Recently, I was away from home for a week so I took that opportunity to actually use many of the services I’ve written about in the past few weeks. All functioned as expected, including the free ones, but I found that trying to keep track of where to watch the networks and shows I wanted was difficult at best. No single free service provided access to everything I wanted to watch. And I could find no app nor website that brought together all the program guides from all the free services into a single searchable program guide.
I have not cut the paid TV cord myself and that is the main reason I haven’t. If you’re a very casual TV viewer who watches news, PBS, old movies and maybe one or two old series you might be able to get by. But for many of us, TV is something we rely on for entertainment. There are services that help keep track of movies and series across broadcast and subscription services, including the iconic TV Guide (yes, it exists as an app now). In general, you tell the app how you receive TV (over-the-air or one of the paid TV options like Dish or a cable provider) and which streaming services you use. The app knows which channels are available and allows you a limited amount of customization (delete, rearrange and favorite channels) and presents the program guide, typically in channel order listing shows by the hour or half hour. For the “on demand” services like Netflix which don’t have fixed program schedules, the apps tend to show you the most popular titles. You can set up a “watchlist” and if a program is broadcast at a particular time you can often set up to be notified before it starts.
This is all fine if you have a broadcast provider, but if you use a streaming service like Pluto TV, which streams certain shows at certain times, you’re out of luck. The only place that I could find to see the program guide and schedule was in the Pluto TV app. If you’re satisfied with using just one service it’s not a problem, but if you use two or more you’ll need to find a way to keep track on your own of what is on which service and channel. That is what I dealt with during my time away from home and it was incredibly frustrating.
Moving on to my intended topics for the week which are 1.) on demand services (e.g. Netflix, HBO Max, Apple TV+) and 2.) how to keep track of what’s on which service.
It can be really difficult to decide which on demand service to subscribe to. I’ve found movies and series that interest me on just about every service. My favorites? Apple TV+, Paramount+ and Disney+. They’re my favorites because I can almost always find a series or movie I want to see. Disney+ has Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar/Disney. Paramount+ has blockbuster movies plus the new Star Trek series as well as new CBS content. As far as I’m concerned, Apple TV+ has some of the best original content available anywhere.
Apple TV+ costs $4.99/month which you can cancel anytime. Here’s a good rundown of the service at https://go.ttot.link/AppleTV.
Paramount+ has two plans — $4.99 per month with ads or $9.99 per month commercial free. You get a discount for a yearly subscription, but if you’re really looking to save money you’ll likely want to subscribe and cancel as shows come and go. Here’s a good rundown of the service — https://go.ttot.link/ParamountPlus.
Disney+ announced a rate hike beginning in December of this year. With ads it becomes $7.99 per month and ad free becomes $10.99. I still think it’s worth it because I’m a Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars fan. And they have “bundles.” You can add Hulu or ESPN+ for a discount over subscribing to them individually. Yes, there are discounts for a yearly subscription if you’re interested, but again, if you really want to save money you’ll subscribe and cancel. Here’s a good review: https://go.ttot.link/DisneyPlus.
Now that you’ve signed up or are planning to sign up for several on demand services, how do you keep track of what’s available on which service? And when you hear about a new series or movie, how can you remember to watch it? Yes, there are apps. Google TV (https://go.ttot.link/GetGoogleTV), as an app, can keep track of movies and series you are interested in with a “watchlist.” I find its interface to be too cluttered with graphics for me but it’s a good, free app that’s available for Android and iOS.
I have two that I use regularly. They each have their strengths and weaknesses and both have apps for Android and iOS.
TV Time (https://go.ttot.link/TVTime) has a good, clean interface with a calendar so you can easily see when a new episode will be available and you can mark individual episodes as seen. It has a number of “social” features which allow you to see what friends are watching. But honestly, I don’t use those features. You search for shows and movies, put them on your watchlist and can keep track of what you’ve seen and what you still want to see.
The other one I use is actually an online database with multiple apps that make use of it. The site is trakt.tv. It’s free but if you pay $30 per year you get VIP benefits (https://go.ttot.link/TraktVIP) which may or may not interest you. I’ve signed up for VIP and am quite happy with it. You can use their website or use one (or several) of their many apps (https://go.ttot.link/TraktApps) that use their database. I use TV Show Tracker (iOS https://go.ttot.link/TrackeriOS Android https://go.ttot.link/TrackerAndroid). I find it easier to navigate and feel it has a cleaner, less cluttered interface. The nice thing about using a central database is that you can move from app to app and still have all of your shows, watched and otherwise, available.
That about does it for cutting the paid TV cord. If I’ve missed something or you have questions or requests, please let me know.
Next week I’ll start discussing ways to keep yourself safe online. Did you know that the pictures you publish can contain precise location information?
Email me with questions, comments, suggestions, requests for future columns, whatever at [email protected] and don’t forget that I maintain links to the original columns with live, clickable links to all the references at https://go.ttot.link/TGColumns+Links or https://go.ttot.link/TGC+L.
Tony Sumrall, a Hillsboro native whose parents ran the former Highland Lanes bowling alley, is a maker with both leadership and technical skills. He’s been in the computing arena since his graduation from Miami University with a bachelor’s degree in systems analysis, working for and with companies ranging in size from five to hundreds of thousands of employees. He holds five patents and lives and thrives in Silicon Valley which feeds his love for all things tech.