Amazon, Roku, and Apple TV "Channels" are a well-intentioned mess

This week, Apple become the 3rd streaming platform to release its personal market for video subscriptions.

With Apple TV Channels, you’ll be able to join products and services like HBO and Showtime immediately in the course of the TV app on iPhones, iPads, and Apple TVs. You don’t must obtain separate apps to start out the usage of the ones products and services, and you’ll be able to organize all their subscriptions thru iTunes billing. Apple TV Channels additionally helps offline viewing on iOS, so you’ll be able to obtain Recreation of Thrones episodes prior to your subsequent flight.

Apple isn’t the primary to supply a unmarried get entry to level for streaming video subscriptions. Amazon Channels has presented a an identical carrier to Top subscribers since past due 2015, and Roku entered the fray with Top class Subscriptions in The Roku Channel previous this yr.

However in seeking to simplify streaming video sign-ups, those “Channels” products and services have created new headaches. Each and every carrier has a distinct set of options, at the side of other restrictions on which units you’ll be able to use. They may be able to even be costlier than person apps that supply annual subscriptions. And as the largest streaming products and services don’t make stronger those Channels marketplaces in any respect, you continue to must handle more than one apps and billing programs in any case.

”Channels” products and services defined

The principle promoting level of those “Channels” products and services is simplicity. If you happen to’re on an Amazon Hearth TV Stick, as an example, you’ll be able to seek for a display like Recreation of Thrones and join HBO with only a few clicks. The whole thing is going thru your Amazon account, so that you don’t wish to create a brand new password or input any new billing data. You’ll be able to then get entry to HBO displays in the course of the Hearth TV or some other software that has Amazon’s Top Video app. When you wish to have to unsubscribe, Amazon’s Set up Your Top Video Channels web page allows you to cancel more than one subscriptions from one position.

Roku’s Top class Subscriptions carrier is the same. Simply open the unfastened Roku Channel app on any Roku participant, after which scroll right down to the “Browse Top class Subscriptions” phase, the place you’ll be able to subscribe to products and services like Starz, Epix, and HBO with no matter bank card Roku has on document. You’ll be able to then watch the ones channels on any software with the Roku Channel app, which for now contains Roku avid gamers and sensible TVs, Samsung TVs, iOS, Android, and the internet. Roku’s account web page supplies a central location for cancelling subscriptions.

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Like Amazon and Apple, Roku now sells video subscriptions thru its personal Roku Channel app.

As for Apple, you’ll be able to subscribe to products and services like HBO, Showtime, and Starz in the course of the TV app on iOS, Apple TV, and Samsung sensible TVs. Simply scroll right down to “To be had Apple TV Channels,” and you’ll be able to join with simply your Apple ID. Cancelling subscriptions thru iTunes is a little bit difficult, however you’ll be able to use this iOS shortcut to leap directly to the subscription control web page on an iOS software.

The issue with “Channels”

Whilst that is all nice in concept, “Channels” marketplaces create a brand new layer of bewilderment whilst you’re attempting to join video products and services. To look at HBO on Apple TV, as an example, you’ll be able to now subscribe thru Apple TV Channels, Amazon Channels (by means of the Top Video app), the standalone HBO Now app, or quite a lot of reside TV channel bundles that promote HBO on their very own. The similar is right on Roku, apart from with The Roku Channel as a substitute of Apple TV Channels as an possibility.

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One show, three HBOs. Nothing confusing about this at all.

With rare exceptions, none of these services talk to each other, either. An Amazon Channels subscription does not transfer over to Apple TV Channels or Roku Premium Subscriptions, which means you need to keep track of how you signed up for what, especially if you own different kinds of streaming devices. And while Amazon Channels subscribers can log into the HBO Now and Showtime Anytime apps, those are exceptions to the rule. None of Amazon’s other Channels let you log into individual apps, and neither Roku Premium Subscriptions nor Apple TV Channels allow for individual app logins at all.

I suspect a lot of folks will get tripped up by all this and wind up with duplicate subscriptions as a result. This even appeared to happen with a user on Reddit over the weekend after signing up for CBS All Access on a Fire TV, and then trying to log in on a Roku. The distinction between different versions of the same subscription will not be obvious to everyone.

Feature disparities

Even if you’re good at keeping track of where your subscriptions reside, choosing one “Channels” service over another has consequences. If you subscribe to CBS All Access through Apple TV Channels, you won’t be able to watch on Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, or Android TV, because Apple’s TV app isn’t on those platforms. (Apple says it’s releasing a TV app for Roku and Fire TV, but hasn’t said when.) And if you subscribe to Showtime through Roku Premium Subscriptions, you won’t be able to watch on Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, or Android TV.

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Device support for Amazon Channels, Roku Premium Subscriptions, and Apple TV Channels.

Your choice of “Channels” service also affects which device features you can enjoy. With Amazon Channels on Fire TV, for instance, shows like Star Trek: Discovery will appear in the “Recents” row on the home screen, so you can quickly pick up where you left off, and you can launch episodes directly with Alexa voice commands. On Apple TV, however, you can’t use Siri voice commands to launch Amazon Channels shows, and on Roku, Amazon Channels shows don’t appear in search results at all. Signing up for All Access directly through CBS would allow you to use voice across all three platforms, but then you’d lose the “Recents” row integration on Fire TV.

The whole concept just makes a big mess out of what is already a potentially confusing situation, and it doesn’t help much in the end because most streaming services don’t support Channels anyway. Netflix still has its own app and billing system, as does Hulu, Amazon Prime, and every live TV streaming service.

Besides, most of the offerings in these Channels services aren’t that desirable. Outside of premium cable channels like HBO, Showtime, Starz, Epix, and CBS All Access, the vast majority of these “channels” are digital-only streaming services you’ve probably never heard of (who’s ready to pay for Echo Boom Sports?) or scraps from TV networks’ back catalog (NickHits, History Vault).

There is, however, a silver lining: With all these new subscription marketplaces comes the ability to burn up more free trials. Just sign up for a trial to HBO via Amazon Channels, cancel immediately, and enjoy your free week of binge-watching Barry. Rinse and repeat with Apple TV Channels and Roku Premium Subscriptions, and then move on down the line to other services like Showtime and Starz.

Don’t feel guilty about this, either; if TV networks and tech companies are going to introduce all this extra confusion into cord-cutters’ lives, they might as well pay for it.

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