Pay TV vs Streaming: Pros and cons
Are you thinking of cutting the cord and moving from pay TV to streaming entertainment? Let's compare these two delivery platforms.
Whether it's being delivered to your living room via a dedicated cable or siphoned from the Internet in a glorious stream of 1s and 0s, the fact is that we're living in the golden age of television. You can access almost anything that your heart desires from a near 100-year-old library of entertainment. Not to mention the best new content, which arrives daily.
Advancements in Internet infrastructure, most notably through the NBN or wireless technologies like 4G and 5G, have put global streaming services such as Netflix and Disney+ into the grasp of most average Australians. These streaming services have set their sights on local providers that have cornered the market for decades via pay TV.
So, the question now is not whether you can watch it, but how you should watch it. It's cable TV vs streaming video on demand (SVOD). So what are the pros and cons of each?
What is pay TV?
Pay TV, also known as cable TV, is the old dog in this fight. These services have been patrolling the block since the days when having the Internet at home made you the coolest kid on the street. They've got an established brand and a foothold in many homes across the country.
While international markets have dozens of providers battling for consumer dollars, the Australian market is more condensed. The biggest player for decades has been Foxtel. It only became bigger when, in 2012, it acquired one of its competitors, Austar. Its current biggest rival in the pay TV world is Fetch TV.
Cable TV works as its name suggests. Content is delivered to your home via a dedicated cable, wired into your home by a professional and connected to a set-top box beneath your TV. The box acts to decode the programming so it can be viewed, and no Internet is required to get the viewing experience, although nowadays, some components of cable TV are reliant on the Internet.
Cable TV was born from an era when the Internet simply didn't have the capacity to handle video content at a decent resolution. The cable provides a dedicated pipeline between the broadcaster and your home TV. Because the content is arriving on your device, it's locally held at your home, which is why you can do things like watch live channels or record.
What is streaming video on demand (SVOD)?
Streaming video on demand, also known as SVOD or streaming TV, is the fresh-faced puppy. It's younger, more agile and active and it has a louder bark, but it can also be prone to error.
It has developed from a world where Internet connections are fast enough to handle high resolution video content. Therefore, there's no need for a cable connected to your home fitted by a technician. Instead, these services just use your regular Internet service, be it home or mobile broadband, Wi-Fi or ethernet.
Streaming works differently from pay TV. With streaming, you never have any more of the content in your home than what you are watching at any given second. The content resides "in the cloud", which is another way of saying that it's on the hard drive of the service provider. You then stream that content from their hard drive to your device, with the data downloading, displaying and then deleting as fast as you can watch it.
The idea of it being "on demand" refers to the fact that you're not held to watching whatever the live channel is showing. You can search for, then watch, whatever content you want from the service's available library.
The range of SVOD services available to Australians is currently exploding. While Netflix will always be known as the first major provider to find a foothold, a look at our detailed Internet TV comparison page will unearth more than a dozen quality services.
The biggest other names include BINGE, Disney+, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime Video, Stan, Foxtel Now 10 All Access and Kayo Sports. Each offers its own exclusive and original content, as well as vast libraries of fan favourites. BINGE and Kayo Sports have even burrowed deeper into the domain of pay TV by offering live channels as well as on-demand content.
Pros and cons of pay TV
- As new technologies arrive, pay TV can handle them without a problem. Think the latest resolution video (4K and soon 8K) and audio (Dolby Atmos).
- Generally, pay TV is more stable, as your connection is not at the mercy of Internet service provider networks.
- No lag or buffering.
- Great for homes in neighbourhoods with low network speeds or small data plans.
- Allows for local recording of programs on a hard drive for later use.
- Can be used to purchase pay-per-view events like boxing, UFC and wrestling bouts.
- There are bundle offers with other services, such as Internet and telephone.
- Live channels make content discovery easier.
- Requires invasive installation of hardware into your home.
- Costs substantially more per month.
- Puts you on a fixed contract.
- Accessibility is restricted to your home and some mobile devices.
- Gating of the best content behind confusing price bundles.
- One profile per account.
Pros and cons of streaming TV
- Most services still offer 4K and Dolby Atmos on higher price tiers.
- Much more affordable.
- No contracts and often free trials make it very flexible.
- You get access to all the content no matter what price tier you're on.
- Accessible on more devices.
- Can set up multiple profiles.
- Easy to family share on multiple devices.
- Watch whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you are.
- You can afford multiple services, allowing you to cater to your specific household needs directly.
- Available content can be restricted to the service's own catalogue.
- Requires decent and stable Internet connection to work.
- Lag and buffering can occur at peak times.
- Can consume a lot of data, especially on mobile.
- You can find yourself scrolling through endless carousels stuck trying to make a choice.
- Depending on your device and the age of the service, you may come across bugs.
Pay TV vs Streaming verdict: Which is best for you?
For many years, the cons of streaming TV – in particular, the reliance on fast, stable Internet – were prominent enough that cable TV remained in the conversation. For those who live in areas with poor Internet stability, that may still be the case.
But the reality is, the vast areas of poor Internet coverage that once covered Australia have been whittled down to small pockets. Most people now have the connection requirements to handle SVOD services with ease. Despite the strengths of pay TV then, the sheer price difference and bang for your buck thar you get with Internet TV makes pay TV hard to justify.
As a result, pay TV relevance is dwindling through the community. It's now mostly tiered towards older Australians who don't want the choice or the flexibility of SVOD and have the finances to pay for the more expensive service. For everyone else, streaming TV is the future. There will be no keeping this young dog down.
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