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Viewer’s Choice: Inside the Streaming-Video Maze

More consumers in the United States now watch more movies through streaming-video services than they do through Blu-ray Discs and DVDs. With so many services delivering content and working with different devices, it’s difficult to figure out which streaming-video service best suits your video-watching demands.

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The 2012 Summer Olympics in London was the largest online streaming event in history. NBC’s Olympics website delivered 34 million streams in the first week of the Olympics, as millions of Americans watched the games on their computer or smartphone before they were broadcast via tape-delay on NBC in the evening.

However, NBC’s Olympic streaming-video service came with a catch. You had to be a pay-TV subscriber and sign on with your account information to watch online. If you weren’t a pay-TV subscriber, you couldn’t watch.

That paywall illustrates the complexity in deciding whether to cut your $40–$120-per-month TV subscription package and rely on stand-alone services to watch movies, news or TV shows.

Americans were projected to pay to watch a combined 3.4 billion movies and TV shows online in 2012, which is more than twice the 1.4 billion that they watched online in 2011, according to IHS, which is a market-research company. That 3.4 billion is 1 billion more movies and TV shows than Americans would watch on DVDs and Blu-ray Discs, which makes 2012 the first year that Americans watched more movies and TV shows via online streaming and streaming audio/video gear, IHS says.

As stand-alone streaming-video services make more content available online for an inexpensive a la carte or monthly price, pay-TV providers are looking for ways to hold on to their annual subscribers, such as creating their own on-demand streaming-video services and using events, such as the Olympics, to sell them.

With more than 25 stand-alone or pay-TV companies building streaming-video libraries, the result is a bewildering array of choices, all of which have different content, cost a different amount and are compatible with a different number of devices.

The good news, however, is that it’s possible for some people to discontinue their TV subscription package—or scale back to a lower tier of pay TV—and stay current on the latest movies and TV shows as long as they’re willing to be flexible.

CABLE CUTTING.  So who should discontinue his/her TV subscription package? According to Suranga Chandratillake of Blinkx, which is the Internet’s largest video search engine, it depends on what you want to watch.

For example, if want to watch a lot of different sports, you have to have a pay-TV subscription. However, if you want to watch only a particular sport, say, Major League Baseball, you can buy a streaming-video subscription for about $25 per month.

If you want to watch TV shows on the day that they are broadcast, you need a TV subscription package if you can’t pick up a channel through an over-the-air antenna. However, if you’re willing to wait up to a week and hunt around through different services, you can stream recent episodes of most TV shows for an a la carte price of typically 99 cents to $2.99. You should keep in mind, however, that new episodes of a few shows don’t show up on streaming-video services until weeks later. Plus, many shows that are on premium pay-TV channels can’t be streamed legally unless you have a subscription to that channel.

If you want to watch a wide variety of movies and TV, then you’ll have to subscribe to more than one monthly streaming-video service. You still might have to search through a la carte websites to find everything that you seek.

In other words, using streaming-video services requires some versatility. By the time that you add up the monthly costs of all of your streaming-video subscriptions, the prices of your a la carte purchases and the cost of your monthly Internet fee, you might find that you aren’t saving money after all by cutting your cable or breaking your satellite-TV contract.

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