Overview of U.S. Television Options
As the number of households in the United States that own televisions continues to grow, so does the use of TV streaming services. In 2016, approximately 95% of households owned at least one television, and each of these households spent, on average, $103/month on cable TV or $1,236 for the year. Although cable TV remains the most popular form of streaming television, there are more viable options showing up every day. Below you will find a breakdown of the top ten major ways to purchase and watch television in the United States, as well as the associated costs and required hardware for each method.
Although many people probably assume this method to be outdated, antennas permit viewers to watch free, broadcast television channels without paying a dime in monthly fees. As of 2007, all TVs produced have digital tuners in them, as required by law, so that antennas can capture and stream live television channels directly through the TV. In 2016, 19 of the 20 top TV shows were aired on the free broadcast channels that can be captured by an antenna, making this option increasingly persuasive. All that is required is for the viewer to purchase an antenna, which ranges in costs from $8-$80. However, most people claim that the cheaper antennas work just as well as the pricey ones.
Even though this turns out to be the most expensive method of watching television in the long-run, cable TV is the most popular form of watching television in the U.S. In 2016, the breakdown by age group of people who utilized cable TV as their primary source for watching television was as follows:
Ages 18-36: 46%
Ages 37-48: 48%
Ages 49-67: 55%
Ages 68 and up: 63%
On average, this turns out to be that 54% of the total population in the U.S. uses cable TV to watch television. In order to utilize cable TV, subscribers must choose a service provider, through which they most often obtain a coaxial cable to connect the cable-wired, set-top box/descrambler to their TVs. The box and descrambler are also provided by the service provider. In the case that the service is to be split across multiple televisions, then a power-splitter is also necessary to split the service between the televisions.
Satellite TV is a service that provides broadcast and paid television to households with a satellite dish. In 2016, satellite TV ranked very closely in popularity with Netflix as the main method of watching television in the United States. The breakdown by age group of people who utilized satellite TV as their primary source for watching television in 2016 was as follows:
Ages 18-36: 16%
Ages 37-48: 30%
Ages 49-67: 28%
Ages 68 and up: 25%
Households who opt for satellite TV as their main source for watching television must first choose a service provider, such as DirectTV or Dish Network. Upon doing so, the provider will install, for free, the satellite dish, receiver, and all necessary wiring, as well as provide remote controls. Costs vary depending on the service provider and channels chosen.
Netflix has become increasingly popular as the main method for watching television in the United States, especially as cable TV becomes more expensive. In 2016, the breakdown by age group of people who utilized satellite TV as their primary source for watching television in 2016 was as follows:
Ages 18-36: 43%
Ages 37-48: 31%
Ages 49-67: 21%
Ages 68 and up: 13%
Those that subscribe to Netflix simply must have access to the internet, whether that be in or out of the household. Netflix can be watched anywhere and anytime, for as low as $8.99 a month across two platforms (two TVs, two mobile devices, one TV and one mobile device, etc.). Additionally, some Smart TVs come with Netflix already installed as an application, and all that is needed is an in-home Wi-Fi system to connect to the TV and stream videos and movies instantly.
Amazon Prime Instant Video
Amazon Prime Instant Video is a method for anyone that has access to the internet to instantly stream TV episodes and movies from their computers or mobile devices. While there are some videos available that are free, users that opt to pay either $8.99/month or $99/year for Amazon Prime have access to a greater array of videos to stream. Users can also purchase an HDMI cord to connect their computers to a television, and stream videos on their TVs at their own leisure. In 2016, the breakdown by age group of people who utilized Amazon Prime as their primary source for watching television was as follows:
Ages 18-36: 17%
Ages 37-48: 15%
Ages 49-67: 10%
Ages 68 and up: 6%
Hulu Plus is another online method of streaming TV series and movies online through a mobile device or computer. Households or individuals that opt for this method of watching television must simply have access to a computer or mobile device, and then be willing to pay $7.99/month. Just like broadcast television, Hulu Plus does have commercials in between episodes or movies. However, for a few extra dollars a month, subscribers can opt for no commercials in their streaming experiences. The breakdown by age group of people who utilized Hulu Plus as their primary source for watching television in 2016 was as follows:
Ages 18-36: 8%
Ages 37-48: 5%
Ages 49-67: 3%
Ages 68 and up: 1%
DirectTV Now is an online streaming service offered by AT&T, but anyone, even someone that doesn't use AT&T as their service provider for cellphone network, can utilize this streaming service. Only access to the internet through a computer or mobile device is required. DirectTV Now starts at $35/month for their "Live a Little" package, but users who have the AT&T wireless unlimited Plus and Choice plans for their wireless networks can get this streaming service for only $10/month. TV shows and videos that are available through DirectTV Now can be streamed through other devices, such as Apple TV, iOS devices, Android devices, Amazon Fire TV, and Google Chromecast.
YouTube TV is becoming a more popular way of streaming online television channels for cheap. Subscribers to this method only need to have access to the internet, whether that be through a computer or mobile device. At only $35/month, users can stream three different television channels at once, and can even DVR channels and shows to watch later on through personal clouds. YouTube TV offers all major cable TV channels, in addition to free videos and movies for subscribers.
Sling TV is considered to be the closest streaming method to cable TV. The basic package is only $20/month and includes unlimited access to around 30 channels. However, users can also opt to pay for specific channels and TV series instead, what the provider calls "a la carte" service. DVR is included in the basic package for subscribers to stream and save shows to watch later on. Users can watch Sling TV across mobile devices and computers with an internet connection, but also can choose to buy a small modem with a remote to hook up to their TVs directly.
Streaming Devices such as a Roku or Amazon Fire Stick are other viable ways to stream the services listed above, such as Sling TV or Netflix, or even direct channels such as HBO or Starz. There is a wide range of devices that can handle these processes, but below are the four most popular types of devices for streaming:
There are five different types of Rokus currently on the market, each of which offers a few extra capabilities than its predecessor: the Roku 4, Roku Premiere, Roku Ultra, Roku Express, Roku Stick. Each of these methods requires users to purchase a small modem box or stick (in the case of the Roku Stick), that plugs in directly to the television and comes with its own remote control. From there, users can use streaming apps such as Netflix to watch TV on their own television sets. The modems with included apps range in prices from $29-$121, but there are no additional fees after the one-time purchase.
AMAZON FIRE TV & FIRE STICK
Amazon Fire TV comes with a slim box and remote control upon purchase, which plug directly into the TV to stream television from. The box runs over the internet, either through an Ethernet cord or Wi-Fi connection. The Fire Stick requires a Wi-Fi connection to operate. Prices start at $40 for the Fire Stick and $90 for Fire TV. Users can then watch any content from Amazon Prime, and can also stream certain channels and use streaming apps such as Netflix to watch television shows and movies.
The Google Chromecast device is a plug-in device that works in conjunction with mobile devices or computers. No remotes or modems are required for this device, as content is streamed directly from the computer or mobile device to a television. Starting at $35.99 for the device, users plug the Chromecast into the television, and then login to a streaming site such as Netflix from their phones or computers. From there, the shows/channels are mirrored onto the TV that the device is connected to. Amazon Prime is not compatible with the Google Chromecast.
Apple TV is a method of watching television that is compatible with Apple Airplay and iOS devices. Upon purchasing for $149-$199, a small modem and remote are included that plug into a television and connect to the internet either through an Ethernet cord or Wi-Fi connection. From there, users can project content from iTunes onto the TV, or can also use streaming apps such as Netflix to watch television shows and movies directly on their TVs.
The options that are available for watching television in the United States are wide and ever-growing. There is no "best option" out there, as the method that is best for one household or individual depends entirely on how much one is willing to pay, and what type of content they want to have access to. For users that want a wider array of channels available immediately and prefer to stay up-to-date on TV series, cable or satellite TV are likely the best options. However, for users that want to subscribe and watch content at their own leisure, streaming apps such as Netflix or devices such as the Roku or Amazon Fire may prove to be more applicable.