Let’s face it, cable tv is dead. It had a solid run and lived a long and fruitful existence but now – sorry to say – the time has come to lay cable tv down for the long nap. Who can we blame for this phenomenon you may ask? Well, the answer lies on your computer, tablet, phone and smart tv – propagated by our newfound instant gratification ethos in the entertainment industry, and supported by the contemporary ubiquitous nature of technology. We’re speaking of course on video streaming services – including both live tv streaming services and on-demand programming. It’s these non-committal pay-as-you-go subscription services that serve as a direct extension of our current zeitgeist. A sense of freedom from contracts and advertisements, coupled with complete control over what we’re watching, when we’re watching, and for how long we’re watching.
Sounds empowering right? These days, the television revolves itself around your schedule so to speak, insofar as the user gets to decide when they will be watching that new episode or if they want to continue binging on a preferred series at the moment. Odds are anyone under the age of 20 doesn’t remember using a TV Guide or even understands why anyone would even need one. And you know what? That’s the beauty of it all. We’ve come so far in the forms of entertainment over the past decade or so that we’ve completely reworked the methods of personal entertainment for the better (or worse depending on outlook). Whatever the case, there’s a lot to choose from out there – though this is one instance where the big players reign supreme. Therefore, we decided to take a more microscopic approach in this piece, highlighting the perks of each prominent subscription service – hoping to level the playing field for anyone interested in fully immersing themselves into this personalized on-demand world.
What's the Difference
On Demand vs. Live Streaming
Broken down to the very basics, live streaming is what we were brought up on. Where cable companies would schedule programming out in advance around prime viewing hours. Through this antiquated model, if you missed a premier episode, you’d have to bite the bullet until the network was kind enough to hit you with a rerun. From here, ad placements and insertion costs would be based around viewership, demographics, and peak viewing hours (formerly known as Primetime).
These days, however, the term live streaming is more associated with social media. With platforms like Periscope, Facebook and Instagram offer users the chance to live stream on the network. Of course, webcams and video streams are more seasoned (albeit older) ways to doing this as well. But for our purposes, live streaming in this regard refers to the cord cutting idea of a contactless pay-as-you-go model where you can adjust your plans based on what programming you prefer – be it sports based or movie based. Here, you still get the comforts of live tv, where you’ll never miss a news broadcast or game from the homestead. Most platforms here offer a base selection of the major cable networks with “premium” channels available for an extra cost. However, a strong internet connection is mandatory here as latency issues are one of most prevalent issues users find with these services.
On the flip side, On Demand platforms simply serve as a library of content from which you can choose from. Here, titles are updated on a monthly or weekly basis depending on the show or service for your enjoyment anywhere, anytime, and for however long you wish. From original programming to housing entire seasons and series of specific shows on-demand, platforms such as Netflix and Hulu have already taken off with a vengeance. And what’s not to like? Play, pause, and resume your favorite TV shows without worry and watch them when you want. The only issue here is the timing, where seasons won’t be released until a month or sometimes even a year after it’s concluded (obviously not the case with platforms such as HBO Now or Showtime). What is important to keep in mind, however, are the perks of each platform.
A Subscriber's Personal Preference
One element where On Demand services excel over others is the original programming associated with each one. Obviously, without original programming, the playing field would be leveled out amongst all these platforms seeing how a library of content would be the only prerequisite for success. For our purposes, let’s talk about what we consider to be the “Big 3” in this space: Netflix, Hulu, and HBO.
HBO obviously is one of the OGs in producing high-demand original content by their own studios accessible only through a paywall. They’ve been doing this for a while now, functioning as one of the first premium networks for entertainment. Now, many of us access their content through On-Demand apps on personal laptops, tablets, or smart TVs. Arguably, they host the most demanded original content along with a slew of classic movies at your disposal.
Netflix, on the other hand, is a monstrous library of content (movies, documentaries, shows, and original content). However, within the past few years, Netflix has been rolling out a ton of original content – some of which is award winning – that we feel is now selling the platform more than their non-Netflix offerings.
Soon after Netflix began rolling our their original programming Hulu then followed suit – though to a lesser and so far less successful degree. For the most part, their bread and butter have been housing programs from the big networks such as ABC, NBC, and CBS through freemium and paywall structures. That’s not to say their movie selection isn’t lacking, neither are their documentaries.
Just like everything else, it’s important to understand the little idiosyncrasies embedded within each platform before pushing forward. From here, we’ll introduce the best five options out there based on user experience, variety, and quality of content.
Best Rabbithole Viewing Experience
Founded back in 1997, Netflix first entered the entertainment scene through DVD sales and rentals. It wasn’t until around 2013, however, that the company expanded into film and television production with the release of House of Cards (which remains one of their most successful original programs). The online streaming model took off a bit earlier when, back in 2007, Netflix hosted their entire library of movies and television on their website. From here, this model took off swiftly and efficiently and now offers its services in over 190 countries around the globe.
In terms of content, Netflix offers just about anything under the sun from documentaries to horror movies to comedies to even niche genres you didn’t know existed. Streaming is also available on phones, laptops, smart TVs and tablets, allowing you to take you favorite shows with you while on the go or even up in the air. Most recently, they’ve been pivoting more towards original programming, with Netflix original series, movies, documentaries and specials. This is by far the most binge-worthy streaming service available, thanks to their seemingly endless library of content it doesn’t take much to get pulled down the rabbit hole here.
*Pro Tip: Can’t figure our what to watch? Tempt fate with the Netflix Flix Roulette feature that will pick something for you.
Best For On-Demand Network Television
Founded around the same time Netflix started running with their on-demand streaming service, Hulu is a joint venture LLC streaming service meaning they’ve partnered with The Walt Disney Company, 21st Century Fox, Comcast and Time Warner. As a result, Hulu is known primarily for their library of television series – hosting current and past episodes from well-known programs hosted by their content partners. From here, however, Hulu has continuously added movies and documentaries to this lot and have even started to release their very own original programming.
Unlike some other on-demand streaming services, Hulu is accessible through both free and paid tiers. Naturally, the free tiers limit the amount of accessible content and include commercial breaks in the shows while paid tiers limit or eliminate ads altogether and allow complete and total access to Hulu’s library. Also, earlier this year, they released a live television streaming service currently available through the latest iterations of smart televisions.
*Pro Tip: Search for desired clips and shows by using the Hulu’s caption search option. Finally watch that episode with a particularly funny line or character you could never find before.
Best Original Content
Launched quite recently back in 2015, HBO Now is the video-on-demand service in conjunction with the premium cable network HBO. Through this app users have on-demand access to HBO’s entire library, including original programming, films, specials and other content housed within the network. From here, you can catch up with your favorite HBO television shows, revisit renowned old series from years past, or even watch one of your favorite movies from their extensive library of contemporary and cult classics.
What’s also important to note here is that HBO Now doesn’t require a subscription to the HBO channel for use. In doing so, this service is successfully competing with fellow cord cutter services in this regard – hoping to capture its fair share of the market. And since no other HBO programming is likely to become available on these other services, we feel like this on-demand video service is here to stay.
*Pro Tip: Pause, play and continue watching the same show across all your media devices through their “continue watching” section.
Best For Streaming Live TV
If streaming live television is still desired, then we’d have to recommend Sling TV in this instance. Owned by Dish Network, Sling TV was founded in 2015 as a non-committal television service aimed at offering users access to major cable networks on a monthly basis. Structure wise, Sling is set up as a multichannel video programming distributor aimed at capturing the cord cutter audience who still wants to watch their favorite news programs, television series or sports teams in real time.
Sling can also be streamed through smart TV, tablets, computers, and phones making it a highly accessible application as long as you have a strong wifi connection. It’s divided into several paid tiers as well, offering everything from basic to premium channels in conjunction with price. You can also pick and choose what channels you’d like access to and make changes on a month-to-month basis if you wish.
*Pro Tip: Organize your favorite channels for easy access when time is of the essence.
Amazon Prime TV
Best Service You Didn't Know You Had
Odds are a majority of us already have this subscription service – though we hardly think Amazon’s video streaming service was the initial reason for making the purchase. Instead, it’s the access to free two-day shipping, grocery delivery and reduced prices that were the alluring aspects of Prime. That’s why we decided to label this as the best streaming service you probably didn’t know you had.
Officially called Amazon Instant Video, the service originally debuted in 2008 but was rebranded in 2011 and now offers access to over 5,000 movies and TV shows exclusively for Prime members. Catch up on your favorite shows, re-watch your favorite movies, or even check out some of their original content. It could be a great way to spend two days while you wait for delivery of your most recent Amazon gear purchases.
*Pro Tip: Share your prime membership with your friends by “setting up a household” with their info. Trust us, they’ll cherish you for it.
The Gear: Apple TV
Editor’s Pick: Thanks to Apple’s fantastic user ecosystem and now their integration of Amazon Prime into their services there really isn’t a better option out there in the world for streaming devices. Sleek, user-friendly, reliable and affordable; this honestly is a no-brainer for us.