“Cut the cord.” It sounds so freeing, doesn’t it? No more paying exorbitant fees for hundreds of channels you never watch. With streaming services, you can watch whatever, whenever, wherever. Pretty great, right?
There’s just one roadblock: Streaming services are complicated, far more complicated than cable ever was. It’s hard to find all the television you enjoy. Different networks have different relationships with different streaming services.
The easiest way to sort out what channels are available on which service is to use my handy chart. Click here for a comprehensive lineup of streaming services, including what channels they offer and don’t.
Getting the right hardware
To get streaming services, you need a streaming media gadget. Unless you already have this capability in your smart TV, there are two types of streaming gadgets: set-top boxes and HDMI sticks.
HDMI sticks are the size of USB drives and plug right into your TV. That means less clutter in your entertainment center and they’re also cheaper. Click here for a comparison of the Amazon Fire vs. Google Chromecast vs. Roku.
Set-top boxes include the Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and others. If you are wondering how these compare, click here for a comprehensive comparison chart of these streaming media players.
Finally, you’ll want to add an indoor or outdoor antenna to get free over-the-air programming. Click here for the best antennas you can buy right now.
Today, streaming services are the Wild West of televised entertainment, and companies are still experimenting with how to best serve customers. Assuming you want to save some pennies, how do you decide to spend your money?
Here is a simple and straightforward way to keep costs down and still get the programs you crave.
Figure out what you want to watch
This step is easy. What shows do you love? What kind of TV would it be impossible to live without? Put together a list of series you obsess over, and then record their corresponding channels.
For example, if you’ve been following “Game of Thrones,” and maybe you even hope to rewatch the series from beginning to end, you’ll want HBO. If you love “NCIS,” you’ll need access to CBS. As you’re putting together this list, be realistic. You may think you can live without “The Bachelorette,” and then you’ll feel nostalgic and kick yourself for losing ABC.
Find out which streaming services offer those channels
This is the hard part: Now that you have your channels, what streaming services are compatible? You’ll find that a lot of networks are available on multiple platforms, but some make it easier than others.
Comedy Central isn’t available at all on Hulu, YouTube, or PlayStation Vue, which is a real bummer for fans. You can get Comedy Central on Sling TV, but only through its “Orange” and “Blue” plans. You can also find it on DirecTV Now, but only with its “Live a Little” plan.
So, if your life would be meaningless without Fox News, you’ll want Hulu, YouTube, Sling TV, or Direct TV Now’s “Live a Little” plan. Again, my streaming services channel lineup chart will help you figure this out.
Find out how much they cost
Each of these services costs a certain amount of money, and it varies widely. For example, Sling Orange is the basic service, which costs $20, while Blue costs $25. PlayStation Vue costs $39.99 for Access, all the way up to $74.99 for Ultra.
Not included in the grid are Amazon Prime ($99 per year), or HBO Go ($15 per month), plus any number of other individual channels with their own apps and streaming abilities. Maybe you want to try DirecTV Now ($35 per month) plus access to Starz (an additional $8). Most services have premium versions and add-ons, depending on what you want to see.
Add it all up
Brace yourself, because the arithmetic may be hard to swallow. Suppose you take a handful of inexpensive service: You want basic DirecTV ($35), a monthly subscription to Amazon Prime Video ($8.99) and Boomerang ($4.99). You’re now paying nearly $50, and you suddenly realize you have no access to Showtime. No problem, because Amazon offers a Showtime subscription for an additional $8.99 a month.
But wait a minute! Your basic cable only cost $45 a month, and now you’re already paying more than that. Was cutting the cord even worth it?
Adding up the cost of all your services can be a sobering reality check, especially if you’re looking to save money on a cable subscription. Which ones do you really spend time with? Which ones are expendable? There are lots of economical combinations, but you may have to subscribe to different services in stages.
Trim away unused services
At some point, you will probably see everything on Netflix you want to see, and you’ll decide to cancel your subscription for a few months or even forever. Maybe an original series will come along, and you’ll want to bring Netflix back, but a lot of people get burnt out on one service or another.
This is especially true for high-end platforms like PlayStation Vue, which offer amazing packages but can cost as much, if not more than the cable provider that once tied you down.
I expect these services to make themselves even more flexible. Hulu lets you put your account on hold for up to 12 weeks, which can be handy if you’re going to be away or if you’re just waiting for the new episodes of your favorite show to arrive. Just be aware that Hulu will automatically restart your subscription once the hold expires.
We can hold out hope that one day there will be a simpler approach to streaming video services, but in the meantime, you can at least track down your favorite shows and movies and try to stay on top of which subscriptions you keep active.
Don’t forget sports
Subscribing to sports streams will add to your monthly expenses, so remember to budget them in. The streamed-sports phenomenon is also scattered and varied, so you’ll want to do your research. Luckily, I’ve done most of your homework for you.
How else can you use streaming media to the best advantage? Be sure to listen or download my podcasts, or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. From buying advice to digital life issues, click here for my free podcasts.