Garth Ancier is one of the few TV execs to have run three different networks, having headed up entertainment at Fox, The WB and NBC. He also spent time at Turner and BBC America, and was behind one of the biggest syndicated hits of the 1990s, “The Ricki Lake Show.” Traditional TV was once Ancier’s livelihood — but he’s not nostalgic when it comes to the changing ways we watch TV.
Recently, Ancier decided, like many consumers, that it was time to cut the cord — using social media to crowd source his choices. After plenty of research, he came up with a mix of over-the-top subscriptions to replace his old school setup: YouTube TV (with unlimited Cloud DVR), Netflix, Hulu (no commercials option) with Live TV, Amazon Prime, CBS All-Access (no commercials option), HBO Now, and Showtime.
Prior to the switch, Ancier was paying $142.97 a month for cable service, including HBO and Showtime (but not including equipment charges). The new total is $92.95, but includes Netflix 4k and Hulu with no commercials. (“I’m not including Amazon Prime in that because I’m an Amazon addict, and I’d get it for the free shipping alone.”)
The exec chronicled what he learned, and the pros and cons of how he did it, on Facebook. Most notably: He found that the video quality on video over IP was far superior to switched digital video via cable — another troublesome point for legacy multichannel video programming distributors as they lose customers to the Internet.
Ancier agreed to share some of those thoughts with IndieWire, as a bit of a primer for others who might also be considering a change.
“Honestly, I love that I can watch all of this anywhere on any device,” Ancier wrote. “The legacy MVPDs never understand the value that creates for a customer like me.”
Every consumer is different, and Ancier’s needs were very specific. He had previously been subscribed to Spectrum Cable in Los Angeles for his home’s 10 screens, in addition to Netflix and Amazon Prime service. But Ancier frequently travels and watches TV on the road via an iPad, and he found that Spectrum’s “out of home” offerings were lacking.
Add in Spectrum’s “crazy equipment costs” and he realized the only reason why he hadn’t canceled the service earlier was because of its live TV options (including HBO and Showtime).
Still, “I’m paying for the same networks on multiple services for just me,” he wrote, explaining why it was time to say goodbye to the old system.
In cutting the cord and switching to so many streams, Ancier said he depended on a “rock solid Cisco Meraki IP network powered by a Fixed IP Spectrum broadband modem.”
That was important, because Ancier noted he’s very picky when it comes to picture quality. Here was one early surprise: The video quality is better on over-the-top services, because they can use better compression schemes and present a better picture. (Cable, on the other hand, is still using dated MPEG4 cable card switched digital technology, he said.)
“The quality I’m getting is BETTER than I was getting on Spectrum’s legacy switched digital video MVPD. I picked YouTube TV because I am keenly, personally aware that ONLY YouTube (really Google’s servers) has a better video CDN than Vimeo (both 4K HDR). I even tested it out tonight with many TV’s running, just to be sure!”
Ancier did find at first that he missed the live HBO feeds, however. “HBO, inexplicably in my mind, takes hours to add live content only (‘Real Time with Bill Maher,’ ‘Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’) to its streaming services. It makes no sense, as Showtime runs its stream and VOD live, and HBO NOW is fed from BamTECH, which hosts Major League Baseball (live) and Hockey (live). There’s reason to wait that long for a good IP transcode.”
Later, Ancier discovered that Hulu allows users to stream HBO live, so he switched his HBO account from Apple to Hulu. Problem solved.
Most consumers probably won’t want to subscribe to two different Live TV channel bundles, but Ancier decided to get both Hulu and YouTube TV, even with the channel overlap, because “I view YouTube TV to have the superior ‘content delivery network’ via Google/YouTube backend,” he said.
“Also, the unlimited cloud DVR is bundled in, and their user interface is more intuitive — but I also wanted to try Hulu’s live vMVPD [virtual MVPD] and see how it stacks up long term. It has options for more streams, you can buy HBO and Showtime in service and there’s good compatibility with TV Everywhere sign-ins. Each of these is an evolving platform — and I’m just not sure which I’ll keep long time for vMVPD purposes.” (Regardless, he plans to keep Hulu with the no-commercials option.)
A week into life without the cord, Ancier first gave a report on how this brave new world was serving two separate viewer needs:
“First need, as a replacement for linear TV, keeping the ability to easily time shift, and avoiding ads and promos — or as we like to call it, ‘clutter.’ Once you’ve stopped watching ads, it’s a pretty awful experience going back: ‘The Good Doctor’ on ABC is 39+ minutes without ads and promos. A few weeks ago I watched the live show on ABC and the experience — with ads, banners over picture, promos, etc. — was horrifying.
“Second need, to add original content beyond what is on normal Pay TV. Those original content services are (subjectively, ranked by quality/quantity) 1) Netflix, 2) HBO, 3) Amazon Prime Video, 4) Showtime, and 5) Hulu. I subscribe to all — and may even add Starz or eventually Epix.
“The challenge with all of the above is that there is so much content at your fingertips, yet no one has figured out a way to curate that content or customize it to you as a person. Netflix comes the closest, and the Apple ‘TV App’ is trying by pulling metadata from all your subscriptions. But curation/discovery remains the single biggest weak spot in the whole new TV World.”
That being said, here is Ancier’s take on the linear TV replacements:
“1) Best overall service and value: Definitely YouTube TV. Most of us forget that the world’s largest video service is plain vanilla YouTube at over a billion streams a day, and Google (which owns YouTube) has forgotten more about streaming than the rest of us have learned. Even during big events — like the Academy Awards — YouTube TV never crashed, never buffered, and maintained its pristine video picture. (Some others did not.)
“At $35/month (going up to $40 this week with new channels included), I like the unlimited DVR in the cloud and its functionality. Every channel is on but Discovery and Viacom networks, neither of which I watch much (and I can watch ‘The Daily Show’ monologue on YouTube). The ‘User Interface’ and ‘User Journeys’ are easy and intuitive – no ‘favorite channels’ settings, but I am sure that is on their tech road map.
“Biggest issue with YouTube TV is you only get three streams at a time, with no option to buy more streams. Also, there are no internal options to add on HBO or Showtime with your bundle, which means you need to buy it elsewhere.
“2) I’ve also been mostly pleased with Hulu Plus (and pay a tiny bit more for the no commercials option). Video quality is not quite as stable as YouTube TV (though close), but Hulu has an ‘unlimited streams’ upgrade option (unlike YouTube TV), and you can buy HBO and Showtime add-ons within your Hulu subscription. Showtime via Hulu is really a great deal, at half what I was paying for it through cable.
“Biggest negatives with Hulu are that you pay extra for a more functional Cloud DVR, as well as those extra streams. So the costs add up. Also, their UX/UI (User Interface/User Experience) is prettier than YouTube, but less intuitive.
“To sum this up, you get access to much more content at a lower price via these OTT options.”
In cutting the cord and adjusting to a new system of how content is delivered to your TV and devices, Ancier says you should understand that this world is still evolving, and adjusting to certain early hiccups. “As someone who started in traditional TV and moved over to digital, I really think you need to have some patience as these companies work through their technical issues (Content Delivery Networks, UX/UI) as well as navigate through the byzantine world of tradition MVPD contracts as they mature, and are renegotiated.
“Most often, you won’t be able to access a channel or a feature for contractual reasons, not technical ones,” he said. “That is to be expected when a deeply embedded legacy industry is in disruption/transition.”