The idea of à la carte entertainment resonates with consumers. No one wants to pay for content they don't consume. That said, the race to adapt audio and video distribution models to trending consumer behavior is turning into a hot mess. How many streaming services are too many? And will consumers run out of money?
No matter what type of media consumer you are, there's a difference between paying $13.99 per month for Netflix and the thousands of dollars you will be paying per year when you add up all the streaming services you will probably want to subscribe to. And that doesn't even include the $40 to $300 or more per month you will have to spend on broadband access. Let's have a look at the various ways you might spend your streaming media dollars.
Movies, TV and video streaming services … oh, my!
The rise of video streaming services has given us a world of alternatives to traditional cable and satellite video providers. Whether you're a cord-cutter (ditching cable in favor of streaming services), a cord never (someone who's never paid a cable provider for monthly services), or a cord plus (someone who pays for cable plus services like Netflix or Hulu), you're likely paying for at least some of these services:
Netflix – $13.99/month ($10.99/month without 4K)
Hulu – $11.99/month ($9.99/month with ads)
Amazon Prime Video – $13/month (includes free shipping on Amazon purchases)
CBS All-Access – $9.99/month ($5.99/month with ads)
HBO Now – $14.99/month
Showtime Anytime – $10.99/month
Starz Play – $8.99/month
YouTube Premium – $11.99/month
What started out as an inexpensive way to replace trips to Blockbuster (or to keep you from buying DVDs) has turned into a battleground for your eyes and your wallet. And if you've got TV FOMO? Forget about it. Almost every service offers at least some awesome original content. We are lucky to be living in the Platinum Age of video storytelling. (Want to feel really overwhelmed? Scroll through Metacritic's list of premiere dates for new and returning shows, and try to keep track of how many networks are listed. It's astounding.)
I paid $99 for the first year of CBS All-Access, just to watch "Star Trek: Discovery." Is that a smart financial decision? No! Is it worth it? For me it is, because I am a die-hard "Star Trek" fan and "Discovery" is awesome.
What further complicates the issue is the ever-changing landscape of rights ownership. Want to binge "Parks & Recreation"? Better sign up for Netflix. Oh, it's on Hulu now? Better pay for that, too. Sure, you could buy the complete series on DVD for less than $50, but are you really going to get up from the couch and walk over to the DVD player 21 times to swap out the discs?
Something for everybody
Feel like your tastes aren't reflected in the services aimed at the masses? Don't worry. There are plenty of places that will take more of your hard-earned Hamiltons and fivers to satisfy your niche tastes:
FilmStruck (classic films and the Criterion Collection) – $11/month (or $99/year)
Shudder (horror films) – $4.99/month
Acorn TV (British TV and movies ) – $4.99/month
ESPN+ (sports) – $4.99/month (or $50/year)
Wait, there's more: Amazon alone offers dozens of add-on services. Not everything is available to stream, but chances are you can find it … and pay $9.99 per month for it.
Cable and satellite replacement
Further complicating video streaming decisions are all the companies vying for cord-cutters (and cord nevers). Don't want to pay Comcast or Fios? Any of these companies would be happy to take your money:
Hulu With Live TV – $39.99/month
Sling TV – Starting at $20/month
YouTube TV –$39.99/month
DirecTV Now – $35/month
PlayStation Vue – Up to $75/month
Fubo Extra (for more hardcore sports fans) – $50/month
Plex Pass (requires digital antenna) – $39.99/year
Start adding this up. The numbers get crazy big, crazy fast. You can easily double your existing cable or satellite bill.
Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, Pandora Plus …
Now let's have a look at the world of music streaming. The good news is that most artists can be found on just about every platform (especially since Taylor Swift reversed course last year and ditched her Apple Music–exclusive deal).
You may already be paying for Spotify. But if you have CarPlay, or if you've bought into the Apple ecosystem, you might have Apple Music instead (or you might have both). Oh, you want to hear that new Jay-Z album? You'd better hope you still have your free trial for Tidal; otherwise, that's another ten bucks per month.
Here are just a few ways to spend your music entertainment dollars:
Apple Music – $9.99/month ($14.99 for a family)
Spotify – $9.99/month ($14.99 for a family)
Tidal – $9.99/month
Love your Alexa? You probably have Amazon Music ($7.99/month)
Want ad-free "radio stations"? Check out Pandora Plus ($9.99/month, $14.99 for a family)
Love podcasts? You probably pay for Stitcher Premium ($34.99/year or $4.99/month)
Android fan? You might have YouTube Music Premium ($9.99/month, $11.99 w/video)
Deezer – $11.99/month
Sirius XM – $19.99/month
Slacker Radio – $9.99/month
It's just $9.99/month!
Good marketers will tell you that price is not the issue. Especially with a digital product. You simply put your service in market and test until you get an optimal match between consumer demand and the value you are offering.
Entertainment industry veterans will tell you that people will pay for entertainment, even in the most economically depressed times. In fact, some of the best years for the entertainment industry have been some of the worst years for the economy (in broad economic terms).
So even though there's no "new" money in the world and even though the adjusted household income for the average American family has not increased in over a decade, most people believe that consumers will find the cash they need to purchase the entertainment they want.
However, we've never had a less convenient (or more expensive) way to assemble our entertainment. Are there opportunities for meta-services? Yes. New kinds of curators and packagers? Yes. New bundles like cable or satellite? Um … yes. But won't that cost the same (or more) than cable or satellite video packages cost now? Probably, but—and this is a big but—assembling an on-demand, commercial-free, customized world of content will create the consumer experience that about half the population (and you know which half) will expect.
That's the opportunity, and that's the challenge. We'll just have to wait until everyone figures out a sustainable strategy for the direct-to-consumer content businesses. Stay logged in.