Growing up as a millennial or older Gen Z, cable was seen as the ultimate form of TV entertainment. Returning from school or work just in time for your favorite show or game had you excited. Families built family time around sitcoms, game shows and games – and it seemed like TV was the ultimate form of entertainment – until streaming TV was introduced with on demand and live TV streaming. Now, several people are more excited at the prospect of being able to watch their favorite movies and shows whenever they want to. A recent report revealed that 56% of Americans use cable or satellite while 69% now subscribe to a streaming service.
Understanding the Terms
Cable TV broadcasts video and audio content through networks that carry signals from distribution antennas to the devices of subscribers. Streaming TV, on the other hand, uses the internet to transmit data in the form of audio and video content to televisions, computers and other mobile devices. The content available on streaming platforms are usually in the form of on demand and live TV streams. On Demand streams are content that have been pre-recorded and are available to watch at your convenience or schedule. Live TV streams, on the other hand, are transmitted to viewers in real time as the events occur.
From these descriptions, it is clear that what is required to access the content on both platforms are different. After cable TV is set up, usually through a decoder or other device to receive signals, all that is required is a TV. For streaming services, on the other hand, no special set up process is required. All that is required is good internet and a streaming device.
Cable TV v. Streaming
One of the most hilarious commercials in recent times that illustrates the competition between cable and streaming services is Hulu + Live TV’s. The commercial features Chloe Bailey, who cries and hugs a male auditioner after he reveals that he had been using Cable all his life. She then whispers to him to use Hulu + Live TV instead.
The reaction to the commercial was expected – with many laughing at the obvious jab at Cable TV.
The message of the commercial is clear, “Cable TV looks at the less cool option”. But before we can reach a reasoned stance on this, a comparison on the offerings of both services would be helpful.
Offerings: When it comes to offerings, Cable TV has more diverse topics in its bouquet, with a broader range of channels, shows and listings. Subscribers are allowed to curate their experiences and enjoy content on their interest areas – including politics, religion, sports, lifestyle and science – and content types. Content on streaming platforms are significantly more limited to movies, documentaries and shows. This is, however, not to imply that its offerings are inadequate – because they are often more than enough.
Pricing: Cable TV costs significantly more than streaming. Even though some might argue that there are cable tiers that cost less than streaming, the value that is provided by cheaper packages are typically meagre. Getting the best out of cable TV would then usually require you to pay for medium or premium packages that cost more than the average streaming plan.
In a 2018 report from the Federal Communications Commission, the average amount for basic cable service is $25.40 per month while an expanded basic service costs $71.37 per month. The average streaming service is much less. A combination of Netflix Premium and Disney+, for example, cost $22.98.
In addition to the subscription cost, setting up cable TV and getting a good DVR box, will shoot up the cost.
The analysis that streaming services are cheap might not always be true. Streaming services are made available to the end user over the internet. This means that users are required to purchase data to stream video and audio content of their choice. Depending on how much data you consume, you might increase your streaming costs significantly.
Access: One major perk of using streaming service is that you can access all of its content easily and on the go, without spending money setting up a TV in rooms (or wherever video content is to be consumed). Cable providers are also making their content more accessible by offering dedicated apps for watching videos on mobile devices.
On another note, streaming services are generally uniform within the country they are to be consumed. The only usual draw back in terms of access is the number of devices that can be used for screaming concurrently.
Cable TV would usually have its offerings customized across regions, with some having access to channels and content that others do not.
Reliability: Cable is generally more reliable in their services, unlike streaming providers that rely heavily on the availability of decent and sufficient internet networks – and this is not always guaranteed.
In contrast, cable TV is more reliable because signal transmission is not done over the internet.
It’s Up to You
Deciding on which of the services to subscribe to is ultimately up to you. You can decide based on the kind of content you prefer, subjects you are interested in, your budget, the devices you have at your disposal and which you would serve you best.