The smartphone has long since grown into a pocket-sized TV, and three of the big four wireless carriers have now taken the next logical step: including one or more streaming-video services with your subscription.
These bundled freebies may not sway your choice of wireless service, but if they overlap with your existing viewing habits, they can provide a painless way to shave some money off your entertainment costs.
• AT&T offers free HBO with both of its unlimited-data plans, “Unlimited Plus Enhanced” (unmetered data with HD video streaming and 15 gigabytes of mobile-hotspot use) and “Unlimited Choice Enhanced” (only standard-definition video, no mobile-hotspot use). If you don’t have a subscription on any of its TV services — U-verse, DirecTV or DirecTV Now — you’ll have to open a free DirecTV Now streaming account to get this bonus.
Your potential savings, starting within two bills of your opting into this deal, range from $5 on DirecTV Now to $18 on satellite-based DirecTV. That's automatic if you get U-verse or DirecTV; if you have DirecTV Now, you'll have to log into your account.
• Sprint includes Hulu’s Limited Commercials streaming service (which USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham found to be about as ad-heavy as regular TV) with its unlimited plans. That can save you that option's $7.99 a month rate. But you can’t apply this credit toward’s Hulu’s $11.99 no-commercials option or its newer, $39.99 Hulu with Live TV service, Hulu’s answer to the traditional, much pricier cable or satellite bundle.
• T-Mobile offers two different streaming extras. The one it markets more is the free-Netflix deal it launched last year: If you have two or more lines on its T-Mobile One unlimited-data plan, you get a comped Netflix Standard subscription. If, like almost 111 million people, you already pay for Netflix, T-Mobile’s offer will zero out that $10.99 monthly cost.
And single-line T-Mobile subscriptions—including those predating its switch last year to sell only unlimited-data plans—can take advantage of its free MLB.tv offer.
That $115.99 service, however, won't help you watch your home team, since it doesn’t include streaming of games involving the nearest MLB franchises, which under MLB's interpretation, can include those hundreds of miles away. And if you'd already signed up for MLB.tv last year and set that subscription to auto-renewing, it's already too late to let T-Mobile pick up the tab.
But an MLB.tv subscription also covers the $19.99 annual cost of MLB’s At Bat mobile app, which doesn't impose regional blackouts of game updates or radio broadcasts. Cancel any auto-renewing subscription in the iOS App Store or the Android Play Store, then opt into T-Mobile's MLB.tv offer in the carrier’s T-Mobile Tuesdays app between March 27 and April 2.
• Verizon, which once offered NFL streaming as an exclusive, offers no special video bonuses now that anybody can use that feature in the NFL Mobile app.
The only other obvious service offering free Netflix is Verizon's landline, not wired, service. You have to sign up for a triple-play bundle, which at Verizon socks you with some of the steeper hardware fees around.
Roger Entner of research firm Recon Analytics said these deals may mean the most to Netflix's rivals.
“Basically, everyone who has broadband has Netflix,” said Roger Entner of Recon Analytics. “The upside for Hulu and for HBO is much bigger.”
As for the subscriber who gets one of these services for free? “You feel a little bit more appreciated,” he said. “I don’t think in the end, customers will make the decision based on what service do I get.”