If you’re like the millions of Americans looking to slash your cable bill, then one of the first things to figure out is where to watch t.v. shows without cable service.
There are a variety of providers who make popular television shows – past and present – available to stream to your computer or your television. Here are a few of the more prominent ones that will save you money on your television bill.
Hulu vs. Hulu Plus
There are actually 2 services offered by Hulu – basic, and “Plus.” Each flavor carries different shows. Hulu (basic) is free, while Hulu Plus will cost you $8 a month. The basic Hulu service is targeted toward pc users, while the Hulu Plus service targets “smart t.v.” watchers.
That makes sense to me, but I don’t understand why they don’t offer the same shows on Hulu Plus that are available for free on Hulu. I’m hoping that Hulu will someday hire an exec with a brain who can figure out they’d get many more subscribers to the Plus version if they only rolled the free content into the Plus package.
To watch Hulu free content on your t.v., you need another provider called PlayOn. See below for details on that.
Netflix vs. Netflix.
There are also 2 different versions of Netflix: the DVD provider, and the streaming t.v. provider. Each service costs $8 a month, and provides a different set of content. This is an important distinction. When checking the availability of your shows on Netflix, make sure you’re checking only the streaming option. Unless you want to pay for both, then it really doesn’t matter. But then you’ve just doubled your Netflix bill.
Amazon Instant Video has a vast collection of streaming content, but all of that is pay per view. Amazon Prime is a subscription based service that provides free 2 day shipping on Amazon orders and access to their Amazon Prime video streaming selection at no additional cost.
The problem is that the Amazon Prime selection sucks. The selection on Amazon Instant Video on the other hand is excellent, but it’s about $2.99 per video/episode. You do the math on a whole season of just one of your favorite shows and you’ll quickly realize it’s more expensive than cable t.v.!
Like Hulu and Hulu Plus, I just don’t understand Amazon’s decision on this one. If they combine their television content from Instant Video and Prime and offered all videos at the Prime subscription rate, they would easily dominate the streaming television market. Instead, they are content on losing that market share to Netflix and Hulu. I’m hoping they will someday figure this out, and non-cable paying television watchers everywhere can rejoice.
Most set top devices (Roku, the Boxee Box, many internet ready Blue-ray players , etc..) provide access to a Hulu Plus account, but not the basic Hulu account. In order to watch content available on Hulu on your t.v., you either need to connect your pc directly to your television (via HDMI or similar cable), or use another service like PlayOn.tv.
PlayOn is a program that runs on your computer and takes the internet stream from Hulu or CBS.com (ESPN, Comedy Central, Spike,Nick, SyFy, TBS, Cartoon Network, NHL and many others) and relays it to your set top device over your home network. The service is not free however. It currently runs about $4 a month. Still cheaper than cable, but each PlayOn subscriber watching Hulu is a lost Hulu Plus subscriber. (Are you listening, Hulu?)
How to watch CBS shows online.
CBS is not a team player. They don’t want to provide their content to either Hulu or Netflix, yet they provide it for free on their website. This makes no sense to me. They would make more money selling their content to Netflix, and it would be easier for customers to watch if they did so.
The problem with the free website is that it’s inconvenient to watch on your t.v.. To do so requires either a direct connection from your computer to your television or an additional service like PlayOn (described above).
This was a particular problem for me because my wife and I love NCIS, which is not available anywhere but cable/dish/etc and cbs.com.
Life without DVR.
One of the major mindshifts my wife and I had to make was life without our DVR. Most people I’ve spoken with about the subject of cutting cable raise the specter of living without DVR like it’s on par with be told by their doctor they only have months to live and they’ll never get to take the European vacation they’ve always dreamed about.
It’s understandable. After all, the DVR puts the television watcher in control. They can watch when they want to, and skip through commercial breaks while doing so. Here’s the thing though – watching online content over Hulu or Netflix (or a similar service) is like DVR by default. You choose when you want to watch your show, and in many cases the commercials are already stripped out of the show for you! Even shows that do contain commercials are significantly shorter than their broadcast counterparts. We’re talking 43 minutes for an hour long show with the commercials.
As you can see, dropping your cable television currently requires you to replace them with a patchwork collection of alternative providers based on the shows you watch.
Streaming internet content to your television is still a fairly new technology and I believe that as the business model matures and more people drop cable, we will see services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon offer more shows in common and viewers will not have to create such a patchwork in the future.