Philo review: A valuable alternative to the average TV bundle

Philo is a live TV streaming 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 $20 per month, Philo is one of the cheapest bundles of cable channels you can get over the internet today. If you’re into the reality TV fare that many of Philo’s channels focus on, it could be the only streaming service you need, but it also pairs nicely with other streaming services or with over-the-air broadcasts from an antenna.

Philo: What you get

Philo’s basic $20-per-month package offers more than 40 channels, including AMC, HGTV, History, Discovery, and Nickelodeon. Another $4 per month gets you a dozen more channels, including Cooking Channel, Nicktoons, and Discovery Family.

Updated August 12, 2019 to reflect the most recent changes to Philio’s offering and its subscription price.Our bottom-line score of four stars has not changed since our last update.

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 sports 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 when and where you’re allowed to watch particular programs.

Jared Newman / IDG

Philo makes ad-skipping easy for DVR shows.

For DVR, Philo opted for unlimited storage with a 30-day time limit and no restrictions on ad-skipping for those recorded programs. You can also replay anything that’s aired in the past few days on most channels. This might not be ideal if you tend to watch recordings over a long period of time, but it does allow you to save lots of shows without having to manage storage space. (Some live TV services, such as Hulu with Live TV and Sling TV, make the opposite trade-off, providing limited storage space instead of limiting how long recorded shows can be stored.)

Philo keeps it simple

Philo’s apps have always been clean and straightforward, 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, though I do wish Philo went a little further in surfacing new programs that might be of interest. As it stands, the home screen offers only generic recommendations (hope you like Ex on the Beach), and there’s no way to filter the catalog for things like movies or specific genres.