Choices, Choices, Choices. Over the Top Content

OTT Streaming TV viewing options

By Wayne Porter

One of the chief complaints of cable and satellite TV customers is that the bills are too high and they don’t watch most of the channels they get. This is due to the fact that television content providers insist on a cable service provider buying all or none of its channels. Consumers have been requesting smaller, packages or ala carte choices.

This issue has been answered first, by Netflix, then a number of other providers who jumped on the band wagon. Some of them new companies developed around the streaming video program and some of them current TV providers that are adapting to the new market place. Some of them are other types of companies rushing to fill what they see as an opportunity. Several big tech/Internet companies are using streaming video content as one of the battle fields in the war to take over the world.

Over The Top

Over-the-top (OTT) programming is content that is delivered over the Internet but not through a traditional cable box or satellite. Until recently it has been primarily streamed on demand but recently, more and more of it is being delivered live. Since it is delivered over the Internet, an Internet connection is required.

Some of the content is delivered straight to the customers’ computer, device or Smart TV and some with the aid of a piece of hardware like a Roku or Chromecast. Some providers can deliver it both ways.

Changing Channels

Unfortunately the same factors that led to the increase in OTT programming keeps it in a state of flux. As mentioned earlier the owners of most of the television content, want to sell all their channels so they make it a requirement for the cable companies to buy their less popular channels in order to carry their most popular channels.

Due to contractual negotiations and renegotiations some OTT services might loose the right to carry one or more channels for a while. This some times happens to cable and satellite companies too. The channels listed below might change without notice. At the time this is being written, it seems that CBS specifically is not carried by many of the OTT providers.

Content Delivery Services

Video content, like movies, TV shows and the like are licensed by cable, satellite and OTT companies who then deliver it to viewers who pay money. This is either on a per view basis or on an “all you can watch” basis. Or a combination of the two where there is some free or “included in the price” content then some premium programming is available for an additional fee.

Netflix

Netflix started out mailing DVDs for sale and rent in 1997. They started streaming content 10 years later in 2007. They currently have around 98 million subscribers with just over half living in the United States.

No live TV is available on Netflix and they don’t plan to add that service but Netflix is the number one paid streaming package.

Packages run from $7.99 to $11.99 per month with no commitment. First month is free.

Netflix has a growing catalog of original movies and shows plus feature films, past seasons of TV shows and documentaries.

PlayStation Vue

Playstation Vue starts at $30.00 a month for 45 channels and goes up to $65.00 per month for 90 channels which includes HBO and Showtime. Network viewing is limited to Fox, ABC and NBC on demand unless you live in a select number of cities where it is available live. HBO, Showtime and other premium packages are available for an additional charge.

The channels available and what you can record seems to vary with the show, channel and even your location so you would need to check for each show to see if you can record it and how long it would be available.

You would think that you might need a Playstation to watch Playstation Vue but that is not the case. You can watch it on a number of other devices including Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Roku and online.

Sling TV

Sling TV from Dish Network starts at $20.00 per month. Sling Orange has 30 plus channels for $20 per month, Sling Blue has 40 plus channels for $25.00 and the All channel Orange and Blue which has 49 channels is $40.00 per month. With Sling TV you do not need the satellite dish and you don’t have to sign a two year contract. You can get a free one week trial.

Sling TV Blue offers Fox, ABC and NBC in some markets but CBS is conspicuously absent.

A compatible device is necessary to watch Sling TV. These include supported Smart TVs, Chromecast, Xbox, Amazon Fire, Roku among other devices.

Currently Sling TV has a cloud DVR with a limited amount of recording time. Full DVR functionality is not available on all channels.

DirecTV NOW

DirecTV Now is AT&T/ DirecTV’s streaming option and starts at $35.00 month and goes up to about $70.00. Live programming from Fox, ABC and NBC is available in some markets but CBS is again absent.

Requires Smart TV, Amazon Fire TV or Fire Stick, Apple TV, Chromecast, iPad or iPod. Premium channels, HBO, Starz and Cinemax are available for an additional fee.

YouTube TV

YouTube TV is being rolled out only in five US cities at first. It does have live TV streaming from ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and other popular cable networks. Customers get a cloud DVR with no storage limits and six accounts per household included.

Showtime can be added for $11 per month and Fox Soccer can be added for $15.

Currently you can watch it on your newish phone, tablet or computer but to watch it on your TV you need either an android TV or Chromecast. YouTube TV offers a 30 day free trial and you get a free Google Chromecast after your first payment. Both YouTube and YouTube TV are owned by Google.

Hulu

Hulu currently offers on demand programming only but in the very near future Hulu has said it will be releasing it’s live TV package. The pricing is expected to be about $40.00 a month. It is expected to come with some limited recording features and might have an add-on DVR package with unlimited recording. It is scheduled for release before summer arrives.

Hulu’s current on demand programming packages come with a 30 day free trial. Like Netflix is has started developing its own original programming.

It looks like Hulu will have all four major networks but ironically the last to join the lineup was NBC, which is owned by Hulu co-owner Comcast. At launch Showtime will be available for an additional $8.99 with other premium channels to be added later.

Hulu is owned jointly by Disney, Fox, NBCUniversal and TimeWarner.

Amazon Prime Video

Amazon’s version of Netflix. Amazon Prime Video gives you access to thousands of movies, TV shows and Amazon original programming. You can get just Prime Video for $8.99 a month or full Amazon Prime for $10.99 and month which includes free two day shipping, unlimited free ebook reading on Kindle and free unlimited music streaming.

To use Amazon Prime Video you must have a compatible smart TV, Roku, Xbox, Amazon Fire TV, Android or iPhone.

Vudu

Vudu is a content delivery service that is owned by Walmart. There isn’t a monthly fee, you just pay for what you watch. You can rent OR purchase movies. It is available through smart TVs or hardware like Roku, Xbox and Playstation. Vudu has thousands of movies and TV shows to view.

Vudu also lets you scan your DVDs for an additional fee so that they are stored on the cloud and can be viewed on your android or ios device, smart TV, gaming console or other connected device. This service is through UltraViolet or through Disney Movies Anywhere. Vudu also lets you share your movies with other Vudu members.

Standalone Channels

HBO, Showtime, Starz and other channels are available for purchase by themselves and are viewable on many of the hardware solutions below.

Hardware

Smart TV

Most TVs sold recently are already capable of being connected to the Internet. These are called “smart” TVs. They will have a number of apps preinstalled for things like Netflix, Pandora, YouTube, Hulu and the ability to surf the web.

ChromeCast

Chromecast is a piece of hardware made by Google that plugs in to your TV to watch additional programming. You can use a mobile device like an iPhone, iPad, Android device, laptop or notebook as the remote.

Chromecast has apps for Hulu, Netflix, Pandora, HBO, ESPN, Showtime, CBS, YouTube and more.

Roku

Roku is hardware that you plug in to your TV to enable it to receive channels and channel packages. Many of the packages require a paid subscription but many do not. Most tv services are available through Roku. Prices start at around $30.00 for a Roku component to plug in to your TV up to several hundreds of dollars for TVs with Roku hardware installed.

Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Showtime, Sling TV are some of the paid services available on the Roku.

TiVo

Tivo is a DVR that you can use for your cable and several OTT services like HBO GO, Netflix, Vudu, Amazon Prime, YouTube and Hulu. It can do searches and organize programming across the various apps so you could, for example, create a watchlist with season one of a show from Netflix, season two from Hulu and the current season recorded on Tivo’s DVR.

Amazon Fire

Amazon’s foray into the OTT hardware works not only with Amazon Video but also with Netflix, Hulu, HBO NOW, YouTube, NBC, WatchESPN, Disney and more. Like the TiVo, it can search and organize across the various apps. It also has Alexa voice command so you can just tell it to find, say a horror movie or even to order pizza.

Prices start out pretty reasonable, starting at $40.00 for the Fire Stick and the Fire TV going for $90.00. The Fire TV is not a real TV but streaming Media Player. There is also the Fire TV Gaming Edition. As this article is being written the Gaming Edition is currently unavailable and they don’t know when it will be back in stock so I would guess there might be some changes coming down the line on this one.

AppleTV

Like the Fire TV, the Apple TV is not a real TV. It is a piece of hardware that is connected to a television. It can play content straight from the iTunes store or from other OTT apps like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and Vevo. DIRECTV NOW, PlayStation Vue, or Sling TV can also be viewed from the Apple TV interface.

Using AirPlay you can access content on your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch on your TV. You can also use your compatible ios device as a remote. It can also be a major part of your Apple connected smart home.

The Apple TV starts at around $150.00.

Software Media Players

iTunes Store/Google Play/Microsoft Store

Google, Apple and Microsoft all offer a free media player and sell content. You can get music, movies and TV shows from each. This is generally pay as you go, you buy or rent a video then watch it. They don’t offer unlimited streaming like other services. The content can be played on various devices with their software installed.

Kodi

Kodi is an open source media player that supports most video, audio and image formats. Kodi has many add on available where Kodi supports content such as YouTube, MLB Bases Loaded and Soundcloud and much more. You can download a Kodi Remote app to your Apple or Android device.

Content can be played from local and network storage media as well as the internet. Kodi is open source so it is free.

Summary

The Over The Top market is still very young and there are a lot of player vying for position. The rules are still in a bit of flux The stations available even on one format changes from city to city. With the low cost of the hardware and free trials and no contract with the streaming services you could try several before settling on one (or two).

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