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How to Choose Premium Channels

We’ve done hours of research to highlight what the top premium channels offer to help you pick the best ones for your viewing needs.

Picking premium channels can be one of the most fun parts of the cable TV experience.

You get to weed through their offerings to find the one—or ones—that are going to keep you covered in content for endless hours of viewing. We want to help you make the best decision possible.

What are premium channels?

These subscription-based channels were once a part of your cable TV plan but are now often available as an individual add-on or an app to watch on your streaming device.

If the term “premium channels” makes you think of names like HBO Max, SHOWTIME®, and CINEMAX®, you already know these fall into that category. Each offers its own blend of original programming as well as second-run TV, movies, and sports.

Plenty of the channels have been around for decades. Still, they really started collecting massive amounts of TV fans in the ’90s—dropping shows like The Sopranos and Oz that were so groundbreaking, they made cable and broadcast networks step up their original programming game. Nowadays, high-quality shows filled with superstar actors and directors are the norm on premium channels.

How to choose premium channels

Let a few things take a walk across your mind before you pick a cable TV plan or buy standalone subscriptions to premium cable channels.

Best TV Service Providers for 2021: Plans, Prices, and More is a good starting point to see what’s offered. Here are a couple more things to consider.

Type of service

Premium channels offer subscriptions for streaming devices. If you’ve cut the cord, maybe you just want to add on one channel and absorb all it has to offer. Plenty of streaming TV providers like Hulu and YouTubeTV offer premium add-on networks.

Cable and satellite subscribers have different plans to choose from, some offering multiple premium channels or add-on packages.

If you are starting from scratch, with no TV service or plan, the first thing you’ll do is pick your streaming app or platform.

Premium channels are also offered as standalone services—a full cable or satellite subscription isn’t required. Add the app to your Android or iPhone, or your streaming device—think Amazon Fire TV Stick or Roku—and pay a monthly subscription fee to start enjoying some premium entertainment.

Viewing needs

This is where the phrase “everything your little heart desires” comes into play. Who is watching? Are you a solo, on-the-go viewer who’s watching on your app and getting to decide on all of the programming? Are you a big household that needs premium channels that meet what everyone wants?

Compare prices

The amount of money you spend on premium channels depends on how you choose to subscribe. You might get the channels as part of a bigger subscription plan or decide to get a standalone app, which is great for watching on a mobile device.

Channel
HBO Max
SHOWTIME
CINEMAX
EPIX
STARZ®
THE MOVIE CHANNEL™
Price w/ TV package Price for streaming Popular original programs
$14.99–$17.99/mo. $9.99/mo. with ads, $14.99/mo. ad-free Hacks, Scenes from a Marriage, Curb Your Enthusiasm
$5.99–$13.99/mo. $10.99/mo American Rust, UFO, The Circus, The Chi
$9.99–$13.99/mo. $9.99/mo The Knick, Tales from the Tour Bus, Quarry
$6.00–$9.99/mo. $5.99/mo Chapelwaite, Perpetual Grace, LTD
$9.00–$13.99/mo. $8.99/mo Heels, The Girlfriend Experience, Outlander
Free with SHOWTIME subscription Free with SHOWTIME subscription Not actively producing original shows

Best premium channels

HBO and HBO Max

At this point, if you’re getting HBO, it should just be HBO Max. You get all of HBO’s content and a lot more. HBO Max has its own originals, like Doom Patrol and the comedy flick, An American Pickle. It also unlocks the door to content from other networks, including Warner Bros. Cartoon Network and Turner Classic.

Don’t sweat it if you aren’t ready for HBO Max; plain old HBO is still as solid as it ever was with endless hours of content to keep you busy and fulfilled.

HBO original shows include the following:

  • Alice
  • Succession
  • I May Destroy You
  • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
  • A Black Lady Sketch Show

CINEMAX

This premium channel exists under the HBO umbrella—meaning it’s owned by the big H. It doesn’t pack the same wallop as HBO, but it’s no slouch. Its library is vast, and they have some good originals. With original content being so competitive these days, it’s essential to check out all the premiums and get to know what original content they’re producing—you certainly don’t want to miss anything.

CINEMAX original shows include the following:

  • C.B. Strike
  • Rellik
  • Quarry
  • Jett
  • Outcast

SHOWTIME

When it comes to premium channels, SHOWTIME is a powerhouse. It’s known for its original programming and has used its platform to take broadcast shows to a whole new level. One example is when their version of CBS’s Big Brother reality show—Big Brother After Dark—offered a companion version of the show that was a little less family friendly.

SHOWTIME original shows include the following:

  • Dexter
  • Billions
  • The L Word: Generation Q
  • Back to Life
  • Ray Donovan

STARZ

Lionsgate Entertainment owns this premium channel with plenty of original content in its deep library. The shows are pretty diverse, from comedies to some dark crime thrillers.

STARZ original shows include the following:

  • High Town
  • Dublin Murders
  • American Gods
  • P-Valley
  • Little Birds

EPIX

EPIX opens a doorway that you should go down if you want access to thousands of movies, TV shows, and original programs. Their signature shows really jump the human timeline, offering intriguing scenarios set anywhere from the present time to AD 43.

EPIX original shows include the following:

  • Britannia
  • Bridge and Tunnel
  • Get Shorty
  • Perpetual Grace, LTD
  • Domina
  • Pennyworth

THE MOVIE CHANNEL

Fun fact: THE MOVIE CHANNEL used to be called Star Channel back when it launched in the early ’70s. SHOWTIME owns it, and it might not have all the bells and whistles that some of the other premiums have, like a scroll-like roster of original shows. What it does have—and you probably guessed it from its name—is movies: commercial-free movies, and plenty of them. If you don’t want to browse for movies and get distracted by a series, this is the comfortable pillow to lay your head on.

Final take

Just like picking a cable TV, satellite, or streaming provider, selecting premium channels is based on your needs.

I’m a fan of HBO Max and SHOWTIME for the new—and older—original shows to watch.

Think about the programs you most want to see—and repeatedly binge—and go with the premiums that will give you the most overall enjoyable experience.

FAQ

What is the best premium movie channel?

HBO Max is the best premium movie channel because it gives you all the HBO content—including its numerous award-winning original series—on top of movies, specials, and exclusives.

How do I get premium channels for free?

You can see which channels have free trials available to check out the goods before you purchase. Some cable, satellite, and streaming services also offer trials that include premium channels. When you sign up for a trial, be sure to check how long it runs because it can often renew automatically, with a fee attached.

Your local library is another way to see some of the original shows premium channels have to offer. Library apps require a subscription, which is free if you have a library card.

Is STARZ included with HBO Max?

STARZ is its own premium channel, but depending on the TV package or plan you select, both channels can be a part of your subscription.

Is STARZ better than SHOWTIME?

STARZ and SHOWTIME are similar premium channels, and each offers a deep well of TV, movies, and specials. This is a good time to dive into what original content each channel offers. One might be more appealing than the other, depending on your interests and watch needs.

Are premium channels commercial-free?

Premium channels are commercial-free—as in you won’t have to be subject to multiple breaks with cartoon bears telling you about toilet paper or insurance companies jockeying for your business via funny skits. You may, however, get some previews of other shows the channel is promoting.