Vidgo’s winning formula: More channels for less money

The home screen of streaming TV service Vidgo.
The home screen of streaming TV service Vidgo. (Graphic by The Desk)

Editor’s note: Since this article was first published in early October, Vidgo has rolled out a new version of its streaming app that features an updated logo, user interface tweets and a different color scheme.

Streaming cable television alternate Vidgo is probably not the first service that comes to mind when thinking about the best place to stream sports and news programming — but, by all accounts, it should at least be a consideration.

Since it launched four years ago, Vidgo has struggled with a lack of brand awareness as it sought to cater mostly to those interested in niche sports and Spanish-language programming. But through a complex set of programming deals with established players like Fox Corporation, the Walt Disney Company and Paramount Global, Vidgo has emerged as a serious contender for the wallets of cord-cutters throughout the country.

Earlier this year, the company decided to nail down a concrete brand strategy, one that centers around the live sports, news and general entertainment channels it carries. Vidgo hired former National Football League tight end Rob Gronkowski to serve as its pitch man, and brought on a public relations firm to help posit the service as a destination for college sports and cable news fans as it sought to reach subscribers in middle America — an area that often feels ignored by big-name media companies.

Of course, none of that really matters if Vidgo can’t deliver a good experience. I’ve spent the last few weeks trying out the service as my main driver, to see how it stacks up against other streaming cable replacements like Sling TV, YouTube TV and Fubo TV. The end result: Vidgo is a serious contender for the wallets of cord-cutting sports enthusiasts, but it is still a work in progress with plenty of room to grow. (Click or tap here if you want to try out Vidgo for yourself)

The Basics: Channels

Like many of its peers, Vidgo offers access to live cable channels — including news, general entertainment, lifestyle, sports and children’s TV networks — without the infamous hidden fees or contracts that traditional cable and satellite companies are known for.

For $60 a month, Vidgo customers get access to over 110 channels from several top-tier programmers, including the Walt Disney Company (ABC, ESPN, FX, Freeform, the Disney Channel), Fox Corporation (Fox, Fox Sports 1, Fox News, Fox Business, Fox Weather), the Discovery side of Warner Bros Discovery (Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, TLC, HGTV) and the MTV side of Paramount Global (Comedy Central, MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Paramount Network, BET), among others.

The general entertainment channels are nice, but what really sets Vidgo apart is that it includes a wealth of big-name sports channels that others charge extra to access. Those channels include ESPN (ESPN 2, ESPN U), the Longhorn Network, the SEC Network, the ACC Network, the Big 10 Network, the Pac-12 Network, MLB Network, NFL Network, NHL Network, Stadium, Mav TV and Motortrend.

For an extra $20 a month, Vidgo customers are bumped up to the “Premium” package, which unlocks over 150 live channels of content, including NFL Redzone, Chive TV, AWE Plus, BET Her, BET Jams and BET Soul.

The dollar-to-channel ratio at Vidgo is unrivaled by any other streaming cable replacement on the market. The service packs more channels at a lower cost than Dish Network’s Sling TV (which is cheaper, but has fewer channels) or YouTube TV (which carries some of the same channels, but at a higher price).

Vidgo offers a number of sports-centric channels from Fox, Disney and other programming partners.
Vidgo offers a number of sports-centric channels from Fox, Disney and other programming partners. (Graphic by The Desk)

The Basics: Features

Like other streaming cable alternatives, Vidgo is available across a wide number of devices, including smartphones, tablets and computers. The service also has apps for the four leading smart TV platforms in the United States: Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV (Google TV) and Roku.

For much of its existence, Vidgo didn’t offer a way for customers to record live TV. Instead, Vidgo offered a time-shift feature that allowed streamers to watch shows, movies and sporting events from the beginning, but only if a program was already in progress.

Starting this year, Vidgo began rolling out a cloud DVR feature that finally allows customers to record and play back live TV shows, movies and sports whenever they want. Rather than drop the time-shift feature, Vidgo opted to keep it, which gives customers added flexibility than they might otherwise find on competing services.

The cloud-based DVR is currently limited to 20 hours and is only included on the “Premium” package, which costs $80 a month. Customers of Vidgo’s “Plus” package get the equivalent of an extended trial, with the DVR perk included for the first 90 days of a subscription. Executives at Vidgo say they’re planning to roll out additional tiers for its DVR feature in the future.

Vidgo also supports access to certain TV Everywhere apps, including ESPN, Paramount Network, FX, NFL Network and Comedy Central, which gives customers added flexibility to watch live and on-demand shows across different devices. The TV Everywhere perk is included as part of a customer’s subscription, without any extra fees. (Click or tap here to try out Vidgo for yourself)

Vidgo offers thousands of movies and TV shows from its content partners.
Vidgo offers thousands of movies and TV shows from its content partners. (Graphic by The Desk)

How it Works

Vidgo works like any other streaming cable TV service: Download the Vidgo app to a supported device, choose a programming package, pay the subscription fee and start streaming.

Unlike other services, Vidgo doesn’t offer an ongoing free trial promotion, though executives say they will offer different promotions throughout the year. Currently, Vidgo is allowing prospective customers to stream a weekly college football game for free. Executives say future promotions may include multi-month discounts on service or a limited free trial.

Design-wise, Vidgo comes across as somewhat less-polished than competing services like Sling TV, YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV. But unlike those services, which are owned by large corporations, Vidgo is an independent company that focuses solely on streaming television. Which means it can spend more time and attention on two things that matter most above polish: Customer service and reliability.

Vidgo earns high marks in both departments. Customer feedback spurred Vidgo to relaunch its app earlier this year with an updated look-and-feel, including a new home screen that populates with channels and programming that is trending with Vidgo’s subscribers (not surprisingly, sports and cable news is often at the top). It also pushed Vidgo to make a lot of back-end improvements to the service, to improve the reliability of the app and the channels it carries.

Football season is undeniably the make-or-break point for a service like Vidgo. Since the start of football season, competing streaming services like YouTube TV, DirecTV Stream and Sling TV have been plagued with complaints that channels like NFL Network and NFL RedZone suddenly stopped working or were otherwise unavailable.

Vidgo was apparently insulated from these problems: Over five weeks of testing, the NFL Network and NFL RedZone channels streamed perfectly fine, in glorious high-definition, without any stutters or glitches. Other channels, like ESPN and Fox Sports, work equally well without any obvious hang-ups. (Click or tap here to try out Vidgo for yourself)

Vidgo says it offers the biggest value in live sports programming.
Vidgo says it offers the biggest value in live sports programming. (Graphic by The Desk)

Areas for Improvement

While Vidgo offers an impressive slate of channels and features for the price, it may not be the best solution for certain people who are moving away from cable or satellite.

For instance, Vidgo’s current carriage agreements with Paramount Global and Warner Bros Discovery don’t extend to certain channels owned by both networks. Currently, Vidgo’s agreement with Paramount Global doesn’t include the CBS side of the portfolio, which means local CBS stations aren’t available on the service, nor are cable channels like Pop, Smithsonian Network or CBS Sports Network. Likewise, the WarnerMedia side of the Warner Bros Discovery portfolio is missing, which means subscribers won’t get access to CNN, TBS, TNT, Tru TV or the Cartoon Network. Channels from Comcast Corporation (NBC, MSNBC, Bravo, E!, USA) are also not available on Vidgo.

Vidgo executives say they’re in constant negotiation with programming providers to expand the number of channels that the service can carry. For instance, a Vidgo executive recently told The Desk that the company is making progress in bringing the CBS channels on board (less clear is whether those same discussions extend to Comcast and Warner Bros Discovery over those missing channels). But cable networks are expensive to carry, and Vidgo finds itself in the same position as other companies — forego certain channels to keep costs down, or raise prices to bring additional channels into the fold.

At least for the moment, Vidgo appears to be focused on keeping prices relatively affordable while offering an abundance of programming choices. Which means customers who want the most channels for the least amount of money will have to sacrifice things like NFL games on CBS and NBC, NBA games on TNT and MLB games on TBS, unless they also add a supplemental streaming service like NFL Plus or MLB.tv.

When it comes to the Vidgo app overall, while the updated user interface brought a number of much-needed improvements, there are still areas that can be tweaked and refined for a better overall experience. For instance, on the Android TV (Google TV) version of the app, the electronic program guide shows a full three hours worth of programming across all channels, which offers a lot of information in a concentrated area of the screen, making it seem slightly cluttered. The experience is slightly worse on Apple TV, where the menu options and channel guide can be too small to read from a distance.

On the other hand, Vidgo’s app for Roku is fantastic — the user interface is clean, information is neatly arranged, and various points of entry (from menu options to the channel guide) are easy to navigate. Virtually none of the pain points found on the Android TV (Google TV) or Apple TV versions of the app are present in the Roku version. It makes sense that Vidgo would concentrate its efforts on offering a great experience for Roku users, since it’s one of the most-dominant streaming platforms. And since those tweaks are minor, they should be easy to replicate on the Android TV and Apple TV apps over time, too.

Vidgo is one of the latest streaming services to offer a cloud-based DVR.
Vidgo is one of the latest streaming services to offer a cloud-based DVR. (Graphic by The Desk)

Bottom Line

Sports fans who want a low-cost option to stream top-tier sports networks will have a hard time finding a better value than Vidgo: For $60 a month, the service offers over 110 channels of live content, including ESPN, Fox Sports 1, NFL Network, NFL Network, NHL Network and MLB Network. College sports is also well-represented, with Vidgo carrying AAC Network, SEC Network, Longhorn Network and the Pac-12 Network channels.

Unlike other services, which require add-on packages to unlock additional sports channels, Vidgo offers most of its sports channels in its base, $60 a month tier (fans who want NFL RedZone can pay $20 a month more to unlock that channel and over 150 others). For the non-sports lover, Vidgo offers a great selection of general entertainment, lifestyle, knowledge, news and children’s programming, including ABC, A&E, Comedy Central, Disney, Discovery Channel, FX, Freeform, HGTV, History Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, Lifetime, Paramount Network and more. There’s a wealth of on-demand programming offered through Vidgo, too, and it supports TV Everywhere apps for watching live and on-demand shows across devices.

Vidgo listened to its customers by offering additional features (including a much-anticipated cloud DVR) and a new user interface that makes the service much easier to navigate. As with any streaming cable replacement, though, sacrifices will have to be made: The cloud DVR feature isn’t unlimited, and some channels like NBC, CBS, TNT, TBS, CNN and the Cartoon Network aren’t offered in any of its packages (at least not yet).

Still, Vidgo offers a compelling set of channels and features for a price that undercuts its closest competitors — YouTube TV ($5 more a month), DirecTV Stream ($10 more a month), Fubo TV ($10 more a month) and Hulu with Live TV ($15 more a month). Vidgo may not look as polished as its competitors, but it works just as well as the rest of them — and, in some cases, works better than some of them — and that’s really what should count.

Click or tap here to try out Vidgo