Streaming vs. Cable: Which One Saves You More Money?
Battle of the Budget: As streaming prices climb, you may be wondering if it's better to stick to cable. We do the math.
Kourtnee JacksonSenior Editor
Kourtnee covers TV streaming services and home entertainment news and reviews at CNET. She previously worked as an entertainment reporter at Showbiz Cheat Sheet where she wrote about film, television, music, celebrities, and streaming platforms.
ExpertiseKourtnee is a longtime cord-cutter who's subscribed to streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, HBO Max, Crunchyroll, Sling, Spotify and more. As a real-life user of these services, she tracks the latest developments in streaming, the newest reCredentials
Though Kourtnee hasn't won any journalism awards yet, she's been a Netflix streaming subscriber since 2012 and knows the magic of its hidden codes.
Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.
ExpertiseTy has worked for radio, print, and online publications, and has been writing about home entertainment since 2004. He majored in Cinema Studies when studying at RMIT. He is an avid record collector and streaming music enthusiast.Credentials
Ty was nominated for Best New Journalist at the Australian IT Journalism awards, but he has only ever won one thing. As a youth, he was awarded a free session for the photography studio at a local supermarket.
Streaming customers are in an era of paid sharing, where major platforms like Netflix and soon, Disney Plus, are charging extra – yet optional -- fees if you decide to share your account with someone outside your household. Ad-based plans, sports add-ons and price hikes are affecting our streaming subscription decisions. Given the changes that are seemingly hitting both streaming services and cable each year, you could be mulling what's the best fit.
Maybe you've switched to exclusively to streaming and have forgotten what cable or satellite TV truly costs. Or perhaps you've been with Xfinity or Spectrum forever because you're accustomed to your bundle price. Either way, are you getting the best value for your money?
With its contracts and fees, cable TV is nowhere near cheap. The alternative is a suite of streaming services, but paying for multiple subscriptions -- or even a live TV streaming service like DirecTV Stream -- could also rival your cable bill. According to a 2023 report from Leichtman Research Group, 83% of US households have at least one streaming service, with over 50% of us subscribing to four or more.
These days, you can sever the cord completely and solely use streaming services like Hulu, Disney Plus or YouTube TV. You can also keep satellite or cable TV as your main dish while subscribing to a couple of streaming platforms on the side. There's also the option to watch 100% of what you want on cable TV only.
To compare the price savings between streaming and cable, we started with monthly cable costs across a handful of US cities. While streaming service pricing is the same no matter where you live, we crunched numbers for major cable companies in New York, San Francisco, Houston, Atlanta, Kansas and Michigan. Here's what we found using a representative provider from each city.
Monthly cable cost in 6 sample US cities*
Basic TV + internet
Premium TV + internet
Grantville, Kansas (Cox)
Staten Island, New York (Fios)
Kalamazoo, Michigan (Spectrum)
San Francisco (Xfinity)
*plus taxes and fees, rate may require automatic billing
If those numbers seem low at first sniff, that's because they don't include taxes and fees, which make up a significant part of monthly costs for cable. They differ based on location, equipment and service type (like regional sports networks), so it wasn't possible to accurately include them in the prices above. Additionally, we made these calculations using rates for basic internet, which ranges from 200 Mbps to 400 Mbps for most cities featured this graph.
In our research however, we found taxes and fees can add between $30 and $50 to the monthly charge. Xfinity, for example, charges fees for broadcast TV (up to $25 per month) and regional sports (up to $19) and $5 for each additional Flex TV box. Verizon Fios charges for boxes ($6 each) and DVR service (another $12 and up) but doesn't charge a broadcast TV fee. Spectrum charges monthly for broadcast TV (around $23), a box and remote ($12.50) and DVR service (another $5 and up). Cox and DirecTV/AT&T charge similar fees, and with every provider local taxes will vary.
The tables above reflect the average cost after any promotional one-year or two-year pricing expires. Pricing also excludes discounts for autopay and paperless billing, which is typically $10 across the board. Competition in metropolitan areas like New York can drive prices down versus places such as Kalamazoo, Michigan or rural Kansas, so you may be spending a little more or less based on what's available.
Be aware that most internet plans available today should be fast enough to stream Netflix, even in 4K quality. The "slowest" budget plan we saw was 25Mbps (AT&T), but Netflix recommends a minimum of 5Mbps for 1080p or 15Mbps to get 4K. This means even the most basic connection should work fine if you only need to stream to one TV at a time. If you have a larger household, then a 50Mbps or even 100Mbps plan should be sufficient, and we found that most budget plans offered this.
Streaming only, without live TV, is the cheapest
The cheapest option? Get the least expensive internet plan you can and subscribe to Netflix, Disney Plus, Max and Hulu -- separately or all together -- and skip live TV. If you prefer other platforms such as Apple TV Plus ($10 a month), Peacock ($6 per month with ads) or Starz ($10), substitute them below.
Monthly streaming service costs compared
Basic with ads
If you want the basic versions of all four services listed above, the total would amount to $33 per month. Getting the basic Disney bundle for $10 a month can save you a total of $6 for Disney Plus and Hulu. But add in the average cost of internet service ($70), and you'd pay $97 or $100 per month. That's $44 less than the average cost of basic TV and internet ($144 from the table above), excluding cable's extra fees.
Want live TV? Streaming is still (usually) cheaper
If you want to have the cable TV experience without the fees and contracts, then live TV streaming is the next best thing. These services can offer a program guide, DVR and most of the familiar channels you're used to with cable. They cost more than on-demand services like Netflix, however.
For the chart below we compared the average cable TV costs from the six cities above -- excluding extra monthly fees for taxes, equipment, etc. -- to those of the best live TV streaming services.
Cable vs. live TV streaming costs
Basic TV package
Total (Live TV + internet)
$144 (excludes fees, taxes)
Hulu Plus Live TV
DirecTV Stream (with RSNs)
You can immediately see that paying for internet alone is roughly the same price as a live TV streaming service such as Hulu with Live TV or YouTube TV, which raised its price by $8 to $73 a month. If you pay $70 per month for internet and $77 for Hulu Live TV, that's a total of $147. Stick with the cheaper Sling TV, which has a decent amount of cable channels, and the price drops to $110. You should also note that live services from Hulu and YouTube TV include unlimited DVR and don't charge extra.
You may be able to find a customizable cable/internet bundle that costs between $105 and $125, or a cheaply priced standalone internet service. But as we mentioned above, once you factor in taxes and extra fees, live TV streaming usually comes out cheaper.
Some sports fans might actually save with cable
The final line in the chart above shows the cost of DirecTV Stream with internet actually costing more than cable, and that's not a misprint. That service costs $109 per month for the Choice package, which includes regional sports networks, aka RSNs. These are networks that carry the majority of the NBA basketball, NHL hockey and (during the spring and summer) MLB baseball games for their local team. These RSNs are usually included in local cable packages, so most cable subscribers never have to worry about gaining access to the broadcasts on these channels.
Because of rights agreements, most live TV streaming services like YouTube TV or Hulu with Live TV don't carry many RSNs. DirecTV Stream is the exception. It has nearly every RSN, particularly the Bally Sports channels (formerly Fox Sports) offered by Sinclair, but you'll need to spring for the $100 plan. Another alternative is Bally's Plus, a $20-per-month option that offers access to numerous RSNs, but you'd still need another live TV service to follow national games as well as NFL football.
Ultimately, depending on your location, getting a cable subscription that includes sports channels like ESPN, FS1, TNT and the local RSN, as well as local CBS, Fox and NBC stations for the NFL, might actually be cheaper and easier than streaming.
What are the benefits of a cable or satellite TV subscription?
Access to local news, live sports and network shows while they air is a trade-off some viewers aren't willing to budge on. Streaming services offer some but not all of these options. Another benefit is you can save a few bucks if you bundle all your services with a phone plan. Providers like Verizon and AT&T offer additional discounts.
What are the pros of switching to a TV streaming service?
While streaming prices continue to increase, there are no taxes or hidden costs. You also don't have to worry about fees for leasing equipment, contracts (unless you do an annual plan) or waiting (or paying) for the cable guy to come out for repairs or installation. You have the option to go commercial-free, and you're not spending money on a bunch of channels you don't want or watch. What else? Because you pay as you go on a monthly basis, there are no penalty fees for early cancellation and deactivation. You can watch content on demand with the ability to split costs for your account by sharing passwords. And that's all without a credit check.
We realize prices of on-demand services are increasing, and we've outlined those changes below, but costs can be marginal compared to what you'd pay for cable or satellite service.
Which is the best for you?
If you want to save money, then the best thing to do is subscribe to the cheapest internet subscription you can and get a Netflix and/or Hulu subscription. You're done. However, if you find you would miss live TV, then the cheapest option is adding Sling TV to that. Yet, even signing up for Hulu Plus Live TV and internet will cost less than a premium cable subscription and yield a similar number of channels. Not to mention the copious amount of on-demand content Hulu includes -- which now also incorporates Disney Plus and ESPN Plus.
Unless you're a sports fan who needs a local RSN or cares about streaming lag, the main potential downside to cutting the cord is one of convenience -- especially if you're a channel flipper -- as you'll now need to navigate apps rather than use the channel buttons on your remote. If you're happy with your cable subscription then you may not need to even worry about cutting the cord, and saving money may be as easy as cutting out some of the packages you don't use. You could always supplement it with a Hulu, Disney Plus or Netflix subscription too.