Another streaming service has gone live.

We’re experiencing streaming overload.

You can go broke paying for streaming services. A few years ago, I tried to cut the cord and get rid of cable.

“I like to watch these shows.” My husband wasn’t hearing it. He couldn’t find his shows using Chromecast or Amazon Fire, so I looked at other streaming options.  The long and short–Chromecast and Fire weren’t good for someone who wanted to couch surf and relax–for the generation of people who remember the first remote and don’t watch TV so much as they push the button to relax and grumble about the 700 channels of “nothing’s on TV.”  So, I didn’t cancel the cable.

Since then–and it’s only been a few years–streaming has leaped ahead of cable. The way we watch content has changed, too. Now, the problem isn’t 700 channels with nothing on–it’s this: redundancy. Everyone’s got a streaming service and not one has all the shows we “need.” So, we’ve got to make some tough calls. That may mean weaning off some of the dumb shows, watching content intentionally, and discovering who’s got the best deals and bundles to maximize the streaming experience for all.

Here are some of the main contenders in this space in no particular order:

Netflix: The price increased for me this month. It was 12.99 but now it’s 13.90. “Sales tax” finally hit streaming. The governor must take her cut, too. Netflix, right now, has some decent content, but as the streaming wars continue, expect changes. AT&T (who owns WarnerMedia) will be jumping in the streaming game. This means they’ll pull shows like Friends and ER. Netflix paid AT&T $100 million dollars for the rights to stream Friends through the end of 2019.

Hulu:  Hulu itself is $5.99 a month. It’s trying to remain competitive. But, Hulu now has a Hulu + Live TV option for $44.99/month. This is what cable used to be. Hulu is owned by Disney who partnered it with other streaming services–Spotify now gives basic Hulu for free, and there’s a Disney Plus + Hulu upgrade available. This is smart. Hulu’s also had licenses pulled by content owners, and as more media companies start up streaming services (Warner/AT&T), this trend will continue.

Spotify is 9.99. It’s not only music streaming–it’s got most podcasts, too. And, Hulu Basic (commercials) is included with Spotify premium.

Amazon Prime: If you have Prime, you get Amazon Prime Video.  Amazon produces great original content, too. It’s a heavy hitter. One of my favorites: Mozart in the Jungle and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.  There isn’t an area Amazon isn’t set to take over, video included. Amazon has a ton of content, originals, and is producing more. It’s good stuff.  One bad thing about Amazon–I have a 12-year old who wants to watch stuff. In order to let him, I have to be logged into my account. Now that Amazon is deep into our wallets, that can be dangerous. 2. Amazon does have teen accounts when your kid gets there. You can put in your credit card or fund them with a gift card.

HBO: HBO started this madness. HBO used to be the channel my dad screamed about. “We are NOT watching “The Outsiders” AGAIN!” I remember how much I wanted to watch it over and over–before binge watching was invented. That’s why I’m so sensitive to my son’s movie obsessions. “Okay, you can watch all of Marvel again, but I’m reading.”  HBO changed direction, first with original comedy routines people subscribed to watch then original content when it was still highly experimental. And, it worked. Now, people subscribe just for a show like Game of Thrones or Silicon Valley. You can stream HBO for $14.99/month, no cable necessary.

Youtube: I have YouTube Premium, because who wants commercials? More and more I turn to YouTube for everything. It’s $12.99/month. This includes a subscription to YouTube music, which I just took for a test spin. So far, the experience, playlists, and whole flow is very much Spotify-esque except it’s mistaking me for a country music superfan since I gave an old Reba song a thumbs up. I’ll keep crafting the list and see if it makes it into the Gym Workout Hall of Fame. Family subscriptions: $18.99 a month.

Breaker. This is my favorite app for streaming podcasts. I was using Spotify but Breaker’s more pleasant to use. It’s free. The playlists, flow, and features work better than other podcast apps I’ve used. It’s social, so you can share playlists, and follow people, but I don’t. I just want to curate playlists, get good suggestions, and listen without losing my place if I have to hit pause or flip the phone to some other app. Breaker does all this. One feature I like–it remembers exactly where I left off, rewinds about 10 seconds so I can remember where I was, and has tons of playback speeds since I am one of those 1.5-2.x speed listeners.

iTunes: Apple has music, TV, and streaming, but I never used any of them. Occasionally I use iTunes for a podcast, but given a choice I go to another app instead. iTunes feels clunky and overwhelming to me. I have better choices. Years ago, I imported my old CDs into my iMac one by one and played them my iTunes library. No more, though. Even if I have the CD sitting right there, I can queue it up on a streaming service faster. CDs are glorified coasters. And I don’t need to double pay for music I can stream free elsewhere. Sure, there are specifics I can buy on iTunes, but why?  Apple is busy rolling out new features, segregating podcasts, and upgrading for just that reason.

Disney Plus: It’s $6.99/month. They pulled every license they ever owned to put it there. If you used to watch Disney shows and movies on other platforms, they’ve disappeared. You’ll need to subscribe to Disney. They know this and they’re undercutting Netflix and solo Hulu on purpose. They even have a Disney+Hulu+ESPN upgrade for $12.99.

Sling TV broadcasts the cable networks you know. It has three options, “Orange,” “Blue,” and “Orange and Blue” which in the art world makes… maybe… brown? Sling Orange and Blue have different channels, so you can choose the clusters you want, or mash them up and get both. If there’s a one-off channel you want you can get that one for $5 or $10 bucks or add a group of category channels: sports, movies, comedy, lifestyle–whatever you like. It’s basically like carving out a cable experience without the 700 channels you don’t watch. Prices range from $25-40/month with $5 and $10 upgrades.

Pandora: Pandora was the first streaming service I used. It was magic. It knew what I wanted to hear.  But, the downside is I got siloed into the same types of music and it repeated different versions quite often. so I got bored. Now, Pandora has channels, playlists, and a lot more features. There’s a fremium and subscription model. Regular Pandora ($4.99/mo) has commericals. Imagine a radio station with no DJs. Pandora Plus ($9.99/mo) has no commercials and you can listen to a few stations offline. Pandora Premium is more like Spotify where you can search and request specific songs, too, and create your playlist. There’s also a family version of Premium for $14.99 for up to 6 users.

Sirius XM Radio I’ve had both way back in the dark ages of car streaming. They were amazing. Then, Sirius and XM merged, and created online streaming. Originally, satellite radio was the coolest because I could pick the music, sports, or talk shows I wanted in my car, and there were no commercials.  Anyone who remembers car radios–I mean radios, with radio stations–knows this is a very big deal. A game changer.

These days, satellite radio is cool, but for $5 (basic) or $9 (premium) a year, why would I need this when I can just bluetooth my phone into my car and all that content’s ready to play over the speaker? Sirius knows this–they’re creating proprietary content, too, that you can’t hear anywhere else. And, because you probably aren’t driving cross country, you can stream it now, too.

Cable TV: It’s in trouble and fighting to stay relevant. Cable is losing content as media networks pull their shows, too. And, anyone 20 and below watches YouTube, not TV. Cable costs about a million dollars, and the channel lineup keeps changing in the content wars. Verizon Fios brought back The Weather Station this summer after a 4 year contract battle. I love The Weather Channel–but when I lost it, I went to their livestream on my computer instead. I could easily cut the cord and be done with cable forever.

Enough! Just tell me what I need, already!

We’ve got some tough decisions to make, especially if you’ve piled on streaming services five and ten bucks at a time. Now is the moment of truth. Can you get rid of the redundancy and save yourself a pile of dough?

I think you can. What do we really need?  To find out, do this.

Take a few days to a week and observe your household digital flow. Who watches what? Who watches what that has influence in the household? For example, my husband really values cable, and pointed out divorce is more expense than cable. Since he’s a ranking household adult, he matters.

The boy–he “values” too much. But given a direct choice, “Which would you prefer, Hulu, Netflix, or Disney,” he can easily make the call.

For me, I watch YouTube for work and personal. I don’t want commercials. More Gen-Z’s going to YouTube, too–as creators, consumers, and purchasers. This makes sense. I want a podcast app and a place to listen to music. The family wants to watch some movies. I’ve got at least three services that might not make the cut.

My wallet will be happy, and I suspect I’ll have more free time on my hands, too.

What can you cut out or cancel? And how much waste can you save?