How is a “Premium” Channel Different from a “Basic” Channel?

While shopping for cable or satellite TV, it’s easy to get confused by some of the terminology that’s used. Before signing up for any type of service, it’s smart to have a basic understanding of the types of channels that are available. Without being careful, you could inadvertently sign up for programming that you won’t actually enjoy.

There are two main options when it comes to television channels: basic channels and premium channels. Some people are perfectly happy with basic channels alone while others find the extra expense of premium channels to be more than worth it. While deciding whether or not to sign up for premium channels, it’s helpful to understand what they entail.



Whether you sign up for satellite or cable TV, you’re going to have to pay some kind of monthly fee. By sticking with only the most basic channels, you’ll get the lowest price. Most providers offer bundles that allow you to add more channels for less, and others offer different tiers, or levels, of service. In most cases, you will select your lineup of basic channels first and then decide whether or not to add premium channels.

Premium channels are subscription channels, which means that they cost extra. For every premium channel that you subscribe to, you will pay a little more for your service. With that being said, you will usually gain access to several different versions of a single premium channel when you sign up. For instance, if you sign up for HBO, you will also gain access to channels like HBO Family.



One of the most striking differences between basic channels and premium channels involves the kind of programming that they offer. Basic channels stay afloat through commercials, so the programs they air have to be approved by sponsors. As a result, basic channels have strict limits in terms of content and language. Premium channels, on the other hand, stay in business primarily through subscription fees. Because they’re not beholden to sponsors, they don’t face the same restrictions. Therefore, they can freely air programs that include profanity and other potentially objectionable material.



When you watch a show on a basic channel, you will have to deal with commercials. One way to get around this is by recording your show with a DVR and watching it later. Some DVRs also allow you to skip through ads while a show is airing. With premium channels, there aren’t any ads. A program airs from beginning to end without interruption. At the very most, there may be ads for other shows on the channel in between programs.



The vast majority of premium channels primarily air movies. Original theatrical releases are shown in their entirety, and profanities aren’t edited out. When a movie airs on a basic channel, it’s likely to be heavily edited, and profanities and other objectionable material may be removed. With a subscription to a premium channel, you can watch movies at home shortly after they become available to rent, so it can be a pretty good value.

Original Series


Basic channels’ programming lineups tend to consist of sitcoms and other television series. On occasion, movies may be shown on such channels too. With premium channels, the opposite is typically true, with movies being the main type of programming. However, many premium channels now have original series that aren’t subject to the same restrictions as regular TV series. These original series are often critically acclaimed, and they help to ensure that viewers continue to subscribe. Some of today’s most talked about shows appear on premium channels.

Special Programming


You won’t find a lot of special programming on a basic TV channel. The typical lineup includes sitcoms and other TV series, newscasts and talk shows. Premium channels occasionally air specials like stand-up comedy shows, concerts and documentaries. Sporting events are also shown on premium channels, with boxing matches and MMA events being particularly popular. In many cases, the only way to watch such events live is by subscribing to a premium channel.

You’ll receive a variety of basic channels automatically when you sign up for cable or satellite service. Before subscribing to a premium channel, do a little research to decide whether it’s worth it. Keep in mind that you can always unsubscribe later if you’re unhappy.

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