Philo review: This sports-free TV streaming service needs polish

Philo is a streaming TV service borne from desperate times. Its main network backers—Discovery, Viacom, and AMC—have to varying degrees found themselves cast out of other streaming bundles, in large part because they don’t carry any sports programming. Rather than sit idly by, they’ve banded together to launch their own bundle, with no sports but a low price tag.

At $16 per month, Philo is the cheapest bundle of cable channels you can get over the internet today. That makes it a fine supplement to over-the-air broadcasts—and possibly even other streaming bundles—especially if you’re into the reality TV fare that many of Philo’s channels focus on. Still, Philo isn’t quite as valuable as it could be, largely because of its limited device support and lackluster apps.

Philo: What you get

Philo’s basic $16-per-month package offers 37 channels, including AMC, HGTV, History, Discovery, and Nickelodeon. Another $4 per month gets you nine more channels, including Cooking Channel, Nicktoons, and Discovery Family.

philoroku2 Philo

Want to watch new AMC shows without cable? Philo is the cheapest way.

Equally notable are the channels Philo doesn’t carry. In general, if a network owns any sports programming whatsoever, Philo doesn’t offer any of that network’s channels. That rules out all four major broadcast networks—ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox—along with any non-sports channels owned by the same companies, such as the Disney channel and NBC’s Bravo. Turner networks, such as TNT and TBS, are absent as well. The bigger networks just don’t want to uncouple their expensive sports channels from their cheaper non-sports ones, and Philo errs on the side of not making customers pay for channels they don’t want.

What’s left is a relatively inexpensive bundle driven in large part by reality and documentary-style TV shows, with a dash of scripted programming and movies from the likes of AMC and Comedy Central. Subscribers get three streams at a time that work anywhere within the United States, and because sports are absent, there are no arcane rules for where you’re allowed to watch particular programs.

For DVR, Philo opted for unlimited storage with a 30-day time limit and no restrictions on ad-skipping for those recorded programs. It’s similar to PlayStation Vue, whose recordings expire after 28 days. By comparison, YouTube TV keeps recordings for 9 months, but favors on-demand episodes that might have mandatory ad breaks. Other bundles, such as Hulu with Live TV and Sling TV, put limits on DVR time, but won’t erase old recordings. As with all other bundles, Philo also lets you replay anything that’s aired in the past few days on most channels.

Where are the apps?

The biggest problem with Philo today is that it just doesn’t work on many devices. Roku is the only option for watching on televisions, unless you want to use screen mirroring from an iPhone to Apple TV, or from the Chrome browser to Chromecast. (Because native AirPlay and Chromecast aren’t supported, mirroring is workaround at best. It drains battery life and is often prone to performance problems.)

philoroku1 Philo

Roku is the only connected TV platform Philo supports for now.

Philo also has only limited support for TV Everywhere authentication, which would in theory let you access programming on more than just Roku, iOS, and the web. Channels owned by Scripps Networks (Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, Cooking Channel, DIY) do support Philo as a login option in their TV Everywhere apps, but none of the other channels do as of this writing.

Philo does offer a clean and straightforward layout on the devices it does support, with a small number of menus for browsing popular programs, live TV, and favorites. You won’t get lost in labyrinthine menu systems or wonder where your DVR programs went. Still, I do wish Philo went a little further in surfacing new programs that might be of interest. As it stands, my home screen is filled with programs I’ll never watch (like Bride Killa) and lacking in ways to filter the catalog (like a menu for movies).

Watching live TV could also be easier. Philo’s Roku and iPhone apps don’t offer a grid-based channel guide like the website does, and there’s no way to browse other live channels without stopping the current one from playing.

philoguide Philo

Philo offers a live TV guide, but only on the web.

One more nitpick: Philo doesn’t support 60-frames-per-second video on any channels, including those that offer the smoother frame rates for their reality programming on cable. That said, most other streaming bundles have the same issue, and the lack of 60 fps support is more noisome with sports programming anyway.

To some extent, these issues don’t matter much. Philo is so much cheaper than most other streaming bundles that its downsides could be worth dealing with, especially if you’re a Roku user already. The only service that comes close on pricing is Sling TV, which offers some of the same channels in its $20 Sling Orange and $25 Sling Blue packages, but even those require another $5 per month for DVR service. The next step up is DirecTV Now (also with no DVR) or YouTube TV starting at $35 per month, followed by Hulu with Live TV and Playstation Vue at $40 per month each.

Philo, by comparison, is offering a long list of channels for less than half the price of nearly all those options. It’s living proof that non-sports fans are paying too much for TV, and if enough of them get fed up and switch to Philo’s service, maybe those other networks will start to feel their own form of desperation.

Here’s the full Philo channel list:

Base package ($16 per month):

  • A&E
  • AMC
  • Animal Planet
  • AXS TV
  • BBC America
  • BBC World News
  • BET
  • Cheddar
  • CMT
  • Comedy Central
  • Discovery Channel
  • DIY
  • Food Network
  • FYI
  • GSN
  • HGTV
  • History
  • IFC
  • ID
  • Lifetime
  • Lifetime Movies
  • MTV
  • MTV2
  • Nickelodeon
  • Nick Jr.
  • OWN
  • Paramount Network
  • Science
  • Sundance Channel
  • TeenNick
  • TLC
  • Travel Channel
  • TV Land
  • Velocity
  • VH1
  • Viceland
  • We TV

$4-per-month add-on:

  • American Heroes Channel
  • BET Her
  • Cooking Channel
  • Destination America
  • Discovery Family
  • Discovery Life
  • Logo
  • MTV Live
  • Nicktoons
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