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More TV streaming options makes ditching cable easier and harder than ever

Aaron Aupperlee
| Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, 11:50 p.m.
FILE - This May 30, 2007 file photo shows a cable box on top of a television in Philadelphia. Cord cutters rejoiced last week after HBO and CBS announced plans to sell stand-alone streaming services, a move that cable and satellite television providers have resisted for years. But cutting the cord won’t mean cutting out your cable provider, and some would-be customers may balk when they see just how much paying a la carte actually costs. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
FILE - This May 30, 2007 file photo shows a cable box on top of a television in Philadelphia. Cord cutters rejoiced last week after HBO and CBS announced plans to sell stand-alone streaming services, a move that cable and satellite television providers have resisted for years. But cutting the cord won’t mean cutting out your cable provider, and some would-be customers may balk when they see just how much paying a la carte actually costs. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
FILE - This Saturday, June 27, 2015, file photo, shows the Hulu logo on a window at the Milk Studios space in New York, where a replica of the 'Seinfeld' set was on display. Some television companies are balking as more people watch shows online, and may start delaying the release of shows to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. These studios fear that the success of streaming services might lead more households to cut back or drop cable TV services. It also comes as online services have been dabbling in creating their own television shows. (AP Photo/Dan Goodman, File)
FILE - This Saturday, June 27, 2015, file photo, shows the Hulu logo on a window at the Milk Studios space in New York, where a replica of the 'Seinfeld' set was on display. Some television companies are balking as more people watch shows online, and may start delaying the release of shows to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. These studios fear that the success of streaming services might lead more households to cut back or drop cable TV services. It also comes as online services have been dabbling in creating their own television shows. (AP Photo/Dan Goodman, File)
Joe Clayton, president and CEO of Dish Network, introduces the Sling TV, a live television streaming service, at a news conference at the International CES, Monday, Jan. 5, 2015, in Las Vegas. Standout features in many of the TV sets out this year will be more useful for streaming Internet video than watching broadcast or cable channels. In addition, satellite TV provider Dish Network Corp. will offer a package of channels, including ESPN and CNN, for delivery entirely over the Internet, starting at $20 a month. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Joe Clayton, president and CEO of Dish Network, introduces the Sling TV, a live television streaming service, at a news conference at the International CES, Monday, Jan. 5, 2015, in Las Vegas. Standout features in many of the TV sets out this year will be more useful for streaming Internet video than watching broadcast or cable channels. In addition, satellite TV provider Dish Network Corp. will offer a package of channels, including ESPN and CNN, for delivery entirely over the Internet, starting at $20 a month. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, file photo, YouTube CEO Susan Wojicki speaks during the introduction of YouTube TV at YouTube Space LA in Los Angeles. Google’s online package of about 40 television channels debuts on Wednesday, April 5, 2017, in the tech industry’s latest bid to get cable-shunning millennials to pay for television. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)
FILE - In this Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, file photo, YouTube CEO Susan Wojicki speaks during the introduction of YouTube TV at YouTube Space LA in Los Angeles. Google’s online package of about 40 television channels debuts on Wednesday, April 5, 2017, in the tech industry’s latest bid to get cable-shunning millennials to pay for television. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

It's easier than ever to cut the cord and ditch traditional cable television in favor of online streaming services.

But deciding on what service may be harder than ever.

From Netflix to Hulu to YouTube to PlayStation, the marketplace of online streaming television services has become increasingly crowded in recent years.

"There's a lot of new information to process when it comes to cutting the cord," said John Brillhart, founder and CEO of Cable Alternatives in Minneapolis and a self-described "cord cutting consultant." Netflix on Thursday announced it was upping the cost of its most popular packages only a dollar or two but the seemingly nominal increase made waves in an industry where savvy customers look for the TV shows, movies, sports and channels they want at the lowest price.

Traditional streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime have been around for years. Relatively new to the scene, however, is a gaggle of services that offer popular cable channels like HGTV, Bravo, ESPN, Disney and others streamed live over the internet. No cable plan is required, just a fast internet connection.

YouTube, Hulu and PlayStation all launched live television streaming products this year. DirecTV added a live streaming service last year and satellite competitor Dish Network launched its Sling TV in 2015. A streaming service tailored for sports, FuboTV, launched this year. Comcast, Disney and others have announced plans to offer their own streaming services.

Prices range from $20 a month for Sling TV's basic package to $40 for PlayStation Vue's basic offerings. From there, the sky is the limit with price increases for premium and sport channel add-ons, higher quality video and access on more than one device.

The tech website CNet published a comprehensive channel-by-channel guide to streaming services available here .

M Science, a research firm that tracks the streaming and television markets, broke down pricing, number of channels and options in a chart published in its June report.

Corey Barrett, a senior analyst at M Science, said live TV streaming services are popular with millennials and people he called "cord nevers," folks that have never had a cable package. For the most part, however, the services haven't won over traditional cable users.

"We haven't reached this inflection point where people in mass are cutting the cord," Barrett said. "But, we're definitely approaching a point where those services are no longer additive. They will become more cannibalistic."

Live TV streaming services will eventually cut into the traditional cable revenue but not yet, Barrett said. Plus, cord cutters, for the most part, need a cord from companies like Comcast and Charter for high-speed internet. Comcast and Charter are further insulated from live TV streaming services by their ability to compete on price through bundles and other offers, Barrett said.

Dish Network, which only offers television, was losing a million subscribers a year, Barrett said. Comcast and Charter aren't seeing those loses.

"At some point it will become disruptive to Comcast and Charter as well," Barrett said.

Price is the main driver when people decide to cut the cord, both Barrett and Brillhart said. Those perceived savings may disappear with the increased cost of high-speed internet service and streaming services and add ons.

Brian Barrett, a writer for Wired, mused in an August story about cutting the cord :

"But paying $70 to quit cable feels like smoking a pack of Parliaments to quit Marlboro Lights."

Brillhart said you save money over cable, perhaps as much as $100 a month, if you're smart about what you choose.

"The objective when you're cutting the cord is to get what you want and not necessarily reassemble your cable package," Brillhart said.

Brillhart, who talks to his customers about their TV habits before suggesting different streaming options for them, offered a few things to keep in mind when deciding whether to cut the cord and what to choose.

1) Keep an open mind. You probably won't miss the channels you don't get as much as you'd think and will find new channels and programs to fill those holes.

2) Prioritize. You should talk to everyone in your household and make a list of what you watch and how important it is.

3) Research. Information on all the streaming services in online. Check them out and try them out. Most services offer free trials and unlike cable, you can cancel anytime.

Brillhart said some people are afraid they will lose out on the buffet of channels and programs offered by cable. He said to think of streaming as a personal chef, ready to prepare whatever you want.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at aaupperlee@tribweb.com, 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.

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