Streaming Video Services

James K. Willcox

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Over the past two years, the number of streaming video services has exploded, offering American families more alternatives than ever to traditional pay TV.

With many of us still stuck at home, you might be looking at new options, especially those provided by the world’s biggest tech and entertainment companies. Some have already launched. Others will be available soon.

In recent months, we’ve seen the launch of Apple TV+ from Apple and Disney’s new blockbuster service, Disney+, along with Quibi, a new short-form video service. WarnerMedia's new HBO Max service debuted in May, combining HBO's channels with other content from AT&T and Warner Bros. And NBCUniversal’s Peacock service is slated to arrive in mid-July. You’ll see more details on those services below.

The new options will join all-you-can-eat monthly subscription services, such as Netflix, and cable-TV-style packages designed to help you cut the cord, from AT&T (AT&T TV Now), Dish (Sling TV), Hulu (Hulu + Live TV), Google (YouTube TV), and others.

Apple TV+

Apple’s streaming service, called Apple TV+, costs just $5 per month, $2 less than Disney+ and considerably less than Netflix’s most popular Standard plan, which costs $13 per month. 

However, so far Apple TV+ provides very limited content. 

The lineup includes “The Morning Show,” starring Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, and Steve Carell; a reboot of Steven Spielberg’s 1980s series “Amazing Stories”; “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; “Servant,” a psychological thriller from director M. Night Shyamalan; and “Dickinson,” a coming-of-age story from the perspective of Emily Dickinson.

Shows to debut later include “Little Voice,” about an up-and-coming singer, from director J.J. Abrams and singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles; “Central Park,” an animated musical comedy from “Bob’s Burgers” creator Loren Bouchard; “Foundation,” a series based on the eponymous Isaac Asimov science-fiction trilogy; and “Losing Earth,” based on a New York Times article about the effects of ignoring climate science.

Apple already owned a few original shows, including “Planet of the Apps” and James Cordon’s “Carpool Karaoke: The Series.” 

Separately, Apple TV+ has a subscription option, called Apple TV Channels, for Apple TV users. It lets you subscribe to channels such as HBO and Showtime from a single app.

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

After being rolled out in a few select markets, AT&T TV—basically a streaming version of the company’s DirecTV satellite offering—is now available nationwide.

Not to be confused with the company’s DirecTV Now cable-style streaming service, which has been rebranded as AT&T TV Now, the new service is too expensive to help most people save money by switching from a traditional TV plan. It starts at $60 per month for a plan with about 70 channels, then jumps to $93 per month during the second year of a 24-month contract—AT&T TV Now costs $50 per month for about 45 channels.

Three additional step-up plans, with more channels, are also available, costing 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 an additional $8.50 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.

To get AT&T TV, you need to rent or buy an Android-based set-top box provided by AT&T. By contrast, to use the company’s AT&T Now you just need an app you access from a smart TV or streaming player, such as an Apple TV. AT&T recently ended support for new Roku devices and Roku TVs, though if you already have the app, you can keep using it.

The new system supports 4K videos 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.

As the AT&T TV website explains, 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 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 this month.

Discovery/BBC

Discovery is teaming up with the BBC for a new subscription streaming service that Discovery says will launch this year. Under a 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 analysts expect the service to cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 per month.

Disney+

The Disney+ subscription streaming service, which launched at the end of 2019, costs $7 per month (or $70 if you pay annually) and is among the least expensive new services. It’s about $2 more per month than Apple TV+ but has a vast array of new original shows and movies, as well as a deep catalog of library titles.

Disney seems to be taking aim at Netflix with a bundled plan that combines Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu for $13 per month. Some of Disney’s content is currently licensed to Netflix in a deal that ends next year.

Disney owns all the “Star Wars” movies (via LucasFilms), as well as Marvel Studios and Pixar. It also owns 20th Century Fox (being rebranded as 20th Century Studios) and is the majority owner of the National Geographic channel. 

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.

HBO Max

HBO Max, the new streaming service from AT&T’s WarnerMedia division, is priced at $15 per month, just like HBO and HBO Now (see below), but many current HBO subscribers will get access to HBO Max at no additional cost.

Right now, the company says, anyone getting regular HBO from Charter/Spectrum, Comcast, or one of AT&T's TV services will get automatic access to HBO Max. So, too, will those who subscribe directly to HBO Now through HBO, Apple, Google Play, or Hulu. It's still unclear whether those getting HBO from other cable TV companies or third parties will receive the automatic upgrade; HBO is working to secure more partners, it says. You can get the latest info at the company's HBO Max FAQ.

HBO Max isn't yet available on two of the biggest streaming platforms, Amazon Fire TV and Roku. Analysts say the company is closer to a deal with Roku than Amazon. For a list of services and devices that support HBO Max, visit the service's website.

This new offering could be a compelling option for many, because it provides not only the channels you get with the premium HBO service but also new original programs, titles from the Warner Bros. TV and film library, and content from AT&T’s properties, such as Cartoon Network, CNN, DC Entertainment, TBS, The CW, TNT, and Turner Classic Movies.

At launch, the service has the exclusive streaming rights to every episode of “Friends” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” plus original series, including "Love Life," starring Anna Kendrick. There will be new original movies from producer Greg Berlanti and Reese Witherspoon, and original series such as “The Flight Attendant,” starring Kaley Cuoco.

HBO Max also has the exclusive domestic rights to all 12 seasons of “The Big Bang Theory” through 2028.

AT&T, which acquired Time Warner in 2018, has been aggressive in offering new streaming services. In addition to the new HBO Max 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.

As described above, the company has rolled out a new streaming version of its satellite-based DirecTV service, called AT&T TV.

NBCUniversal/Peacock

A new streaming service from NBCUniversal, called Peacock in a nod to the NBC logo, is now available to select Comcast customers and will debut nationally July 15.

Peacock will offer three pricing tiers. The 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.

However, many of the original programs the company was planning are being put off until 2021 because the coronavirus pandemic is delaying production.

A reboot of “Saved by the Bell” might be released this year, but other new shows, such as a music-themed comedy produced by Tina Fey and a new version of  “Battlestar Galactica,” will probably be delayed.

That means that at launch subscribers will be able to view mainly library titles, such as “Law and Order: SVU,” producer Dick Wolf’s “Chicago” franchise, “Parks and Recreation,” and “Cheers.” “The Office” will be available starting in 2021 after Netflix’s deal for it expires.

The service will include some A&E and History channel shows, such as “Cold Case Files,” “The Curse of Oak Island,” and “Storage Wars.” 

The company says the service will have movies and programs from other NBCUniversal properties, including Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Animation. At launch, the service will include some popular movies, including “Back to the Future” and “Jaws.”

Quibi

Quibi, a new streaming service that focuses on short-form entertainment, went live in early April. It was founded by ex-Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg and the tech executive Meg Whitman, who among other things was CEO of eBay. Right now you can get a free 90-day trial.

Quibi—short for “quick bites”—says it 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 and $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.

But recently the company backtracked on its mobile-only policy, saying that support for watching on television would be added soon.

Quibi has been able to attract some big Hollywood names: Spielberg is producing a horror series, called “After Dark,” that viewers can watch only after sunset; Guillermo del Toro and Sam Raimi are also producing a few horror shows. Other shows include a car racing series by Idris Elba; a cooking competition with Tituss Burgess; Stephan James and Laurence Fishburne starring in Antoine Fuqua’s drama series “Free Ray Shawn”; and a courtroom show starring Chrissy Teigen.

Quibi is also releasing several movies in chapters, including Liam Hemsworth in “Most Dangerous Game,” and revamps of “Punk’d” and “Singled Out,” from MTV.



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