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Jennifer Van Grove: A streaming TV state of the union

Jennifer Van Grove, San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Science & Technology News

When I started this streaming TV column one year ago, we were at a tipping point in TV and entertainment. Today, the pendulum has swung to the side of streamers, who have more choice and customization options, including sports and local stations, than traditional pay TV customers.

As a result, more people than ever are ditching their providers. In fact, eMarketer estimates that the proportion of U.S. adults with a pay TV subscription will fall from 78 percent in 2017 to 69 percent by the end of 2021. Many are migrating to over-the-Internet alternatives.

Of course, you don't need a streaming skinny bundle to get by -- an antenna plus a few subscription digital video services will suffice for extreme bargain hunters. But if you want one, you've got a wide spectrum to choose from.

Last year at this time, you could pick from Sling TV, PlayStation Vue and DirecTV Now, all of which were still sorting through their local licensing agreements. Since then, the list has more than doubled (and will continue to grow), and the lineups have improved considerably.

As a reminder, here's an overview of what's available now:

Sling TV -- Starting at $20 p/mo.

Sling TV, from parent company DISH, offers cheap, minimalist bundles with upgrades for people who have niche interests. The $20-per-month plan, called "Sling Orange," gets you around 30 cable networks, including ESPN, HGTV, Food Network and CNN. Just be advised, this package doesn't include local broadcast affiliates.

The $25-per-month package, called "Sling Blue," is a nice step up with more channels and the local Fox station (in select markets including San Diego), NBC on demand, as well as regional sports networks Fox Sports and NBC Sports. What's absent are Disney-owned stations.

Extras: A cloud-based DVR costs $5 more per month. Sling TV also has a variety of add-on packages, costing between $5 and $10 each, to round out service.

Available on: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS, Android, Roku, Xbox One and some smart TVs.

PlayStation Vue -- $40 to $75 p/mo.

Don't be confused by the name, PlayStation Vue, from Sony doesn't require a PlayStation, and its channel lineup is actually quite impressive, even for people with very particular demands.

There are four different streaming packages, all of which include a cloud DVR, but I recommend the "Core" bundle for $45 per month. You'll get the live, local feeds for NBC, CBS and ABC, Fox series on demand, cable staples (Bravo, CNN, HGTV, ESPN, Food Network) and regional sports networks. If sports channels aren't necessary, give the $40 "Access" package a look.

Extras: A sports pack, costing $10 more per month, tacks on more sports channels. An Espanol package comes with Spanish-language stations for $5 a month.

Available on: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV (4th gen), Chromecast, iOS, Android, Roku, PlayStation 3 and 4 consoles, and some smart TVs.

DirecTV Now -- $35 to $70 p/mo.

The most cable-like of the streaming pay TV services, AT&T's DirecTV Now starts at $35 a month for 60 channels (or $20 a month for AT&T unlimited subscribers) and climbs to $70 a month for people who everything. In San Diego, each bundle includes the local ABC, Fox and NBC affiliates, as well as on-demand CBS material.

Those who want sports stations, however, will need the pricier "Just Right" package, which costs $50 a month and comes with around 80 channels, including several sports offerings such as Fox Sports San Diego for locals and MLB Network.

Extras: HBO and Cinemax can be added on for $5 more each, while Showtime and Starz cost an additional $8 a pop.

Available on: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV (4th gen), Chromecast, iOS (beta), Android (beta), Roku (select models), and some smart TVs.

YouTube TV -- $35 p/mo.

For the price, you get a lot with YouTube TV, including AMC, Bravo, Fox Sports San Diego, FX and all four of the broadcast networks. What you don't get are some cable favorites, most notably Turner's CNN, HGTV, TBS and TNT. There's also an unlimited cloud DVR, but fast-forwarding is sometimes tricky to navigate from a smartphone, which acts as the primary interface and remote for most TV viewing.

For now, shows are "cast" from the app to your TV by way of Google's Chromecast streaming stick or through Airplay on Apple TV, unless you have an Xbox or Android TV set. YouTube TV has promised a standalone app for both Apple TV and Roku devices, as well as Sony TV's, "in the coming months," but exact timing remains unclear.

 

Available on: Chromecast, iOS, Android, Xbox and some Android TVs.

Hulu with Live TV -- $40 p/mo.

Hulu with Live TV, an offshoot of the company's on-demand-only service, comes with an impressive selection of 50 popular broadcast, sports and cable networks, including all four broadcast networks in San Diego. Subscribers also get staples such as Food Network, Lifetime, FX, TNT, CNN, ESPN. NBC Sports Network and Fox Sports San Diego.

A so-called DVR is included in the price, but the offering is really a glorified on-demand content library, unless you want to pay more to fast-forward through ads.

Extras: The enhanced DVR, with fast-forward ability, costs an additional $15 a month. To stream on more than two screens at once, customers will also have to pay $15 more per month.

Available on: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV (4th gen), iOS, Android, Roku, Chromecast, Xbox and select Samsung TVs.

fuboTV -- $40 p/mo.

This skinny bundle caters to sports fans and comes with 75 channels, some of which (Pac 12 Networks and Big Ten Network) don't come standard in other streaming packages. FuboTV also provides live, local access to CBS, Fox and NBC, and comes with plenty of cable stations you know and love. That means people who want to supplement their sports viewing can tune into HGTV, Lifetime, A&E and other networks.

Extras: Channel packs, including sports and Spanish-language bundles, are available, ranging in price from $6 to $15 more a month.

Available on: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV (4th gen), Roku, iOS, Android, Chromecast and some Android TV's.

Philo -- $16 to $20 p/mo.

Designed for the viewer who doesn't care for sports, startup Philo's base bundle costs $16 a month and comes with 37 channels, albeit no local stations. The cheaper-than-cheap rate even includes streaming on up to three devices at the same time and the ability to save shows to watch later.

Philo might be the best fit for the occasional traditional TV viewer who also has an antenna and subscriptions to Netflix and Amazon Video.

Available on: Roku, iOS and Android.

While we're not at the point of complete a la carte TV -- and I'm not sure we ever will be -- streaming TV consumers can effectively build their own bundle, piecing together a content package that interests them instead of relying on a cable provider to come up with something satisfactory..

And this is where I leave you for the time being. This column will be on hiatus as I take leave to care for a baby on the way. I encourage fans of the series to participate in the SDUT cord-cutters Facebook group, which has blossomed into a fantastic resource for people weighing their TV and Internet options. Don't be shy. You might even find me participating in the comments.

About The Writer

Jennifer Van Grove covers e-commerce and digital lifestyle for The San Diego Union Tribune. Readers may send her email at jennifer.vangrove@utsandiego.com.

(c)2018 San Diego Union-Tribune

Visit San Diego Union-Tribune at www.sandiegouniontribune.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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