Tech Talk

Who's Down With OTT? A Primer on Cord-Cutting and Streaming Live TV

Feel like shedding that cable subscription, but aren't sure what options are out there for you? Let us show you the way.

by | November 29, 2016 | Comments

OTT — meaning “over-the-top” — is a term used to describe the delivery of film and TV content via the Internet, without requiring users to subscribe to a traditional cable or satellite pay-TV service. In other words, it’s a way to stream your favorite TV channels and network content without a cable subscription. Most people are already well aware of the different ways you can stream movies — Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Prime, FandangoNOW, etc — but fewer are familiar with the ways in which you can stream TV concurrently in the same way. There’s never been a more exciting time to cut the cord than right now, even if your excitement may be dampened somewhat by your local government’s attempt to tax you for being down with OTT (more on that later). Dish Network’s Sling TV may have started it all, but this year has seen a few strong competitors enter the market, with more on the horizon. With that in mind, we figured it was time to drop a primer and tell you about the new streams, new taxes, and what’s coming in the new year.


Sony’s Vue on OTT

playstation-vue-logo

When people cut the cord, one of the most common questions I’m asked is, “What about sports?” Up until recently, it’s been difficult to get everything in one place, especially for those who aren’t very tech savvy. You could go with Roku and just download all the “channels” available to sports fans from the leagues’ respective offerings: NBA TV, NFL Network, MLB.tv, Willow, etc. But you couldn’t get all of that in one easy place like your traditional cable outlet — that is, until Playstation Vue.

I’ve been testing Playstation Vue on Roku for the last couple months and the service is pretty darn robust. I’m not a sports fan, so that isn’t what drew me to the service, but I have some tech reviewer buddies who’ve switched to the service and watch more than just American sports. My futbol and rugby fanatic friends are able to find not only many of their local American football, baseball, and basketball teams on air on Vue, but they’re finding that the service carries stations that broadcast many athletic events outside of the U.S., including soccer stateside. Playstation Vue’s subscription model is tiered, starting at $40 a month and going up to $75 for all of the premium channels. At the $45 tier, you actually start getting sports channels, but the $55 tier delivers the widest offering for diehards. One downside for Vue is that they recently had to drop all Viacom channels, which include BET, VH1, MTV, Nickelodeon’s channels, Comedy Central, and a few others. You can see the full list of dropped channels here.

Like Sling TV, Playstation Vue includes live, local TV stations so you don’t have to fuss with installing an over-the-air HD antenna. That means you get your local FOX, ABC, CBS, NBC, and CW affiliates. You’ll also get a cloud-based DVR out of the deal, but with one caveat: it’s not available if you’re using Roku. Outside of the Playstation 3 or 4, you can download the Playstation Vue app on Roku, Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, and Android and iOS mobile devices.


DirecTV Now

directvnow-logo

Competition from AT&T’s new DirecTV Now service brings more options to those looking to cut the cord. Though no exact launch date has been given yet, AT&T held a special event in New York just yesterday, where they unveiled the new service. Pricing starts at $35 for 100 channels, an offering squarely aimed at undercutting traditional cable service providers. After that, there are three higher tiers that increase in price and offer more channels, similar to the tiered pricing with Vue. Variety apparently came into some leaked documents and pointed out some oddities with the service, like what appears to be licensing getting in the way of use across platforms. In one case, you’ll be able to stream local programming from NBC in some markets, but only on PCs and mobile devices, not smart TVs — for the record, cases like this are why I have a Chromebox connected to my TV. According to Variety, NBC didn’t respond to a request for comment.

DirecTV Now will have other features that Variety outlined in their article from the leaked documents, but I don’t want to go into that in detail since it isn’t official. One thing I will comment on is a feature which sounds pretty cool and gives you an automated DVR functionality that could be worthwhile. According to those documents, many of the networks on the platform will support a 3-day DVR window, which will allow you to watch shows up to 72 hours after their original airing. Not bad, unless your show airs on Monday or Tuesday and the only time you have to catch up is over the weekend.


Hulu’s Down With Live OTT in 2017

hulu-logo

Hulu just announced an upgrade to their existing service that will include live TV. You’ll have to wait until next year to get those channels, but if nothing changes between now and then, it’s shaping up to bring major competition to Sony and AT&T. Hulu just announced new agreements with 21st Century Fox and The Walt Disney Company, which will add more than 35 networks, including broadcast networks FOX and ABC; Fox Sports networks such as Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, and BTN; ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN-SEC, and ESPN 3; Fox Regional Sports Networks; Disney Channel, Disney XD, and Disney Junior; Fox News and Fox Business; Freeform; FX, FXX, and FXM; and National Geographic and Nat Geo Wild. You can get many of those same networks on the Vue platform, so we’ll have to see if they add any more between now and the launch of Hulu’s new live streaming service.

The addition of these new networks to Hulu’s lineup is on top of the announcement they made earlier this year of an affiliate agreement with Time Warner Inc. for live and on-demand streaming of Turner’s suite of entertainment, sports, news, and kids’ networks, including TNT, TBS, CNN, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, truTV, Boomerang, and Turner Classic Movies. The service is rumored to cost consumers $40 a month, but that hasn’t been confirmed, so take it with a grain of salt.


Honorable Mention: Google and YouTube

I’m going to add this one despite my feelings on Google’s seemingly indefinite Beta status of some of its products and the delayed rollout of their much anticipated Fiber offering in some cities, but they’ve recently inked a deal with CBS to carry their content on a subscription service that is in the works. The service, which will reportedly debut early next year as a part of YouTube, will be similar to YouTube Red. “Industry insiders” are saying that they’re close to closing a deal with 21st Century Fox as well, but aren’t as far along in their negotiations with ABC and NBC. I hope this fares better than Android TV has, though Chromecast is definitely nothing to sneeze at.


DVDs, Blu-Rays, and Taxes

That was the fun stuff, but all that glitters ain’t gold. So many of us are apparently getting our movies and TV shows on demand and over-the-top that big box stores are seeing declines in the purchase of DVDs and Blu-rays. This amounts to a loss of revenue for cities that collect sales tax on those purchases. Additionally, as brick-and-mortars go the way of the dodo, there’s also the loss of business and property taxes which local governments used to collect.

In California, Pasadena’s city finance department already decided to apply a 9.4 percent tax on “video services” to subscribers of streaming services. The tax goes into effect January 1, 2017, and they aren’t the only ones. At least 45 other California cities have been advised that they could tax their residents’ online viewing using their existing tax rate for cable providers. Those tax rates range from 4.5 to 11 percent. In Chicago, the city is also really going hard on taxing their citizens. Not only will services like Netflix be taxed at 9 percent, but Chicago’s tax will include streaming services for music, movies, games, and satellite TV. But wait, there’s more! The city also changed its personal property lease transaction tax so that not only is “cloud TV” getting hit but now certain “cloud” services like real estate listing and legal research databases will see taxation.

blockbuster-video

This is why it’s important for us to read those measures which make their way onto the ballots when we vote in local elections. In California, voters are the only ones who can increase their taxes. Pasadena and other cities are saying that previous votes already included these services. According to the Pasadena Star News:

“Pasadena’s Finance Director Matthew Hawkesworth made his determination Thursday that the tax applies to video games and streaming services similar to cable ‘regardless of the content of such video programming, or the technology used to deliver such services,’ according to a memo to City Manager Steve Mermell.

‘It’s our interpretation because of our code, these types of video services have always been eligible to be taxable,’ Hawkesworth said. ‘The administrative ruling is instructing the various companies that offer video service that the tax includes their services as well, and it will be incumbent upon them to collect the tax and remit it to the city.'”

Apparently, in the late 2000s, many cities went to voters to amend their utility user taxes because they saw this coming and intentionally made the language in those amendments very open-ended with regard to video services. Whether or not you think this is fair depends on where you stand with the municipal loss of tax revenue due to the decrease in sales tax and business and property tax. Afterall, it used to be that a business like Blockbuster Video would bring revenue to a city by being there in those communities, but now a business like Hulu can “rent” videos to folks in Snohomish, Washington without having a brick-and-mortar presence there. Ah, progress! Ain’t it grand?


Tshaka Armstrong is a huge nerd and activist who also writes for foxla.com and his own site, tshakaexplainsitall.com, where he talks about food, bearding properly, tech, family, and equality.

Follow Tshaka on Twitter: @tshakaarmstrong

Tag Cloud

Lifetime Christmas movies Alien superhero Emmys rt archives Valentine's Day transformers cooking television monster movies Winter TV Western anime See It Skip It ghosts space The Walt Disney Company HBO Max comedies TV renewals Chilling Adventures of Sabrina mission: impossible HBO VH1 venice toy story Black History Month Brie Larson critics Star Wars spain laika Film WGN scary movies 21st Century Fox Disney Channel nbcuniversal deadpool Teen heist movie El Rey 007 independent Starz trailers 2015 Song of Ice and Fire Fox News Winners Disney BAFTA supernatural hollywood Mindy Kaling kids reboot TV Land Hulu worst Sundance Now Tubi Rocky 2018 2016 zombies Spectrum Originals GoT Bravo Nickelodeon Reality Competition 93rd Oscars Syfy Tumblr black science fiction what to watch San Diego Comic-Con A24 Quiz Acorn TV Fantasy Paramount Network FXX nature boxoffice foreign DC Comics 4/20 doctor who Discovery Channel asian-american movies canceled Lifetime Animation Holidays Polls and Games 2020 satire halloween Ghostbusters video on demand RT History Disney+ Disney Plus Opinion DC Universe historical drama romantic comedy Epix Comic Book Best and Worst spanish Awards scorecard Travel Channel TruTV TLC comics biography politics anthology breaking bad HBO Go kong news Avengers GIFs Mudbound MTV TCA 2017 The Arrangement political drama canceled TV shows President Television Critics Association indie Summer all-time talk show child's play obituary vampires TV One Ovation spinoff NYCC kaiju 99% book CBS All Access Broadway Anna Paquin APB Drama Countdown Pet Sematary high school films streaming diversity sag awards green book cancelled TV series psychological thriller Rom-Com Pop travel Infographic Endgame Shondaland golden globe awards RT21 The Purge CBS Netflix Christmas movies ESPN Rock rotten movies we love prank Ellie Kemper New York Comic Con MSNBC adaptation dragons Marvel Television TCA Awards italian YA TV spider-man cars National Geographic The Witch blockbuster Columbia Pictures Turner LGBTQ 71st Emmy Awards X-Men Photos die hard emmy awards comic books Apple TV+ Legendary Crackle reviews rom-coms Pixar hist screen actors guild cults ABC Signature Tarantino Superheroes Amazon Prime Video composers Funimation series video ratings Writers Guild of America Lucasfilm sequels Masterpiece CNN IFC Nominations sitcom cinemax Stephen King facebook Kids & Family Grammys Comics on TV zombie VICE History Superheroe Britbox latino period drama Amazon Studios Freeform Pride Month a nightmare on elm street Musicals Mary poppins harry potter Oscars First Reviews Sneak Peek rotten Walt Disney Pictures SundanceTV Thanksgiving Video Games Horror unscripted FOX IFC Films adventure SXSW TIFF binge Tomatazos Music toronto Hallmark American Society of Cinematographers docuseries cancelled DC streaming service Year in Review Crunchyroll Marathons Sci-Fi cartoon VOD movie Set visit Premiere Dates Sundance TV The CW chucky Classic Film dceu hidden camera concert WarnerMedia 72 Emmy Awards Paramount cancelled television Mary Poppins Returns razzies crossover Disney Plus Logo AMC jurassic park stand-up comedy BBC America disaster comic mockumentary BBC Spring TV Super Bowl Emmy Nominations christmas movies Adult Swim OWN Universal mutant nfl First Look Holiday Sundance serial killer YouTube Red Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Warner Bros. BET Marvel tv talk YouTube FX TNT ID fresh Shudder SDCC romance war pirates of the caribbean Black Mirror Cosplay fast and furious crime directors boxing TCM revenge australia game show FX on Hulu 24 frames thriller natural history Netflix Comedy medical drama justice league sports popular cancelled TV shows documentaries TCA TCA Winter 2020 Fox Searchlight Calendar PBS Trivia Binge Guide Spike 2019 batman Trophy Talk 20th Century Fox joker social media Pop TV casting Action Apple A&E Vudu 2017 crime drama best spanish language 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards worst movies telelvision OneApp PaleyFest singing competition miniseries hispanic Esquire Lionsgate superman Comedy Central Certified Fresh theme song ITV MCU Character Guide Food Network Baby Yoda Film Festival book adaptation halloween tv screenings Captain marvel docudrama Awards Tour strong female leads documentary Arrowverse BBC One elevated horror festivals ABC Sony Pictures aliens Watching Series Cartoon Network south america YouTube Premium 45 classics USA Network Martial Arts CW Seed Christmas new star wars movies Heroines Rocketman cats Schedule Star Trek saw renewed TV shows Mary Tyler Moore Country Trailer game of thrones spy thriller football Disney streaming service Chernobyl festival Creative Arts Emmys Election PlayStation twilight dramedy Red Carpet james bond Interview women CMT dark psycho DirecTV Turner Classic Movies technology discovery french Podcast Toys based on movie Television Academy cops true crime ABC Family GLAAD Musical archives godzilla Elton John parents Amazon blaxploitation Box Office Nat Geo Extras The Walking Dead Women's History Month Dark Horse Comics Academy Awards LGBT Family Exclusive Video Mystery Amazon Prime NBC free movies remakes Hallmark Christmas movies quibi werewolf ViacomCBS Marvel Studios indiana jones golden globes richard e. Grant criterion Paramount Plus universal monsters slashers finale sequel stoner BET Awards Pirates Showtime name the review The Academy teaser Biopics TBS dogs animated zero dark thirty blockbusters Peacock award winner king kong E! E3 dc Hear Us Out DGA comiccon Reality franchise robots Fall TV jamie lee curtis japanese 2021 crime thriller Cannes police drama children's TV witnail USA Apple TV Plus versus stop motion