Earlier this week Sony announced Playstation Vue will reach end of life on January 30 of next year. I posted a long tweet thread about finding an alternative, services that help you find your favorite shows while also saving a few bucks. However, over the last week I’ve been thinking more about entertainment consumption for those where cost is vitally important.
The internet is afire with complaints about too many streaming services and the complexity of modern life. One of the costs that is rarely talked about with streaming services is the cost of just being able to get them, let alone the cost of the subscription. If the cost of internet is approximately $66/mo (assuming this article is correct) plus the ever climbing fees added onto bills the cost to even be allowed to sign up for a streaming service starts at $792 per year. This doesn’t include the cost of energy running the amount of devices required to watch streaming on your TV.
Some people cut back their bills because they saw a FI/RE post on Instagram. Some can only afford certain things in certain months, while others have to make hard choices on a daily basis to make sure the lights stay on and food on their table. If you figure $66/mo for internet plus $30/mo. for two video streaming services plus music streaming at $10/mo. we’re now over $100/mo. which is out of the budget of many people.
This doesn’t just apply to home internet. Mobile connectivity is expensive, not including ridiculously low data caps. Some people have long commutes, or a very boring job that audio/video helps them get through the day. Always on connectivity isn’t possible. Even if cost wasn’t a barrier, the data caps would squash people early in the month.
Reading the news that Playstation Vue is shutting down would normally trigger my smugness about cord cutting. But that doesn't help the people looking to save some money while still getting linear TV. Here's a thread on some of the options you have:
— 🌴🌴Dominic 🌴🌴 (@domcorriveau) October 30, 2019
Offline as a service
One of my biggest complaints about tech journalism is the constant elitism that comes off in every publication. If something is easily repairable, it doesn’t get reviewed on its value over time but instead against the $1,000 flagship designed to get you to upgrade every 12 -24 months. This is the same for when streaming services offer an offline mode.
Every article is written from the “perfect for traveling” perspective. I mean, it is really hard guys. First, airport and hotel wifi suck. Plus you have to spend hours on a plane to
For us who live in reality, offline mode offers a lifeline for those that have either intermittent or nonexistent internet. Purchasing digital copies of movies/TV has offered offline capabilities for some time now, but with always-connected streaming taking over, taking things offline became more difficult.
Recently more and more services are offering the ability to download for offline as part of the service. This really started with Netflix and has expanded with Amazon, Hulu and others jumping on board. This is with a huge caveat though. Each service has their own, almost impossible to understand, rules for offline viewing. Every time I’ve tried to use it, I’ve left incredibly frustrated. Only some videos are available and then once you download, how long they last and how many views you get is pitiful. To say its a mess is an understatement.
This also doesn’t allow you to watch on your TV. I can’t find a service that allows you to save offline on a PC, all of them require it through their mobile app. Once upon a time some of these services allowed desktop playback, but all have since deprecated it as a reminder you don’t own digital copies of things. You are at their mercy. They decide how and when you can enjoy the things you purchased. The only outlier in this is Apple. But this requires you to have the funds to buy into their ecosystem.
Insane rules aside, offline is still a boon for those that are occasionally connected and use their mobile as their primary device. This doesn’t just apply to video, it also includes music and nearly anything audio. Periodically connecting to the libraries wifi to download a Spotify playlist, the latest season of Stranger Things on Netflix and a handful of movies from Hulu while eliminating the home and mobile internet costs is beneficial to many people.
Here is a fairly extensive list of who and how to download for offline from various streaming sites.
Remember the best value of streaming services is the elimination of contracts. Every streaming service allows you to subscribe and/or cancel whenever you want, including Amazon which can be used monthly for $8.99. For those on a limited budget, you can easily sign up for CBS All Access, download for offline and cancel at the end of the month for just $6. This is the same for Spotify, YouTube Premium, Soundcloud and even premium cable channels like Showtime or Starz.
Because you can turn on/off whenever you want, this means for those months when $6 is even too much, you still have several options for free content, that is offline and without all the crazy rules. Some have existing for a long time, while others are neat little utilities you can use to make your life a little better.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, podcasts in 2019 are amazing. Both audio and video podcasts can be downloaded through dozens of podcatchers for both desktops and mobile devices. In addition, the amount of high fidelity audio podcasts that mirror audiobooks or radio dramas have increased with so many great podcasts you’ll never be able to keep up. Just search and you’ll be happy with dozens of great shows out there.
Obviously there’s a lot of great, high quality content on YouTube. There’s a lot of tools to take it offline, including the official YouTube Premium service. For zero cost, here are some things to consider:
- NewPipe app (Android only). This little app is great. You can save videos offline, including audio only versions while also setting the quality to save on space. Get it through the F-Droid store.
- YouTube-DL (Desktop). It essentially runs on all desktop OS’s and can download video, audio only, various formats and whole playlists. You can even make lists of channels/playlists then use a bash script to kickoff the process.
- gPodder. Did you know you can use this little cross-platform podcatcher for downloading YouTube videos? Not only can it, but it works amazing. See how to here.
Analog and physical media
Classic over-the-air is still magic to me. It requires so little hardware and in most cases, looks and sounds great. Its incredibly frustrating that more mobile devices don’t come with FM tuners built in, but you can still find phones, MP3 players, and pocket radios. I’ve built several TV antennas out of foil, scrap copper wire, and a $2 balun that work great, if you happen to live in an area with decent OTA reception.
Last is the library and physical media. Buying used DVD’s, Blu-Rays and CD’s are much more affordable compared to streaming, especially because you only have to buy them once then use again and again. In addition, your local library will allow you to check out all three plus give you access to ebooks and audiobooks through the Overdrive app.
Do not underestimate these options. In my city there is a used DVD store, which has thousands of movies and shows available for pennies on the dollar compared to new. During sales you can pick up movies for as little as $1. If you’re saving $100/mo. without the internet and streaming services you could literally buy $100 movies each month, rip them with Handbrake and put into a NAS and access on your LAN as many times as you want on all of your screens.
Not that I’m encouraging you to break the DMCA or copyright law...
We all have different experiences. One of the things that comes up again and again in advice for saving money is being intentional on how you spend it. Does having 3 streaming services make sense? Does having business class internet for your entertainment justify how much you spend on it? I can almost guarantee the answer to those is a big no.
There are a lot of options for people who need to save the money and have to be more intention about their spending while also staying connected. You don’t have to keep up with other people. You don’t have to have all the things to be happy.
Would love to hear from you on this topic!
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