Just a few years ago, there were only a few video services available to users. The only video service options available were Amazon Video, Netflix and a few others. We have come a long way since then.
These days you can choose your video service from a pool that has a complete selection of options. Your video service options range from current broadcast series, classic series, original content (series and movies), classic movies and new releases. In fact, there are so many services that I will not even try to list them all. I will, however, list the ones I consider the most important and complete services available out there (IMHO).
These are the services that I had in consideration for my own process of cord-cutting. Other services may be available, but in my opinion they were just not worthy enough of an option for cord-cutting. The pricing of these services are for the US as of the writing of this article. Availability and pricing may change based on your location.
Amazon Video (Prime).
Price: FREE (included with Amazon Prime subscription)
Amazon Video comes as another feature included with your Prime subscription. If you purchase anything off Amazon.com (and who doesn’t these days anyway), then it is super convenient to have a Prime subscription. This subscription is $99 yearly but it includes many other services such as premium channels, 2-day delivery on purchases, music, picture storage, etc. Amazon Video offers some interesting original programming such as The Grand Tour for car enthusiasts, or The Man In The High Castle, a series based on the Phillip K. Dick book with the same name. You cannot use the video service as your only provider for your cord-cutting because it does not necessarily cover current programming. Amazon Video is available for all devices and platforms.
CBS All Access.
Price: $6.99 monthly with limited commercials or $9.99 monthly without commercials
CBS management has decided to only make available their content through cable and satellite providers. Other vendors such as the ones you would use for cord cutting, cannot carry CBS programming. CBS has recently been negotiating future potential deals with DirecTV Now, SlingTV, YouTube TV and Hulu. If you normally watch current series from CBS (The Big Bang Theory, CSI, NCIS, Blue Bloods, etc) and you want to cut the cord, you will have to subscribe.
Their older series catalog is available through other vendors such as Hulu. Some of their classic series (Star Trek, for example) is available only through their All Access app. There is also great original content. Traditional broadcast viewers cannot watch original content. It is only available for paying customers. Some of this original content is The Good Fight (a spinoff of The Good Wife) and a new Star Trek series. CBS All Access is available in all devices and platforms.
Price: starts at $35 monthly. Premium: HBO, Cinemax, Starz, Starz Encore for $5 monthly.
DirecTV is the satellite provider that has recently merged with AT&T. One of the early projects of this merger has been a cord-cutting service that provides similar programming than the AT&T U-verse cable and DirecTV satellite services. This service does not require of a tuner, satellite dish or hardware of any kind. However it has started with very limited device support. The company had announced a cloud DVR service to become available soon but recently it has indicated that it “has no plans to offer a DVR service”.
DirecTV Now is only available for iOS (including Apple TV), Android, PCs (with a browser) and Chromecast. DirecTV Now does not currently work on Roku. The company lists the Roku client as “coming soon”. After requesting more information; the official reply was that the service “has plans to add more compatible devices to our lineup including: Roku streaming players, Roku TV models, Amazon Fire tablets, and Smart TVs from Samsung.”
HD Broadcast (Antenna).
Price: FREE but requires a one-time purchase of an HD antenna.
Are you are old enough to remember when TVs connected to a building antenna or had “rabbit ears”? If this is the case, then you will notice that these options are actually making a comeback in a far more advanced form. In the US, broadcast has made the switch to HD television a few years back. This means that you will need a special type of antenna, not the one you remember from decades past. These new antennas range in price between $10 and $200.
There are outdoors and indoors antennas that offer great reception quality. This is a great complement to cord-cutters. The sweet-spot is the indoor $30 antennas that will receive from any HD broadcast signal within 60 miles. Just place the antenna on the back side of your HDTV. Tuck it out of sight and you can catch all broadcast networks within range. In the Palm Beach county, FL area where I live, we catch about 50-60 channels. Some are worthless, but others are a great (and FREE) complement to the other services we normally use.
HD Broadcast (App).
Price: FREE but some require a provider subscription.
A few examples of these services are NBC OnDemand, Fox Now, ABC Apps, news channels, etc. USA, TBS and other channels that are normally included with basic cable have their apps available in many platforms. You could group all video service apps into this category. These apps are completely free of charge, but some of them assume you are already using a cable provider. Most apps allow you to watch some content but some content requires that you log in with your cable provider subscription.
The verification process involves telling the app who is you video service provider. All you do is use the username and password or follow a registration process. This allows the app validate that you are paying your cable provider to view that content. In my opinion, this process completely defeats the purpose of cord-cutting. You could circumvent it by using an HD broadcast antenna. In some cases, the cord-cutting service you are using such as Hulu, SlingTV, DirecTV Now is supported as a “listed provider”. Check each app for information about their supported providers. If the provider you are using is supported, then you will either be able to watch content from within the provider or by using the app. Most of the time, these apps have additional content like behind the scenes.
Price: $7.99 monthly with limited commercials or $11.99 monthly without commercials. Premium: Showtime $8.99 monthly.
Hulu started as one of the original options for cord-cutters. The initial service that Hulu provided yesterdays’ TV series available today. This is a great complement to HD Broadcast antennas. If you didn’t catch the program you were going to watch last night; you can watch it today on Hulu just as if you had recorded it on DVR. As time goes by, Hulu is adding more and more coverage to their library. This is a service that is expanding since it started.
Hulu’s expansion is so significant that they have announced they will be offering a service that includes live TV, current season’s episodes along with their existing and growing library of past seasons and retired shows. Hulu, however is not an all-encompassing service; CBS’ current programming is not included (for now) even though some of CBS’ older seasons of current shows and retired shows are available as part of the Hulu catalog. Other channels such as USA, TBS, SyFy, etc. have contracts with Hulu for some of the shows they produce, but not all. There is also great original content such as 11.22.63 a series based on the Stephen King book by the same name. This is a good option for cord-cutters if the content they are interested in exists in Hulu’s current library. Hulu apps exist for all platforms and devices.
Price: Basic $7.99 monthly, Standard $9.99 monthly, Premium $11.99
Netflix seems to have existed forever. Having started as a DVD rental alternative to Blockbuster; it quickly moved into the streaming business as a way to off-set their DVD purchase and mailing costs. This proved to be both a challenge and a savvy move for them. Because of their push for streaming, they frequently clashed with the producer and distributing companies that saw them as a threat to their DVD business. Most of those challenges seem to have subsided by now and Netflix has come out a winner in having the most experience with streaming, service uptime and contracts with content owners (such as Marvel) helping them bypass the middle man.
Another lesson learned by Netflix is that they can produce their own content. Netflix was one of the first companies that faced with lack of collaboration from the distribution companies, had to create its own original content. Even though it stumbled with some shows and movies early on, now it has produced excellent original content both in series and single movie shows. One such example is House of Cards, a very popular political series/drama on its 4th season about to release its 5th season and a set of independent series based on the Marvel universe of super-heroes such as Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and others part of the Defenders comics.
Netflix offers different plans with different capabilities. All their content is offered for all plans, what changes is the quality at which it is being offered and how many simultaneous streams are allowed per subscription. Their basic subscription offers SD (standard definition) video quality and a single stream. Their Standard subscription offers HD and up to 2 streams while their Premium subscription offers HD and Ultra HD (up to 4K quality) in up to 4 simultaneous streams. All in all, Netflix is one of the best services that offers a large selection of individual content. However, this content is not offered in the typical “channel” structure, so you may have to search and dig around for some of the content. Netflix apps exist for all platforms and devices.
Price: Orange 30 channels $20 monthly, Blue 40 channels $25 monthly, Orange+Blue $40 monthly. Additional packages for news, sports, kids, movies, many international options, HBO, NFL, Pac-12, EPIX, etc. for $5 or $10 each. Cloud DVR service for $5.
SlingTV‘s plans offer different number of concurrent streams, meaning that you can install the service in as many devices as you want but simultaneously watch on as many are allowed for that plan. The Orange subscription allows you a single session at a time. The Blue subscription up to 3 streams. The Orange+Blue allows up to 4 simultaneous streams.
SlingTV is one of the most complete services out there. It not only offers live TV for most channels offered by cable but it also offers on-demand programming from most channels. This service comes with one the most complete set of apps in the market. There are apps for almost all device types and variations: Xbox, Roku, Amazon Fire Stick, iOS (iPhone, Apple TV, iPad), Android, Windows 10 (tablets and PCs) and MacOS.
The service started offering a cloud DVR in April 2017. The Cloud DVR service for the channels that don’t have “on demand” access has two limitations: the service is not available for all channels and it has a storage limitation which is just like the one you would have if you were actually recording on a set top box. The Cloud DVR service is an extra charge at $5 per month. By the way, Roku comes with a dedicated button for SlingTV on its remote controller.
Price: $35 monthly, 40+ channels. Not available in all markets as of May 2017. Includes 6 simultaneous streams/logins, unlimited DVR service.
YouTube from Google has a new service coming up where users will be able to get a 40+ channel selection for $35 monthly. The number of channels is about the same level offering that you would get with SlingTV (it is only missing some of the offers from the Turner and Viacom media channels when lined up side by side). YouTube TV is the only service that includes CBS streaming; this means that you will not need to have an additional subscription for CBS All access to be able to view their programming.
The Cloud DVR service is also the best offering, given that it is unlimited and available immediately with no documented limitations such as the ones mentioned for SlingTV. Market availability and device compatibility is a serious limitation for this service. Most markets are still not being served by this offering and the service can only be viewed in Android, iOS, Chromecast devices or a browser. This is not much when most cord-cutters use Roku, Amazon Fire stick and the like. Additionally, there is the uncertainty of this being a Google service and the fact that Google is in the habit of dropping its projects without warning.
No matter what service you choose, you will never experience buyer’s remorse. Remember you can always cancel your service and move on the following month into one of the other services. I keep looking every month. This is a very fluid situation; new features appear on these services every month and they may make or break the deal for your particular needs.