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Subscription Overload: Are You Paying for Too Many Streaming Services?

By Daniel B. Kline - Feb 20, 2020 at 7:15AM

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Cutting the cord doesn't save you money if you buy too much a la carte.

Nearly three-quarters of all Americans (74%) paid for a subscription video on-Demand (SVOD) service in 2019, according to a survey by Leichtman Research Group. That's up from 64% in 2017 and 52% in 2015.

That makes sense because SVOD services like Netflix (NFLX 4.20%), Walt Disney's (DIS 2.56%) Hulu and Disney+, and Amazon (AMZN -0.71%) Prime cost much less than typical cable packages. The problem is that while one streaming service may offer lots of choices, it won't have everything.

A Netflix subscriber, for example, won't have any access to recent television shows, live sports, or trendy original content owned by other services. You may have more than enough entertainment available on one service to occupy your free time, but you may still feel deprived when you can't watch something others have access to.

The Netflix home page

Netflix has been an alternative to cable for many of its members. Image source: Getty Images.

Too much is never enough?

Ideally, consumers would cut the cord with cable and rotate through streaming services. Perhaps you pay for a live TV service like DISH Network's (DISH 2.71%) Sling TV and one other option (Netflix, Hulu, Prime, etc.) at a time. That would cost you roughly $40 per month depending upon your exact choices.

In most cases, that's a huge savings compared to the roughly $110 a month the average American pays for cable. The problem, of course, is that many cord-cutters can't stop adding new options and they don't rotate out services they rarely use. In fact, the average American household paid for 2.8 streaming services as of the third quarter of 2018, according to data from Statista.

That's still cheaper than cable but, in many cases, it may not be necessary. Paying for streaming services you don't watch often or at all is like keeping your gym membership because you plan to start going soon.

Streamline your streaming

If you live alone, it's easy to figure out which services you use and which you don't. In a household with multiple members, it makes sense to conduct a streaming audit. Keep a pad of paper next to each television and make a note of what you watch. You should also keep track of any viewing on phones, tablets, or any other devices.

Track everything for about a month and see how much each service you pay for gets used. You may find that every dollar you spend makes sense because some member of the family uses each service extensively. Or, you may find the opposite -- that you pay for something, maybe a few somethings, that don't get well used.

If you discover a service that may make sense to cut, talk with your family. Maybe they wanted Disney+ to watch The Mandalorian and now that that series has ended, you can drop that subscription until something else someone in your family wants to watch comes out.

That's perhaps the best thing about how most streaming subscriptions work. You can cancel them as needed and get them back with no penalties. That means that if you only pay for Netflix for a handful of shows, you can sign up, watch what you want to see, and then cancel.

By actively managing your streaming services you can save money. You may not feel the need to do that since you're already saving by dropping cable, but who doesn't want to have more discretionary income? Plan a little, examine what you watch, and rotate as needed. You'll still get to watch everything you want, but you will waste less money doing so.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Daniel B. Kline owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon, Netflix, and Walt Disney and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $60 calls on Walt Disney and short April 2020 $135 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Netflix, Inc. Stock Quote
Netflix, Inc.
$236.31 (4.20%) $9.53
The Walt Disney Company Stock Quote
The Walt Disney Company
$109.36 (2.56%) $2.73, Inc. Stock Quote, Inc.
$139.80 (-0.71%) $-1.00
DISH Network Corporation Stock Quote
DISH Network Corporation
$19.72 (2.71%) $0.52

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