Streaming TV Costs Add Up as Americans Add More Services

Americans are doffing their masks and venturing out again as Covid-19 cases subside and vaccinations rise. But among the many vestiges of the long national lockdown is one that media companies are betting will stay with us for a long time—bigger streaming-TV bills.

U.S. consumers turned to Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max and others like never before during the height of the pandemic, stuck indoors and starving for novelty (and something to distract their kids). Several services, including Peacock and Discovery+, launched in the middle of it all. A new survey conducted for Bloomberg by Corus shows that people are subscribing to more services than they were a year ago—and their budgets have gone up, too.

This is great news for media companies such as Walt Disney Co. and Discovery Inc., which are completely revamping their businesses on bets that consumers want to assemble their own bundles of entertainment services rather than rely on the one-size-fits-all cable model. ViacomCBS Inc. has said consumers will eventually have five or more streaming subscriptions, up from three or four right now. The Corus survey shows the company may be onto something (except with the always contrarian Gen X).

As more media companies reinvent themselves as streaming providers, competition is heating up. The Corus survey reflects growing interest in new services such as Discovery+, Paramount+ and HBO Max, and some slippage among industry leaders such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+. With so many platforms offering original, exclusive shows and first-run movies, media companies have to maintain a constant barrage of buzzy new material or risk falling off the radar.

All that new competition should worry Netflix, but the company still has plenty of reasons to be confident. Its service was by far the most likely to get included in respondents’ bundles. And it’s still more popular than many peers with younger viewers, including millennials and Gen Z, meaning it’s building loyalty with demographics who have increasing spending power and consume media in different ways than older viewers.

To squeeze themselves into household budgets, more and more streaming services are offering ad-supported versions for a lower monthly fee. HBO Max has one in the offing, and Peacock and Paramount+ are among the others. Streaming with ads appears to still be anathema for younger viewers, who were willing to pay more to watch without commercials. Gen X and baby boomers appear to place less value on getting their shows ad-free.

As consumers add to their streaming budgets, they’re increasingly likely to cut the cord with traditional cable. The Corus survey shows plenty of younger viewers have done that, but even graying Gen Xers and baby boomers are starting to drop their pay-TV services in greater numbers.

All the new options in streaming are making it more complicated than ever for consumers, who have to wade through different programming libraries and keep track of monthly payments just to watch the shows they like.

To show how your own streaming costs are rising, or give you a sense of how much you might want to spend in the future, we worked with programming data provider JustWatch to develop a bundle builder tool. Enter your favorite shows, and we’ll do the grunt work for you. You’ll see which services offer your favorite programs and how much they cost altogether.