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

This week, Apple turned the third streaming platform to launch its personal market for video subscriptions.

With Apple TV Channels, you may join companies like HBO and Showtime immediately by the TV app on iPhones, iPads, and Apple TVs. You don’t need to obtain separate apps to begin utilizing these companies, and you’ll handle all their subscriptions by iTunes billing. Apple TV Channels additionally helps offline viewing on iOS, so you may obtain Recreation of Thrones episodes earlier than your subsequent flight.

Apple isn’t the primary to supply a single entry level for streaming video subscriptions. Amazon Channels has provided an identical service to Prime subscribers since late 2015, and Roku entered the fray with Premium Subscriptions in The Roku Channel earlier this 12 months.

However in making an attempt to simplify streaming video sign-ups, these “Channels” companies have created new issues. Every service has a special set of options, together with completely different restrictions on which gadgets you should use. They may also be costlier than particular person apps that provide annual subscriptions. And since the largest streaming companies don’t assist these Channels marketplaces in any respect, you continue to need to take care of a number of apps and billing techniques ultimately.

”Channels” companies defined

The principle promoting level of those “Channels” companies is simplicity. If you happen to’re on an Amazon Fireplace TV Stick, as an illustration, you may seek for a present like Recreation of Thrones and join HBO with just some clicks. Every thing goes by your Amazon account, so that you don’t have to create a brand new password or enter any new billing info. You possibly can then entry HBO exhibits by the Fireplace TV or some other machine that has Amazon’s Prime Video app. Once you need to unsubscribe, Amazon’s Handle Your Prime Video Channels web page allows you to cancel a number of subscriptions from one place.

Roku’s Premium Subscriptions service is comparable. Simply open the free Roku Channel app on any Roku participant, after which scroll all the way down to the “Browse Premium Subscriptions” part, the place you may subscribe to companies like Starz, Epix, and HBO with no matter bank card Roku has on file. You possibly can then watch these channels on any machine with the Roku Channel app, which for now consists of Roku gamers and good TVs, Samsung TVs, iOS, Android, and the net. Roku’s account web page offers a central location for cancelling subscriptions.

Roku

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

As for Apple, you may subscribe to companies like HBO, Showtime, and Starz by the TV app on iOS, Apple TV, and Samsung good TVs. Simply scroll all the way down to “Obtainable Apple TV Channels,” and you’ll join with simply your Apple ID. Cancelling subscriptions by iTunes is a bit difficult, however you should use this iOS shortcut to leap straight to the subscription administration web page on an iOS machine.

The issue with “Channels”

Whereas that is all nice in idea, “Channels” marketplaces create a brand new layer of confusion while you’re making an attempt to join video companies. To look at HBO on Apple TV, as an illustration, now you can subscribe by Apple TV Channels, Amazon Channels (by way of the Prime Video app), the standalone HBO Now app, or numerous dwell TV channel bundles that promote HBO on their very own. The identical is true on Roku, besides with The Roku Channel as a substitute of Apple TV Channels as an choice.

hbochannels Jared Newman / IDG

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.

channelsappsupport Jared Newman / IDG

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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