It may look simple, but it's not. Photographer: Jin Lee/Bloomberg

Watching TV Shouldn't Be So Complicated

Kirsten Salyer writes about consumer culture for Bloomberg View and is the site's engagement editor. She has also written for Condé Nast Traveler, Texas Monthly and Houston Community Newspapers. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism and international studies from Northwestern University.
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Whatever happened to the promise of seamlessly streaming from "Game of Thrones" to "House of Cards" to "24" to "The Real Housewives of New York City" with a click of a button? The new era of streaming media was supposed to revolutionize TV viewing, eliminating set top boxes from cable and satellite companies. In some ways, it has only made navigating the programming guide more complicated.

Amazon is selling its new Fire TV, introduced yesterday, as something that "connects your HDTV to a world of online entertainment." Actually, like its competitors, it will connect your TV to certain parts of an increasingly fractured universe of entertainment, one that requires an growing number of devices, memberships, apps and middlemen.

To start, you'd need accounts for HBO Go, Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus, all of which have exclusive deals for specific shows.

Hulu announced yesterday that it has exclusive access to NBCUniversal shows including "The Housewives" series, "The Mindy Project" and "The Millionaire Matchmaker." Earlier this week Amazon announced that its Prime Instant Video has exclusive streaming rights to shows including 20th Century Fox Television's "24." Netflix, meanwhile, has deals with film studios including the Weinstein Company that give it exclusive access to movies. It has also made pacts for TV shows, including one with Scholastic Media for exclusive streaming rights to "Clifford the Big Red Dog" in February.

If you want to stream programs from HBO Go or Showtime Anytime, you have to subscribe to HBO or Showtime.

Once you've subscribed to all the various streaming services, you're going to need to figure out which device allows you to watch which service. The market's getting crowded. Amazon's Fire TV competes with devices including Apple TV, Roku, Google Chromecast and gaming consoles such as Xbox and Playstation -- all of which require their own remote controls.

Each device has its perks and quirks. Apple gives you iTunes, Amazon offers Instant Video (for a price), and Google provides a Play Music and Play Movies library. More telling is what each doesn't offer. For example: Amazon's Fire TV doesn't currently support HBO Go. Apple TV doesn't support Amazon Prime. Neither does Google Chromecast. Roku doesn't have iTunes.

There are all sorts of guides to help you choose between devices and services. Except if you're an avid media consumer, you can't really choose. You need more than one service and more than one device. The programming menu is definitely getting larger. It's just not getting simpler.

How do you stream TV shows? Leave your thoughts/ideas/complaints in the comments.

(Kirsten Salyer is the social media editor for Bloomberg View. Follow her on Twitter.)

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the editor on this story:
Frank Wilkinson at