Tuesday, January 19, 2016

TV Tuesday: How To Watch?

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We spent much of this weekend online with Amazon LiveChat, trying to figure out how to better optimize our Prime accounts so that we could afford to also sign up for Netflix...which we finally managed (allowing both of my sons to spend the rest of the weekend binge-watching!). Since we learned some new things about the different services available, and it seems like a lot of people are trying to make these kinds of decisions, I thought I'd devote today's TV Tuesday to an overview of the different options for TV watching.

Cable TV
Even now that we have both Amazon Prime and Netflix, we still watch most of our TV using our cable On Demand service. We all like to keep up with current shows, and this is the perfect way to do that. We almost never watch TV when the shows actually air anymore (other than sports events or my few minutes of the Today show each morning while I get dressed), but On Demand has the latest episodes of pretty much all of the shows on all of the networks, plus some of the older stuff, too.

Yes, cable is expensive, but many people don't realize you can negotiate a better price. A few years ago, we added our home phone (yup, we still have one of those, too) to our cable service, and the combined offering of phone, TV, and internet cost us $30 LESS than what we had been paying for just TV and internet. Go figure. We had that great deal for a couple of years and since then, the price has been inching up, bit by bit. I noticed it went up by another $10 last month, so it's time to call the cable company again. Ask to speak with customer retention and see what kind of a deal they can get you. Tell them you are thinking of getting rid of your phone or cable TV (as many people are these days), and they will usually give you a better price to keep you as a customer. It's worthwhile for us, especially since the cable company is still our only option for internet and we use On Demand so much.

Amazon Prime
A subscription to Amazon Prime costs $99 a year, which might seem like a lot at first, but consider several things. First, it is cheaper than Netflix for most families (see below). Also, unlike other streaming services, Prime gives you other services, like borrowing e-books for free, many free e-books available, free music streaming, and FREE 2-day shipping on all Amazon orders (most items are included but some are not, like items coming from other vendors). For us, that last item in itself easily pays for the service. We take a lot of nutritional supplements, herbals, probiotics, etc. for our chronic illnesses, and I order all of them through Amazon - their prices are generally cheaper than competitors, they have an amazing selection, and shipping is free! My husband and I are endlessly amazed by the variety of things you can order through Amazon and have at your door in 2 days - last week, I ordered denim patches for my ripped jeans, tamarind paste (used in Thai cooking), hard-to-find supplements, and children's books for a new baby, all in one order. Our Christmas shopping is almost entirely done on Amazon now, with free 2-day shipping for everything.

As for video streaming, Amazon Prime has a large library of movies and TV shows and some excellent original shows, too. Admittedly, their video library isn't quite as large as Netflix's, but it's pretty big. We have watched old episodes of Glee, all seasons of The Wire (currently on season 3 and loving it), and the first two seasons of Orphan Black on Prime, along with other shows and lots of movies. With a single Prime account, you can stream video on up to 3 different devices at once.

We have found the Amazon original shows to consistently be of very high quality. Some of our favorites include:
  • Catastrophe
  • Transparent (just started a few weeks ago and I am totally hooked)
  • The Man in the High Castle
  • Bosch (based on the popular Michael Connelly novels)
  • Red Oaks
These are some of our favorite shows, among everything we watch.

Amazon Prime now offers a brand-new Household option that allows you to put two adults and up to four children in your family under one Prime account. This is a great new option that we took advantage of this past week. Previously, we had 3 Prime accounts in our household (totally unnecessary, as we discovered): my husband and each of our sons. If I wanted free shipping or to watch Prime videos, then I logged into my husband's account. Now, my own existing Amazon account is linked to his Prime account, so I can log into my own account to watch Prime video, and I can order stuff from my own account and get his free Prime 2-day shipping (very handy to be able to order from your own account when birthdays and holidays roll around!). Having your own accounts also allows you to each use your own gift cards without the confusion of who is using whose credit.

It's a little trickier for older kids/teens. You can add up to 4 children to your Household on Prime, but you can't link their accounts in, the way you can with the second adult in your household. So, our 18-year old son (who still qualifies as a "child" until he turns 19) has his own Amazon account with a large library of videos he has previously purchased - there's no way to connect that account to my husband's Prime account. So, for the next 8 months, he will just log into my husband's Prime account when he wants to use Prime video or get free shipping.

Amazon also added a new Student Prime Account designation.  Young adults enrolled in college are eligible to join, and the price is $49 instead of the usual $99, with all of the benefits of a full Prime membership. We are switching our 21-year old son's full Prime account to a student account, and will get one for our younger son when he heads off to college in the fall. Of course, you can also do what our friends' family does and just all share one Prime account, all logging into that same account when you want to use Prime.

Finally, I saw a few days ago that Amazon had a limited-time offer of $73 for the first year of Prime instead of the usual $99 - I'm not sure how long that will be available.

Netflix
We are new to Netflix, as of 2 days ago, so I don't know as much about it. We'd heard from everyone that it was "only $8 a month!" but that was a bit misleading. We learned that $8/month only gets you video streaming on 1 device at a time - not enough for a family with young adults! $10/month gets you streaming on up to 2 devices at a time, and you have to pay $12/month to get what we needed - streaming on more than 2 devices at a time. So, do the math - that brings the price up to $144 a year for a family, which is quite a bit more than Amazon Prime (and without the free Amazon shipping and other Prime benefits, like e-books and music).

On the plus side, Netflix is well-known to have a larger library of TV shows and movies to choose from. Netflix and Amazon each have their own agreements with production companies, so you will find that certain shows are on Netflix, others are on Amazon, and some are on both. Same with movies. My older son and I were pleased to find that Netflix has NCIS, a show he and I have been watching (on DVDs from the library) from the beginning and are up to season 3 so far. My husband was happy to see Netflix has The Walking Dead, and our son and his girlfriend watched all seasons of New Girl on Netflix this weekend! As for me, I am looking forward to catching up on Girls and and Gilmore Girls (another oldie I've been watching on DVDs from the library), and my husband and I both want to see House of Cards. So, you just have to check both services for the shows that are important to you.

Netflix also has its own original programming, also of a very high-quality, many of which - like the Amazon originals - have been winning all kinds of awards. Some of the Netflix originals I am looking forward to trying include:
  • Orange is the New Black
  • Grace and Frankie (starring Jane Fonda & Lily Tomlin)
  • Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt
  • Master of None
In fact, having just added Netflix to Prime and Cable On Demand, we are feeling a bit overwhelmed by so many great shows to watch! We may need to hibernate on the couch and recliner all winter - see you in the spring!
Hulu
I know the least about Hulu, except that it used to have a free section and a pay section called Hulu Plus, and now it is all pay, with a model similar to Netflix. Hulu's promo page says that plans start at $8/month, so I imagine the pricing is also similar to Netflix.

So, bottom line is to consider how your family watches TV shows and movies and which shows are the most important to you, then make your choices.

How do YOU watch TV? Which service(s) do you use? Let me know if there are others that I didn't mention here or if you have any favorite Netflix shows we should add to our list!


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