Cutting the cable TV cord in 2015 is supposed to involve some sacrifice. Many cable channels still don’t stream their videos to non-subscribers, and with the growing number of streaming services that do exist, you must make hard choices about where your money goes.
But this brave new world of streaming video does have a big loophole in the form of password sharing. Borrow a login to your favorite channel app or streaming service, and you can defray or dodge the cost of subscribing on your own. Is password sharing morally dubious? For sure, but it’s also one way to protest a system that’s been stacked against consumers’ interests for years.
With Thanksgiving weekend approaching—and ample opportunity to plead for family members’ login details—now’s a fine time to look at what’s available through streaming, and any password-sharing restrictions to keep in mind.
Cable-authenticated channel apps
Thanks to an industry-wide initiative known as TV Everywhere, many cable channels offer their own apps for streaming boxes such as Roku and Apple TV, with all the latest shows on demand. Just download the app you want, and log in with a participating cable, satellite, or telco provider, which then checks to make sure the subscriber is getting that channel as part of a pay-TV package.
So far, TV Everywhere has been pretty lax about password sharing for regular cable and satellite channels, as we can’t find any hard restrictions on simultaneous streams for the channels below. (Premium channels are a different story, and we’ll get to those shortly.)
Here’s a rundown of available apps to choose from, sorted by streaming device, with links to download the app where available:
Apple TV: WatchESPN, WatchABC, ABC Family, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, NBC, NBC Sports Live Extra, USA Now, CNN, A&E, History, Lifetime, Smithsonian Channel, Fox Now, FX Now, Fox Sports Go, and Nat Geo TV.
Chromecast: WatchESPN, WatchABC, ABC Family, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, NBC (coming soon), Fox Now, FX Now, Comedy Central, Nick, MTV, Smithsonian Channel, Watch Food Network, HGTV Watch, DIY Watch, Watch Travel Channel,. (To use these services with Chromecast, download the corresponding mobile app for iOS or Android.)
Xbox One: Bravo Now, Comedy Central, CW, ESPN, Fox Now, FXNow, MTV, Nat Geo TV, NBC, NFL, Syfy Now, USA Now, VH1.
Xbox 360: A&E, CW, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, ESPN, Fox Now, FXNow, History, Lifetime, MTV, Nat Geo TV, Watch ABC.
Premium cable-authenticated channels
TV Everywhere also extends to premium channels such as HBO and Showtime, letting you watch a huge selection of original series and movies. Again, all you need is a login from a cable, satellite, or telco provider, which then checks to make sure the channel is part of the subscriber’s pay-TV package. These channels tend to have tighter restrictions on how many people can stream at the same time, so here’s what you need to know before mooching from someone else:
HBO Go: The company has said that it limits streams to no more than three devices at once, and requires a fresh login periodically. TV apps are available for Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Roku, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.
Showtime Anytime: According to an Xbox troubleshooting page, Showtime’s streams are limited to three at a time, and a maximum five devices paired to a single login. TV apps are available on Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.
Encore Play: Streaming is capped at four simultaneous devices. Apps are available for Amazon Fire TV, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Chromecast.
Epix: The movie provider doesn’t specify any limits on concurrent streams, but caps device activations at 10. TV support is available via Android TV, Chromecast, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Roku, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.
Starz Play: Streaming is limited to four devices at the same time. Works with Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.
NFL Sunday Ticket: DirectTV’s football package is available for streaming on a single device at a time. TV apps are available for Chromecast, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Roku, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.
Standalone streaming services
In 2015, there are more ways than ever to watch TV without a cable subscription, but subscribing to them all can be expensive. Splitting the cost with family or close friends is an option, but keep in mind many of these services are extra strict about how many devices can stream at once.
Netflix: The $8-per-month plan with SD video allows one stream at a time, while the $8-per-month HD video plan allows two simultaneous streams. A $12 per month Ultra HD (4K) plan allows four streams at once. TV apps are available for Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Chromecast, Roku, and all game consoles.
Amazon Prime: Two streams at a time per account, and no more than one stream of the same video. But beware: Sharing a password also means granting access to other Amazon benefits, such as payment methods on Amazon.com purchases. Apps are available on Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and all game consoles.
Hulu: It’s your best bet for next-day streaming of current TV shows, but alas is limited to one stream at a time. Note that this restriction also applies when you tack on an $8-per-month Showtime subscription. Apps are available for Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Chromecast, Roku, and all game consoles.
Sling TV: This bundle of more than 20 live cable channels only allows one stream at a time. TV app support includes Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Chromecast, Roku, and Xbox One, with Apple TV coming soon.
HBO Now: The $15-per-month, standalone streaming version of HBO caps simultaneous streams at three. Get it on Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Chromecast, and Roku.
Showtime: The $11-per-month standalone service allows three streams at once, with no more than five device activations. TV apps are available for Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Chromecast, and Roku.
CBS All Access: The $6-per-month mix of live broadcasts and ad-supported on-demand video allows for two streams at once, with apps for Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Chromecast, and Roku.
PlayStation Vue: In some markets, Vue is a bundle of live streaming channels, with DVR and on-demand features, starting at $50 per month. Elsewhere, Vue offers a handful of standalone channels such as Showtime and Machinima. Either way, streams are confined to a single home (via IP address) on TV devices such as PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Amazon Fire TV, and Chromecast. Mobile device streams are capped at three, and no more than five streams total are allowed.
This is a lot to digest, so if you have any questions about how to be an effective moocher, drop a comment or find me on Twitter.
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Jared Newman has been helping folks make sense of technology for over a decade, writing for PCWorld, TechHive, and elsewhere. He also publishes two newsletters, Advisorator for straightforward tech advice and Cord Cutter Weekly for saving money on TV service.