In his review of the new CBS streaming-only show, "The Good Fight," NPR's TV guy David Bianculli praised the Christine Baranski vehicle but was concerned about the cost of it. If you want to watch the new show, you have to sign up for CBS' new streaming service, which is $5.99 a month for limited commercials or $9.99 a month for the show sans ads. He wrote:
"As a TV viewer with an already ultra-high monthly cable and satellite bill, I'm not happy about that. I am happy about the quality of The Good Fight — it's better than any other new drama CBS presented this season. But after this weekend, you have to pay to get it. If this is TV's future, it's not going to be cheap."
He's not the first TV critic to complain about the price of streaming services, but what people who watch TV for a living don't seem to understand is that the pay-as-you-go model is a much better bargain for the rest of us.
A digital antenna and a few specific subscriptions
In my area of California, basic cable is, to my mind, a complete ripoff at well over $50 on its own, so we never got it. In fact, I've never had cable in my adult life, even when I lived in New York and Connecticut, because it has always been wildly expensive in terms of the amount of use I gotten from it.
Here's my current setup and why it works for me: A 12-year-old TV with new-fashioned rabbit ears (a digital antenna) allows me free local news and programming. Personally I only ever watch the local PBS station, but my partner catches national sports games broadcast on ABC, CBS, NBC and the like.
In addition, we have Netflix, at $10 a month, Amazon Prime — which includes free shipping and other bonuses outside TV, but let's call that $7 a month — and Acorn (British programming), which is $6 a month. We watch two or three movies a month via iTunes. All told, that's about $30 a month. We tried Hulu but found there weren't many shows to our liking, and that it was more TV than we could even consume.
Because really, how much TV can one really watch? My partner and I are hardly TV-averse: We usually watch a program every evening (sometimes two) or a movie. My partner follows football, which he finds on network TV, and streaming apps (which he occasionally pays separately for) and I got so obsessed with "The OA" on Netflix that I watched it through twice, got fan-theory obsessed and was named an "enterprising Redditor" for my sleuthing. So yeah, I love great TV and am not ashamed to admit it. But I definitely feel like I get my fill.
So when it comes to paying $6 or $10 more per month for a streaming site for a show we really want to see and enjoy, we are still way, way ahead of anyone with a hefty monthly cable bill. I love the new a la carte world of programming, because it has saved me thousands of dollars over the years, and I watch more of what I want and less of what I don't. (And when I'm feeling tight on cash one month, I can choose not to pay for anything extra, rather than being locked into an expensive package I can't change.)
Commercials eat up time — and time is valuable
Besides money, I save time — because all those commercial breaks add up. I can easily get sucked into a completely wasted hour of channel-surfing, but with a narrower set of shows to watch, that doesn't happen. And with few/no commercials, I'm not tempted to surf anywhere anyway. My cable-free system forces me to be more mindful about my watching.
The older I get, the more valuable my time is to me, and the idea of watching commercials at this point makes me a little crazy. I would rather pay $4 extra to avoid commercials, saving my time and my patience. (Plus I buy almost none of the products advertised on TV since I tend to buy from small makers online, or locally in my community. Big brands are entirely absent from my home and pantry, and I would like to keep it that way.)
I'm genuinely thrilled to have the choice to opt out of commercials, and I'd far rather pay a few bucks directly to the company making the shows — ala the Netflix model — than sit through advertisements for stuff I'll never buy.
The only downside to my TV-watching ways is that are a few shows that I don't get to watch right away on HBO and Showtime, but they almost always show up in quick order on one of the streaming sites, and often are available for individual purchase on iTunes or other pay-as-you-go services. (For the record, I've only ever streamed one show illegally, and that's "Outlander." I would have happily paid for it, but Starz didn't offer that option its first season.)
We are living not only in peak TV time, but in cheap TV time, too. The fact that it's happening at the same time is hardly a coincidence.