TECH
10/17/2014 04:40 pm ET Updated Oct 22, 2014

Sorry, You're Still Stuck With Cable For Now

There was much celebration earlier this week when HBO said you would soon be able to access the network's programming without having to pay for a TV subscription. One day later, CBS announced a $6 monthly service that will stream most of its live programming, as well as past and current shows, over the Internet.

Analysts have called this the beginning of the great unbundling -- the dawning of an age where we'll be able to pick programming a la carte and choose what we want to watch, rather than having to pay each month for hundreds of channels we don't.

It's "the first crack in the dike," Michael Davies, a co-founder and senior partner at Endeavour Partners, a firm that consults for broadband, media and content companies, told The Huffington Post after HBO's announcement Wednesday. "If HBO will go, then pretty much everybody else will go in due time."

But it will probably be a while yet before people cut the cord en masse so they can hand-pick from the growing number of Internet-delivered offerings. The cable bundle is still tightly bound, and it's far from coming apart completely. Live sports programming, for one thing, remains a huge draw. CBS's new service, which for now is only available in 14 cities, won't offer Thursday and Sunday NFL games.

And depending on what you subscribe to, an unbundled world could wind up being pretty pricey. HBO hasn't announced how much its new service will cost, but The Information, a technology news site, has reported it'll be around $15 a month. Some observers have pointed out that once you add up your Netflix, Hulu Plus, HBO and CBS subscriptions, plus whatever additional networks come to offer standalone services (ESPN on its own could cost as much as $30 a month, according to one analysis), you could be paying more per month than it would cost to get a premium cable subscription.

Bloomberg's Lucas Shaw, citing data from Hudson Square Research, reports that it would cost over $100 a month to subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, HBO, CBS, the Tour de France, WWE wrestling and three of the four major pro sports leagues. And that's on top of what you're already paying for Internet.

"If you want all the sports, you should just get cable TV," Daniel Ernst, an analyst at Hudson Square Research, told Bloomberg.

But at least you'd have the ability to choose another way to get programming -- and choice is not something consumers have had a lot of when it comes to TV subscriptions. Cable bills have jumped a whopping 97 percent over the last 14 years, and that doesn't include fees, taxes or promotions, according to SNL Kagan, a media researcher.

Other networks that are said to be considering offering similar streaming products include Univision and Showtime (owned by CBS). You can already get subscriptions to MLB TV (though local games are blacked out), and ESPN and the NBA recently reached a deal to allow out-of-market games to be streamed online.

Executives at Verizon and Dish Network have also talked about offering Internet-only TV options that could have more flexible packages. These services are all geared toward millennials, who are much less likely than their parents to have cable -- one recent report found that nearly a quarter of Americans age 18 to 34 don't pay for TV.

These developments are great for consumers. As media companies navigate this changing landscape, customers will have more choice, and that's never a bad thing. Networks have seen the rise of Netflix -- which now boasts over 50 million members worldwide -- and to a lesser extent Amazon Prime Instant Video and Hulu, and they've realized they can no longer sit on the sidelines as these services grow and TV subscriptions decline.

And don't fret for the Comcasts and Time Warner Cables of the world -- you know, those companies that come in last place every year in consumer satisfaction surveys. After all, they're the ones we pay each month to pipe the Internet into our homes. And we all know which way those prices go.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post misstated the monthly price of CBS's new service.

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