Thursday, April 23, 2015

Let's Talk Streaming Services

We want a new model for TV. Cable and Satellite are expensive and come with tons of channels we'll never watch. So what would be the ideal TV streaming service? And before you say, "it'll never work! These TV companies will never be able to do it this way!" We're just dreaming here, and that's not hurting anyone.

I have a dream of a future where we can build our own TV streaming package. It would come in the form of a set top box, or streaming stick. An always on live stream, the way TV currently is. Use your smartphone, or a remote to change channels. Select 5 channels for $10-$15 a month, and plans increase as the number of channels goes up (maybe "premium channels" such as HBO and Starz cost a bit extra). So, while we're dreaming, which 5 channels would you pick? Or would you have to go for a more expensive plan with more channels?

Personally I'd pick TBS (gotta have some sitcoms now and then), Travel Channel, TCM (gotta have some classic movies), AMC, and HBO. It's a tough choice, but if you could also manage your channels and swap from month to month or every 6 months or so maybe you could keep things interesting.

Alright, it'll never happen, but it's a fun thought.

When it comes to streaming services we do have, however, it can still be a tough choice. Each has something slightly different to offer.

Netflix is the giant name in streaming. They have a huge catalog of movies and TV shows, and they're adding (and losing) content every month. They're also the most widely available streaming service (at least in the US) when it comes to where you can access them. They're on every smartphone, computer, smart TV, game console, and Bluray player. They're reasonably priced and have an option (for a bit more money) to get DVD's in the mail when you want to watch things they don't have available for streaming. In addition to their already vast library, they create their own content. Lots of it. And it's actually good!

Amazon Prime is perhaps the second largest. And for good reason. Their library is constantly growing as well, and it's nearly as big as Netflix's. It features much of the same movies (and a lot of what they don't have to stream for free, you can always rent digitally rather than through the mail), and they've been building their own in house content as well. They also somewhat recently got access to HBO shows, albeit their older shows (sadly not their best, currently running shows). The kicker here, and the reason many choose Prime over Netflix, is the free 2 day shipping on most things ordered off of Amazon. You also get unlimited access to their music streaming service, unlimited photo storage in Amazon's cloud drive, and a free kindle book rental a month. Honestly, if the library of content were up to par with Netflix, and they were better about their support of Android devices (and Chromecast most importantly) I would switch in a heart beat. Sadly Prime video just isn't as widely available/compatible as Netflix. Oh and instead of a monthly subscription fee, it'll cost you outright $99 for a year.

Hulu Plus is the place to be if staying up on the latest TV shows is your thing. Arguably making it the best choice if you are cutting the cable and looking for something cheaper, but don't want to give up your shows. Just like Netlix, and Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus is building it's library of movies (although it's lagging behind the other two) and supplementing the selection with it's own in house TV shows. It's a dollar cheaper per month than Netflix, but you have to suffer through adds (which you'll never see on either Netflix or Amazon Prime). Despite Hulu's lacking movie selection, they do have a selection of classic films from Criterion Collection, which makes Hulu hard to overlook for film buffs. It's also about as widely available as Netflix in terms of it's apps (and it supports Chromecast).

Mubi is another service worth looking into for film buffs. It's a smaller, newer streaming service. Every day of the month they'll add a new film, and you'll have 30 days to watch it before it expires. 30 films isn't a lot, especially when some of them are short films at 20 minutes or less, but they're all hand picked from film festivals, and favorite directors worldwide. Just about all of them are classics, indies, or foreign films not likely to appear on other streaming services. It's the cheapest of the services at $5 a month, but considering the smaller ever changing catalog of films, it should be. They even consider themselves a supplement to a service such as Netflix, rather than a one stop shop. Mubi also supports Chromecast!

For my money, at the moment, Netflix is still the service to have (unless you watch more TV than movies I suppose). Both Amazon and Hulu have their strong points that could easily sway someone to their service. But sadly, there is no perfect streaming service yet. If I could have Netflix's library (including their original TV shows), and their wide availability with Amazon Prime's extras (particularly free 2 days shipping), and Hulu's access to Criterion Collection films, and recent episodes of TV shows there'd be no question which streaming service to have. If we had a service like that we wouldn't need to bother with TV channels. Well, mostly.

So which is your streaming service of choice?