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Over the past two years, the number of streaming video services has exploded, offering you more choices than ever when it comes to alternatives to traditional pay TV.
New options from some of the world’s biggest tech and entertainment companies are available now or will be soon.
For instance, you can subscribe to the new Criterion Channel service, which focuses on classic, foreign, and independent films. And Amazon has a new free, ad-supported service, IMDb TV, to complement its Amazon Prime subscription service.
In addition, we’ve recently seen the launch of two high-profile services, Apple TV+ from Apple and Disney’s new blockbuster service, Disney+. In April, we’ll see the debut of NBCUniversal’s Peacock service—at first just for Comcast customers—and Quibi, a new short-form video service. A month later we’ll get to kick the tires on HBO Max, a new HBO-based service from AT&T subsidiary WarnerMedia. You’ll see more details on those services below.
The new options will join all-you-can-eat monthly subscription services, such as Netflix, along with cable-TV-style packages from companies that include AT&T (AT&T TV Now), Dish (Sling TV), Hulu (Hulu + Live TV), Sony (PlayStation Vue), and Google (YouTube TV), that are designed to help you cut the cable cord.
Apple’s new streaming service, called Apple TV+, costs just $5 per month, making it the least expensive streaming service so far. It’s $2 per month cheaper than Disney+, and considerably less expensive than Netflix’s most popular Standard plan, which costs $13 per month. HBO Max will cost $15 per month when it debuts in May.
However, the amount of content right now is limited, because the service launched with just nine new originals, and unlike many other services, Apple lacks a robust catalog of shows.
Among the available shows are “The Morning Show,” about a talk show, starring Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, and Steve Carell; “See,” a post-apocalypse drama starring Jason Momoa and Alfre Woodard; “For All Mankind,” a series that imagines what would have happened if the global space race had never ended; and “Dickinson,” a coming-of-age story from the perspective of Emily Dickinson.
Shows to debut later include a reboot of Steven Spielberg’s 1980s series “Amazing Stories”; “Little Voice,” about an up-and-coming singer, from director J.J. Abrams and singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles; “Servant,” a psychological thriller from director M. Night Shyamalan; and a series of documentaries from Oprah Winfrey.
Apple already owned a few original shows, including “Planet of the Apps” and James Cordon’s “Carpool Karaoke: The Series.”
Apple TV+ also has a subscription option, called Apple TV Channels, for Apple TV users. It makes it easy for them to subscribe to channels such as HBO and Showtime from a single app.
The company also offers a game-subscription service, called Apple Arcade, for about the same price.
Beyond content, perhaps the biggest news is that for the first time you don’t need an Apple TV device to get Apple content on your TV. In addition to being installed on Apple hardware, the Apple TV app, which provides access to Apple TV+, is also available on select Samsung smart TVs now and will come to Amazon Fire TV, LG, Roku, Sony, and Vizio sets in the near future.
AT&T TV—basically a streaming version of the company’s DirecTV satellite offering—is now available in Orange County and Riverside, Calif.; Miami and West Palm Beach, Fla.; Topeka and Wichita, Kan.; Minneapolis, Minn.; St. Louis and Springfield, Mo.; New York City; Corpus Christi, El Paso, and Odessa, Texas; and Seattle. A national rollout is planned for early this year.
AT&T TV is a separate offering from the company’s DirecTV Now cable-style streaming service, which has been rebranded as AT&T TV Now.
Given the announced pricing—AT&T TV starts at $60 per month for the cheapest plan, with about 70 channels, and jumps to $93 per month during the second year of a 24-month contract—it’s unlikely to have much appeal to those looking to save a lot of money compared with a traditional TV plan. AT&T TV Now costs $50 per month for about 45 channels.
Three additional step-up plans, with more channels, are also available, ranging from $65 to $80 per month during the first year. But you’ll pay as much as $135 per month during the second year of your contract. Some plans require that you pay a $20 activation fee and $8.50 extra each month to get regional sports networks. You can check out the plans and pricing—and see which local channels are available in your area—on the AT&T TV website.
Cinemax, HBO, Showtime, and Starz are included free for three months and will auto-renew at $48 per month if you don’t call to change or cancel.
Compared with the AT&T TV Now service, one big difference with AT&T TV is that you need to rent or buy an Android-based set-top box provided by AT&T. (With AT&T Now, it’s simply an app you access from a smart TV or third-party streaming player, such as an Apple TV or a Roku.) The system supports 4K videos where available and includes 500 hours of DVR storage. Recordings are saved for up to 90 days.
One set-top box is included free, but additional ones cost $10 per month, or $120 if you want to buy them outright. AT&T says that one box will support up to three streams at a time.
Based on information on the AT&T TV website, it appears that once you have the box, you should be able to use an app to stream content on a smartphone or tablet. The included AT&T TV remote has the Google Assistant voice-powered digital assistant built in, so you can search for shows, change channels, and get weather and news updates on your TV using voice commands.
AT&T has said that the reason it’s launching AT&T TV is that it can provide comprehensive pay-TV packages at a lower price than a regular satellite-TV service. That’s because it’s a streaming service that doesn’t require a satellite dish and can be self-installed, so the company doesn’t have to send technicians out.
AT&T TV is the latest in a growing number of TV options from the company. AT&T still offers the DirecTV satellite-TV service, as well as AT&T U-verse, an IP-based fiber-optic pay-TV service, though both continue to shed subscribers.
For cord cutters, it has the low-priced AT&T Watch service in addition to AT&T Now. And HBO Max (see below) from its WarnerMedia division, is slated to launch early next year.
Discovery is teaming up with the BBC for a new subscription streaming service that Discovery says will launch by 2020. Under the 10-year licensing deal, the new Discovery-branded service will be the home for all of the BBC’s natural history programs, including “Planet Earth” and “Blue Planet,” as well as new series developed by the two companies.
The new service, which doesn’t yet have a name, will also include BBC series that will leave Netflix once earlier deals expire, plus Discovery’s own natural history and documentary programming. Pricing hasn’t been announced, but the service is likely to cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 per month.
Disney’s new Disney+ subscription streaming service costs $7 per month (or $70 if paid annually), and is among the least expensive new services. It’s about $2 more per month more than Apple TV+. However, unlike Apple, Disney+ has a vast array of new original shows and movies, as well as a deep catalog of library titles.
Disney also seems to be taking aim at Netflix with a bundled plan that combines Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu for $13 per month.
Disney has a huge library of its own animated and live-action films and TV series. Some of that content is currently licensed to Netflix in a deal that ends next year.
Disney also owns all the “Star Wars” movies (via LucasFilms), as well as Marvel Studios, and Pixar. It also owns 20th Century Fox (currently being rebranded as 20th Century Studios) and National Geographic.
Disney+ will offer 10 original films and 25 original series, including three “Avengers” spinoffs, in its first year of operation.
Among the highlighted new original content is “The Mandalorian,” a Jon Favreau-directed series set in the “Star Wars” universe that cost an estimated $10 million for each of its 10 episodes. It’s the most-watched new show on the service, and a second season has been approved.
The Disney+ app, which features individual tiles for each of the prominent Disney brands, is available on lots of devices, including LG and Samsung smart TVs, plus Android TVs and Roku TVs. You can also access the service from most streaming players, game consoles, and Android and iOS smartphones, and via web browsers.
AT&T’s WarnerMedia division says its new HBO Max streaming service will launch in May 2020. The price will be $15 per month, the same as for HBO and HBO Now.
This could be a compelling option for many because the service will include the premium HBO service, a slate of new original programs, and titles from the Warner Bros. TV and film library. The service will also provide content from AT&T’s other properties, including Cartoon Network, CNN, DC Entertainment, TBS, The CW, TNT, and Turner Classic Movies.
For example, at launch the service will have the exclusive streaming rights to every episode of “Friends” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” It will also have new original movies from the producer Greg Berlanti and Reese Witherspoon, and original series such as “Love Life” starring Anna Kendrick and “The Flight Attendant” starring Kaley Cuoco.
A recently announced deal will give HBO Max the exclusive domestic rights to all 12 seasons of the hit sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” through 2028.
AT&T, which acquired Time Warner last year, has been aggressive in offering new streaming services. In addition to the new HBO-plus service, the company and its subsidiaries now offer the cable-replacement service AT&T TV Now, HBO Now, AT&T Watch, and ESPN+, plus the recently launched DC Universe.
In addition, as we note above, the company is rolling out a new streaming version of its satellite-based DirecTV service. Called AT&T TV, it will be separate from the current AT&T TV Now streaming service and is designed to replicate the bigger programming bundle that customers currently get as part of a satellite package. Pricing is higher than AT&T TV Now but lower than a regular satellite TV subscription plan.
Some more details have emerged about a new streaming service from NBCUniversal that’s slated to hit the market starting this spring. Called Peacock in a nod to the NBC logo, the service will launch April 15 to select Comcast customers before debuting nationally July 15.
Peacock will offer three pricing tiers. The most basic option, Peacock Free, will be an ad-supported free service that features some NBCUniversal content. The next level, Peacock Premium, costs $5 per month and will give users access to a more robust library of ad-supported content. A third tier will let Premium users upgrade to an ad-free experience, for about $10 per month.
Among the programs that will appear are popular prime-time shows, such as “Law and Order: SVU” and producer Dick Wolf’s “Chicago” franchise, as well as older shows, such as “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation,” and “Cheers.” “The Office” will be available starting in 2021 after Netflix’s deal for it expires.
It will also include some popular Universal Pictures movies, such as “Back to the Future” and “Jaws."
NBCUniversal is also preparing a slate of original shows, including a music-themed comedy produced by Tina Fey, and reboots of the classic shows “Saved by the Bell” and “Battlestar Galactica.”
The company also said the service will have movies and programs from other NBCUniversal properties, including Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Animation.
Quibi, which is slated to launch on April 6, is a streaming service that focuses on short-form entertainment. It was founded by ex-Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg and tech executive Meg Whitman, who among other things was CEO of eBay.
Quibi—short for “quick bites”—markets itself as a new form of entertainment that focuses on “snackable” series and films that are each told in multiple short chapters. In its first year, the company says it will have around 7,000 videos, everything from scripted series and movies to reality TV.
Quibi will have two payment tiers: $5 per month for an ad-supported version, or $8 per month without ads. Unlike many other new services, Quibi is meant to be viewed on a mobile device, not a TV, and it supports both horizontal and vertical videos. At CES, the annual electronics trade show held in January, the company showed off this technology, which allows producers to combine both types of orientations within the same video.
Quibi has been able to attract some big Hollywood names: Steven Spielberg is producing a horror series that viewers can watch only after dark; Guillermo del Toro and Sam Raimi are also producing a few horror shows. Others signing on include Idris Elba, for a car-racing series; Andy Samberg, hosting a cooking competition; Stephan James and Laurence Fishburne, starring in Antoine Fuqua's drama series, “#Freerayshawn”; and a courtroom show starring Chrissy Teigen.
There will also be revamps of “Punk’d” and “Singled Out,” from MTV.
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