Typically, we choose cable channels because they satisfy some specific entertainment need. They offer more compelling shows targeted to specific audience segments, including hot new drama/action series like the House of Cards or Game of Thrones. They also cover major sports events and you generally have the flexibility of watching them on your schedule, rather than the TV networks’ timetable.
But today there are many cable channels to choose from, and while they may appear similar on the surface, there are significant differences in two key areas: price and programming. How do you make the choice that fits your taste and viewing habits? Here are a few guidelines to get you started.
What the Majors Offer
When it comes to premium cable TV channels, you essentially have the same few options: HBO, Showtime, Starz, Cinemax and Amazon. They’re called premium channels because their programming is typically commercial free. You may see ads for other programs on these channels, bur rarely will you encounter ads during the programs. Instead of paid ads, you pay a subscription fee, which is added to your regular monthly or annual cable subscription bill. Trying to watch a dramatic or action movie on regular cable TV can become extremely annoying. Some programs are interrupted with 5 minutes of commercials every 6 minutes. By the time they return you to the program, you’ve forgotten were you left off. Worse yet, most of the commercial aren’t even entertaining, they just shout at you with a 20 percent up tic in volume.
Movies, Sports or Documentaries
What you like to watch and when can be key factors in deciding which premium cable channel you will ultimately choose. Before choosing, check out their daily and weekly schedules. Do they run a lot of premium movies that have recently been available only for purchase as a DVD? Or do they offer time-honored classics that you’ll want to see again and again?
If you’re a sports fan, you may want to choose a channel that covers current games, boxing or MMA.
If you’re into documentaries, there are cable channels that feature specials in this category. Go to their website for this information. See what they plan to offer in the weeks and months ahead.
There are certain extremely popular shows that you can get only on premium channels. Like Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Westworld, Outlander and Stranger Things. If you’re a fan of these critically acclaimed shows, you may want to base your decision on which of these shows you can’t live without.
Premium channels have the added advantage of being able to stream your favorite content to your smartphone or tablet. If you’re on the bus, train or anywhere that has Wi-Fi access, you can watch your favorite movie or sports event on the go. Premium channels like HBO, Showtime or Starz even let you subscribe directly via their apps, so you don’t even need a cable subscription. And you can try the service before you commit. Both HBO and Showtime offer free 30-day trials via their direct streaming services. If you currently have subscriptions to other streaming services, Showtime and Starz offer their service as an add-on. The add-on availability and free trial period should weigh heavily in deciding which premium service you ultimately choose.
Most premium channels cost about the same when attached to your cable subscription. Specific pricing differences hinge on your geographic area and cable provider. Some will run seasonal specials on one or more channels. You’ll usually see big incentives when you first sign up or when you lump several premium channels into a package deal. Standalone streaming services are generally lower, but you’ll need extra equipment—like an Apple TV or Roku box, to watch it them.