Free Streaming Trials Are Getting Rarer

·4 min read

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Free trials for streaming video services, which let you try out a service before committing, have seemingly been a popular way of attracting new subscribers.

But a number of companies have begun scaling back or eliminating their free trials, meaning that you'll now have to pay for at least one month of service to get access to programming.

Sling TV is the latest big service to join that trend, restricting access to its free trial in mid-March. Disney+, HBO Max, and Netflix have all moved away from free-trial promotions in recent months.

Dan Rayburn, principal analyst at the research firm Frost & Sullivan, told CR that free trials may not be as effective as they appear.

"Doing away with free trials does not impact new sign-ups," he said. "What these companies say in private conversations is that content drives new subscriptions, and if they have shows and movies users want to see, people will sign up for the service, even without a free trial."

Sling TV eliminated free trials for people signing up through the website, but you can still get a free trial if you sign up through certain devices. And, as a spokesperson points out, "Both subscribers and nonsubscribers can also check out Sling Free, where they can view free content anytime." Sling Free offers about 5,000 free TV shows and movies, along with ads.

Netflix has been gradually phasing out free trials for almost two years, starting in other countries. They have been partly replaced by content sampling programs, where you can watch a limited number of TV shows before you have to sign up. But you won't be able to binge-watch a whole season of a show (or shows) without paying for at least a one-month subscription.

Separately, Netflix recently said it would start making it harder to share accounts with someone from another household. Access Netflix from outside the account holder's home and the company will log you out and require you to sign back in using a code sent by email or text.

But it's not all bad news for people who like a good deal. While streaming services have been moving away from free trials, they have been experimenting with discount programs, according to Rayburn. "They offer discounts if you pay for a year in advance or bundle one or more services together," he said.

Services That Still Have Free Trials

They're still offered by a number of streaming subscription services, including the following.

Acorn TV: Fans of British TV fare can get a seven-day free trial before paying $6 a month, or $60 a year, for the service.

Apple TV+: Apple's subscription service has a seven-day free trial before its $5-a-month subscription kicks in.

BritBox: Like Acorn TV, BritBox caters to fans of British TV. And like that service, it offers a seven-day free trial before you have to pay for $7-a-month, or $70-a-year, subscription.

Discovery+: This new service, which features content from Discovery properties such as HGTV and TLC plus several new original shows, currently has a seven-day free trial. After that, it costs either $5 month with ads or $7 a month without.

FuboTV: This sports-centric cable-replacement service has a seven-day free trial. After that, plans start at $65 a month for more than 120 channels.

Hulu: Hulu's 30-day free trial is among the longest; after that, you'll pay either $6 a month (or $60 a year) for the ad-supported service or $12 a month for the ad-free version.

Hulu + Live TV: This cable-style live TV service offers a free seven-day trial for new and eligible returning subscribers. After that, it costs $65 a month for about 85 broadcast and cable channels.

Paramount+: Right now this service, which has replaced ViacomCBS' CBS All Access, has a very generous 30-day free trial. But it's only good until March 31, so we'll have to see if it's continued or altered after that. Plans start at $6 a month.

Peacock Premium and Premium Plus: You can get the basic Peacock service free, and there's a seven-day free trial for both the $5-a-month ad-supported Premium service and the $10-a-month ad-free version. Both provide access to all of Peacock's content, including original series you don't get with the free version. Premium Plus also lets you watch certain shows on a mobile device.

Philo: This cable-replacement service offers more than 60 cable-style channels, but no local networks, for just $20 a month. It has a seven-day free trial.

YouTube TV: The cable-replacement service offers free trials, typically from seven to 14 days, provided you haven't previously been a subscriber or participated in a free trial. After the trial period, the service costs $65 a month.

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