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How to Choose a Premium Channel
Here’s a step-by-step guide to picking the best premium TV channel(s) for you and your family
Television has gone through a fantastic transformation in the last decade. TV shows now rival Hollywood movies in their production value and star-power. Millions of people tune in to watch series finales. It’s truly the golden age of TV.
We’re even still watching reruns of The Office and Friends. But we also feel FOMO if we don’t watch the new show everyone is talking about, like The Undoing, Billions, and Belgravia.
If you have this fear of missing out, fear no more. It’s time for you to subscribe to premium channels like HBO Max, SHOWTIME, or MGM+. We’ll tell you everything you need to know about the best premium channels and how to get them.
What's a premium channel?
A premium channel used to be an extra channel you’d get with your TV package. Nowadays, a premium channel can either be commercial-free programming you get on your TV or as an app with access to all of its on-demand content.
That means no sitting through endless commercials for Mr. Clean, Buick, and Old Spice (phew)!
Premium channels also tend to have access to newer, “first-run” movies and Hollywood-sized budgets so they can produce shows like the highly-successful Game of Thrones.
The catch is that you have to pay extra for these channels (unless you have a really premium cable or satellite package, in which case you’re probably already paying a boatload of cash).
For many years, premium channels were only available as add-ons to existing cable and satellite TV packages. But that reality is rapidly changing.
All of you cord-cutters out there can get HBO, SHOWTIME, and other premium channels through streaming services like YouTube TV, Sling TV and Amazon Prime Video. Many premium channels also offer their own streaming services, like HBO Max.
All right, that’s the end of the opening credits. Here’s the feature event: a step-by-step guide to choosing premium channels.
1. Know your options
Subscribing to a premium channel is kind of like dating someone new: you want to do a little bit of background research before you seriously commit. Thankfully, we’re like your super-gossipy friends who will tell you all the dirt.
Here are the details on the “big six”—HBO, SHOWTIME, STARZ, CINEMAX, MGM+, and The Movie Channel (sometimes called TMC).
Should I get HBO?
HBO was already a huge name in the entertainment industry before it upped the television bar with HBO Max. Now it’s an industry behemoth delivering the most popular shows (like Raised by Wolves and His Dark Materials) and newly-released WarnerMedia Bros. movies (like Wonder Woman 1984 and The Little Things).
When you subscribe to HBO through cable, you’ll get access to multiple channels, including HBO Latino, HBO Comedy, and HBO Family. If you subscribe through most any cable or satellite TV service, like Xfinity or DIRECTV, you’ll also get free access to HBO Max. Just sign in through the app!
HBO Max is our favorite premium channel out of the "big six". Check out our HBO Max review to see what other content it can offer you when you need something to watch after work.
Should I get SHOWTIME?
SHOWTIME, like HBO, has been around since the 1970s. But the channel gained prominence with popular original shows, such as Homeland and Dexter. Now, SHOWTIME shows like Action and Billions are receiving some pretty good hype.
TV shows, sports, movies, and documentaries you'll find on SHOWTIME include the following:
- Your Honor
- The Circus
- Desus & Mero
- Inside the NFL
- The Good Lord Bird
- The Reagans
- Couples Therapy
- Love Fraud
- The Comedy Store
- Murder in the Bayou
- Active Shooter: America Under Fire
- All Access: Quest for the Stanley Cup
- A Season with Navy Football
- Below the Belt with Brendan Schaub
- Black Monday
SHOWTIME is available through all major cable providers and also as a standalone subscription option to watch on your computer, smartphone, or smart TV.
Should I get STARZ?
STARZ Entertainment was a latecomer to the cable lineup, but the company has managed to make a name for itself by broadcasting the movie library of its huge parent company, Lionsgate.
STARZ also has original programming that is very much talked about, such as Outlander and Power.
Like SHOWTIME, you can also get the STARZ app without being subscribed to a cable or satellite TV service.
TV shows and movies you can watch on a Saturday night with STARZ include the following:
- Power Book ll: Ghost
- In the Long Run
- American Gods
- The Spanish Princess
- Survivor’s Remorse
- Power Confidential
Should I get CINEMAX?
CINEMAX first launched as a sister channel to HBO that only broadcasted movies—usually second-run movies. While the channel is still cinema-focused, it also offers its own lineup of original content.
But we should mention CINEMAX's original content doesn't seem to be talked about as extensively as maybe HBO Max's original content is. We'd say CINEMAX is more for the movie buffs.
Sit back and watch these CINEMAX series and movies:
- C.B. Strike: Lethal White
- Alita: Battle Angel
Should I get MGM+?
MGM+ is the youngest of the premium cable channels, but it can still hold its own against its older siblings. Beyond its large collection of movies, MGM+ delivers top-notch original content like The Godfather of Harlem and Belgravia.
You can get MGM+ NOW, which is the standalone streaming service without the TV subscription, or you can sign in with your cable or satellite TV provider to watch your content on the go.
MGM+ epic original series, docuseries, and movies include the following:
- War of the Worlds
- Perpetual Grace LTD
- Get Shorty
- NFL: The Grind
- Helter Skelter: An American Myth
- The Avengers
- Conan the Barbarian
- Creed ll
- The Expendables 2
- Instant Family
Should I get The Movie Channel (TMC)?
The Movie Channel (TMC) is owned by SHOWTIME, and usually comes free with a SHOWTIME subscription. (Two premium channels in one!).
TMC features popular older movies for you and the family to enjoy while having a game night or when you need to distract the kids from their electronics.
Movies you'll find on TMC include the following:
- Agent Cody Banks
- Another 48 Hrs.
- Apollo 13
- The Blues Brothers
- Batman & Robin
- Bulletproof Monk
- Child’s Play
- Coach Carter
- A Dog’s Journey
- Eat Pray Love
- The End of the Tour
2. Decide what kind of content you want
If you’re wondering who wins in a competition of HBO vs. SHOWTIME vs. STARZ, the answer is it depends.
Some people want to watch science-fiction action, while others would prefer true-crime thrillers. Some folks just want to watch the same shows as their friends (so you can ask each other what the heck just happened on the latest episode of Warrior).
Here’s a look at what we think the best premium channels are for you movie fans, original bingers, and those who get bored easily and like variety.
HBO: Best for original series and family content
HBO has been hard to beat when it comes to original series. HBO Max launched in May 2020, and it has been applauded for shows like The Flight Attendant and Lovecraft Country.
HBO has recently been in the TV news quite a bit for its original content. Still, the biggest recent news has made HBO the top premium channel: HBO Max will give its subscribers access to all of the new 2021 WarnerMedia Bros. movies the same day those movies release in theaters.
As for family content, Sesame Street is actually in line with HBO’s eclectic mix of content. The entertainment giant has a whole channel—aptly named HBO Family—with shows and movies for everyone, from toddlers to teenagers.
On HBO Max, you’ll also find The Not-Too-Late Night Show with Elmo, Scooby-Doo shows, and Looney Tunes shows.
SHOWTIME: Best for original series and sports content
When it comes to original content, SHOWTIME has just been behind HBO with shows like Shameless, Billions, and Homeland.
If you like documentaries, you won’t get bored with SHOWTIME’s library. Watch Couples Therapy, Jay-Z: Fade to Black, Kobe Bryant’s Muse, and The Go-Go’s.
SHOWTIME also delivers lots of sports content, like Inside the NFL, where you’ll get access to highlights from NFL Films and commentary from Phil Simms, Brandon Marshall, Michael Irvin, and Ray Lewis.
Or if you’re a basketball fan, you can watch the weekly podcast, All the Smoke with Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson. This show will be your jam if you’re interested in the intersection of basketball and culture.
You can also enjoy the boxing section and stream fights, such as Rodriguez vs. Gaballo and Colbert vs. Arboleda, or watch behind the scenes videos.
STARZ: Best for all genres of movies
While all of the premium channels broadcast and stream movies, some have a better selection than others.
STARZ has up to 12 separate movie channels (depending on your cable provider) that showcase everything for everyone in the family to enjoy (seriously).
Do you have kids who love Frozen and Monsters University? Or maybe you’re in your 20s, and you want to kick back and watch Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Bring It On, or Taken. Or maybe you, the parents, want to wind down after a long day of work and watch the Men in Black movies, Titanic, Hulk, or Public Enemies.
Whatever mood you’re in, STARZ has got it.
CINEMAX: Best for movie buffs
CINEMAX is the one premium channel that tends to a narrower crowd—it’s for the ultimate movie buffs.
CINEMAX offers you four channels full of action and thriller films that are critically-acclaimed, artistic, and classic.
You’ll find movies such as Hostage, American Son, Freejack, Forces of Nature, and Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story in your TV guide.
MGM+: Best for variety
If you love Netflix for its variety, you’re going to like MGM+. This premium channel gives you:
- Original series
- Original docuseries
- Stand-up specials
- 13 movie categories
- Movies ranging from years 1950–2020
So when you finish the original series of Godfather of Harlem with Forest Whitaker, watch the docuseries By Whatever Means Necessary: The Times of Godfather of Harlem.
When you want to laugh, watch a Wanda Sykes stand-up special, or watch a movie under the Comedy category, like A Night at the Roxbury.
TMC: Best for mature content
The Movie Channel has a big library of older movies, like the 90s Batman movies and the Chucky movies, but you’ll also find some rather risqué content if that’s your thing.
With TMC, you’ll get to explore movies that went under the radar, never made it to theaters, or have lost their fame. But hey, at least it comes free when you subscribe to SHOWTIME.
3. Compare prices
The price of these premium channels will depend on how you subscribe. Every cable provider has its own pricing. Standalone streaming services have more uniform pricing, but it can still fluctuate.
That said, here’s a look at some common price points for all six premium channels.
Price with TV package
Price for streaming service
|The Movie Channel||$5.99/mo.||Free with SHOWTIME subscription|
Date effective 1/11/2021.
Now that you have a good idea of which premium channel you and your family could really use based on the content and pretty price … it’s subscribe time.
If you have an existing cable or satellite provider, you’ll most likely have the option to sign up with most of these premium channels. If you call your provider to ask for deals, make sure to ask for a free trial.
If you're more into live TV streaming services, we'll give you a list of five that we recommend.
And lastly, if you want to save money and just want the premium channel itself, get the standalone streaming service.
If you want to know more about each of these services, check out our list of best TV providers of 2023.