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If you’re anything like me, you’re starting to drown in a sea of streaming services, struggling to keep up with the shows and movies you want—at a price that won’t sink your budget.
Recently, we’ve seen that services designed to replicate traditional TV packages—FuboTV, Hulu + Live TV, and YouTube TV—have been steadily hiking their prices, with most now costing $50 per month or more.
What if you’re prepared to pay only half that? Can you still find a compelling assortment of content complete with local broadcasts?
Believe it or not, the answer is yes.
With the launch of several new streaming plans, including NBCUniversal’s Peacock just last month, we decided to see if we could assemble a TV plan on an ultratight budget of $25 per month. While the package we created—CBS All Access, a Disney+ bundle, and Peacock—might not fit every need, it does deliver a surprisingly robust assortment of broadcast channels, cable networks, movies, and original shows.
Because people tend to add Netflix and/or Amazon Prime to other streaming plans, we took both out of the equation for this article. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to subscribe to them. In the meantime, here are three services that provide a wealth of content options for $25 per month or less.
CBS All Access
Let’s start with CBS All Access, which was ahead of the curve when it launched in 2014, because it seems like a no-brainer for sports fans.
The service has a deal to show all the NFL games on CBS’ schedule through 2022, plus Super Bowl LV, NCAA basketball, and PGA golf, including the Masters and the PGA Championship.
If you can live with a few advertisements, All Access costs only $6 per month, and unlike Peacock’s free tier of service, it gives you access to exclusive original content, plus a wide range of movies and shows from the “Star Trek” series. And, thanks to the recent remerger of CBS and Viacom, it just introduced more than 3,500 episodes from BET, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, Paramount, the Smithsonian Channel, and other jointly owned properties.
With the Viacom tie-in, All Access now has a lot more movies, too, including 100-plus films from the Paramount library, home of “The Godfather.”
In addition to “Star Trek: Picard,” “The Good Fight,” and a reboot of “The Twilight Zone” from actor-director Jordan Peele, the roster of original series will soon include new Star Trek options and the limited-event series “The Stand,” based on the best-selling Steven King novel.
And next year will see the arrival of two “Spongebob Squarepants” properties: “Kamp Koral,” an original children’s series, and “The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run.”
The company is working on a whole new service with some 30,000 episodes and movies, plus original content from Paramount, too. No word yet on how much that will cost.
All Access is available on Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, and Roku streaming players; Android and Apple iOS smartphones and tablets; LG, Samsung, and Vizio smart TVs; and PlayStation and Xbox game consoles.
Total cost: With CBS All Access on board, we’ve now spent $6 of our $25 budget, leaving $19.
Given the assortment of high-powered entertainment brands under the Disney umbrella, it’s no surprise that we’re adding Disney+ next. At $7 per month—or $70 annually—the service is a must-have for 50-million-plus subscribers, and that’s before adding the recent surge from those who signed up just to watch the exclusive broadcast of “Hamilton.”
Here’s why: Disney owns Lucasfilm (the “Star Wars” franchise), Marvel Studios (“The Avengers,” “Black Panther”), and Pixar (“Toy Story,” “Up”). The recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox gives it 20th Century Studios (“The Simpsons”) and the lion’s share of National Geographic, too.
In the next month or two, the Disney+ service will add the live-action Disney movie “Magic Camp”; the unscripted series “Muppets Now”; a new original movie, “The One and Only Ivan,” starring Angelina Jolie and Bryan Cranston; a new Phineas and Ferb movie; and “Howard,” a documentary about legendary Disney lyricist Howard Ashman.
Other original series—such as “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” and “WandaVision,” both from the Marvel Cinematic Universe—have had production delays because of the coronavirus pandemic, but they’re slated to arrive in December.
While Disney+ is pretty compelling on its own, we decided to splurge on the bundle plan, adding Hulu and ESPN+ to the service for just $13 per month.
Hulu—now wholly owned by Disney—fills a pretty big content hole with fare from popular broadcast and cable channels. Some shows can be watched in real time, but most are available either one day or one week later. That’s a good way to get programming from ABC, AMC, Bravo, Big Ten Network, CBS, E, ESPN, Fox, Fox Sports, FX, NBC, NFL Network, Oxygen, PBS, Syfy, and USA Network.
It also gives you a nice assortment of classic TV shows (“30 Rock” and “Seinfeld,” at least until next summer), Hulu originals (“The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Little Fires Everywhere”), and exclusive access to films such as “A Quiet Place” and “Parasite.”
ESPN+ adds sports to the mix, everything from major-league baseball to college football and basketball, hockey, soccer, and UFC fights. You also get access to documentaries such as the “30 for 30” series.
Disney+ is available on most streaming players; Android, LG, Roku, and Samsung smart TVs; Android and iOS smartphones and tablets; game consoles; and web browsers.
Total cost: With CBS All Access and the Disney bundle, we’ve now spent $19 of our $25 monthly budget; that doesn’t leave much money for a third service.
Ad-Supported Peacock Premium
Peacock, which launched nationally in mid-July, is a great way to round out the package with NBC shows and Universal movies.
Unlike the services above, it offers a free ad-supported tier, in addition to two paid tiers ($5 per month with ads, $10 without) featuring more robust content options.
The free tier gives you access to about two-thirds of Peacock’s 20,000-title library of movies, classic shows, news, sports, kids programming and Spanish-language offerings. NBC’s current-season broadcasts are also available one week after they air.
But we think it’s worth spending $5 per month for the ad-supported paid tier. To start, you get next-day access to those NBC shows. Better yet, you get the full complement of programming from NBCUniversal’s properties: Bravo, Syfy, Telemundo, USA Network, and Universal Studios.
Peacock is also licensing shows from ABC, A&E, and Fox, and days before it launched, it signed a deal with ViacomCBS to add content from CBS, Paramount, Showtime, and Viacom. It already has deals for movies from Blumhouse, DreamWorks, Focus Features, Illumination, Universal Pictures, and Warner Bros.
Peacock’s original programming is a third great reason to subscribe to a Premium plan; free-tier subscribers get only a sample program or two. The service launched with nine series, including “Brave New World,” “Psych 2: Lassie Come Home,” and “The Capture.” Four additional titles, including “Departure,” about a plane that disappears after takeoff, and “Hitmen,” about, well, a pair of hit men, are slated to arrive in August or September. However, some other shows announced for this year have been bumped to 2021 because of pandemic-related production delays.
For sports fans, Peacock will stream 2020 to 2021 Premier League soccer games, coverage of the Olympics and Paralympics, a Sunday NFL wild card game, golf tournaments (the U.S. Open, U.S. Women’s Open, and Ryder Cup), and the Tour de France.
Peacock doesn’t yet have deals with the two biggest streaming platforms: Amazon Fire TV and Roku. But it is available on Comcast’s Xfinity X1 cable service; Apple TV and Chromecast streaming players; Android, LG, and Vizio smart TVs; Android and iOS phones and tablets; and Microsoft Xbox One and Sony PS4 game consoles.
Total cost: By adding Peacock to our plan at $5 per month, we’ve raised the total to $24, leaving you with an extra buck for popcorn.
So How Did We Do?
In the end, we proved it’s not impossible to get a fully featured TV plan for less than $25 per month. In fact, if Peacock Free meets your needs, you can dip below $20 per month.
Either way, you get a pretty compelling assortment of broadcast TV, cable fare, movies, sports, and live events.
And don’t forget that you can supplement everything here with
the classic TV shows and movies offered by free ad-supported streaming services such as Pluto TV, Tubi, and Xumo.
You can also use an antenna (or Locast) to increase your local broadcast options.
Got cord-cutting tips of your own? We’d love to hear what you’re doing to tame your monthly TV bill. Let us know in the comments below!
Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2020, Consumer Reports, Inc.
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