Netflix, Hulu, DirecTV NOW, YouTube TV, HBO Now, and Others: How to Pick Your Niche in Video Streaming App Development

Television has changed drastically since the beginning of the previous century. We started with mechanical-scan television receivers; then the invention of the cathode-ray tube resulted in the rise of electronic TV; after that it was the upgrade from black-and-white TV to color transmission; a bit later we saw cable and satellite TV; now we can enjoy fine movies and the latest shows streamed right to our smart TV sets, tablets, and even smartphones in full HD, on-demand and on the go.

These days, we are witnessing the rise of excellent video streaming services – Hulu, Netflix, DirecTV Now, Twitch, HBO Now, Amazon Video, and even YouTube TV – that are gradually replacing traditional cable and satellite TV. Some of these channels even managed to make their mark on the 2017 Emmy nominations list. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, and HBO collectively racked up 236 nominations for this year’s Emmy Awards.

Video streaming services have redefined television for billions of consumers around the globe. It’s clear that people no longer solely rely on paid TV providers to watch their favorite movies or shows. Instead, they’re switching to more advanced internet-based solutions to consume their TV content.

According to App Annie, Americans spent around 12 billion hours in the top ten streaming apps on iOS and Android devices within the twelve months ending in July 2017. Here’s the list of these apps:

app annie top ten video streaming apps in 2017

[App Annie: Top ten video streaming apps based on the number of average monthly users]

In fact, the market for video streaming apps is quite messy right now. There are video streaming apps that broadcast primarily user-generated content (YouTube and Twitch, for example). There are cord-cutting streaming apps that provide original on-demand TV content (Netflix and Hulu). There are also several cable and satellite TV alternatives (DirecTV and Sling TV) that don’t produce any original content but still broadcast good TV. As you can see, it’s quite easy to get lost among all these options.

Taking all of this into account, we thought it would be nice to prepare an article that describes the differences among the most popular video streaming services used by consumers these days to help you sift through the chaos.

In this article, we’ll take a look at several of the most successful TV video streaming apps (some listed above) to define the categories they belong to and reveal all the major differences among them.

Three types of video streaming apps and services

  • Cord-cutting services and video streaming apps from traditional TV providers

According to a recent survey conducted by MoffettNathanson, the traditional TV industry has seen huge subscription declines in recent years as consumers have been fleeing traditional cable providers in favor of on-demand TV streaming platforms. The combined decline across providers in the US for the second quarter of 2017 came close to one million users, MoffettNathanson states. So it’s high time for cable and satellite TV providers to factor in streaming services to avoid losing their audience.

Sling TV, DirecTV Now, and PlayStation Vue are probably the best-known live TV streaming services (or cord replacements, as they’re called) – and these three services, by the way, are quite similar in practice. Recently, however, two other video streaming giants – YouTube and Hulu – joined the ranks of live TV streamers, giving consumers the ability to enjoy a solid TV channel buffet via YouTube TV (available only in a few US cities) and Hulu Live TV (currently in beta).

So what are the main traits of live TV streaming services? Let’s find out.

As their name implies, cord replacement services are a healthy alternative to traditional pay TV and stream through internet-connected devices (smartphones, smart TV sets, laptops, video game consoles, and so on). However, they don’t have the ambition to fully replace traditional TV services (so far).

sling TV mobile app ios screenshots

[Sling TV]

Take Sling TV, for example, the “American over-the-top television service” owned by Dish Network, a US satellite service provider. The Sling TV mobile app doesn’t intend to replace full-range satellite or cable service; what it aims to do is to meet the needs of consumers who are already trying to quit cable or who have never had cable or satellite TV before but aren’t satisfied with what traditional streaming apps – Netflix and Amazon Prime Video – offer.

Sling TV doesn’t produce any original content of its own but instead provides access to a range of the most popular cable channels with a diverse selection of movies and TV shows on a monthly subscription basis (the same is true for DirecTV Now, but is not the case with Hulu). The number of channels may vary from one subscription plan to another, though. Sling TV’s Orange plan includes 31 channels, for instance, whereas the more advanced Blue plan gives access to 45 channels.

sling tv channels blue plan

[Sling TV: Channels included into Sling TV's Blue plan]

In most cases, live TV streaming apps cooperate with a number of major TV networks such as ABC, CBS, FOX, and the CW. Users of live TV streaming services can also opt for add-on packs (sports extras, kids extras, and lifestyle extras, for instance) for an additional fee.

At the same time, such media services offer on-demand videos from numerous channels as well as movies rentals, and provide cloud-based DVRs and different playback options.

When it comes to free trials, the number of free trial days for DirecTV, Sling TV, and PlayStation Vue vary from five to seven, meaning that users  have some time to test out each service before fully diving in.

Comcast, Time Warner, Cox, and Optimum are four cable TV providers that offer their own video streaming apps for laptops, tablets, and mobile phones. We now have Comcast’s Xfinity Stream mobile app (an extension of the Xfinity TV app); Time Warner’s TWC TV app for web, desktop, and mobile; Contour by Cox Communications, which was revamped this September and is available on iOS, Android, Windows, and MacOS; and the Optimum app by Optimum. All of these apps let users access their full accounts even when they're away from home and, therefore, away from their TVs, but they only work with a home-based TV subscription.

xfinity comcast mobile app ios screenshot

[XFinity]

Comcast’s Xfinity Stream app, for instance, launched in February 2017, is meant to “give Xfinity TV customers more choice in how, when, and where they can access their content,” says Matt Strauss, Executive Vice President at Comcast Cable.

The features of Comcast’s new app are really impressive. Using the mobile version of the Xfinity TV app, customers can access a big bucket of live channels – popular sports networks like ESPN, Fox Sports, and NBC Sports; news networks like Fox News and MSNBC; kids networks like Nick Jr., Disney Channel, and Sprout; and other top cable networks. Moreover, users can enjoy more than 40,000 on-demand movies and shows streamed on the go and can even download content to watch offline. They can also set DVR recording remotely via the app and access their entire collection of recorded shows from their mobile devices.

  • On-demand video streaming apps with original content

You’ve no doubt heard of Netflix and Hulu. Moreover, I bet half of you regularly use one of them (maybe both).

Netflix started around 20 years ago as a DVD-by-mail service. One of the key selling points of Netflix was that the service didn’t have any late fees, which put it ahead of the DVD rental curve. Since 2007, Netflix has also been offering video streaming, which is now its core business.

netlix mobile app ios

[Netlix: Registration]

As of the beginning of 2017, the service had around 100 million users around the globe, with 50 million in the US (interestingly, about 4 million still rent DVDs). While existing shows and movies were what first attracted users to the service, Netflix has also been popular for its original series (House of Cards, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Stranger Things).

While Hulu is very similar to Netflix in terms of providing original content (The Handmaid's Tale, Harlots, Shut Eye), but it's rather more focused on TV than movies. Hulu can easily be called an engine for finding and getting programs from popular networks to your device right after they’ve aired.

As of today, Hulu is only available for US users, and it’s thought to be the second-most popular video streaming service after Netflix according to Comscore.

As we mentioned, Hulu has recently jumped into live TV streaming, providing a robust channel lineup and a cloud-based DVR on top of its existing on-demand next-day content. Moreover, together with this new business direction the company has also fully revamped and redesigned the UI/UX of their app.

hulu home lineup new design new mobile app ios hulu plus

[Hulu: Home Page]

When it comes to device support, both Hulu and Netflix have a huge list of supported devices – from gaming consoles to Blu-ray players to smartphones, which makes both services ubiquitous. What’s more, both Hulu and Netflix have social integrations, which means that users can share what they watch to Facebook as well as get recommendations based on the tastes and preferences of their Facebook friends.

So what are the prices for using Netflix and Hulu?

Both Netflix and Hulu offer a one-week free trial for new and returning subscribers. During this trial period, users can decide whether they want to cancel their subscription or continue using the service to watch movies online. For those who’d like to stay, both services offer a variety of subscription plans. In the case of Hulu, subscription plans start as low as $7.99 per month for Hulu’s base content or $39.99 for Hulu with Live TV, 50 hours of cloud DVR, and other great stuff. Hulu users can also go commercial-free for an additional fee.

Netflix’s prices are more complicated. The service has a basic plan available at $7.99 per month, which gives unlimited access to loads of movies and TV shows but only allows users to watch content on one screen and in standard definition. The two other plans – Standard and Premium – give users more freedom in terms of the number of screens and add HD or Ultra HD support and other features for $10.99 per month and $13.99 per month respectively. Unlike Hulu, all Netflix plans are ad-free, though the service can still push its original content on login screens.

  • Stand-alone video streaming apps from independent TV networks

Even though you can easily find CBS, Showtime, and HBO among the add-on packs of most live TV streaming services, that hasn’t stopped them from developing their own independent video streaming apps. However, these are only available for users who already have access to these channels through a traditional TV subscription.

Showtime’s streaming service – Showtime Anytime – is available on Android and Apple devices, Roku media streamers, as well as on a number of other connected devices and consoles. As you might have already guessed, Showtime doesn’t handle sign-in and payments on its own; instead, it passes these duties on to Apple and Roku.

Users of Showtime Anytime have access to popular Showtime original series (Shameless, Twin Peaks, Homeland), smash-hit movies (The Edge of Seventeen, Hell or High Water), as well as different sports programs and documentaries.

This Showtime service is only available for US users, however, and the company even states that it uses special technology to limit service usage from outside the US.

hbo android app screenshots

[HBO: Home page]

Showtime Anytime faces competition from HBO with its HBO Now (Android, iOS) streaming service, launched in 2015. HBO Now brings the network’s rich library of original series, movies, specials, and documentaries to consumers who don’t use traditional cable or satellite TV. The service costs $15 a month – exactly the same price HBO charges for its regular pay TV network.

Just like Showtime, HBO doesn’t sell its service to users directly: the company collaborates with third parties such as Apple, which handles sign-in and billing through iTunes.

Another great stand-alone network streaming service comes from Disney, which recently announced that it will be terminating its licensing deal with Netflix to start offering Disney and Pixar movies on its own Disney-branded video streaming service in 2019.

Still, the traditional cable or satellite TV subscription is seen as the main way of consuming media content. Slowly but surely, however, cord cutters are trying to substitute for it. Very soon, we may see traditional television sink into oblivion as more and more users switch to advanced and mobile ways of quenching their thirst for their favorite content.

Next time, we will talk on how to develop a video streaming app like Hulu.

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