Cable TV vs. streaming: Which is better?


Fact Box

  • As of 2021, Netflix is the most popular digital streaming service, with over 200 million subscribers in over 180 different countries.
  • Twenty-seven percent of US adults are 'cord cutters,' meaning they used to have cable or satellite subscriptions but have since ended them in favor of streaming services.
  • The largest US cable television subscription provider in 2021 is Comcast, with nearly 19 million subscribers
  • The first use of cable television in the US was in 1948 when states like Arkansas, Oregon, and Pennsylvania utilized 'community antennas' connected to homes to combat poor over-the-air television reception. 

Samir (Cable TV)

Statista estimates that 4.23 billion people worldwide are TV users, which is roughly 54% of the global population. Since it is hard to dispute that watching TV is a favorite pastime for many folks, people often debate cable TV vs. streaming. But for reasons of dependability and convenience, cable TV comes out as the clear winner. 

Cable TV is more reliable than modern online streaming services because it is not dependent on internet connectivity. Since broadband is not treated as a public utility by the American Federal government, even in 2021, relying on internet service is a dealbreaker for many, making streaming a non-starter. According to one study, 'more than 42 million Americans do not have access to broadband--especially in rural areas.' Additionally, issues like buffering or bandwidth sharing in a big household also tip the scale against live streaming channels. Even inclement weather does not usually result in cable TV outages because signals are safely buried in underground cables. 

There's also the question of channel variety and content. found that providers offer up to 200-300 channels, while the best that a few live TV streaming services could do was 100 channels. More is always better!

Last but not least, cable TV is about convenience and familiarity. As Consumer Reports states, 'If you get TV and internet access from the same company, you'll get one bill for both services.' For a lot of people, especially senior citizens, this is enough. It is as simple as having a remote and flipping through channels until you find something you like. Streaming just can't compare to that ease. 

Perry (Streaming)

When cable first came out, it revolutionized everything. No longer were people restricted to whatever was playing at local cinemas--for the first time, people could choose what they wanted to watch. Then came commercials and expensive bundle packaging. Sure, there were niche channels that interested the viewer, but packages came at a high price and included other channels they weren't interested in. And despite premium prices, commercials were an annoyance that had people wondering what they were paying for.

Netflix came up with a simple idea: deliver to viewers the content they wanted to watch--an idea that would change how we consume media, despite Blockbuster's doubts. While initially a DVD delivery service, Netflix ushered in the age of streaming, and viewers have more control than ever over what they watch. And also more control of when and where they watch it, as streamed content can be taken anywhere on a device, no DVD player or cable box needed. 

Another important perk about streaming is the opportunity to binge-watch commercial-free content, which cable simply does not offer. And that content is more diverse and covers more niches than standard cable, too.

Streaming packages also have the advantage of cheaper price points based on monthly subscriptions--viewers are not tied to year-long bundles that package their internet and telephone together.

In 2019, a Deloitte digital media survey revealed that for the first time, more households subscribed to streaming services than to traditional TV and cable. Americans are catching on to the convenience, and unique, commercial-free content streaming provides for less money than cable. 

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