Do you like paying to watch cable TV over the internet? Do you hate watching sports?
Then this might be an option for you: Meet Philo, the newest and long-promised “over the top” web TV service.
Philo shows programming from some three dozen cable TV networks — none of which offer sports — and delivers them to your phone, laptop or connected TV.
The fact that none of the programmers contributing channels, along with $25 million in new venture funding — A&E, Scripps, Discovery, AMC and Viacom — pay big fees for sports means that Philo costs much less than other web TV services. The base package will cost $16 a month, compared with $35 a month for YouTube TV, or $40 a month for Hulu’s live TV option.
That $16 a month will get you access to live and on-demand programming from the likes of Comedy Central, AMC and A&E.
But the fact that TV programmers sell their stuff in bundles means Philo subscribers won’t just be living without ESPN or Fox Sports 1 — they’ll also have to live without Disney-owned channels like ABC or the Disney Channel, or Fox-owned channels like Fox News or FX. Also not included: Anything owned by CBS or NBCUniversal (NBCUniversal is an investor in Vox Media, which owns this site).
If you care about the fate of the TV industry, you’ll be interested in this package — sometimes referred to on Wall Street as the “loser bundle,” because many of the channels in the package aren’t included in other TV bundles.
If it does well, it may undermine the value the industry places on expensive sports rights. If it doesn’t, it may strengthen the value of sports networks like ESPN and leagues like the NFL.
And if you’re a consumer, you should be interested in Philo simply because it offers another flavor of TV: Even if it’s not what you want, it’s a choice. And until a few years ago, pay TV meant almost no choice, period.
Now things are getting more interesting. There’s a variety of skinny and not-so-skinny bundles available to anyone with a broadband connection, and you can also mix and match a la carte services like HBO and Netflix.
In the end, you may decide to pay the same amount for the same stuff you were getting with traditional cable — but you don’t have to. That’s real change.
Philo isn’t launching with a full complement of apps: It will work on your web browser and on Roku boxes and iOS devices, but it doesn’t have dedicated apps for Chromecast, Apple TV or Amazon Fire devices. The company says it will get to those down the road.
Also on the development roadmap: New “social TV” functions that will let you show your friends what you’re watching and vice versa. And if you’re both online concurrently Philo will give you the ability to sync up your viewing, so you’re both watching the same show at the same time.
A few years ago, a bunch of tech companies, including Facebook and Netflix, spent a bunch of time trying to make watching videos a shared experience, and none of those efforts worked. The consensus at that time: Who wants to tell people what you’re watching?
But Philo, which started out as a service that sold web TV to college students, says its young target users are much more comfortable with the idea. It seems like a stretch, but so does a live TV package that doesn’t include sports or broadcast channels. Let’s see what happens.