Do live TV streaming services make cord cutting worth the effort?

Streaming live TV services are definitely seeing a heyday right now with more pay TV channels allowing smaller companies to add content to their programs. Sling TV, Hulu with Live TV, Playstation Vue, Direct TV Now, and the upcoming YouTube TV all offer no fewer than 40 channels, and some of them have a lot more. Cutting the cord and going cable-free is more of a viable option for people than ever before.

But when you take into account discounts offered by internet providers when you subscribe to a package deal, as well as the time and effort it takes to find your ideal live TV streaming package — plus figuring out how to use it on all of your devices — it can also feel like cutting the cord may not be worth the cost and effort.

I've been a cord-cutter my entire adult life, but in researching live TV streaming services, I've spoken to a lot of friends and family members that all have different opinions about whether leaving cable behind is worth considering.

The cost

Hulu with Live TV

Hulu with Live TV on Apple TV (Image credit: iMore)


One of the biggest arguments against cutting the cord is cost. If you subscribe to a package deal — cable, internet, and phone — you can keep the cost of all three of them down. Cable costs can be as low as $50 when combined with other provider subscriptions. This doesn't always take into account fees, taxes, and equipment rentals, but the price is lower than if you were to subscribe to cable as a stand-alone service.

Streaming live TV services can add up. Some offer add-ons to packages, which can increase the monthly cost to as much, or even more than a typical cable bill. Even Sling TV, which has the least expensive starting tier, can get out of hand if you add on all the extra channel packages.

The decision to replace cable for streaming live TV services becomes harder when the cost to stick with cable is only slightly more than (or just about) the cost of switching.

One major reason friends I've spoken to give for why they would leave cable is they don't need all of those extra channels. But, if you end up paying slightly less money for 50 channels, versus about 200 channels, aren't you getting a better deal for the price?

This is where a true à la carte option would make a difference. If it were possible to select 10 or 15 channels that you want, and pay only a couple of dollars for each, the cost difference would be worth cutting cable. Right now, I'm not sure it's worth it for people that get the benefit of a package deal with cable, internet, and phone.

On the other hand, you do have more options and customizations with the content you choose to pay for with streaming live TV services than you do with cable, and you can keep the costs way down. For example, if you subscribe to DirectTV Now and have an Unlimited data plan, you're essentially paying about $10 per month for 60 channels. Sling TV's lowest tier package only costs $20, and even if you add on a few channel packages, most of them only cost $5 per month, so you're still coming in significantly lower than a cable subscription.

There is also a large portion of the population that don't have the option to combine cable TV with internet and phone services, and are therefore not getting any kind of discounted price. Switching from cable to a streaming live TV service is a definite money saver in these cases.

The time


Researching different streaming live TV services can be daunting. Although they mostly offer the same content, with some exceptions, each one has different packages with different price ranges, and different sports and regional content.

Once you finally decide on a streaming live TV service, you then have to take the time to figure out how to use all of the features available to you. And, what if you end up not liking one service and decide to try a different one. There is a lot of time spent just making the transition.

Plus, the further away you are from what's considered "tech savvy" the more time consuming learning a new way to digest entertainment becomes. It could be downright exhausting for someone that doesn't understand the difference between cable and streaming live TV (Subtle hint: Don't convince your parents to make the switch unless you're willing to move back in with them until they figure out how to use this dang thing].

On the other hand, the initial time it takes you to research the right streaming live TV service is a small price to pay in order to get something that suits you perfectly. I know I'd rather spend hours going to different stores, trying on outfits, until I find the perfect fit, than just grabbing something off the rack without trying it on and hope it's not too tight in the waist.

The effort

Sling TV

Switching from cable to streaming live TV can be time-consuming, but it can also take greater effort to use the latter than to just stick with the status quo.

A friend I spoke with noted that she is able to pay her cable and internet bill together instead of separately. Another friend commented on how easy it is to get support help from his cable provider if something goes wrong. There aren't different apps or different support channels to go through.

Streaming live TV services come in the form of apps that you download on various devices across different platforms. If Playstation Vue stops working on Apple TV, even though it works just fine on your PS4, who do you call for help?

You might think there is little-to-no setup involved in switching to a streaming live TV service, but you have to take into account the different devices you have to download the app to and then sign in to. Let's not even talk about app updates or having to change your account password.

You may not have to set up equipment or have someone install a dish to your roof, but there is more effort that you might realize in setting up a streaming live TV service.

However, once you've set everything up, the convenience of having a streaming live TV service can be better than cable. For example, you don't have to download 10 different apps, and then sign in to each of them, in order to watch all of your favorite shows across different channels. Everything is in one app with one interface. It's much easier to use after the initial setup.

So, is it worth it?

HBO on iPhone

HBO Go content in the Apple TV app (Image credit: iMore)

This question is unanswerable because everyone has a different need and comfort level for change and technology. However, if you're thinking about cutting the cord, here are a few things to consider.

Are you concerned with cost? If your biggest priority is saving a few bucks, then switching from cable to one of the lower-tiered streaming live TV services will make a noticeable difference in your budget. Just don't go overboard with add-ons or you'll be right back where you started.

Do you care most about channel variety? If you want all the basic pay TV channels you can possibly get, you're probably not going to end up saving any money by switching from cable. It isn't really worth the effort when you have to sign up and order packages and add-ons, just to end up paying close to (or as much as) you're already paying right now. Stick with what you've got.

Are you tech savvy? If you know your way around an iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV (or your preferred set-top box), ditching the dusty old cable box for a start-up that is looking to the future is definitely an upgrade when it comes to your experience. The user interface of streaming live TV services are just better than those of cable counterparts.

Are you decidedly not tech savvy? If you're the type of person that calls up your son or daughter whenever you can't figure out how to upgrade your iPhone's operating system, you shouldn't mess with streaming live TV services. You have that clicker and that box, and that's all you need. Old dog, new tricks, etc., etc..

Have you never subscribed to cable?

If you're a dedicated cord cutter who either severed ties with cable years ago or have never paid for cable, then streaming live TV services are not for you. You've probably already figured out how to access everything you want to watch for free or very little money, and if you can't get it, you've learned to live without it. Paying for streaming live TV is more like "cable lite" and less like true cord cutting.

Your thoughts?

Are you thinking about cutting the cord? What are some of your concerns with leaving cable behind? Have you already cut the cord? What's your media entertainment replacement? Let's talk about it in the comments.

Lory Gil

Lory is a renaissance woman, writing news, reviews, and how-to guides for iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books.  If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).