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Media Streamers

Amazon Prime Video Channels: Everything you need to know

Prime subscribers can add HBO, Showtime, Starz, PBS, Britbox, MLB.TV and more than 100 other "channels." Is it a good deal for cord cutters?

amazon-prime-channels-ovr
David Katzmaier/CNET

Cutting the cable TV cord can be overwhelming. There are so many new names and services, so many places to get TV shows and movies, and so many pricing options that figuring out which one's right for you is like an endless game of whack-a-mole.

Amazon Prime Video, included with your Prime free two-day shipping subscription, is yet another. Best known for its original series like the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Homecoming and Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, it's also home to thousands of hours of TV shows and movies available you can stream immediately, similar to Netflix.

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If that selection of prime video isn't enough, Amazon lets you add more channels for additional monthly fees. They range from well-known names like HBO, Showtime and CBS All Access to specialty services such as Britbox and Sundance Now to PBS subscriptions, including PBS Kids and PBS Masterpiece. (Editors' note: CNET is owned by CBS.) And more are appearing all the time -- Amazon added MLB.TV for the 2019 baseball season, for example.

So is adding any of them worthwhile? How do they compare to standalone options like HBO Now? How does the selection compare to Roku channels? Where do other services like Netflix or Apple's new TV service fit in?

Let's break it down.

What are Amazon Prime Video Channels?

They're optional add-ons for Prime subscribers, for an additional monthly fee, that provide on-demand or live streaming access to TV shows, movies and other video content from a provider. Subscribers can access the content from all compatible Prime Video devices, including via the Amazon Prime Video app on smart TVs and media streamers, Android and iOS phones and tablets, computers and Amazon's own Fire TV devices and Fire tablets.

I don't have a Prime subscription. Can I use Prime Channels?

No. Only active Prime subscribers can add Prime Channels. Amazon also excludes access to users previously invited to share shipping benefits with a Prime member. See the Requirements section here for details.

Amazon Prime channels
Amazon

What are the major Prime Video Channels?

Amazon has more than 100 different channels, and many of them are small specialty channels that fit into genres like Kids, British, Fitness, Comedy, Romance, LQBTQ and so on. Here's a look at some of the major ones and how much they cost.

Disclosure: CNET may get a share of revenue from the sale of the services featured on this page.

Select Amazon Prime channels

Amazon channel Monthly cost Subscription link
MLB.TV $24.99 Subscribe at Amazon
HBO $14.99 Subscribe at Amazon
Showtime $10.99 Subscribe at Amazon
Cinemax $9.99 Subscribe at Amazon
PGA Tour Live $9.99 Subscribe at Amazon
Starz $8.99 Subscribe at Amazon
Noggin $7.99 Subscribe at Amazon
Nick Hits $7.99 Subscribe at Amazon
Britbox $6.99 Subscribe at Amazon
Sundance Now $6.99 Subscribe at Amazon
CBS All Access $5.99 Subscribe at Amazon
Hallmark Movies Now $5.99 Subscribe at Amazon
Acorn TV $4.99 Subscribe at Amazon
Boomerang $4.99 Subscribe at Amazon
PBS Kids $4.99 Subscribe at Amazon
PBS Masterpiece $4.99 Subscribe at Amazon
Shudder $4.99 Subscribe at Amazon
Smithsonian Plus $4.99 Subscribe at Amazon
Up Faith & Family $4.99 Subscribe at Amazon
LIfetime Movie Club $3.99 Subscribe at Amazon
Comedy Central Now $3.99 Subscribe at Amazon
Curiosity Stream $2.99 Subscribe at Amazon

Can any Prime Channels save me money over standalone apps?

Surprisingly for Amazon, no. Although all Prime video channels offer a seven-day free trial, after that period they cost the same as buying the channel's content separately. For example, it costs $14.99 per month to add HBO as an Amazon Prime Channel, and a standalone HBO Now subscription costs the same amount. 

The monthly fees for Prime channels and their standalone equivalents are the same with every service we checked. The exception is MLB.TV, which is available for $118.99 for a Season Pass. That's a savings of about $31 compared a monthly subscription.

A March 21 report says that Apple's upcoming TV service could offer the kinds of discounts Prime Channels currently lacks.

Can Prime Channels actually cost more than subscribing to services separately?

In some cases, yes. 

Some services like Britbox, Acorn TV and CuriosityStream offer yearly discounts that aren't available on Prime channels. For example, the Britbox channel costs $6.99 per month as both a Prime Channel and via its standalone app, but the standalone subscription is also available for $70 per year, which works out to $5.83 per month. 

Aside from MLB.TV, all Prime Video Channels are monthly subscriptions only.

Amazon Prime channels
Amazon

If they cost the same or more, what's the appeal?

The main benefit for using Prime Channels is that they provide one place -- the Prime Video app, or Fire tablet or Fire TV itself -- to access content from multiple providers. Instead of watching Game of Thrones via the separate HBO Now app, for example, you watch it within Prime Video. Billing is also handled by one central source (Amazon itself). Content from channels is also often included in Amazon's search indexes, making it easier to find on Fire TV devices or via Alexa voice search.

Why would I pay extra for PBS content I can get for free?

Because Amazon gives you more. PBS has a few channels, PBS Kids, PBS Masterpiece (both $4.99 per month) and PBS Living ($2.99 per month), that include content that's also available elsewhere -- including a basic Amazon Prime subscription and the separate PBS Kids and PBS apps -- for free. In general the PBS Prime Channels have a larger selection and more current episodes than the free alternatives.

How is this different from Roku or another provider of apps?

Roku's channel store and Apple TV's app store, for example, offer many of the services above on a standalone basis. Since in most cases the content of the standalone app and Prime Channel are identical, the main difference is the fact that you can access channels directly from within the Prime Video app, as opposed to going to different app interfaces to get it.

screen-shot-2019-03-18-at-4-59-36-pm
Roku

It's worth mentioning that Roku has its own premium subscription system at The Roku Channel that's very similar to the integrated experience found on Prime Channels. Also, Apple's TV app offers a single place for users of that streamer to get to content from a variety of premium providers and, as mentioned above, its upcoming TV service will reportedly bundle Showtime, Starz and others as well. 

So what about Netflix, Hulu, ESPN, Disney+ and Apple's TV service?

None of these standalone services are available as an Amazon channel yet. To watch content from any of them you'll have to use another method, for example Netflix or Hulu's own app(s), the ESPN app or a live streaming service with ESPN. The same will mostly likely go for two of the biggest yet-to-be-released streaming services, Disney+ (aka Disneyflix) coming in late 2019 and shows from Apple's TV service that will likely be officially unveiled on March 25.

Where can I find out more?

Check out Amazon's What are Prime Video Channel Subscriptions support page and main Channels page for more details.

Originally published March 19.
Update, March 21: Adds MLB.TV and reports of similar offers from Apple's upcoming TV service.