How to: a la carte streaming

The great dream we had for cable TV can work, but it's complicated

The Cutting the Cord movement was about skipping out on cable TV offerings that had gotten too expensive, and ditching the box rental and mandate to make us take hundreds of channels we don’t watch.

An internet connection and Netflix, was all we needed, at a huge savings that originally drastically cut the cost of what we were paying.

Not anymore!

This week Google owned YouTube hit a new high for its cable TV Live streaming alternative, jacking the monthly rate to $84.99, which isn’t that far off from the average $116 cable bill. It’s especially galling when you consider that YouTube TV was launched 4 years ago at $35 monthly, before inching up to $50, then $65 and now $84.95 if you want the option to see programming in 4K. That’s a stipend of $20 extra monthly, or $120 a year. By comparison, Netflix charges an extra $4 monthly for this service.)

One of the biggest consumer complaints about cable TV was the 500 channel bundle. If I only wanted to see CNN and HGTV, or OWN and Bravo, why couldn’t I just pay for those ones?

Because big media doesn’t want you to. It makes money when it crams channels down the throat of cable operators, so Disney can insist that if the cable system wants ESPN, it must also, for instance, take the Disney Channel, Freeform and other channels in its lineup.

And that’s the problem with YouTubeTV, and its competitor Hulu with Live TV. They started off with just a handful of the channels you wanted to see, and now are bloated with the same TV crap that’s up and down the cable dial.

I subscribe to SlingTV, which is still affordable at $35, specifically for CNN and MSNBC. I couldn’t care less about the other channels, and I wish I could just pay for news separately, but that option isn’t there.

Still, what about going a la carte? That was the dream for cable, and streaming too.

You can do it in streaming, if you’re willing to live without YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV or SlingTV offerings. It will take a little more work, but it will save you money. Check it out:

Broadcast TV: Subscribe to plain $5.99 Hulu, which offers NBC, ABC and Fox series the day after their premiere, for $5.99 monthly. CBS series can be viewed for $4.99 monthly on Paramount +. NBC shows on Peacock, which is free. But if you want to see most of the programming, you’ll need to spend $4.99 monthly.

Cable TV: If you can live without news and sports and love cable TV channels, Philo is the service for you. It costs $25 monthly. You can see many of the shows from the Discovery Network, HGTV and the Food Network on Discovery+ for $4.99 monthly.

FREE! Pluto TV is owned by Viacom, home to MTV, CBS, BET, Nickelodeon, Showtime and other networks, and offers ad-supported viewing, and is great if you like to catch up on older shows. There are channels devoted to Johnny Carson Tonight Show and Three’s Company reruns, as well as channels for MTV, TV Land and others.

NEWS: If you need your daily news fix and you don’t want to pay for YouTube TV, Hulu with Live TV or Sling TV, are you willing to be flexible? You can watch plenty of CNN and MSNBC shows on free YouTube, but not the complete shows like Rachel Maddow or Don Lemon. Can you live without them? CBS, NBC and ABC all have free, live 24-hour channels and you know what? They spend more time discussing actual news than diving into opinion. If you have Amazon Fire TV, Roku or Apple TV, they all have live news offerings from ABC, NBC and CBS, as well as other channels like Cheddar and Bloomberg. Plus, Pluto and the free streaming app Tubi have free news channels as well.

Sports is another story. You’ll need to pay for it, and you’re best bet there is to stick with cable TV.

Good luck TV fans!

Celebrating Rich

My friend, the Los Angeles local treasure that is Rich DeMuro, celebrated his 10th anniversary with KTLA this week. The station produced a nice tribute to the tech guru. My favorite moment was seeing little Rich in his pajamas playing with a computer. Rich’s genius is that he easily translates tech jargon into conversation we all can understand. Congrats Rich!

More Long Form on Instagram

The app that started as a photo sharing network this week said it’s now all about entertainment. In other words, Instagram wants to be more like YouTube, to keep people there longer, and thus will be spotlighting more, longer videos. You’ll be seeing these pop up soon in your news feed. My take? It’s time to find a new photo sharing network, as I’m not a fan of this trend. I love video, but a great photo is just not the same thing as a fine video. Especially when the videos on Instagram aren’t generally about photography, but are in the TikTok mode of people doing silly things and/or dancing. Time to go back to Flickr?


For 20 years, I’ve written endless articles about how to photograph fireworks on your smart phone. I don’t work for USA TODAY any longer, so I don’t have to keep the tradition alive. However—I’m happy to link, if you need your fireworks fix.!

From last year:

Venmo fees

Two weeks ago I finally closed one of my bank accounts when I realized I hadn’t cashed a check in years. Digital payment apps like Venmo, PayPal and Square are just too convenient. And best of all, when we use Venmo to pay friends to split the price of pizza, pay the rent or whatever, the cost of using the app is free. Not anymore. Venmo recently announced new fees and many folks complained about them. My stance is that despite the privacy issues that plague the app, Venmo owner PayPal is within their rights to make the app profitable. The new fees are puny, rising to 1.5% from 1% of the transaction if you use the “Instant Transfer” service. The fee to transfer money into your bank over a 3 day period is still free. However, it plans to crack down on small businesses that get paid by clients, without paying a roughly 2% cut. That’s smarmy, but still less than the 3% most others (Square, Venmo owner PayPal) charge.

Need Stucco?

ICYMI, I got quite a few congratulations this week on my “new” business venture side-hustle. And a lot of “you must be plastered” jokes. The best pun came from my friend Bob Boden, who suggested I start a new podcast called “Caulking Tech.” Need stucco? I’m your guy!

Thanks for watching, reading and listening. And happy 4th of July everyone!

Recent newsletter editions:

Happy Birthday iPhone:

How to: iPhone Street Photography:

Tips to Prevent Camera Theft: