Netflix for $12.99 a month, Disney+ for $70, Hulu with no ads for $11.99, and then add on HBO for $14.99 … wait, how much is this all costing?
Welcome to the next phase of the streaming wars, where some of the biggest companies in tech and media are fighting for your attention and your subscription dollars. With the launch earlier this month of Apple’s /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL +0.0000% streaming service and then, last week, Walt Disney Co.’s /zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite DIS -0.73% Disney+, never before have there been so many services, together offering a deluge of content, a surfeit of bundles and countless add-ons. But, for most people, there’s only so much money in the household entertainment budget.
Before things get out of hand, let’s take time to look at the costs behind the services and do the hard math.
If you are planning to load up on new services, take a moment to consider what the mounting costs of your streaming subscriptions will mean over the long term.
Our calculator adds up the costs over your “lifetime” (or however many years you choose to enter in), assuming you were to make your selection or selections and stay the course, absorbing projected price increases. It then factors in an opportunity cost to get at a “true” cost — that is, not just how much you spent but how much money you lost out on by not investing those funds in the stock market instead. We set the rate of return to calculate that figure at a conservative 6%, lower than the S&P 500 index’s /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +0.45% historical average of 10% annually, but more in line with what some experts, including Warren Buffett, say investors should expect, factoring in inflation and anomalies, over the years.
The calculator also allows you to plug in your monthly cable bill, if you have yet to cut the cord, to see how those costs compare, and add up over time.
As our calculator shows, the perhaps impulsive addition of just one service to your budget can snowball into a hefty outlay over a hypothetical half-century horizon, particularly when you’re looking at that “true” lifetime cost.
Take someone paying for Netflix’s /zigman2/quotes/202353025/composite NFLX -1.80% standard subscription and Hulu, with no add-ons. That person is looking at a monthly bill of $18.98, and a lifetime aggregate cost of $19,264. Factor in the opportunity cost — as represented by how much money could have been made investing that same money in the S&P 500 over those years — and the lifetime cost balloons to $87,656.
Now tack on Disney+, and you’re looking at $25.97 per month, $26,358 over a lifetime and a “true” lifetime cost of $119,938.
It may be hard to put that number in context over a lifetime, but that’s well over three times the current median annual income in the U.S. of about $31,000. It’s also, however, far less than the $300,000 “true” cost of an iPhone as estimated by MarketWatch columnist Brett Arends.
In a MarketWatch Twitter poll, 58% of people responding said they only intend to pay for one to two services.
Experts have told MarketWatch that most families will max out at $50 per month for three services. A Wall Street Journal/Harris Poll survey of about 2,000 adults found about the same: On average people said they’d spend $45 on 3.6 services. In that survey, 53% of respondents said new or original content makes them more likely to subscribe to a service. Over 47% of people said they planned to sign up for Disney+, and 41% said they’d pay for Apple TV+.
If our calculator has you second guessing your streaming spending, and looking to knock a few services from your budget, here’s our take on the pros and cons of Apple TV+, Amazon Prime video, Netflix, HBO Now, Hulu and Disney+.
“No matter how enthusiastic people are about the range of entertainment offerings Disney+ provides, consumers need to be careful about committing further to yet another monthly or yearly subscription,” says Bankrate.com’s senior economic analyst Mark Hamrick. “It is a good time to review just how many monthly charges or subscriptions one is paying for and to then ask whether some of that money might be better put to use.”