With the news that Apple plans to spent a cool $1 billion to finance TV projects, the media is pretending that there is going to be some sort of “battle royal” among the various services to get your cord-cutting dollars. While that, in part, may be true, the facts are far more nuanced.
It very much depends on your choices and your priorities.
So if you want to watch broadcast TV, you can buy a regular digital antenna. What type depends on how far you live from the transmission towers, and the quality of reception in your neighborhood. So if you live too far away, you may have to erect a roof antenna, assuming you’re allowed to do that — and landlords and homeowner associations may balk. Or you will be confronted with the original need for cable TV, which was to have a central facility with equipment to receive broadcasts from distant cities, and feed the signal to your home via wire.
Cable channels with repeat or original programming came later, along with premium channels with commercial-free and more hard-hitting content.
The cheapest cable and satellite packages offer a basic set of local stations plus popular off-air channels. Similar offerings are available for streaming, and examples in the U.S. include Sling TV from Dish Network, DirecTV NOW and PlayStation Vue.
Now I fail to see the value of such services because you get the same fare at similar prices with the wires or dish.
Regardless, they are all competing with one another for your eyeballs, but what you can get depends on where you live. So if there isn’t a local cable company, you can choose satellite. If you cannot get a satellite dish to work at your home, perhaps the streaming service will be suitable. But the ISP usually has its own TV system.
Where things get more complicated is the independent streaming service. They are not necessarily competitors — even if the media wants to suggest they are — but alternatives. If Netflix has the programming you want, choose them. But with other systems adding original programming, you may want to have more than one. A possible dream combo, if you want to keep costs low, is a streaming service plus an antenna for local broadcasts, assuming you live in an area where that’s possible.
But most subscribers to such streaming services as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu probably have cable or satellite too. They subscribe to these services as supplements to the basic fare.
And those choices are growing.
So CBS, HBO and Showtime offer streaming services. They also provide original content, but the first two are available on cable/satellite. Disney has announced it’s going to pull its content from Netflix in the next couple of years, and that might eventually include the hard-hitting original Marvel super hero shows that include Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and the new show featuring all four, The Defenders.
If Apple gets into the TV production game, it’ll probably require a subscription to Apple Music, since it’s not likely that a separate TV service will be established. That ship has already sailed.
Again, it’s not a matter of making an either/or choice. It’s closer to an a la carte menu, where you look at the available offerings and pick the ones that cater to your interests. You may, in the end, decide you can live with just Netflix. My son, who lives in Madrid, has already made that choice. But he’s not that much of a TV watcher these days.
Instead, you might set up Netflix, HBO and — when it arrives — Disney and be perfectly pleased with your decision.
However, once you stray from traditional cable/satellite, you’re no longer accessing a single interface, even if the streaming services are received with a single set-top box or smart TV. They may match more closely on, say, an Apple TV, where a more consistent look and feel is mandated. But it’s still more complicated to navigate than just choosing different channels on cable/satellite, although such search systems as Siri can help.
The real debate, I think, is whether too many services will just confuse matters for people who want to simplify their TV watching. If you want to cut the cord to save money — and you’re willing to put up with the inconvenience of dealing with separate services and billing — you might indeed find a setup that’s a lot more affordable.
But when you begin to add up the monthly cost of all the services that are vying for your subscriptions — and the number will increase — you may find that you’re not saving money after all. But you may want the various services to get the shows you need. They will never be available from traditional carriers.
Obviously a single sign-on, as Apple has touted, can help deal with this mess. An improved Apple TV or a similar device might make it possible to integrate separate apps to give you smoother access yet retain the individuality of each service. Maybe we’ll see the streaming equivalent of cable/satellite in terms of interface consistency of relative ease of use.
Right now, though, the proliferation of individual streaming services threatens to just confuse people even further, and they may just want to see which shows they can do without. Do we really need yet another season of “House of Cards?”