The majority of American households (83 percent, to be exact) subscribe to some type of pay-TV service, according to a Leichtman Research Group study. With so much demand, the number of cable entertainment options has skyrocketed — in fact, no fewer than 660 cable operators and 5,208 cable systems serve U.S. consumers, according to the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.
Whoa. That’s overwhelming; it’s almost too much choice. When choosing a movie package to go along with your pay-TV service, how do you know which one is best for you and your family? Well, that’s precisely what this guide is about.
The difference between pay-TV packages is based on which channels come with each package. Most providers break their package offerings down into three or four basic tiers, which may include basic, expanded basic (standard) and premium packages. Some providers also offer On Demand channels showing recent movies and first-run TV shows. Let’s take a closer look at the typical packages:
The most basic TV package usually includes about 20 broadcast network channels. These consist of NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, the CW, PBS, local-access channels, public service channels such as C-SPAN, and channels dedicated to infomercials and home shopping. The only movies you’ll get with this package are the ones available on these channels, such as the ABC Saturday Movie of the Week.
Expanded basic packages
Expanded basic channels generally include all the channels in the basic package plus major national cable networks such as A&E, AMC, BET, Bravo, Cartoon Network, Chiller, Disney Channel, El Rey Network, EWTN, Freeform, FX, Hallmark Channel, Inspiration Network, ION Television, Lifetime, MoviePlex, Nickelodeon, the Oprah Winfrey Network, Oxygen, Spike, SyFy Channel, TBS, TCM, TMC, TNT and USA — most of which broadcast movies on at least a semi-regular basis.
But whereas the lowest tier of expanded basic cable packages typically includes about 70 channels, the lowest tier of standard satellite packages starts with double or triple this number of channels. For instance, DISH’s most basic package includes over 190 channels. Higher tiers add additional channels. In DISH’s case, higher tiers increase to 240, 290 and 315 channels. Prime Media provides a detailed breakdown of the type of content many of these channels provide.
Pay-TV premium packages include one or more premium channels, such as HBO, Cinemax, Encore, EPIX, Showtime and STARZ. Actually, each one of these can subpackage several channels under that brand. For instance, on DISH:
- HBO includes nine different HBO channels that provide top big-screen movies and award-winning series such as Game of Thrones, Girls and True Detective
- Cinemax includes six channels that feature major Hollywood movies along with original series such as Banshee, Strike Back and The Knick
- Encore includes eight channels delivering 75 movies a month from the ’80s, ’90s and today
- EPIX includes four channels featuring the latest Hollywood blockbusters
- Showtime includes nine channels featuring award-winning movies such as Boyhood and The Imitation Game along with acclaimed original series such as Shameless and Homeland
- STARZ includes eight channels mixing big-screen entertainment with original series such as Black Sails, Outlander and Ash vs. Evil Dead
- DISH also offers its own DISH Movie Pack, which combines 15 movie channels especially for movie lovers (including EPIX and FXM)
Premium TV channels may be added on to basic packages individually or in combinations. The highest-tier packages usually include a provider’s full range of premium channels plus its basic channels. Often premium channels are offered free for a limited time to new subscribers, with the option of upgrading after the trial period is over.
On Demand channels
Some providers also offer On Demand channels showing recent movies, first-run TV shows, sports broadcasts, concerts and other specials.
In addition to basic and premium packages, pay-TV providers may offer a range of other packages. For instance, DISH offers specialty movie packages that combine movie channels geared toward specific interests, such as Encore, which offers channels showing popular older films and recent theatrical feature film releases.
There are also packages of channels geared toward sports fans. Spanish-speaking viewers can get packages of Latino channels, while International channel packages bring broadcasts from a wide variety of countries. Viewers can also order packages of local channels from specific geographic areas within the United States. For entertainment enthusiasts with high-definition TVs, there are HD packages. There are also packages geared toward mobile users, such as DISH Anywhere.
In addition to the various categories of packages outlined above, viewers can order pay-per-view broadcasts with most packages. Pay-per-view broadcasts can include movies, sports events, concerts and other special events.