Netflix, Hulu, Univision now: Streaming service offer choice, savings

If mention of the Norwegian Blue “pining for the fjords” elicits a smile, then the new comedy streaming service Seeso is for you.

The Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch about a dead parrot has never looked better, now that NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises has put its considerable resources behind remastering the classic BBC comedy series. But Seeso, which launched in January for $3.99 a month, has more in mind than offering golden oldies and fresh content from new comedians curated by the folks at Upright Citizens Brigade.

In January, it live-streamed a comedy showcase, The Guest List: Live From the Barrel House in San Francisco.

“We want to build direct-to-consumer channels for the first time in NBCUniversal’s history, and we wanted to do so in a way that catered to the taste of consumers,” said Evan Shapiro, NBCU executive vice president of digital enterprises.

Streaming services via over-the-top devices such as Apple TV or Roku are picking up steam. The biggest, including Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, now are producing original content to complement a vast array of TV and movie choices.

These options exist because many people are tired of paying more than $100 for dozens of cable TV channels they never watch, as part of a traditional bundle. Streaming apps allow customers to pick and choose exactly what they want, although for now, there are limits. NFL football, for example, is not part of the CBS All Access app, which runs $5.99 a month.

And, $5.99 a month here and $3.99 there can really add up. Nonetheless, streaming is increasingly popular. Some 41 percent of U.S. homes have access to subscription-based video-on-demand services, such as Netflix, according to a 2015 Nielsen Total Audience Report.

41 percent of U.S. households subscribe to on-demand video services

Netflix has more than 75 million subscribers and recently announced it would provide more than 600 hours of original content in fiscal 2016, which puts it on par with networks like ABC and NBC.

Consumers have much from which to choose with the surge in stand-alone versions of former cable-only and broadcast networks such as HBO Now and CBS All Access.

Other niche products include CrunchyRoll (ad-free, no-contract anime streaming for $6.95 monthly), Lucas Oil Racing (prices vary from $4.99 to $6.99 a month for myriad American Spring Boat races, car races and a feature aptly named “Crash Corner”) and Univision Communications’ $5.99-a-month streaming of its broadcast Univision and UniMas Spanish-language networks.

Smithsonian Earth, which launched in November, offers stand-alone, advertisement-free content in high definition and Ultra HD resolution. It’s $3.99 a month and, like most streaming services, offers a free trial subscription.

Like stories about illicit affairs or evil twins? Or perhaps evil twins having illicit affairs? Lifetime Movie Club is available, commercial-free, for $3.99 a month online, via Roku and on iOS devices. Offerings include “Stalked By My Doctor” and “Bad Sister.”

The next-generation user streams content or uses a second screen while watching TV. A survey of more than 11,000 such users showed they liked comedy, so “you want to fish where the fish are,” Shapiro said.

In developing products such as Seeso, it’s not the demographics as much as the psychographics – focusing on the “how” not the “who” in the lifestyle of the consumer – that counts, he added.

“For a month’s worth of content, you’re also getting three to five original long-form episodes of comedy every week,” Shapiro said. “Exclusive rights to Monty Python, Kids in the Hall, other great content like Fawlty Towers and The Mighty Boosh.’’

Seeso launched in beta form late last year and continues to offer free samples at Seeso.com. It taps into an extensive catalog of NBCUniversal content, including the entire long- and short-form versions of Saturday Night Live and The Office – in American and British forms.

Networks such as CBS and HBO realize they have to give consumers value-added content. That’s why CBS has not only 2 Broke Girls and The Late Show With Stephen Colbert but also I Love Lucy, The Brady Bunch and both versions of Hawaii Five-0.

There’s a great deal of experimentation going on, and despite the success of streaming leader Netflix, Americans are still watching a lot of VOD via cable services. Even YouTube’s ad-free Red service, which is $10 a month, throws in a Google Play music subscription.

DISH Network’s Sling TV, which costs $20 a month, includes live broadcast channels such as ESPN, AMC and CNN. Add-on packages are $5 per month, for kids programming and Spanish language channels, etc. Not included, however, are local stations. Sling TV can be streamed only across one device at a time.

For sports fans, cord-cutting is especially hard. The major sports leagues in the U.S. all have expensive (more than $100 a year/season) stand-alone streaming services that allow, to some degree, fans to follow their favorite teams.

But blackouts can be a problem. NHL GameCenter has all sorts of bells and whistles, including archived content, on-demand rewinds and condensed replays of games. For about $100 a season, the NFL’s Game Pass offers HD replays of current season games and archived games going back to 2009 but only live radio streaming of games.

Those who prefer streaming video-on-demand aren’t shy about sharing passwords. About 6 percent of U.S. broadband households use an over-the-top video service paid by someone living outside of the household, according to a 2015 report from the research firm Parks Associates.

And that’s fine with the content providers.

In January, at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings told an audience that sharing is fine, because his company figures many of those young borrowers will one day get their own subscriptions. Getting consumers in the habit to watch, even if they aren’t the ones yet paying for it, figures into the long-range strategy.

How and why we buy VOD can be a conflicting experience, said George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University and an expert in consumer spending.

“Two types of psychology are operating here,” he said. “If you owned a car already and somebody asked you, ‘Would you like to spend $2,000 to get heated seats?' you would never do that. But if you’re already paying $20,000 for a new car, adding $2,000 doesn’t seem like that much.

“Since the cable bill tends to be pretty expensive, then additional channels seem pretty inexpensive,” he added. “But the other psychology is that people don’t like paying for things they don’t use. They don’t like to pay for things that have lots of features they don’t use.”