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Tame Your Streaming Service Bills: How to Churn Subscriptions

There's a strategic way to stream your favorite TV shows and movies while saving money, and it's simpler than you think.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

When you stop and think about all the TV streaming services out there, do you ever consider which ones you don't watch each month? Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, HBO Max, Crunchyroll, Sling TV: Take your pick. You subscribe to one or more of these services, stream until your favorite series ends its season run, then look for the next thing to watch. But how many platforms are you signed up for? Is it worth keeping a subscription active if you're not actively watching anything on it? I don't think so.

Rotating streaming services on and off, by canceling a few each month, then resubscribing when they add a show you just can't miss, can help save you money in the short or long term. I like to call it strategic churning, and I've created a monthly streaming guide that advises you on which platform to keep or rotate out. It includes a list of the hottest content releases arriving each month on Netflix, Disney Plus, HBO Max and the other major streaming services. 

Here's a breakdown of the strategy and some tips on how to become a master churner.

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What exactly is churning for streaming TV?

At any given moment, streaming customers will drop a service after being signed up for a while. According to Deloitte's 2022 Media Trends report, the biggest reasons people cancel their streaming subscriptions are because of pricing and lack of fresh content. Media companies call this behavior "churn." Per Deloitte, the average churn rate in the US is 37% across the board for multiple paid platforms, and younger subscribers do it more often within a six-month period.

Streaming services know that certain titles will attract and retain subscribers as long as a series is in demand. The most obvious examples are hits like Netflix's Stranger Things 4 and Disney Plus' Obi-Wan Kenobi. Both are major releases, but once you've watched them you're on to the next, potentially on a different service.

If you cancel or pause subscriptions (or plan to) once these shows and movies have run their course this season, then you're churning. And if you plan it right you can maximize your streaming dollar and not waste it on paying for a service you're not watching.

Rather than let your streaming costs pile up, just choose the platforms with the available content you want to watch during a select period, whether it's live sports, a reality show, scripted TV series or a new movie like Doctor Strange 2, stream it, and then let the service go.

Obi-Wan Kenobi welds his blue lightsaber with defeated Stormtroopers in the background

Would you want to pay for two months of Disney Plus to see Obi-Wan, or binge all six episodes for the price of one month? 

Lucasfilm

Patience you must have, my young churner

For cord-cutters, leaving pricey cable packages behind in favor of streaming is a win for the wallet. Because we're able to sign up for monthly plans, it's easy to jump into a streaming service to watch and jump ship when costs rise or content dries up. Churning can help keep your budget in check on a monthly or yearly basis. 

The downside to this rotation method is that you need patience. As a churner, you won't have access to every show you want to watch immediately. You might have to wait a month or two. And since many streaming services release new episodes weekly, rather than all at once, you might not be caught up at the same time as your friends. If you're someone who prefers to watch episodes immediately when they drop, you may decide to have multiple subscriptions at a time. 

Read moreCredit Cards That Reward You for Watching Netflix, HBO Max and Disney Plus

If you can stand to wait, however, you can save some money. Let's say a hot title like Obi-Wan Kenobi or The Real Housewives is set to premiere on a service. Note the total episode count and wait until they're all available at once on a platform. You cancel your Disney Plus, HBO Max, or other service and then, once the episodes are available, re-subscribe to catch up on your faves. 

The strategy can also work if you have a live TV streaming service to keep up with a particular sport. Once the season wraps up, cancel the service and save big, or downsize to a cheaper live service with fewer channels like Sling TV.

Pro tips for becoming a master churner

  • Set calendar reminders for your billing cycle and upcoming TV show or movie release dates. Give yourself enough heads up to begin or end a subscription. Apps such as JustWatch, TV Time and Hobi help you track when and where TV shows and movies appear on a streaming service. 
  • Look for streaming service deals. For example, Starz is offering a special rate of $3 per month for six months, which is a significant savings when its regular rate is $9. You can also take advantage of the Disney Bundle, which provides access to Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN Plus in one package for a reduced price. And eligible Hulu subscribers can add on Disney Plus for $3.
  • Subscribe to one or two must-have services for the year, and select only one or two more options to fit your monthly budget. Rotate the bonus service(s) according to what you want to watch, ensuring you don't miss your favorite shows while sticking to your monthly spending cap.
  • Avoid annual subscriptions and pay attention to your auto-renewal payments. Your billing cycle can help determine when it's the best time to quit a service, even if you've only signed up for a free trial.
  • Pause, don't cancel. Hulu allows you to pause your subscription for up to 12 weeks, and Sling has a similar option with stipulations. Check with your streaming provider to see if you can take a temporary break without canceling.

Strategic churning is more work than just letting your subscriptions auto-renew every month, and it won't save you a ton of money in the short term, but over a few months or a year the savings can really add up. Give it a shot, and if you don't like it you can always re-subscribe. Churn, baby, churn.