UPDATE: AMC is now available online on the $20-per-month Sling TV service (see review).
Two down, one to go? Today, CBS announced that its premium-content channel Showtime will offer an online-only subscription service in 2015 — just as we predicted after HBO announced upcoming HBO à la carte three weeks ago. With a string of mega hits including Breaking Bad, AMC has earned a spot next to HBO and Showtime. But if it doesn't follow suit with an online subscription, AMC may become — at least for the growing ranks of cord-cutters — The Walking Dead of online TV.
Sure, even slightly enterprising cord-cutters can follow Walter White or Don Draper with a rudimentary knowledge of BitTorrent or pirate streaming-sites like Project Free TV. But going legit is very appealing, as proved by the 50 million Netflix subscribers (36 million in the United States). There's no hunting for oddly named files, buffering delays or fear of downloading malware.
And piracy does nothing for AMC other than create a little buzz among nonsubscribers, which the network hardly needs for zeitgeist definers like Breaking Bad or The Walking Dead, anyway.
In a way, AMC has already led the charge online by making some of its top shows available on Netflix shortly after they air, unlike Showtime, which never puts content on Netflix, or HBO, which just recently put its older shows on Amazon. With its own online channel, maybe AMC will pull its shows from others, like Netflix. After all, then AMC can get all that juicy customer data, as well as the option of running commercials (as it does on cable, and Hulu does online).
But the more channels that go online, the less appealing later channels might become. HBO is a must-have for the millions of fanatics for Game of Thrones (consistently the most-pirated TV show), as Showtime is for Dexter. But the prices for fans are adding up. Let's guess that HBO and Netflix will each cost $10 per month (the networks haven't named prices yet). Netflix is another $8 or $9 (depending on when you signed up). Throw in $8 for Hulu Plus if you want most network TV, and $6 for CBS if you want the rest. (Although, an antenna is an even cheaper way to watch network TV, as long as you only watch it live.)
That's about $50, before you consider Amazon Prime ($99 per year). And remember, you still need a broadband Internet plan (about $40 to $60 per month). You're bumping up against the price of cable TV.
Online overload may not push everyone back to cable or satellite subscriptions. (Or will it?) But it may make people choosey. If you love Dexter but only like Game of Thrones, maybe you skip an HBO Go subscription. Or perhaps Walking Dead fans decide they like, but don't need, Showtime's Masters of Sex or The Knick.
2015 is going to be a very interesting year for TV, as online subscriptions make people think about what they really want to watch. But if viewers focus on what they already love, they may miss out on discovering, by chance, other shows they might also come to love.
- Your Guide to Cable TV Cord-Cutting
- Best Shows to Watch on Netflix Now
- Best Shows to Watch on Hulu Right Now