A lot’s changed since the last time I wrote about sharing passwords for streaming video services a few years ago.
Many more companies now offer live TV streaming bundles, allowing you to watch dozens of cable channels from a single app. TV networks have also released more of their own apps on more devices, and several streaming platforms (including Apple TV, Roku, and Fire TV) now support “single sign-on,” so you can access all these apps without needing to log into each one individually. All this makes password sharing a more tantalizing prospect.
At the same time, some TV providers and network executives have become more skittish about the practice as cord-cutting ramps up. Spectrum, for instance, has been using its contract negotiations to urge networks such as Viacom to force more frequent logins in their apps, and ESPN now limits simultaneous streams in its apps to five, down from the previous 10.
I’m obliged to note that password sharing is a moral and legal gray area that often violates terms of service. And for security reasons, I wouldn’t suggest spreading login credentials around to just anyone. That said, a little quid pro quo between family members or close friends can significantly defray the cost of cutting cable TV, provided you’re aware of the limitations. Here’s what you need to know about how all the major streaming services deal with shared passwords and simultaneous streams:
Standalone streaming services
Over-the-top streaming services such as Netflix tend to have clear limits on how many people can stream from an account simultaneously. And perhaps because of this, they’re not overly concerned about password sharing. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has even said he’s okay with the practice because it helps market the service.
Netflix: The $8-per-month plan with SD video allows one stream at a time, while the $11-per-month HD video plan allows two simultaneous streams. A $14-per-month Ultra HD (4K) plan allows four streams at once. In each case, each user can have a separate profile with different viewing preferences.
Amazon Prime: Amazon allows you to watch on up to three devices at a time, two of which may be watching the same video. Just be aware that sharing an Amazon Prime login with someone else allows them to purchase things from Amazon.com using your credit card. It’s also worth nothing that Amazon’s recommendations can be skewed by whatever the moocher decides to watch.
Hulu on-demand: Just one stream at a time, but each user can set up their own profile.
HBO Now: Three streams at a time.
Showtime: Three streams at a time.
CBS All Access: Two streams at a time.
Streaming TV bundles
Live TV bundles, such as Sling TV and DirecTV Now, all have clear limits on simultaneous streams. They also have additional restrictions based on where you are.
Sling TV: One stream at a time for the “Orange” package, three streams for the “Blue” package. If you have an Orange + Blue plan, channels that appear in both packages will allow four streams at a time. Regional sports may only be viewed inside that team’s coverage area.
PlayStation Vue: Three streams at a time—and you can even create a separate profile for yourself—but only one at a time on TV devices such as Roku and Amazon Fire TV. If the person you’re mooching from is already watching on TV, you’ll have to use a phone, tablet, or computer instead. Regional sports may only be viewed inside that team’s coverage area.
DirecTV Now: Two streams at a time, or three with a $5-per-month upgrade. Regional sports may only be viewed inside that team’s coverage area.
YouTube TV: Three streams at a time, with the ability to have your own profile through Google Family Sharing. The person you’re mooching from must log in at home once every three months. Regional sports may only be viewed inside that team’s coverage area.
Hulu with Live TV: Two streams at a time, or three with a $15-per-month upgrade, but with one important caveat: Streaming on TV devices away from the home account isn’t allowed. Regional sports may only be viewed inside that team’s coverage area.
FuboTV: Two streams at a time, or three with a $6-per-month upgrade. Regional sports may only be viewed inside that team’s coverage area.
Philo: Three streams at a time.
"TV everywhere" apps
Many TV networks now offer their own apps (known as “TV everywhere” apps) on phones, tablets, computers, smart TVs, streaming players, and game consoles. Some of the most popular ones include ESPN, HBO Go, Nick Jr., ABC, NBC, CNNgo, FXNow, HGTV, and Bravo Now, but there are dozens of others.
These apps allow you to watch on-demand video, and in some cases a live channel feed as well. To use them, you must log in with the credentials from a pay TV account (from a cable, satellite, telco, or streaming TV provider) that already has access to that channel.
To make authentication easier, Apple TV, Fire TV, and Roku all support single sign-on, so you can enter your credentials once and have it work across dozens of "TV everywhere" apps. For this to work, both your TV provider and the app itself must support the single sign-on feature. Unfortunately, Amazon and Roku do not provide a full list of supported apps and services, but you can see which apps and services support Apple TV’s single sign-on feature here.
Below are some popular TV providers, with links to all the TV Everywhere apps that they support with a valid login:
Check the TV Everywhere website for more providers
You can also access TV Everywhere apps with a login from the following streaming TV bundles:
Sign up for Jared’s Cord Cutter Weekly newsletter to get this column and other cord-cutting news, insights, and deals delivered to your inbox.