MONEY cord cutting

7 Streaming TV Packages That Will Let You Cut the Cord For Good

illustration of people on sofa watching sports on TV
Ben Mounsey

Cutting the cord could save you $75 per month. Here's how to do it without missing your favorite shows.

With services like Showtime, HBO, Hulu, and many others now streaming their programming online, cord cutting has firmly entered the mainstream. But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to get all your favorite shows over the internet. In order to make the transition away from cable as simple as possible, we’ve put together six streaming “packages” that should meet the needs of the most common types of TV viewers.

Along with each package, we’ve also included the amount of money the typical television viewer would save by cutting cable and switching to streaming. Greg Ireland, research director for multiscreen video at market-analysis firm IDC, estimates that the average cable subscriber pays $85 a month for video while receiving an effective $10 per month discount on internet service. That means for people with a “double play” bundle—cable TV and Internet in the same bill—canceling cable would save an average of $75 a month, or $900 per year.

So what are you waiting for? Here are six packages to help you make the switch.

THE BASIC-CABLE JUNKIE

SAVE: $492 A YEAR

THE PLAN: Hulu, CBS All Access, Sling TV

This option is for you if you like to follow the latest network and non-premium cable shows, like NCIS, The Walking Dead, and Modern Family. Hulu and CBS All Access will give you the networks, and Sling TV will bring in the most popular cable content.

That said, if you’re not going to watch at least eight different shows a year on cable channels, it’s cheapest to get your cable fix by buying individual seasons on iTunes or Amazon Instant Video.

PRICE: $408 a year ($34 per month)

THE NEWSHOUND

SAVE: $660 A YEAR

THE PLAN: Sling TV

For viewers who just have to keep up with current events and watch breaking news when it happens, a combination of Sling TV and a TV antenna should have you covered. Sling has CNN and Bloomberg TV, and for $5 extra a month you can get international news channels such as Euronews, France24, and News18 India. Add an indoor TV antenna, and you’ve got network and local news as well.

PRICE: $240 a year ($20 per month)

THE PRESTIGE AFICIONADO

SAVE: $381 A YEAR

THE PLAN: Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Now, Showtime

First, the most buzzed-about TV moved from networks to premium cable and then to basic cable. Now a similar transition is moving top programming from cable to the streaming world. Netflix has House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black, while Amazon isn’t too far behind with crime drama Bosch and the Golden Globe–winning Transparent. Close the loop with HBO and Showtime subscriptions—for your Game of Thrones and Homeland fixes—and you’ve got access to some of the best TV content around.

PRICE: $519 a year ($43 per month)

THE OMNIVORE

SAVE $205 A YEAR

THE PLAN: HBO Now, Netflix, Hulu, CBS All Access, Sling TV

This is the option for TV fanatics who want everything and the kitchen sink. That means network TV, cable shows, streaming shows, HBO, movies, all on demand whenever you want.

Believe it or not, you can still have all this for less than the price of cable. Even after subscribing to HBO Now, Netflix, Hulu, CBS All Access, and Sling TV, you’ll still be more than $200 ahead. Don’t care for Girls or Game of Thrones? You can replace the HBO option and subscribe to Showtime through Hulu and save another $72. Or you can drop Sling TV for Showtime and save an extra $108.

PRICE: $695 a year ($132 per month)

THE SPORTS FAN

SAVE: $340 A YEAR

THE PLAN: Sling TV with sports package, two sports-league services

If you want to see a significant number of local games, stop here. This is one area where streaming services can’t fully deliver. Local games are generally exclusive to regional sports networks.

There’s also the issue of some online services being a little more unstable than diehard fans might like. Dish’s Sling TV failed for many customers during this year’s NCAA Final Four, forcing the company to issue an apology.

Sling TV will give you ESPN and ESPN 2, and for another $5 you can get even more sports options, including ESPN U, ESPNews, and the SEC Network. Add an indoor TV antenna, and you’ll also have access to network sports broadcasts.

For supporters of teams outside your local area, some sport-specific streaming options might also be attractive. Each major sports league offers some sort of online viewing option for around $130 a year, with the caveat that local games are blacked out. (NFL fans can pay $70 to watch any team they like, but they can only tune in to an on-demand rebroadcast once the game is over.)

PRICE: $560 a year ($47 per month)

THE SERIAL BINGER

SAVE: $540 A YEAR

THE PLAN: 12 seasons of shows

If you have unpredictable tastes but focus on only one show at a time, it might make the most sense to buy your television à la carte. For the amount you’d save by switching from cable to just Internet service (about $900 a year), you can pick up 30 seasons of TV for $30 each. Assuming these are all 45-minute shows with 22 episodes, that’s almost 500 hours of content. If you can’t imagine yourself ever watching more than that, then this plan is for you. (Don’t forget to grab a TV antenna for major live events like the Oscars and the Super Bowl, or if you just want the option of kicking back and watching primetime now and then.)

PRICE: $360 a year ($30 per month)

THE MOVIE LOVER

SAVE: $352 A YEAR

THE PLAN: Netflix, HBO Now, 52 movie rentals

If your favorite part of cable is watching movies, cutting the cord might just maximize your bliss. Much like cable on-demand services, you can rent many of the latest releases on iTunes or Amazon for about $5 apiece. HBO also carries a wide selection of recent movies, and Netflix has a large back catalogue of films (though titles will appear and disappear somewhat randomly).

PRICE: $548 a year ($46 per month)

Read next: The Cord-Cutter’s Guide to Streaming TV Services

TIME Media

Spotify Will Send You a Personalized Mixtape Every Week

New feature will compete with curated playlists on Apple and Google's music services

With curation becoming an ever-more-important aspect of the music streaming wars, Spotify is adding a new feature to help its users find interesting, personalized playlists.

The company on Monday announced a new feature called “Discover Weekly,” which will serve users a two-hour-long playlist once a week based on their musical tastes. The list is populated based on a user’s listening habits, as well as the songs other users with similar taste are listening to or adding to their own playlists.

Spotify likens the selection of songs to “having your best friend make you a personalized mixtape every single week.” The first playlists should be available Monday.

The new feature is another maneuver to keep Spotify users from decamping for Apple Music, which is currently offering a three-month free trial to curious music listeners. One of Apple Music’s big pitches is a “For You” section that shows users playlists curated by experts based on their past listening habits. Spotify already has its own music discovery features, but they’re not as front-and-center as they are on Apple Music.

TIME Hulu

Hulu Might Be Introducing An Ad-free Option

2015 Hulu Upfront Presentation
Craig Barritt—2015 Getty Images Jerry Seinfeld speaks onstage at the 2015 Hulu Upfront Presentation at Hammerstein Ballroom on April 29, 2015 in New York City.

You'll be able to binge on Seinfeld, uninterrupted.

Hulu users who hate watching ads, you may be in luck. The streaming service may soon unveil a version that gets rid of advertisements. The catch: It’s for a price.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the new feature may be planned for as early as this fall, with it costing anywhere from $12 to $14 per month. The move comes as Hulu is attempting to become more competitive with Netflix, which currently enjoys the lion’s share of the television streaming market.

The option apparently has a codename of its own, “NOAH,” which stands for “No Ads Hulu, according to the publication, citing people familiar with the matter.

The number of Hulu subscribers pales in comparison to Netflix. The service, which is owned in part by Disney, 21st Century Fox, and Comcast, said it has about 9 million subscribers to Netflix’s 65 million. Meanwhile, Hulu may generate anywhere from $1.5 billion to $1.7 billion in revenue in 2015. Last year, Netflix garnered $5.5 billion, according to the newspaper.

Hulu did, however, make waves earlier this year when it announced it would start streaming all Seinfeld episodes.

MONEY Apple music

Is the New Apple Music Worth the Money?

Apple's senior vice president of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue speaks during the Apple WWDC on June 8, 2015 in San Francisco, California.
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Apple unveils its new approach to selling you music. (It's a lot like what Spotify and Rdio already did.)

The new all-you-can-listen-to service is a worthy competitor to Spotify. What to know before you sign up or switch.

The new Apple Music streaming service has been live for about two weeks now, providing ample time to not just to test its various features out but to live with it. (It’s free for the first three months.) I’m already a big fan of the similar Spotify premium service, and I also hate, hate, hate iTunes, the often-confusing desktop software Apple Music is tethered to. So I was prepared to resist the call of Apple’s take on the all-you-can-listen-to music subscription.

But now, with some reservations, I’m considering switching over when the free trial is up. And if you aren’t already using a streaming service, this is one you’ll want to try.

I suspect Apple Music will probably be especially interesting to slightly older users like me (as in, over 40). Not only are we used to the idea of paying for music, but Apple Music is designed to mesh with the digital collections we already own. Here’s what you should know about Apple Music, what it (really) costs, and how it stacks up against other streaming-music options.

Where do I get Apple Music?

It’s built into the latest versions of iTunes on your computer and the Music app on your iPhone or iPad. You have to upgrade to the latest version of iTunes or the iOS operating system on your phone or tablet to see it. Apple Music isn’t available on Android phones yet; that’s coming in the fall.

How is Apple Music different from buying music on the iTunes Store?

Apple pioneered the idea of buying music online, but until recently their focus has been selling song-by-song downloads via iTunes for 99 cents to $1.29 each. With Apple Music, you pay a flat $10 a month to listen to any of the songs in its catalog. The songs or albums can stream to your computer, iPhone, or iPad over an Internet connection, or you can download them to play directly from your device. But you’re renting, not buying. Even if it’s on your phone or computer, the songs from Apple Music won’t play if you let the subscription lapse. (Music you bought on iTunes is still yours, though.)

Apple says it has a selection of 30 million songs on Apple Music, and it’s similar to what you can buy directly on iTunes, with a few notable exceptions like the Beatles. More on those exceptions in a moment—there’s a way to work around them (sort of) and it may be Apple’s main weapon against the competition.

What does it cost?

An individual subscription is $10 a month. This isn’t groundbreaking: It’s the same as what Spotify and most other streamers including Rdio, Google Play Music All Access, Rhapsody and Tidal charge for similar plans. An Apple Music family plan, which lets up to six family members use the service at the same time, is $15 a month. For families with more than two users, that’s a slightly better deal than the current family plans on most other services, which charge $5 for each additional user. For example, Spotify currently costs $15 for a two people, and $20 for three. Apple Music is just $15 either way.

For anyone who remembers buying CDs at $15 a pop, any of these options will look like a bargain. But it’s not quite the whole cost. If you start streaming music and listen a lot in your car, or while running or walking or otherwise out of wi-fi range, you are going to start eating up a lot of your wireless data plan. (For example, my wife uses less than 1 gigabyte of data per month, while I often use more than 2 gigabytes. The difference is almost entirely my Spotify and now Apple Music usage.) Depending on your plan and how much you currently use, starting to stream music on any service could easily add $15 to $30 a month to your bill if you aren’t careful. And I’m usually not.

You can, however, control this cost somewhat by downloading playlists or favorite songs to your phone when you are on wi-fi. (On Apple Music, pick a song, album or playlist, touch the “…” icon and select “Make available offline.” The other services have similar functions.)

Aren’t there lots of free streaming music services I can use instead?

Yes, but you face limits if you aren’t willing to pay. Spotify and the similar Rdio have account options that you pick all the music you want for free—but only if you are listening on a computer. On a phone or tablet, you have less control over the specific songs you listen to; on Spotify’s free option, for example, you can pick an album you want to hear, but only listen on shuffle. To get total control, you’ll have to pay the monthly $10.

Internet “radio” services like Pandora and Songza also have free ad-supported options, but again, you can’t pick the specific songs you want to hear. Instead, you’ll get a station or playlist built around your taste, favorite artists, or mood.

Apple Music also has free radio stations, including the live Beats 1 (complete with old fashioned DJs cueing up it high-energy pop music). They’re fine, but nothing really new, except for the convenience of having them built right into the iPhone’s Music app.

How is Apple Music different from the premium subscriptions at Spotify, Rdio, Google Play Music all Access, Rhapsody or Tidal?

Honestly, once you are paying for a subscription, most of the differences between services aren’t huge, at least not for iPhone users. All those other services have slick apps that will play on iPhones and iPads, though they also have the benefit of working on Android, too. Every $10-a-month plan including Apple Music offers a roughly similar selection, though each organizes playlists and music recommendations in a slightly different way. Apple Music, for example, is big on pushing you to listen to relatively short “curated” playlists put together by Apple’s own editors, or by big-name magazines and music websites. At Spotify, it’s easier to stumble upon quirky playlists put together by other Spotify users, a feature I particularly enjoy.

I also like Spotify’s specialized playlists and tools aimed at runners, including a feature that picks music matched to your pace. Apple’s running playlists weren’t as interesting to me. For audiophiles, Tidal’s added selling point is a more expensive, $20-a-month option that let’s you listen to streams with a higher sound quality.

But all these things are a matter of personal taste.

Most music you can think of us is available on all the different platforms. The differences are frustratingly random, since it’s about the deals each company can ink with whoever controls the rights to the music. No service is without important catalog gaps. Taylor Swift is on Apple Music and no other streamer. Prince is on Tidal, but not Spotify or Apple Music. Neil Young has just yanked his music from all the on-demand services. Nobody’s snagged the Beatles for on-demand streaming yet.

So if I already like Spotify or Rdio or Tidal, is there any reason to switch? Besides Taylor Swift?

Well, here’s the one thing that has me at least considering it: You may not be able to stream the Beatles or Prince on Apple Music, but if you own that music already (or buy it on iTunes), Apple makes it easy to mix that music in with subscription music you stream, all inside the same Music app.

To be clear, Apple isn’t alone in letting you combine the music you own with the stuff it streams. Spotify lets you do this fairly easily on your computer, and you can also download files from your computer to your phone to listen to inside the Spotify app. Google Play Music All Access lets you upload your own music to its cloud service, to listen to on any device within the Play Music app. (Google was really a step ahead of Apple Music with this function.) But if already you use iTunes as your music hub, Apple Music’s process is a lot more seamless and obvious.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: Before a recent run, I went into the Music app and was able to quickly create a playlist mix that included two Beatles songs I already owned, a Prince song, and even an unreleased recording of my father-in-law’s jazz group, along with a half dozen songs I don’t own but streamed from Apple Music.

If I was an Apple competitor, this would drive me nuts. Apple Music has an edge here because of Apple’s control over the default Music app on its phones. But many users, it’s going to be an attractive feature.

What’s not so great about Apple Music?

As mentioned, Apple Music isn’t available on Android phones or tablets yet. And if you want to listen on a computer, you have to do it through iTunes, whereas other services offer the option of listening through any web browser. That can come in handy if, for example, you aren’t allowed to load the latest version of iTunes onto a computer you use for work. (Then again, you can always use free Rdio or Spotfiy for that.)

iTunes is still a sprawling, over-complicated piece of software—you could write a dissertation about how Apple Music is supposed to interact with Apple’s iCloud, iPhone syncing, and the separate, “complementary” iTunes Match online music backup service. Some users have reported—angrily—that signing up for Apple Music and enabling its iCloud Music Library made their music listings on iTunes seriously buggy, mixing up tracks on albums or messing up album artwork. In response, Apple has already released a new update of iTunes and instructions for fixing a mixed-up library, but if you care a lot about how you organize your existing music on iTunes, you may want to wait to see if most of these complaints get ironed out. (I didn’t run into problems, but I had already backed up my music up on iTunes Match, which may have helped things run more smoothly.)

For a lot of users, the fact that the other services keep you from having to touch iTunes, and don’t mess with the digital collection you own, is actually a huge selling point.

So Apple Music isn’t a hands-down winner against other services out there. You have plenty of good choices, and if you are used to using Spotify or Rdio or Google Play, and already have lots of playlists set up there, you may not be in a rush to change. But Apple Music is likely to be the intuitive first choice of anyone with an iPhone. Streaming is hitting the mainstream, and with exceptions like the Fab Four and the Purple One, you might not find yourself buying much music outright in the future.

TIME Media

How Exclusives Are Hurting Streaming Music

SWEDEN-MUSIC-COMPANY-SPOTIFY
Jonathan Nackstrand—AFP/Getty Images This photo illustration shows the Android application logo of Swedish music streaming service Spotify on March 7, 2013 in Stockholm, Sweden.

Battle lines are being drawn as Apple, Tidal and others nab exclusive content. That's bad for consumers

When Taylor Swift said she would bring her multiplatinum album 1989 to Apple Music last month, it was seen as a victory for music streaming as the next evolution of music distribution. But it also exemplifies an increasingly frustrating experience for users: Albums and songs appearing exclusively on one particular streaming platform.

Apple Music is the only on-demand streaming service where 1989 is currently available. Swift famously removed her entire catalogue from Spotify last year, arguing against Spotify’s ad-supported offering that gives users access to the service’s entire catalog for free. Swift’s discography, minus 1989, does appear on rival services that don’t let users stream everything without charge, like Google Play Music, Rdio and Tidal. The pop artist has said her tie-up with Apple’s service isn’t an “exclusive deal,” but has given no indication if or when her latest album may appear on competing platforms. Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment, while a representative for Taylor Swift declined to comment.

Swift isn’t the only artist who has decided to keep some of her music exclusive to certain streaming services. Prince’s discography has been yanked from Spotify, but it’s available on Google Play Music and Tidal. Lil Wayne released a new mixtape via Tidal over the Fourth of July weekend, one of a number of exclusives the upstart service is using to gain attention. And on July 10, Drake debuted his latest music video exclusively on Apple Music. Increasingly, artists — or their record labels — are limiting the number of ways fans can access their music.

If this trend continues, music fans could be forced to buy two or more $10-per-month streaming services to get guaranteed access to all of their favorite artists’ songs and videos. There’s a precedent for what’s happening here in the movie world: Five years ago, Netflix had an unbeatable library of movies available for streaming because it was largely the only game in town. Now, as the streaming market has grown and new competitors have joined the fray, the breadth of Netflix’s offerings has declined, and some people are paying for more than one service to get access to more films.

The Battle for Exclusives isn’t just a problem for music listeners — it’s an issue for the industry, too. Right now, only about 41 million people around the world pay for a music streaming service — that’s not nothing, but it’s far from a majority of music listeners. In fact, just 10% of the industry’s overall revenue from recorded music comes from subscription services. You might think paying about $120 a year for access to a seemingly unlimited selection is a steal, but that’s already more than double the $55 a year the average music listener in the U.S. spends on recorded music. If the music industry’s plan is to compel millions of people to double their spending on music each year, any single $10/month offering must be comprehensive in meeting listeners’ tastes. As more music gets Balkanized on one service or another, the less appealing paying for streaming looks overall.

‘The opportunity is how do we make subscription a mainstream thing,” says Elias Roman, product manager for Google Play Music. “If people pay 10 bucks a month for service A and it doesn’t have a release they want because it’s windowed on service B, as an industry we’re kind of shooting the value proposition in the foot a little bit.”

Exclusives could hurt the music industry in the battle against piracy, too. Inexpensive and comprehensive streaming services have proven an effective way to fight illegal downloading: In Norway, where streaming services like Spotify are popular and long-established, less than 4% of people under 30 still illegally download music, according to a December survey by recording industry group IFPI. That happened because streaming is safe, easy-to-use and packed with every song a person could want. Get rid of any of these factors, and some portion of customers would likely have no problem returning to piracy.

Analysts say it’s unlikely that digital music services’ libraries will become as fractured those of Netflix or Amazon’s movie offerings. Cutting lots of exclusive deals would be expensive for streaming services, some of which are not profitable. It would also stand to cut off artists from a portion of their fanbase who don’t follow them to a specific service. “It’s not clear how good these things are at actually driving subscribers,” says Dan Cryan, a media analyst at IHS, of music exclusives. “Over the next 3 to 5 years, it will not become a mainstream activity.”

Instead of competing on exclusives, then, streaming services may be better off competing on the user experience — whether that’s Spotify’s robust social networking features, Apple Music’s curated playlists or Google Play Music’s context-sensitive radio stations. These are the features that compel customers to pick one service over another, not their music libraries. Trying to frame streaming’s value proposition around specific albums and videos makes little sense in a world where any piece of content can proliferate for free across the Internet from the very moment it’s released.

MONEY TV

5 Reasons Why Comcast Stream Is a Bad Deal

The $15 per month streaming service sounds an amazing value. It's not.

On Monday, Comcast introduced a new streaming TV service called, appropriately, Stream. It’ll launch in beta in the Boston area toward the end of summer, and the plan calls for a continued rollout to Chicago and Seattle in the fall. By early 2016, the service is expected to be available nationwide.

What’ll grab your attention right away is what seems to be an incredibly low price for a service that includes HBO: just $15 per month. Also surprising is that Comcast—renowned for frustrating customers with high prices and poor customer service even in its hometown of Philadelphia—swears that Stream subscribers will enjoy a dream, hassle-free user experience. “We want to make ordering Stream as easy as buying a song online,” the Comcast press release states. “And make tuning in to a show as simple as opening an email.”

But here are a handful of reasons why Stream isn’t quite the amazing value it’s pumped up to be.

Your bill will be much more than $15 per month. Comcast explains in its post that Stream is “unlike anything we’ve ever offered: no extra device or additional equipment required…or even a TV.”

What is required, however, is a broadband Internet connection (which is true for any streaming)—but not just any connection. In the case, you need a connection provided by Comcast on a monthly subscription basis. So, in addition to the $15 per month for Stream, you’ll also have to pay a monthly Comcast Internet bill, which might run $50 or $60.

What’s more, while no extra devices or additional equipment are needed for Stream, Comcast Internet customers do need modems. Unless you buy your own and hook it up—which few people bother with—you’ll be paying Comcast an extra $10 per month or so for the privilege of renting a piece of equipment that costs maybe $50 to $75 to own outright. Very quickly, you’ll see how that $15 monthly bill turns into $75 or $85, before local and national taxes and fees are added in.

Most of the content is free on regular TV. For now, the Stream package includes HBO and broadcast networks like ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and PBS stations that “are typically available free via high-definition antennas that cost about $25,” the New York Times noted. We suppose there’s some value in being able to stream the networks on a device rather than watch them on TV, but such a service would be much more useful if you could stream via a non-Comcast Internet provider, or if you could watch in a location not in very close proximity to your TV. But you can’t because of the point below.

You can only stream live TV at home. One of the most appealing parts of Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV, and other streaming services made for cord cutters is that customers can watch on devices anywhere they go, so long as there’s wi-fi. Not so with Comcast Stream. Subscribers will be able to use the service’s cloud-based DVR to download and watch on-demand shows and movies at any location—presumably, for an extra fee in many cases—but if you want to watch live TV, you’ll have to stay in proximity to your home router.

“You’ll only be able to stream live TV while you’re connected to your home Wi-Fi network,” one BGR.com writer explains, which vastly diminishes the utility and value of the service. “Why would you want to live stream network TV in your home? If you’re in your house and you want to watch a network TV program live, you can get it by flipping on your TV and having your antenna deliver the signal… for free.”

There are cheaper options—from Comcast itself. As highlighted above, to get Comcast Stream, you’ll have to pay somewhere north of $75 per month, once Comcast broadband and the fees are tallied up. If all you want are the basic networks and HBO, there are much less expensive options, including some from Comcast. Re/Code’s Peter Kafka reported that, among the other possibilities, Comcast offers a package with basic TV, HBO, and broadband Internet starting at just $45 in some parts of the country.

HBO is the only pay TV channel included. Unlike Sling TV, which cable channels like ESPN, AMC, and TNT in its basic package, Stream contains only one channel that people cannot otherwise watch for free: HBO. The cost of Stream is the same as HBO’s stand-along streaming service, HBO Now. Yet because an HBO Now subscription does not require Comcast Internet service, and because unlike Stream, HBO Now can be viewed anywhere rather than only at home, essentially “from a cord cutter’s perspective, Comcast is charging $15 per month for a less desirable version of HBO Now,” suggests BGR.com.

TIME Media

These Are the People Picking Your Next Internet Radio Song

Z100's Jingle Ball 2014 Presented By Goldfish Puffs - Show
Jamie McCarthy—2014 Getty Images Taylor Swift performs onstage during iHeartRadio Jingle Ball 2014, hosted by Z100 New York and presented by Goldfish Puffs at Madison Square Garden on December 12, 2014 in New York City.

When it comes to tunes, human curation is back in a big way

It’s never been easier to listen to music–and never harder to decide what to listen to. First, Apple let us digitize our music libraries and put them in our pocket with the iPod. Then streaming services like Spotify made the idea of a “library” obsolete, promising unfettered access to tens of millions of songs at all times. Now, tech companies are trying to make sense of this massive sea of songs with an idea ripped straight from the analog era: getting actual human beings to offer up curated selections of music.

“No one on the Internet is like, ‘But where do I get more songs?’” says Elias Roman, product manager for Google Play Music. Roman was a co-founder of Songza, a music service focusing on curated, contextual playlists that was acquired by Google in July 2014. Since acquiring Songza, Google Play Music has placed context front and center in its streaming interface. When booting up the service on mobile or desktop, Google Play Music provides a list of potential activities you may be doing based on timing. On the 4th of July, for instance, the service offered different sets of playlists for hosting a barbecue, watching fireworks or celebrating with patriotic tunes.

“What I’m most excited about is having people feel like they’re paying to make their workouts and commute better,” says Roman. “The value prop is around lifestyle enhancement.”

Though Google calls these playlists “radio stations,” they’re built differently from the way Internet radio services such as Pandora operate. While Pandora uses listeners’ past preferences and song metadata to algorithmically build stations based on artists or genres on the fly, every track in Google’s contextual playlists are hand-selected by teams of music curators and editors (Play Music has a separate, Pandora-like radio feature with algorithmically driven stations). That human touch helps give the stations a quirky specificity that’s hard for computers to match—there are playlists for Ron Burgundy’s bachelor pad, Kanye West’s soul-sampling “Pink Polo” era and sipping tea with Drake.

Google pays musicians, DJs, music journalists and other experts to build these unusual playlists. A small team of editors permanently employed at Google (and previously Songza) are in charge of managing the curators, tweaking their playlists and framing each collection of music with the right headline and description. They also analyze the way users are interacting with individual lists, swapping out songs that are being skipped too frequently for ones that might be more appealing.

While the curators often have highly specific taste—Google has worked with an expert in Spanish-language children’s music, for instance—the editors have to be generalists who understand the appeal of many different styles of music. As part of the hiring process, some editors had to make a playlist for Susan Boyle fans to prove they could pick songs that don’t necessarily align with their own taste.

“Even if it’s done by a super expert, it’s still for a general audience,” says Jessica Suarez, a product marketing manager at Google who serves as one of Play Music’s editors. “We’re trying to reach as many people as possible.”

Only Google knows exactly how well this focus on human-curated content is paying off. The company declined to disclose the number of Google Play Music subscribers, though it said the figure has doubled since it acquired Songza. A recently launched free, ad-supported tier centered around these playlists indicates that Google believes in their appeal. Newly launched Apple Music, meanwhile, has a similar emphasis on human expertise, with numerous playlists made by Apple editors and a live radio station geared toward highlighting lesser-known gems. Spotify also pays curators to make popular playlists on its service (curators across the services can expect to make a couple of hundred dollars per list, according to The Wall Street Journal).

For online music services, the increased importance of these human experts may be proof the algorithm’s role as the final arbiter in all digital decisions may be fading. “At this point, it’s not cool if you’re listening to Green Day radio,” says Roman. “Like, what does that even say about you? But if you’re listening to ’90s Aggro Anthems’ at the gym, you’re feel like you’re listening to something that’s thoughtful and representative of you and your aspirations and it’s not just pure, lowest-common-denominator background music.”

TIME Media

Apple Music Is Cheaper Depending on Where You Live

Apple Worldwide Developers Conference Opens In San Francisco
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Apple's senior vice president of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue speaks during the Apple WWDC on June 8, 2015 in San Francisco, California.

Apple wants to make its service competitive with other apps available on Android

Apple Music may cost about $10 per month in the United States, but that’s not the case everywhere.

The music streaming service, which rolls out in more than 100 countries this week, is considerably cheaper in parts of Asia and South America. In India, a subscription will cost about $2 per month, according to Quartz. In Brazil, Indonesia and Thailand, the cost is about $5. These countries also have the group membership subscription, which costs $15 in the U.S., offered at a similar discount.

Other streaming services like Rdio already offer competing services in foreign markets at a pretty low price. In the past, Apple hasn’t tried to compete on price in emerging markets, instead positioning the iPhone as a luxury item. But with Apple Music set to launch on Android, the world’s most popular mobile operating system, in the fall, it makes sense for Apple to price its service in a way that makes it affordable to all smartphone users and not just iPhone owners.

TIME apps

6 Must-Know Tricks for Mastering Apple Music

A guide to Apple's powerful but somewhat confusing new app

Apple Music, Apple’s new streaming service, is finally here. The $9.99-per-month service is trying to beat competitors like Spotify and Google Play Music by cramming in as many features as possible: access to 30 million songs on demand, playlists curated by music experts, algorithmically powered radio stations and a live radio station like the ones you hear on the classic FM dial.

All those features add up to make Apple Music an incredibly powerful app, but also one that can be pretty challenging to navigate. Here are five quick tips to make the experience a bit more seamless:

Understanding Apple Music’s Tabs

Apple Music is divided into five main sections, and it’s not exactly obvious what each one does. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • For You shows you personalized playlists and albums based on the genre and artist preferences you pick out when you first open the app, as well as your play history.
  • New shows a list of new songs and albums, currently popular content, videos and thematic playlists.
  • Radio features Beats 1, Apple’s 24/7 live radio station, and algorithmically driven stations based on genre.
  • Connect is a social network that lets artists connect directly to fans.
  • My Music shows the songs you have in your library, as well as any playlists you’ve built.

Show Only Songs You’ve Downloaded

Apple Music doesn’t do much to help denote which songs are downloaded to your phone and which are floating in the cloud. On the “My Music” tab, you can select the drop-down menu that begins with “Artists” in the middle of the screen and activate the “Music Available Offline” option at the bottom of the menu. That will make it so only songs on your iPhone show up.

Turn Off Your Subscription’s Auto-Renewal

Apple Music comes with a free three-month subscription, but be careful—Apple has already “helpfully” signed you up to begin paying the $9.99 monthly fee via your iTunes account when the trial ends. To make sure you don’t get charged, press the human silhouette icon in the top left corner of Apple Muisc, select “View Apple ID,” then select “Manage” under the Subcriptions header. Select “Apple Music Membership” and then select “Free Trial.” The app should then show you the date your trial is set to end, and it won’t charge you after that time expires.

 

Download Songs Using Cellular Data

By default, the iPhone only downloads songs over Wi-Fi to help prevent large data bills. If you want to be able to download Apple Music songs to your phone via wireless data, go to the Settings menu and then select “iTunes & App Store.” Toggle the “Use Cellular Data” option on, and Apple Music will be able to download songs whenever you have an Internet connection.

See the Upcoming Schedule for Beats 1

Beats 1, Apple Music’s live radio station, is a new twist for music streaming, but presents an age-old problem for music listeners: how do you know what the radio station is going to play next? If you simply click on the “Beats 1” art at the top of the “Radio” tab, you’ll be presented with a schedule of the upcoming shows over the next several hours. Bonus protip: you can add any song playing on Beats 1 to your library by selecting the three periods to the right of the song’s name and clicking “Add to My Music.”

Adjust Your Genre/Artist Preferences

When you first boot up Apple Music, the app will ask you to pick a few favorite genres to help it show you songs catered to your tastes. Later on, if you realize the app is serving you a bit too much death metal, you can change these preferences easily. Click the human silhouette icon in the top left corner, select “Choose Artists for You” and you’ll be taken to the same selection screen for genres and artists that you saw when you first used the app.

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Another Big Hardware Company Will Get Apple Music Support

Sonos And Blue Note Records Celebrate 75 Years Of Jazz Music And The Launch Of The Blue Note Limited Edition Sonos Speaker At The Iconic Capitol Records Tower In Hollywood
Jesse Grant—2015 Getty Images Sonos and Blue Note Records celebrate 75 years of jazz music and the launch of the Blue Note Limited Edition Sonos Speaker at The Iconic Capitol Records Tower on February 4, 2015 in the Hollywood district of Los Angeles, California.

Get ready to stream all the Taylor Swift you want, Sonos users

If you’ve got yourself a sweet set of Sonos speakers, and you’re looking forward to Apple Music, good news! — the new music streaming service from the Cupertino giant will be available on Sonos hardware soon enough.

Apple and Sonos are working together to get Apple Music streaming on the connected speakers by the end of 2015, Apple confirmed to BuzzFeed’s John Paczkowski. There had previously been some fear that third-party hardware makers wouldn’t get the same support from Apple that its own Beats brand would receive, but this news should alleviate some of that apprehension.

Apple Music will launch June 30.

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