If you have a complicated relationship with your cable bill, then this week has been an exciting one. First, HBO made a long-awaited announcement on Wednesday that in 2015 it will start offering a stand-alone streaming service, one you could subscribe to without also paying TimeWarner Cable $90 a month. Then old, stodgy CBS announced its own subscription service, CBS All Access, costing $6 a month, offering live programming and seasons of old shows like “Cheers” and “Star Trek.” And Les Moonves, CEO of CBS, also promised that a similar offering for sister-network Showtime is on its way.
Goodbye cable packages, hello à la carte TV. Twenty-four percent of 18-34 year olds don’t pay for a cable subscription, according to ComScore. The other three-quarters won’t immediately cancel their subscriptions now that they can have unlimited episodes of “The Good Wife,” but the number of cord-cutters are expected to increase. Of course, we’re not yet at a point where we can get a personally designed cable lineup. (For what it’s worth, here’s what mine would be: FX, AMC, ABC Family, HBO, Showtime, Comedy Central, and MTV.) But if the prospect of being able to pick and choose which channels we pay for sounds liberating, it brings with it a different type of consumer nightmare—the tyranny of choice.
We don’t actually know that much about the HBO service yet—if shows will go online the night they air, if it will have all the same content as HBO Go, or how much it will cost (though educated guesses are around $15 a month, about the same price as HBO through a cable provider.) But once you start adding up all those subscriptions—Netflix, HBO, Showtime, whatever new options are to come—at a certain point it’ll get more expensive then your cable bill. So what’s a confused consumer to do? Are you ready for the future of television? Here’s a rough guide:
You’re a sports fan
Unless you enjoy heading to a sports bar anytime you want to watch a game, you’re still going to need to keep your cable subscription. CBS All Access won’t be streaming any football, and any networks that follow CBS’s lead will likely have similar obstacles with sports leagues. This is one of the few lucrative parts of the live programming business left, so change will come slowly.
Your favorite channels are HGTV and the Food Network
Netflix only has 25 episodes available of the 500-and-counting episodes of "House Hunters," so you'll want to stick with cable for now.
You watch "The Daily Show" and "Colbert Report"
If you don't mind getting the fake-news fix the next morning over breakfast, then cord-cutting won't be a problem.
You have kids
Netflix and Amazon have both invested heavily in their children's programming, and have enough old "SpongeBob" episodes to keep children busy for weeks. There's another benefit to giving up your cable: You don't have to worry about exposing your kids to ads.
You only watch fancy cable dramas
If your TV diet consists of “Game of Thrones,” “Orange is the New Black,” and “Masters of Sex,” you can probably cut the cord, and subscribe to HBO, Netflix, and whatever future Showtime service is heading our way. One warning though: the source of the next great TV show isn’t always predictable. When AMC premiered “Mad Men” in 2007, it was a channel exclusively devoted to classic (or “classic” movies). I never watched Sundance two years ago and it now airs some of television’s most daring and ambitious dramas. So be prepared to be the last of your friends to watch the next buzzy show.
You only watch "Transparent"
You have excellent taste, you never had cable anyway, and you're probably saving lots of money on your bulk paper towel orders. Well done!
All these choices sound really complicated and stressful
For now, Comcast or TimeWarner will still do the bundling for you. Proceed as usual.