USTVNow markets itself as a streaming service for Americans overseas, especially our troops, who want to watch TV from back home. But is it the right service for you – and is it even legal?
What is USTVNow?
USTVNow promotes itself as a streaming service for US military and citizens living abroad. Keeping Americans – especially Americans serving in the military – connected with home is the mission USTVNow claims defines its existence.
Who can subscribe to USTVNow?
USTVNow used to describes strict requirements for who can subscribe to its service. The service was limited to American citizens with valid passports or legal residents with green cards can tune in — and only if they lived outside the United States.
According to the USTVNow support page, the service is mainly for “a small number of American expats, state department, and military employees overseas.”
People in the United States can access the service if they have a cable subscription that partners with USTVNow.
Which devices work with USTVNow?
Perhaps because USTVNow is such a narrowly focused service, you won’t find a platform-optimized app for your devices. USTVNow delivers its services almost exclusively through desktop and mobile browsers. The support site’s advice for platform support is essentially: open your device’s web browser, log in to USTVNow.com and watch TV.
Roku owners, on the other hand, must sideload USTVNow since it isn’t available in the official Roku Channel Store. USTVNow does not support Chromecast and only supports Apple TV through AirPlay mirroring.
Can you record content on USTVNow?
USTVNow’s cloud DVR system has two levels of service depending on which subscription plan you choose. Plans with the Limited DVR service level will only let you record programs if you refer friends and family to USTVNow. You unlock four recording slots for each referral and can unlock a maximum of twenty recording slots. USTVNow will delete your recordings after fourteen days.
Plans with the Full DVR service level can save an unlimited number of programs, but USTVNow deletes them after four weeks.
Is USTVNow Legal?
Eyebrows go up when an obscure service like USTVNow promises to do what Hulu can’t – stream live TV outside the United States. Here are a few potential legal issues to consider before you try USTVNow.
They apparently don’t care about your location
USTVNow promotes its service as exclusively for Americans living overseas. The terms of service, however, don’t say anything about that at all. The sign-up process does ask you to select the country you live in from a drop-down list, but doesn’t even make you promise that you are an American citizen.
Whatever your intentions, USTVNow doesn’t seem to do anything with that information. You can even pick “United States” and still get access to USTVNow’s streaming content.
USTVNow’s live TV feature seems suspicious
Americans living overseas hear this term a lot. It describes the way streaming services use your computer’s address on the internet to decide what content you should get. When an American TV streaming service like Hulu sees that you’re traveling outside the country, it will block access because it only has a license to stream in the United States.
The NFL goes even further with its licensing rules. Besides enforcing blackouts for your home team, the NFL’s geo-fencing rules also block you from streaming games to any smartphone unless it’s connected to Verizon. Even the NFL’s own apps have to follow those rules.
Yet somehow, an obscure operator like USTVNow is allowed to by-pass these licensing restrictions and stream live TV content to anyone anywhere in the world. It even streams NFL games to T-Mobile customers.
Inside America, USTVNow’s live streams seem legal. The New York-based company has a deal with regional cable provider Nittany Media to provide streaming services based on Nittany’s lineup of cable networks. On the face of it, that’s no different from the services cable providers offer to their cord-cutting customers. What is different is the way USTVNow streams its content to anyone in the world.
Some movies are blocked outside the US
Strangely enough, on-demand content is one area where USTVNow does block content. You can get movies on demand, but only if you live in the United States. This is odd because USTVNow is “exclusively” for Americans living outside the country. As far as we know, American expats and troops can’t access the movies that USTVNow has decided to block.
USTVNow makes a big deal of its support for the troops. But we couldn’t find any evidence that USTVNow has an actual relationship with the government.
When the American military wanted to let service members watch the 2016 Olympics, it required a complicated multi-party deal that included the cable industry, broadcasters, telecommunications companies and the Defense Information Systems Agency. Even then, the broadcasts could only be seen through the Army and Air Force Exchange Service’s proprietary distribution system. Active duty personnel living off-base couldn’t watch NBC’s Olympics coverage.
If a relationship like that exists between USTVNow and any branch of the US military, we couldn’t find any sign of it.
A page deep within the USTVNow support site lists a handful of US embassies that “recommend” USTVNow, but only a fraction of the embassy websites on the list actually mention the service.
So what to do?
USTVNow seems legitimate on the surface, but we’re not exactly sure how legal it really is. Because USTVNow doesn’t follow the rules that other streaming services follow, there may be something fishy going on. Then again, it’s also possible that USTVNow may have worked out some type of unique behind-the-scenes deal.
Terms of Service
Before we compare the price plans, here’s a few words about the stuff nobody reads: the terms of service.
If you did actually read through the fine print, you might be a little confused about who owns USTVNow. At different points, the document refers to USTVNow, Nationphone and DutchPhone. NationPhone & TV is a New York City-based company that operates USTVNow. NationPhone is in turn owned by DutchPhone Holdings.
Additionally, USTVNow uses peer-to-peer sharing. According to the Peer2Peer section of the document, “You consent to other users’ use of your network connection to utilize portions of USTVNow streams from you.”
Interestingly, the terms of service does not forbid Americans from using USTVNow service while located inside the country.
Plans and Channels
USTVNow offers three separate plans, including a free TV option. While free TV sounds great, it comes with restrictions that may force you to consider the paid plans.
The Free Channels plan gives you live TV streams for free… with a few restrictions. First, you only get streams from seven channels:
ABC, CBS, The CW, FOX, NBC, PBS, My9.
More specifically, you only get streams from the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania affiliates of those networks. That’s because USTVNow uses Nittany Media’s cable content. USTVNow can’t offer local service from anywhere else.
Harrisburg is a magical place, apparently, because it’s the only local affiliate that USTVNow offers. All the local news, the local weather, local programming and local advertising is from Harrisburg.
The free streams are capped at standard definition and are only available through a browser on a desktop or laptop computer. During peak viewing periods, USTVNow may block Free Channel accounts to keep streams going for its paying customers.
Finally, the Free Channels plan only gets the Limited DVR service level.
The All Channels plan will cost you $30-per-month once the initial discount expires to get twenty-four channels including:
AMC, Animal Planet, BBC America, Bravo, CNBC, Comedy Central, Discovery Channel, ESPN, ESPN2, FX, Fox News, Freeform, MSNBC, National Geographic, NBC Sports, Nickelodeon, Spike, Sundance, Syfy, TLC and USA.
The content streams in high definition to any browser or Kodi system – but only at 720p. Just like the Free Channels plan, the All Channels subscription only gets you the Limited DVR service level.
All Channels + DVR
For $40-per-month after the initial discount expires, you get everything in the All Channels plan plus the Full DVR service level.
As mentioned earlier, USTVNow has a library of movies that you can stream on-demand. It includes classics like Apocalypse Now and future classics like Transformers: Age of Extinction.
Since USTVNow is based on a cable service, the on-demand movies are not included with your subscription. You must rent them at rates similar to your local cable company’s. Another negative is the lack of on-demand TV. Unlike typical streaming services, you can’t stream recent TV shows or previous seasons on-demand.
Whether USTVNow is worth getting isn’t just a question of ethics or features. It’s also one of value. Let’s see how USTVNow does against the competition.
Pluto TV‘s free service delivers more than seventy live TV streams from national networks like CNBC and CBS Sports Network as well as specialty networks like Nerdist and Fight. On-demand movies and TV shows are free as well. Optimized apps are available on almost every smartphone, tablet, computer and streaming platform.
Even though Pluto TV’s main features are US-only, it provides an international version of its Mac and Windows app that gives you officially licensed streams for viewing outside the US.
Pluto TV’s free service provides much more variety (including free movies) compared to USTVNow’s Free Channels plan. Plus, Pluto TV’s streams are all high definition.
Cable companies offer so-called “skinny bundles” to their cord-cutting customers. Comcast’s Xfinity Instant, for example, streams local broadcast TV channels for only $18-per-month. Even in a mid-sized city, you can get more than a dozen streams. You can subscribe to premium channels as well as expand the service to get content that focuses on kids, entertainment, or sports.
Xfinity provides up to twenty hours of recording space in its cloud DVR as well as access to on-demand movie and TV rentals. Optimized apps are available for iOS, Android and Roku.
Although limited to the United States, services like Xfinity Instant lets you watch your town’s local TV rather than Harrisburg’s.
Hulu with Live TV
Hulu launched a TV streaming service in early 2017. For $40-per-month you get live streams from more than fifty local and national stations, DVR capabilities and access to Hulu’s huge catalog of on-demand content.
Related: Hulu Live TV Channel List – What Channels are on Hulu TV in 2017?
Hulu’s service is available in the United States, Japan and on American military bases around the world.
For the same price as USTVNow’s most expensive plan, you get twice as many channels, on-demand content for free, local stations besides Harrisburg and full access for our troops.
Plex with an HDTV antenna
If you connect an antenna to an HDHomeRun TV tuner and then feed that signal into a Plex Media Server, you can stream dozens of local channels across your home network.
Related: How to Watch Live TV on Plex – A Complete Guide for 2017
A premium Plex subscription gets you DVR capability with unlimited local storage and no expiration dates. Plex Channels let you add streams from CNN, Netflix and other services. Even better, Plex’s remote access functions let you stream your live content anywhere you travel – even to the other side of the world.
The only catch when living overseas is that friends or family back home have to host the Plex system for you. Aside from that one speed bump, the Plex solution is cheaper and more flexible than the equivalent USTVNow All Channels + DVR plan
Overall Review: 3.8
Content quality: 4
A twenty-eight channel lineup is weak compared to mainstream services. USTVNow loses more points for forcing its customers to watch commercials, news and weather from Harrisburg. No knock against the town itself, but getting someone else’s hometown content defeats the purpose of a subscription service.
Streaming quality: 6
USTVNow’s 720p and standard definition streams performed fine with no more buffering or stuttering than you would expect. The service has capacity issues, however, that prioritize paid subscribers over users of the free plan.
Device support: 3
The lack of optimized apps is a huge negative. USTVNow’s dependence on desktop browsers ignores modern reality.
For the same amount of money, competing services offer a much more varied selection of networks, access to your hometown’s local channels and even authorized access on US military bases overseas.
You’ll get more bang for your buck from other services if you want to stream in the US. Troops living on-base should take a serious look at Hulu with Live TV. Anyone else living outside the United States can get better, more affordable results by going with a hardware solution like Plex.
USTVNow was an innovative service when it launched in 2009. I’m sure at the time it pushed boundaries and cable industry comfort zones. Unfortunately, time and technology advanced while USTVNow stood still. Today, cord-cutters have better choices.
Chris Casper is a former tech industry product manager who escaped from California for New Mexico. Now he writes about science and tech while searching for the perfect green chile sauce.
An issue not mentioned is that the service simply does not work. I subscribed to the All Channels + DVR service and the cloud recording system is unserviceable. Most recordings are broken meaning they simple do not play at all or else the sound is seconds our of sync with the video. Even if the service appears attractive and good value USTVnow is unable to provide it.
I’ve been using the service for a few months, all I can say it’s a pure garbage not worth the money, I’ve cancelled my paid plan, would not want to use even if it was free. Unreliable, and constantly freezing. It appears that they are not able to solve the issues and their support is as garbage and useless as the service. Rude incompetent people. Would NOT recommend it to anyone.