Author: Chris Longo. Source: DenOfGeek
Amid more competition for your entertainment dollars than ever before, The Great Cable TV Exodus of 2016 failed to manifest.
The number of TV households in the United States rose for the fourth-consecutive year to 118.2 million, but the data shows that cable and satellite companies have little to worry about in the immediate future. For all the media coverage and empty threats by your friends and neighbors, people are hesitant to trade box tops for laptops at rates that are going to drastically alter the television landscape in the short term.
People still want the option of TV live for news, sports, or the comfort of old habits. They are also fed up with their cable providers for any number of customer service reasons, and they’re technically paying into subscriber fees hundreds of channels they’ll never watch. A GfK report in early 2016 found that only 6 percent of households say they have opted for streaming services like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon in lieu of cable or satellite TV. “Pay TV” households are hovering around 100 million people in the U.S. and, by conservative estimates, is only expected to slightly dip below that mark in the next few years. That’s only a two percent increase year over year. A movement this is not, but 2017 may begin to move the needle for the internet TV market.
A-la-carte internet TV will be plentiful and affordable by the end of 2017. Over-the-top internet TV services (OTT) were a hot trend for companies angling for a slice of the cable TV pie. Google (YouTube), Hulu, and Amazon announced plans to enter a field already occupied by AT&T (DirecTV Now), Sling, and Playstation Vue. The market will soon be crowded. Now may not be the best time to cut your cord, but we’ll get you educated on the options out there so that you can watch TV in the easiest, most affordable way in 2017.
In the previous installment in our series on cord cutting, we analyzed current cable and satellite deals and the hardware and devices necessary if you wanted to cut out “Pay TV” entirely. Many of the devices we detailed in that article are compatible with OTT internet television services we’ll talk about below.
Dish Network, owners of over-the-top internet TV service Sling, had its worst quarterly subscriber drop in Q2, losing 281,000 customers between pay TV and its internet television product. They proceeded to hemorrhage another 116,000 subscribers in Q3. The company aggregates the numbers for both its pay TV and Sling products, so it’s tough to tell exactly how many customers are fleeing the satellite model altogether.
Dish Network has long been the underachieving little brother to DirecTV, but the company got out in front of the internet TV market when they launched Sling in February 2015. Head starts in the tech industry only last you so long. Estimates have Sling TV growing steadily, with around 1 millions subscribers after a strong Q3 in 2016.
Cost and Channels
Sling is the lowest cost option for internet TV. Sling’s “Orange” package is $20 per month for 31 channels. It nets you a basic mix of sports (ESPN), news (CNN), and cable networks (AMC, Comedy Central, IFC, A&E, Food Network, Travel).
The “Blue” package $25 per month and consists of 45 channels, including a deeper selection of cable networks (Syfy, FX, TruTV), sports (NFL Network, Fox Sports 1 and 2), and broadcast networks (NBC, Fox).
The biggest value to Sling when it comes to package selection is the ability to add-on bundles to either package. There’s a “sports extra,” which includes NHL Network, NBA TV, ESPNU, and more. A “comedy extra” with TVLand, Spike, MTV, Logo and GSN, “Hollywood Extra” for film buffs and a “News Extra” if that’s your thing, and international channel extra packages as well. Those add-ons run you $5 each.
Premium add-ons include: HBO ($15), Cinemax ($10), Starz ($9).
Where To Stream
Computer, Smart TV, Mobile Phone App
Sling is the sports fan’s ideal guide to the streaming galaxy and a value play for cord cutters. The “Orange” package leaves something to be desired, but mixing and matching the add-ons could land you a satisfying bundle for $30-35 per month. Throw your favorite premium channel package in there and you’ll have live TV ready to stream on multiple devices for about half of your cable bill.
Buyer beware: The “Orange” package allows for streaming on only one device at a time. The more family-friendly “Blue” package allows for up to three devices at a time.
DirecTV is the leader in the satellite realm and the company is poised to corner the internet TV market. AT&T, the mega company still trying to finalize a deal to buy Time Warner, is making an aggressive push into the video streaming market, so much so that they rolled out their product in November to a flurry of glitches and malfunctioning features.
AT&T boss Randall Stephenson is still giddy about AT&T’s prospects in this new frontier. “This is the most exciting thing I’ve been a part of in a long time, and I can’t wait,” Stephenson said during the initial announcement for DirecTV Now. “I border on the evangelical about it.”
Cost and Channels
Customers should reciprocate Stephenson’s excitement. DirecTV Now rolled out a $35, 100-plus channel introductory offer. That’s the kind of deal that keeps Verizon Fios and Cablevision execs up at night. It didn't last.
On Decemeber 30th, 2016, AT&T announced that DirecTV Now would terminate its introductory offer on Jan. 9th 2017. DirecTV Now still has a $35 per month offer, but it's for 60 channels.
DirecTV Now offers tiers: $35 (60+ channels), $50 (80+ channels), $60 (100+ channels), and $70 (120+ channels). The latter tiers start to move you into the cable box price range. However, HBO/Cinemax can be added to any package for only $5, a huge boon to DirecTV Now’s arsenal compared to the $15 cost for just HBO on Sling TV.
CNET compiled a full channel list for DirecTV Now’s tiers, which you can compare to Sling TV and Playstation Vue.
Free HBO Offer (UPDATE - 3/21/17)
New customers signing up for the Go Big ($60) or Gotta Have It ($70) packages will get a free year of HBO.
Where To Stream
Computer, Smart TV, Mobile Phone App. What sets DirecTV apart is that wireless streaming does not impact cell phone data. Roku is not currently supported by DirecTV, but the company says it will be in 2017.
DirecTV Now only allows two streaming devices at a time, making it incredibly difficult for families to make the switch. Accessing live programming (like local news) from broadcast networks Fox, ABC, and NBC depends on what market you’re in. DirecTV Now, like Sling TV, does not currently have a DVR function like its competitor Playstation Vue (we’ll get to that next). DirecTV is most famous for being the rights holder to NFL Sunday Ticket. You won’t be able to get Sunday Ticket on DirecTV Now.
The draw to DirecTV Now is the soon-to-be-gone introductory offer ($35 x 100+ channels), which the company claims users can lock in for as long as they’re subscribed to the service. Add HBO/Cinemax to that for $5 and you’re going to be a fairly happy customer, at least in the short term.
PlayStation Vue rolled out to limited major media markets in 2015 before the OTT service launched nationwide in March 2016. Sony’s entry to the internet TV market earned praise at its launch and continues to update and improve its product.
Cost and Channels
PlayStation Vue has a pricing tier as follows:
The "Access" plan is $40 per month for 50 channels. That includes a strong sports stable in ESPN, ESPN 2, NBC Sports Network, Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2 and the broadcast networks including CBS.
The "Core" plan is $45 per month and includes “Access channels,” plus more regional sports networks and NFL network, and a larger cable network offering.
The "Elite" plan is $55 per month for 90 channels.
The $75 per month “Ultra” plan includes all of the above plus HBO and Showtime.
Adding on HBO to the other plans will run you an extra $15.
Where To Stream
PlayStation 3 and 4, Roku, Amazon Fire, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Moblie Phones, Tablets
PlayStation Vue is the best total package on the market thanks to its cloud capabilities. Sony’s product has a 28-day cloud DVR feature that has its competitors scrambling to catch up. DirecTV Now has cheap HBO and a better channel lineup at the moment, and SlingTV has a lower overall price point and the value of ESPN3 for sports fans, but PlayStation Vue is the most dynamic of the internet TV products on the market. It’s costly, you’re going to want either the "Core" or "Elite" plan, but it feels like the best alternative to a cable box right now.
YouTube TV (TBD 2017)
Google and its subsidiary YouTube have reportedly been working on a internet TV service since 2012. It was announced in February that the live TV service would be named YouTube TV and would feature some key elements that set it apart from its competitors.
Cost and Channels
When YouTube TV rolls out later this year, it will cost $35 per month. The service will include includes the big four broadcast networks–ABC, FOX, CBS, and NBC–and roughly 35 cable channels.
The Cloud And YouTube Red Bonus
YouTube TV is the first OTT to offer an unlimited DVR cloud. Another bonus to YouTube TV is the inclusion of YouTube Red, giving you the peace of mind of an ad-free YouTube experience and original video content.
YouTube Red's original content has failed to make a major impact in the streaming TV world, but YouTube TV is going to be a big time player in the streaming game. At an affordable price and armed with an unlimited DVR cloud, YouTube TV is a service to keep your eyes on this year.
H/T to CutCableToday for tipping us off to fuboTV, a live TV streaming service that initially started as a soccer streaming vertical. The company received a windfall from Sky and 21st Century Fox in early 2016, raising $15 million. With 40,000 plus subscribers, it appears the sports-centric streaming service is undergoing a major overhaul.
Cost and Channels
Right now, fuboTV is soccer-heavy with channels such as bein sports, One World, Football Report TV, and so on. With 21st Century Fox in the mix, expect to see Fox-owned channels pop up on the service in the near future. The service currently costs $9.99.
On December 14th, 2016, fuboTV announced deals with Fox Networks Group, NBCUniversal, A+E Networks, Crown Media Family Networks, Fuse Media, NBA TV and The Weather Channel. In total, the deals will bring 70+ channels to fuboTV. Billed as a "sports-first" platform, it's tough to make that case when ESPN is absent from your service.
The big feature for fuboTV is going to be its cross-platform DVR, which puts it in good company with PlayStation Vue. The new fuboTV model will cost $34.99, an introductory rate, and will be live in the coming weeks.
You can find a full breakdown of fuboTV beta on CutCableToday.
Most major sports networks outside of ESPN, DVR functionality, and some quality cable channels have fuboTV as a potential hidden gem in the Live TV streaming world.
Hulu Live TV Streaming Service (ETA: Early 2017)
If you go back to 2013, when Hulu was humming along as a promising challenger to Netflix’s streaming empire, the company made a future-minded hire by tabbing Mike Hopkins as its next CEO. Previously at 21st Century Fox, the group that owns 20th Century Fox studio and the Fox television network, Hopkins helmed the distribution department, where he was, according to Variety, known for his negotiation skills with “pay-TV distributors that provide the conglomerate’s biggest revenue source.”
At the time, the trade called his previous gig important, but not in a way that would help a brand like Hulu chart new territory in the new streaming world. Three years later, Hopkins stood on stage at Hulu’s 2016 upfront presentation in New York and confirmed that his company is ready to defy conventional television business partnerships and bring live TV to cableless streaming.
In announcing their version of a “skinny bundle,” a cheaper live TV package without excess channels, Hulu–owned by Fox, Disney, and NBCUniversal/Comcast–is showing the ability to adapt to the demands of the market and challenge the major cable companies head on. Where Hulu in the pre-Hopkins era was looking to distance itself from its majority shareholders and the cable industry, the company sees a path to distinguish itself from rivals like Netflix and Amazon and convert cable refugees to the Hulu Live TV model.
Specifics on the Hulu Live TV model are sparse, but Hopkins has revealed some insight on the project’s status in recent interviews. The service is expected to launch “early next year,” according to a feature in Crain’s New York.
“We’re not targeting pay-TV customers to switch,” Hopkins told Crain’s New York. “But for the people who are going to shut off cable anyway? We’ll be there.”
Cost and Channels
Three out of Hulu’s four investors–Disney, Fox, and Time Warner (Turns Entertainment Networks, Warner Bros. Television)–have agreements in place for a Live TV service. CBS and NBCU (the fourth investor) are in negotiations. The plan is for Hulu’s service to include “major” live sports and news channels.
Rumors have Hulu's Live TV service priced at "under $40."
Amazon Live TV Streaming Service (TBD)
Did you really think Amazon wouldn’t find a way into this market? The online retail giant is pumping money into its video streaming service to compete with Netflix and Hulu, so it’s natural that they’re going headfirst into another crowded market. Details are limited on Amazon’s live TV streaming service, but a report from Wall Street Journal indicates that they’re looking into a premium sports package.
We’re not sure how far along the project is, but it’s been rumored for almost two years.