What's the Cheapest Form of Media Entertainment?

Netflix is two-and-a-half times more expensive than cable TV, and movies are six times more expensive than video games, if you look at cost-per-hour.
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Max Whittaker/Reuters

When we talk about the price of entertainment—like movies, TV and video games—it typically comes in the form of one specific complaint: "That costs how much?" But determining what media is the most expensive is more difficult than it seems, since we pay for TV by the month, movies by the ticket, magazines by the year, and mobile apps by, well, whenever.

Here's an interesting take on the question: What form of entertainment is most expensive for each hour we consume it?

Linette Lopez passes along a fun graph from a Deutsche Bank report on Candy Crush that answers just that question. (The tiny note at the bottom says: "Excludes advertising and alternative revenue, except for Hulu.")


The Price of Entertainment

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If you think cable subscriptions and video games are ridiculously expensive, you'll be surprise to learn that, on a cost-per-hour basis:

1) Netflix is two-and-a-half times more expensive than the full package of cable TV.

2) Movies are six times more expensive than video games.

3) People who pay to play Candy Crush are getting totally fleeced.

Again, these calculations include time spent consuming each media. So while it might be true that cable TV is just 39 percent as expensive as Netflix on a per-consumer per-hour basis, that's just a reflection of the fact that many people who have cable TV watch an ungodly amount of TV, while Netflix subscribers aren't such couch potatoes. Comparing price-tag-to-price-tag, Netflix is much cheaper than a cable subscription, and video games are much more expensive than movies. If you are making a specific calculation—I want to watch one hour of TV a night, what subscription should I buy?—a per-hour comparison is pointless for you.

But the next time you complain about the cost of cable or video games, it's useful to remember that in general, consumers pay too much attention to price tags and too little attention to total cost—both in stores and in front of our screens.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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