Talking tech since 2003

Cord-cutting has become an increasingly-popular practice in the past couple of years. A down economy combined with the high costs of cable TV packages has left many scrambling for lower-cost alternatives. Thanks to subscription services like Hulu Plus, as well as offerings from Apple, Amazon, and other companies, there are ways to stay current with the latest episodes of your favorite shows without cable. But do these services deliver more value than cable, and, if so, which is the most cost-effective?

Join me as I lay out my own viewing habits and crunch the numbers.

I narrowed my viewing down to five shows that I enjoy enough to pay for (and I realize that listing them opens me up to severe judgment). These shows are: American Horror Story, How I Met Your Mother, The League, Once Upon a Time, and The Walking Dead. The networks in play for these particular shows: ABC, AMC, CBS, and FX. This means that, in order to watch to my favorite shows, I’ll need a setup that gives me access to content from all of those networks.

Hulu Plus, while a steal at $7.99 a month (in my opinion), doesn’t have a deal with CBS for current-season content. This means no How I Met Your Mother. Hulu Plus also lacks full episodes of American Horror Story, The League, and The Walking Dead. Subscribing to Hulu Plus would still offer a savings for episodes of Once Upon a Time, but the commercials are a bit of a turn-off, and I don’t want the hassle of canceling and resubscribing every season for one show. For me, Hulu Plus just isn’t the answer.

Amazon and Apple both offer a large library of shows with subscription options for each season. Apple’s is called a “Season Pass,” and Amazon’s is called a “TV Pass.” In Apple’s case, the company offers a pretty substantial discount for a Season Pass, likely due to the fact that the entire amount is collected upfront. Subscribing to Amazon’s TV Pass isn’t that much different than buying an episode separately; you can cancel at any time, and you’re charged individually for each episode as soon as it becomes available. Amazon’s flexibility comes with a cost, however: for American Horror Story, a Season Pass costs $31.99. To purchase all of the season’s expected episodes (13) with an Amazon TV Pass, the cost works out to $36.92. A season of 13 episodes is kind of short, so let’s try this with another show: How I Met Your Mother. Season 8 is expected to have 24 episodes, and a Season Pass from Apple is priced at $49.99. The same show purchased with Amazon’s TV Pass works out to $68.16. Ouch.

Here’s a run-down of all the shows I watch with Season Pass/TV Pass pricing from Apple and Amazon.

American Horror Story
Apple: $31.99
Amazon: $36.92

How I Met Your Mother
Apple: $49.99
Amazon: $68.16

The League
Apple: $31.99
Amazon: $36.92

Once Upon a Time
Apple: $39.99
Amazon: $62.48

The Walking Dead
Apple: $42.99
Amazon: $45.44

A little more math; if I were to subscribe to all of these shows through Apple, I’d end up paying $196.95. Through Amazon, the price for the same content would be $249.92. Assuming that’s all I watch in a year, that’s not a whole lot of money, especially when you consider that a Comcast Digital Starter package would run me $66.65 per month. And, by the way, that’s without an HD box and DVR service, which would tack on an extra $15 a month. Even paying for basic cable over the course of 12 months would cost nearly $120, and that is without access to networks like AMC and FX, and without the ability to go back and watch programming anytime you want.

Of course, your mileage may vary depending on the number of shows you watch. If you spend 30 hours in front of the TV every month, you’ll either need to spend more on Season/TV Passes, or cut back on your viewing habits. You’ll also need to learn how to be patient. You’ll have to wait until the day after a show airs for the episode to become available, so if next-day water cooler talk about a particular show is something you can’t miss out on, cord-cutting may not be the best move for you.

I think it goes without saying, though, that cord-cutting finally looks feasible for those who still want to watch the latest and greatest that TV has to offer without needing a subscription to cable.

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