Choosing Between Premium Channels

Choosing Between Premium Channels

When it comes to Cable and Satellite TV, it can be difficult to choose a package that provides the content you want and still stay within your budget. Adding premium channels can make that decision even more difficult. If you’re moving or just considering upgrading your current package, here is a brief overview of what each of the major subscription networks has to offer.

Fees will likely vary depending on your provider, which typically bundle these networks with “lesser” channels, and will increase your monthly bill by around $20 for each.

Premium Channels: HBO

  • HD
  • Streaming/App = HBO Go
  • Spanish = HBO Latino
  • On Demand

The grande dame of the premium channels is probably known best for its original programming of series like True Blood and Game of Thrones. However, its primary programming staple is first-run movies as they come to the end of their initial theatrical run; nighttime programming includes more “adult” oriented content.

HBO has seven channels all offering slightly different variations of its main programming lineup:

  • HBO2 differs in that it doesn’t show R-rated programming during daytime hours (the main HBO channel does).
  • HBO Signature has programming that is more “woman-oriented.”
  • HBO Zone targets young adults under 35.
  • HBO Comedy features comedy series, films and comedy specials.
  • HBO Family airs programming not rated above PG-13 and generally targeted toward the 8-15 demographic.

Premium Channels: Cinemax

  • HD
  • App/Streaming = Max Go
  • On Demand

As HBO’s sister network, Cinemax is often bundled with HBO by providers, but not always. Like HBO, Cinemax’s main programming lineup features first-run movies, as they close out their original release. The network’s original content, however, has until recently consisted primarily of softcore porn (“Cinemax After Dark”), earning the channel the rather unflattering sobriquet “skin-emax.” To keep up with its sister network, Cinemax has begun more traditional scripted programming in collaboration with the BBC and from the likes of Alan Ball (Six Feet Under).

Cinemax’s sub-premium channels each feature a different genre:

  • MoreMax offers mainstream films, but also independent films and foreign releases.
  • ActionMax, as its name implies, features action films, westerns, war movies and chop-saki theatre.
  • OuterMax plays science-fiction and fantasy, as well as horror films.
  • 5StarMax is the name given to the “classic film” channel.
  • It and WMax, the bundle’s “women’s channel”, are the only two sub-channels that do not air Cinemax After Dark.
  • ThrillerMax is, of course, dedicated to the suspense/mystery/horror genre.
  • @Max is the bundle’s young adult centered channel.

Conclusion: If the two sister premium channels are bundled together by your provider, this is about as comprehensive a package as you can get for your investment. A total of 15 separate broadcast channels, plus mobile app and streaming options, that cover every genre. However, if what you’re really after is award-winning original series, made-for-TV films and miniseries, HBO is easily the better choice.

If HBO is a bit beyond what you’re willing to spend, or you’re more interested in cinema than series, Cinemax is a good option. Its broad range of both genre and production era should appeal to cinephiles and film students.

Premium Channels: Showtime

  • HD
  • On Demand
  • Streaming/App = Showtime Anytime

Showtime is similar to HBO in that it broadcasts feature films that have come to the end of their original run, as well as specials and sporting events. It also has its own successful original series like Dexter, The Big C and Homeland. Its seven sub-channels include separate genre channels for Action and Sci-Fi dubbed Showtime Extreme and Showtime Beyond, respectively. Its “women’s channel” is called simply Showtime Women, and its kid-friendly channel Showtime Family Zone. It also has a young adult channel.

The Movie Channel (TMC)

  • HD
  • On Demand

TMC broadcasts some blockbusters, but mostly smaller-budget releases and indies. It also has late night “adult” content and features a weekend programming block of horror films called Splatterday. Its only sub-channel, Xtra, offers similar content that has already played on the main channel.

Premium Channels: Flix

  • On Demand

Flix is not available in all areas, but primarily broadcasts popular older films (from before 2000) as part of its “Cool classics for the movie generation” programming concept.

Conclusion: When choosing between HBO and Showtime packages, it will mostly come down to which original series you prefer, as their overall content is pretty interchangeable. TMC and Flix are nice to have in addition to Showtime, but since their lineup is mostly created from older films many people own in some format, it’s probably not really worth it to add them separately.

Premium Channels: Starz

  • HD
  • On Demand
  • Streaming/App = Starz Play

The last of the “big three” premium channels hasn’t been as successful with its original content, and what has been successful tends to skew a little toward adults. However, Spartacus was a popular original series of theirs. Da Vinci’s Demons is also a bit more mainstream, but Starz primarily airs a broad spectrum of films, including indies, blockbusters and foreign films.

Starz has five sub-channels:

  • Cinema shows some quality, lesser-known films.
  • Edge is for young adults.
  • Kids & Family and Comedy are self explanatory.
  • Starz in Black features films from throughout the African diaspora and black filmmakers.

Premium Channels: Encore

  • HD = select channels
  • On Demand
  • Streaming/App = Play
  • Spanish = Encore Espanol

Encore takes a unique approach in that its programming is broken into genre sub-channels. Action (HD available), Drama, Westerns, Suspense, Love and Family. The main channel (available in HD) doesn’t offer as much “recently released” content as its competitors, however.

Conclusion: Because Starz is usually bundled with Encore, it’s a pretty comprehensive package for a bit less money. It doesn’t have the quality original programming, but Starz is slating several new shows for the coming season that might elevate it. Some areas also offer MoviePlex as part of the package, which shows films of all types and airs 24 hours a day.

Finally, remember that most providers don’t allow you to purchase these packages a la carte.

Typically, these premium channels are incentives to purchase a higher tier of programming, and you’re charged accordingly. Go to our Digital Landing Deals page to see what services are offered in your area, and see if free months of premium channels are included as an incentive.