TV a la carte can add up quickly, but the flexibility is taking a bite out of the old pay-TV bundle.
I miss the communal excitement of appointment-television where you and your friends are tuned in to the same cultural event at the same time. The Wizard of Oz used to be an annual watch party that kept everyone at home one night a year to travel the Yellow Brick Road. Aside from the Super Bowl or maybe the Game of Thrones finale, there are few TV events these days that people feel they need to watch at the same time everyone else does.
Friday, July 3, will be like appointment-television in the cord-cutter age when the hardest ticket in town hits Disney+. Okay, so most people won’t set their watches to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to catch Hamiltonwhen it drops at 3 a.m. EDT on the Disney subscription streaming TV service (though they may do it at midnight in La-La Land). Even I won’t, and I’ve been dutifully dropping my name into the Hamilton lottery since the musical premiered on Broadway in 2015.
But a lot of us will be glued to our screens Friday night to catch the hip-hop musical story of Alexander Hamilton. It’ll be a big-time mood lifter for a pandemic-stressed population that has only recently been allowed to venture out into the world again for dining and haircuts. Broadway theaters and cinemas are largely still on pause due to social distancing, which was why the folks at Disney decided to release the TV version of the rapping musical 15 months early.
The perpetually sold-out Hamilton is sure to bring a boatload of new subscribers to the $6.99-per-month Disney+ streaming video service. Those who aren’t already getting the service for free through Disney promos will likely be happy to pay $7 to watch the 11-Tony winner — and get a month full of other programming to boot.
Social media will light up with commentary, people who haven’t already will add Lin-Manuel Miranda’s soundtrack to their Spotify account. When the Hamilton hoopla is over, some subscribers will continue and others will figure they got their $6.99 worth and move on.
That’s the beauty of the cord-cutting age. We’re no longer owned by a pay-TV provider who locks us into a package of channels, most of which we don’t watch. I have a year to go on my Fios contract, and after that, I’ll pick and choose which add-ons I want. I’ve always preferred an a la cartemenu to prix fixe, and these days, there’s a lot of good stuff to nosh on.
Verizon still owns us for internet, though, and now even they’re down with the streaming thing. These days they’re pitching “internet and TV your way” and “no more annual contracts” for the Fios service. They throw in a year free of Disney+ for select plans. They’re also pitching Google’s YouTubeTV at $50 per year with “no set top box required.”
What great times these are with a flurry of new streaming apps dishing up some top-notch original content (come back soon, Mrs. Maisel!) and classic favorites. Apple TV+ ($5/month) and Disney+ ($7/month), launched last fall, giving us The Morning Show and all the Star Wars and Disney movies we can eat.
It’s starting to get crowded out there as media companies want a share of the pie. NBCUniversal is launching free and premium versions of its streaming service, Peacock, July 15. That’s at a regular price of $50, but $30 for a year if you pre-order.
HBO joined the subscription VOD streaming party last month with HBO Max, a $14.99/month offering with high-elevation pricing. Whenever I got HBO in the old days through cable, I never found enough to watch each month to justify the price. HBO Max includes the full HBO library, and Friends, so that shouldn’t be an issue — if we decide ponying up $15 a month is worth it when there’s so much other video content out there. It might not be.
As it stands now, HBO Max isn’t that appealing to us. HBO parent TurnerMedia hasn’t come to terms with Roku and Amazon so consumers on those platforms can’t get Max. We watch our streaming channels through a Roku player to have all our apps in one place. If we got HBO Max, we would have to watch it on a PC, a phone, tablet or through the Android TV platform on our Sony TV. That’s the kind of input-switching dance we wanted to avoid by centralizing all our streaming channels through Roku.
And, my penny-pincher side is starting to twitch at the thought of paying for all these premium streaming video services. Our household has been riding Apple TV+ and Disney+ for free since late fall via promotions for 1) buying a new iPhone and 2) having a Verizon Fios plan. Those freebies will end soon; we’re not going to pay for both of them.
Bundles are starting to pop up to make multiple subscription buys from one provider more attractive. Verizon is offering two premium movie channels for $25/month if you add HBO Max — or, 3 for $30 or all five premium video services for $40 a month. Yeah, no. We watch TV maybe 3 hours a night. There’s just so much you can consume in a 21-hour TV week.
Disney has the content to deal. You can pay the $7 per month for Disney+ — likely worth it on its own for households with kids — or you can get Disney-owned ESPN+ and Hulu, too, for $12.99 a month.
There used to be a saying that cable TV had “hundreds of channels and nothing to watch,” a commentary on the lack of interesting programming. Today, there’s great stuff to watch all over. The question is how much you’re willing to pay.
Cord-cutting may have disrupted pay-TV as we knew it, but you still have to pay the man, and it adds up. Consumers are feeling the pinch. A Q1 TiVo report says 21% of pay-TV subscribers and 11% of broadband-only customers axed a subscription VOD service within the past six months.
For now, I have all the video content I want — and can afford. I’ll pick and choose, sign up and cancel services as they fit. Just don’t bother me Friday: I have an appointment “in the room where it happens.”