Streaming movies on Netflix a frugal alternative to cable TV

Author saves money with Netflix streaming videoMy household recently got a free disc from Netflix to instantly watch movies on our Nintendo Wii console, allowing us to stream movies onto our TV instead of waiting for a DVD to arrive in the mail. My wife and I haven't yet been acting like kids in a candy store with the additional movies, but some slow weekend I expect we'll get more than our money's worth from our one-DVD-out-at-a-time membership. We're already streaming enough movies that our cost per movie from Netflix has dropped in half.

This led me to wonder how much money we're saving when all of the variables are factored in: the cost of the Wii, the cost of the Netflix subscription and how much the relative cost of a movie drops with each movie watched instantly, the savings from movies not bought or seen at the theater because of the service, and the savings from not renting movies from Blockbuster or elsewhere that can be watched instantly on Netflix.

Other people have other devices that Netflix streams movies to -- it lists 20 on its website. These include:
  • Streaming players such as the Roku Digital Video
  • Game consoles consisting of the Wii, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
  • Internet connected Blu-Ray players from various brands
  • Internet connected HD televisions
  • Digital video recorders, or Tivo
  • Various home theater systems
The gaming consoles cost $200 to $300, so after the initial cost outlay, it could take months to recoup that cost.

One great place to start in trying to figure out how much you pay for Netflix movies is After allowing it to access your Netflix account, it adds up your cost and how many movies you rent and for how long, and within minutes gives a detailed breakdown of your use.

A FeedFliks analysis of our account showed our cost at $2.10 per DVD, but it dropped to $1 per movie when instant watch is included.

People are saving money on entertainment in various ways:

Not going out for a movie
Leland Brandt, who runs a parenting website and uses FeedFliks, told me in an e-mail that before he started streaming Netflix movies at his house, the cost per movie was high because his family kept DVDs on a shelf for a long time. But since streaming, the cost dropped to pennies per movie. Brandt also estimates he's saving various $1 and $4 charges by not renting at Redbox and Blockbuster.

Jennifer Bender of Brooklyn, N.Y., said in an e-mail to WalletPop that she and her husband bought a Wii after Netflix announced it would add the streaming service. They were disappointed that new movies aren't available for streaming, and says the interface makes it difficult to find titles.

"If Netflix ups the ante and makes more new releases and current TV shows available, we'll get rid of cable," Bender writes. "But until then, we're still paying for a monthly Netflix subscription and cable TV. I will admit we do still save up to $50/month by not going to the theater or renting from Blockbuster anymore, but that's been true since we began subscribing to Netflix years ago."

Cutting cable
Grant Miller estimates he's saving at least $20 per month by canceling premium cable-TV channels because he's streaming Netflix movies on an Xbox 360.

Sarah Kimmel took an extra step and canceled her cable entirely, saving $50 per month in a cable bill, but closer to $30 with the Netflix fee included.

"We also used a digital antenna so we still got all the network channels for free," Kimmel wrote. "We were also able to reduce our regular Netflix plan from a 3-out-at-a-time disc exchange because we got most of our movies on streaming. We have streaming available on our Xbox, PS3, and our Blu-Ray player. So we can stream the movie to almost any TV in our home."

Not buying movies
Joshua Livingston has been streaming movies on a Roku, which he bought for $79, for a little more than a year and guesses he's saving $30 to $90 a month by not buying so many DVDs. "I also can utilize on the road when I travel for work which saves on in-room rentals," Livingston wrote in an e-mail. "All in all a great choice for families looking for a cost effective way to access media."

Beyond saving money, there's also the joy of finding an old movie online that you might not have found, as Mikey Rox explained in an e-mail:
We bought a Blu-Ray player specifically to stream Netflix. We couldn't be happier. Ordering movies On Demand was costing a fortune -- and half the time they wouldn't play properly. The movies that Netflix streams aren't as new, but I can live with that -- it forces me to search for movies that we may never have heard about, watched or enjoyed otherwise. It's an added value that really makes us feel we're getting the most for our money.
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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