While today’s cord cutters are replacing their former TV-viewing activities with popular streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, the shift away from linear television on to on-demand, online streams has allowed a variety of niche services to pop up, too. Available for a few more dollars per month, viewers now have the option of further customizing their over-the-top video content bundles by subscribing to both premium and niche services offering everything from high-quality television drama, as with HBO NOW’s original programming; kids’ fare, as with Nick’s Noggin; or, more recently, made-for-TV movies as with Lifetime’s new video-on-demand app; and much more.
The problem, of course, with the unbundling of content in this manner is that you’ll soon reach the point where your monthly expenditures on streaming video are no longer cheaper than cable TV.
Unbundling Can Get Pricey
Think about it this way – if you’re already paying for Netflix ($8.99/mo, unless you locked in at the older $7.99/mo rate), Hulu ($7.99/mo) and Amazon Prime ($99/year aka $8.25/mo), then you’re spending $25+ on your core line-up. If you add on HBO NOW and Showtime, or perhaps a TiVo subscription for your fancy cord-cutters’ DVR, then you could easily double that or more.
The trick to keeping things affordable, then, may be about knowing which add-on services you want to subscribe to and when. For example, you may want HBO NOW while “Game of Thrones” is airing, but then choose to cancel it until the show returns for its next season. This will require a lot of juggling on your part, but it also gives you the option of stretching your dollars and being able to sample some of the other on-demand options that are out there.
So how many on-demand streaming services are available, beyond the big three? Quite a few, as it turns out. As a cord cutter myself as of the beginning of this year, I’ve begun making a list of the additional streaming services that are available today – and it’s extensive. The majority of these services allow for cross-platform viewing, meaning web/desktop, mobile and TV, though some are limited in terms of which streaming media players they support.
Instead of sharing a massive list of the long tail in video streaming, I’m choosing to highlight a handful of notable services below. This is by no means a definitive list, and it’s also a U.S.-centric one, to be fair.
Niche Content Abounds
For starters, there are already a number of places offering movies for rent, download or streaming, like Crackle, M-Go, Popcornflix, SnagFilms, VUDU, Warner Archive, CinemaNow, and more. Just browsing through your Roku channel options will present you with more choices than you probably will ever need, given the big three’s already expansive movie lineup.
Then there are dozens of niche services that span genres. For example, you can find comedy on Funny or Die, watch video games on Twitch, music on Vevo, anime on Crunchyroll, and webseries or other YouTube creator content on Vessel. I’ve even caught myself watching Periscope’s live streams instead of turning on the TV in recent days.
Meanwhile, on mobile and the web, you’ll also find that a lot of the TV networks also offer their own dedicated apps where you can view at least some of their content for free. Many of these are “TV Everywhere“-enabled, which means they open up the gates to pay TV subscribers who can then watch more shows.
And let’s not forget that there are sites like YouTube and Vimeo; storefronts like iTunes, Google Play and Amazon; and DVRs for antenna users that let you watch and stream back the over-the-air programming you’ve recorded.
In other words, you’re not lacking for options when you cut the cord.
But if you’re looking to flesh out your lineup with a little more content this year, below are some newer and more interesting services you can try, as well as a couple for your kids.
Beyond Netflix: The Rise Of Niche Subscription Video
HBO NOW – $14.99/month
HBO’s launch of its standalone service HBO NOW this spring was one of the larger announcements in the video streaming market this year. At $15 per month, it’s a decidedly premium addition – nearly double the cost of some of its competitors. But HBO was betting on the popularity of its “Game of Thrones” TV series to bring new subscribers in, and that trick appeared to have worked. Its iOS app topped the App Store’s revenue charts in May, and held a strong position throughout June as well.
The service includes HBO’s original programming, such as current shows like “Silicon Valley,” “Veep,” “Ballers,” “Girls,” “True Detective,” and more, as well as popular older fare like “True Blood,” “Sex and the City,” and “The Sopranos,” as well as Hollywood movies, documentaries, specials, variety shows and more.
HBO is available on Apple devices including Apple TV and iOS devices, as well as through Cablevision’s internet plan and as an add-on to Sling TV. (But in the latter case, it’s over-the-top HBO, not actually HBO NOW.) The app is also coming soon to Google Play.
Showtime – $10.99/month or $8.99/month for Hulu Users
Following in HBO’s footprints, Showtime also debuted a standalone streaming service in June aimed at cord cutters. It’s a bit more affordable at $10.99 per month, but Hulu subscribers can save even more. Through a special partnership, Hulu users can tack on the service to their current Hulu subscription for just $8.99/month, as Hulu is using Showtime to help it acquire more users.
Unlike HBO NOW, Showtime’s service offers two live streams (East and West Coast feeds) in addition to its on-demand content.
Showtime also hosts a number of original programs, including “Ray Donovan,” “Masters of Sex,” “Homeland,” “The Affair,” “Penny Dreadful,” “Shameless,” “House of Lies,” “Nurse Jackie,” “Happyish,” “Episodes,” and coming soon, “Billions” and “Twin Peaks.” Its sports programming includes “Showtime Championship Boxing,” “60 Minutes Sports,” and “Jim Rome on Showtime.” And it, too, offers a selection of Hollywood movies.
The Showtime app runs on on Apple devices including the iPhone, iPod touch, and Apple TV, as well as on Roku and PlayStation Vue. However, by teaming up with Hulu, Showtime can be accessed anywhere Hulu works – which is nearly everywhere.
Hulu works on iOS and Android devices, Apple TV, Xbox One, Wii and Wii U, Roku players and TVs, PS3 and PS4, Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, Chromecast and various TVs and Blu-ray players.
CBS All Access – $5.99 per month
CBS has withheld much of its content from streaming services like Hulu (where it doesn’t have an equity stake), and instead runs its own standalone service called CBS All Access. The company, perhaps mistakenly, bet on live TV feeds as something cord cutters would want, and now offers live TV in over 60% of the U.S. through its streaming video application, in addition to on-demand shows.
As a TV network many can receive over-the-air with a digital antenna, there’s not likely as much demand for CBS’s service as there is for something like HBO NOW, but for those who want to watch CBS content on other platforms, while out of the home, or who don’t get good reception, the service could be handy.
Included with CBS All Access is nearly 7,000 episodes of CBS programming, including current and past seasons of popular shows like “The Good Wife” or “Blue Bloods,” for example. Unfortunately, CBS doesn’t make all its top shows available for binging which is a big drawback given the price. For instance, you can only watch 7 of the most recent episodes from “The Big Bang Theory” on the streaming service. Meanwhile, new episodes appear on the app the day after airing, and the app offers classic programs, movies, daytime and nighttime shows, too.
But CBS’s service may get a little more interesting this fall, given that it has potentially found a hit with the upcoming drama “Supergirl.” The show is popular even ahead of its debut – the pilot leaked online, which was either an accident or a brilliant marketing move, and its trailer was viewed over 10 million times in a week.
Subscribers to CBS All Access can watch on CBS.com, or via mobile apps for iOS and Android, the CBS Roku channel, and Chromecast.
Sling TV – $20/month + add-on packages
Sling TV, Dish Network’s newer internet TV service aimed at cord cutters is primarily about watching live cable TV shows, but its biggest draw is that it has scored a deal with ESPN. That means you can watch SportsCenter without a cable TV subscription as well as tons of live games. In addition to ESPN, the service offers streaming shows from networks including ESPN2, AMC, A&E, TNT, Food Network, History, Travel, TBS, HGTV, Disney, CNN, Bloomberg, Lifetime, Cartoon Network, and others.
You can also optionally subscribe to various channel “packs” for an additional $5 per month to add more sports channels, kids channels, movie channels, or Spanish-language channels to your Sling TV subscription. And you can tack on HBO for another $15 per month.
Sling TV works on a variety of platforms, including Mac, PC, iOS, Android and number of streaming media players such as Amazon Fire TV, Nexus Player, Roku and Xbox One.
However, it doesn’t offer much for binge-viewers, as few of its shows include full seasons. At best, there are usually only a couple of older episodes available, if any. Instead, it’s more about “tuning in” to see what’s on now – something that doesn’t quite make sense in today’s on-demand world.
Noggin – $5.99 / month
Viacom-owned kids’ network Nickelodeon entered the subscription video market earlier this year with its own over-the-top streaming service aimed at the preschool crowd. Noggin, as the service is called, launched on iOS with a decent selection of kids’ titles, including a few popular names, like “Blue’s Clues.” The app includes 16 sections of shows and music to choose from, each with dozens of videos to watch. The content is actually recycled stuff – its titles come from the old Noggin network, which was later rebranded Nick Jr.
That means the service is offering lesser-known, older brands, like “Pocoyo,” “Franklin & Friends,” “Ni-Hao,” “Kai-lan,” “Robot & Monster,” and more, as opposed to Nick’s better-known characters and shows like Dora, Diego, PAW Patrol, Max & Ruby, Peter Rabbit, Bubble Guppies, Wallykazam, Wonder Pets, or Yo Gabba Gabba.
But not too surprisingly, kids don’t seem to care as long as the content is fun. Still, at $5.99 per month, the price is a little high for what you’re getting with Noggin – especially since there’s already plenty of kids’ stuff on Amazon, Hulu, Netflix and YouTube.
Feeln – $3.99 / month
Another option for families and older kids is Feeln, the rebranded ad-free subscription service from Hallmark (yes really) which used to be known as SpiritClips. The service, which works online, on mobile devices, Roku, Xbox 360, and some connected Samsung TVs, is focused on family-friendly content. That is, its movies will not contain excessive violence, language or nudity. It also doesn’t offer up movies with “divisive social issues or political agendas,” and its selection is vetted for “quality and positive messages,” the company says.
If that sounds like a bunch of hokey content – well, it kind of is. Feeln is home to those often-cheesy Hallmark Hall of Fame movies (“A Dog Named Christmas,” “When Love Is Not Enough,” e.g. – there are a lot of Christmas titles on Feeln.). But it also has a smaller selection of Hollywood movies, though many of them are older, like “Annie Hall,” “Moonstruck,” “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “Chocolat,” “West Side Story,” etc. Plus, it has dozens of original short films that Feeln produces itself as well as original shows.
Its kids’ line-up is fair, too. Feeln has rebooted “Rainbow Brite,” for instance, so Gen X’ers can enjoy a little nostalgia with their subscription.
The service has a female bent to it – and sometimes a Christian vibe (you can find “Noah’s Ark” and “The Ten Commandments” on here, e.g.) – but it’s basically inoffensive content that’s safe to use as an iPad babysitter with your kids thanks to shows like “Madeline,” “Paddington Bear,” “Busytown Mysteries,” and movies like “Spy Kids,” “Annie” and a range of “cute dog saves the day”-type stuff.
And I guess if you want to sit around and get weepy as someone finds their true love on Christmas, you can do that, too.
Lifetime – $3.99 per month
Since we’re on the top of melodrama, it’s time to mention Lifetime’s brand-new subscription video service which just came out this month. called Lifetime Movie Club, the service offers around 30 movies at launch for $3.99 per month. The movies are ad-free, and new titles are added weekly. However, they’re not the movies that are currently airing on TV – A&E-owned Lifetime is pulling titles from its library to feed the new service instead.
Lifetime is known for a certain kind of movie, and you’ll certainly find those here alongside others you don’t want to admit to having watched, like incest-romance “Flowers in the Attic,” for example, or “Too Young To Marry.” The service is programmed by season, apparently – the theme at launch is “Summer Lovin’,” and feature things like “Sex & the Single Mom” and “One Hot Summer.”
How Many Niche Services Can Survive?
In the past, cable TV allowed niche networks like Lifetime to find small audiences, but as viewers switch to streaming services, it’s unclear if Lifetime’s guilty pleasure-filled den of lower-quality fare will be able to convince users to sign up and pay monthly.
The same goes for any of the above services, really. Will viewers be willing to pay for niche content, when giants like Netflix and Amazon regularly rotate their catalogs, fund their own shows, and now, even produce their own movies? It should be interesting to see how the landscape evens out in the long run.
If anything, the rise of niche services is an opportunity for Hulu, which has already begun distributing Showtime. If Hulu turns itself into a dashboard for all your streaming add-ons, it could very well become a much more viable alternative to pay TV than it is today.
Email me your favorite niche video service, or your Netflix recommendations: firstname.lastname@example.org