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Philo is a new streaming service focused on the niche of affordable entertainment, education, and lifestyle programming. Originally targeted as a college campus solution, the startup streaming service opted to open access to the general public in late 2017.
The company is led by Facebook co-founder Andrew McCollum, who took the helm in 2014; and backed by networks A&E, AMC, Discovery, Scripps and Viacom which have invested a combined $25 million into the business. These strategic investors also provided the basis for the content offerings, which gives Philo access to channels not found on any other streaming service.
Like all other streaming channels, Philo streams multichannel live TV over the Internet. You might think that Philo is just another provider jumping on the cord-cutting bandwagon. What makes this streaming service unique is the price point and channel lineup.
Monthly subscription prices undercut even Sling’s low-price offerings. Philo is less than half the price of Hulu with Live TV or YouTube TV. Investigating the bargain price point reveals the limited channel lineup, which doesn’t include sports, news, or local broadcast channels. In return, the connection with Viacom gives viewers access to channels not found on many other services, like Comedy Central, MTV, BET, and VH1.
The basic set of 37 channels is $16 per month with no other cost or contract. Viewers can choose the premium package of 46 channels for $20 per month. There’s a free seven-day trial, after which you can cancel or restart your subscription anytime, as many times as you wish. Subscriptions are month to month and renew automatically unless you cancel the subscription by signing into Philo, going to your Account page, and following the cancellation instructions.
The number of channels available on Philo compares equitably with Sling TV’s approximately 28 live channels and about 40 on YouTube TV. An HD antenna for local channels would round out Philo’s offerings and leave few holes in the programming, except for major news and sports like CNN and ESPN.
Subscribers can watch different shows or channels (or the same show or channel) on three devices at the same time, even when streaming in HD. Viewers can pause live channels, start shows from the beginning when in progress, and watch programs that have aired in the last 72 hours. Philo also has a library of more than 1,000 hours of primetime content available on-demand. If you prefer to watch at your convenience, users have an unlimited capacity cloud DVR that enables fast forward and rewind capabilities where licensing agreements allow. Although the DVR is unlimited in capacity, DVR recordings expire from your account after 30 days.
To start your free trial, you don’t need a credit card; only a mobile phone number, a broadband internet connection, and a supported device.
Providing your phone number unlocks 48 hours of free trial without inputting billing information or making any further commitment. After 48 hours, you can continue the balance of your free trial by entering billing information. As long as you cancel before the end of your free trial, your card won’t be charged. The company limits the flexible free trials to one per customer.
Philo expects to add support for additional devices soon, but for now the most common devices are covered. Web browsers on Mac and PC, Apple iPhone and iPad (running iOS 9 or newer), Android phones and tablets running Chrome 54+ and Android 7.0+ newer, and Roku.
Once you’ve logged on Philo offers you five main options: Home, Live, Guide, Saved, and Search. The black background makes options and navigation pop with easy to recognize tiles representing each show.
Selecting a show takes you to the show profile page which details viewing options like what’s available on 72-hour rewind, live, or on demand.
Philo’s interface offers a friendlier, more intuitive design than Hulu’s current UI. In my opinion, Hulu’s UI is targeted at small-device users, where Philo’s is equally comfortable to navigate on the big and small screens.
Compared to 100-plus-channel cable packages any live TV streaming service has compromises. Philo just has more than any of the others, which makes it even more niche than Sling TV and company.
Not being able to tune to a live newscast or browse sporting events will be a deal-breaker for a lot of people. For those who don't care about the absent channels, a basic Hulu subscription offers enough "entertainment, lifestyle and knowledge-focused programming" to make a lot of Philo redundant -- for half the price. Let's face it: beyond news and sports, watching something live isn't that important for a lot of people.
Philo certainly won’t meet the needs of everyone, but for the money, it’s easily one of the best streaming services on the market. With a starting price below anything else out there, Philo is the ideal budget streaming TV option for people who miss cable. The lack of news and sports channels is a significant issue, but between websites and local over-the-air channels, it’s possible to make up the deficit—and with the money you’re saving, it’s easier to justify.
It’s evident from the channel listing that this service started off aimed at college students, but no matter what time of day you tune in, there’s always something good on. Best of all, there’s no reason not to try it out. Just give Philo your phone number and keep your credit card to yourself. If you’ve always wanted to dip your toe in the waters of streaming TV, Philo is the best way to do it.
“College was a great place to get started. It allowed us to reach the right demographic,” says McCollum. “Young people are really driving the change in TV, so creating a TV service that appealed to them, and worked for them was the right place to be.”
Megan Southard is a writer, mom, technology enthusiast, and movie junkie. She dreads the day her kids have to explain gadgets to her and is old enough to say, "I was the remote for our TV growing up."
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