For a number of years, the Internet, games, and apps have been eroding the amount of time people spend watching TV, or at least watching TV on a TV. Live sports remains strong, with the Super Bowl still producing record viewership numbers every year. But everything else has taken a hit as more people cut the cord or choose to watch shows and videos online, on streaming sites, and in apps. In fact, 2015 marked the first time that apps beat TV on time spent: US viewers spend, on average, 198 minutes per day in apps, versus 168 minutes watching TV. That doesn't even include the amount of time spent watching video in mobile and desktop browsers.

The trend toward streaming is an example of supply and demand in action. People will go where the content is, and they don't care much who's producing it, as long as they can watch wherever and whenever they want. And companies like Netflix and Amazon have been pursuing viewers aggressively with a low cost to entry and high-profile shows -- it's hard to visit Amazon's website and not see several invitations to watch its original series. And neither Amazon nor Netflix balks at controversial content.

Networks and cable channels have been catching up with their own apps and streaming services, and streaming-device makers aren't far behind. For several months, the only way to get HBO Now was to sign up with an Apple TV, and Roku just introduced a box that can handle 4K video.

The digital consumption boom means more ways to watch TV shows, a second chance for canceled fan favorites, and more original programs, including stories that are too hot for prime-time TV. And the volume doesn't mean low quality -- Amazon and Netflix are producing prestige shows that get generous budgets, big Hollywood talent, and Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. Digital networks are reviving shows killed by their original carriers, like A&E's "Longmire," which is getting two more seasons that you'll find only on Netflix. Similarly, Yahoo screened season 6 of "Community" this year after NBC dropped it, and "The Mindy Project" moved from Fox to Hulu.

Consumers who dislike cable and satellite TV bundles -- and the high cost thereof -- can now order at least the high-end channels a la carte. You can subscribe directly to premium channels like HBO and Showtime and watch dozens of shows on demand, plus get a live stream. And you can do so on your TV with an inexpensive device and a high-speed Internet connection, or you can watch on your phone, as you ride the bus or wait in a lobby. There are no commercials that you can't fast-forward through, and all episodes are available at once.

You're probably already taking advantage of one or more of these services. But since this new system is still under construction, we wouldn't be surprised if a few things have slipped past you. Here are three shows with a backstory and one service you should know about.

Example 1: "The Man in the High Castle"

Due to its sensitive subject matter, "The Man in the High Castle" was pitched to a number of conventional distributors without success. Amazon not only greenlit the show; it gave the production an unprecedented budget, according to series creator Frank Spotnitz. It's not cheap to faithfully depict an early 1960s alternate America that's occupied in the east by the Nazis and in the west by the Japanese empire. (In this version of events, the Nazis reached a few scientific achievements faster the United States, and things went downhill from there.)

Why you should watch it: The unique setting -- based on Philip K. Dick's novel of the same name -- is just one piece of the puzzle. Another is the nuanced characters. For example, Rufus Sewell plays a quietly menacing high-ranking Nazi bent on eliminating the underground resistance, but he has a spookily Norman Rockwell-esque nuclear family. He's a patient and protective father who arranges backyard barbecues and plays catch with his son in the backyard in one scene, while maneuvering through nefarious intrigues in the next. He's arguably more layered than the people we're rooting for, even while his political and social beliefs are abhorrent and corrupt.

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You can watch "The Man in the High Castle" -- as well as Golden Globe nominees "Transparent" and "Mozart in the Jungle" -- online with an Amazon Prime subscription. However, there is no Google Play app for Amazon Prime Video. Instead Amazon promotes it own Fire HD tablets and Fire TV gadgets, which use a variant of Android and have their own app store. If you don't have one of those devices, you need to get the Amazon App Store app and get Prime Video from within that.

  • Find it on: Amazon Prime Video
  • Cost: $100 for an annual Prime subscription (which includes other benefits)
  • Watch it with: Roku, Fire TV devices, Fire HD tablets, most iOS devices, most Android devices by way of Amazon Prime Video app, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, smart TV app, and more
  • Time investment: 10 episodes, 48 to 58 minutes each
  • Content rating: TV-MA
  • 4K streaming: Available on compatible devices

Example 2: "Jessica Jones"

In case you missed Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, here's the memo: Comic books grew up. In print, they've been tackling mature subject matter for decades, but it wasn't until recent years that Hollywood was willing to expand beyond evil scientists with death rays, cheesy catchphrases, and black-and-white morality. In fact, "Jessica Jones" and its sister show "Daredevil" may be overcorrecting -- they definitely deliver on a TV-MA rating -- but the net result is still a vast improvement.

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Why you should watch it: Jones isn't poured into a skintight outfit, but much more than that, she's written to transcend gender roles, passing the Bechdel test with flying colors (her dialogue scenes don't revolve around talking about men). She's a legit private investigator who takes days and weeks to follow real clues, instead of leaning on a few minutes of computer hacking sorcery or forensic montages set to trendy music. She also has a complicated relationship with her antagonist, who himself gets a fleshed-out background and a set of mostly twisted beliefs. "Jessica Jones" is so refreshingly naturalistic that you might forget you're watching a police procedural or a comic book show.

  • Find it on: Netflix (Windows, Android, iOS)
  • Cost: $10 per month for two simultaneous streams, $12 per month for four streams
  • Watch it with: Roku, Chromecast, Fire TV, Fire HD tablets, most iOS and Android phones and tablets, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, smart TV app, and more
  • Time investment: 13 episodes, 50 to 55 minutes each
  • Content rating: TV-MA
  • 4K streaming: Available on compatible devices if you get the $12 per month subscription

Example 3: "Longmire" seasons 4 and 5

AMC shows like "Mad Men" and "The Walking Dead" are blockbusters that any network would be thrilled to call its own, but other basic cable channels have struggled to create successful original programs. A&E's "Longmire" is one such example, somehow pushing its way through three highly rated seasons before finally getting axed due to chronically low viewership in the 18-to-49 bracket -- the one that advertisers value most. Netflix stepped in to bankroll season four, which it delivered all at once on September 10, with a fifth season coming next year and featuring longer episodes. Netflix has streaming rights for the whole show, so you can watch it from the beginning.

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Why you should watch it: Turn on your TV any weeknight and you'll probably find a show about police solving lurid crimes and shooting at bad guys. But the shows are urban as a rule, and it can take years to get a peek into a detective's private life. "Longmire" is about a sheriff keeping the peace in the rugged Wyoming landscape, where it takes hours to drive country roads to the scene of a crime, and there's no fancy lab that can turn a partial thumbprint into a life story before the next commercial break. The people out here don't like being policed, and that includes Native Americans, who thankfully are more than just local flavor on the show, and whose tribal law enforcement has uneasy alliances. Sheriff Longmire is one of those guys who makes you say, "I hope I'm that cool when I'm his age." He doesn't talk much for a main character, but he speaks volumes.

  • Find it on: Netflix (Windows, Android, iOS)
  • Cost: $10 per month for two simultaneous streams, $12 per month for four streams
  • Watch it with: Roku, Chromecast, Fire TV devices, Fire HD tablets, most iOS devices, most Android phones and tablets, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, smart TV app, and more
  • Time investment: 43 episodes, 42 to 45 minutes each; season 5 will have longer episodes
  • Content rating: TV-14
  • 4K streaming: Not for seasons 1 through 4, may happen for season 5

Example 4: HBO Now

HBO Now is not HBO Go, the latter of which requires a subscription to HBO via your cable or satellite provider. The Now variant isn't linked to those mediums at all. So if HBO was the only reason you had cable, you can cut the cord and sign up for HBO Now on HBO's website, provided that you have a high-speed Internet connection. It's also a fine app that just made the best of 2015 lists from Google Play and Apple.

Why you should watch it: HBO Go provides a live stream of the main channel in HD, but HBO Now still has the complete on-demand library of every episode of every show that HBO has ever transmitted, as near as we can tell. And like any standard on-demand premium-cable library, you also get access to some movies recently released on DVD, plus older films that the service has the rights to stream -- not to mention documentaries and comedy specials produced by HBO itself. When a new episode of your favorite HBO show starts airing, HBO Now can also stream it right away -- and let you pause and rewind.

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When "The Sopranos" first came out on DVD, you had to fork over at least $50 for each season if you didn't want to pay for the cable or satellite subscription. Now you can binge-watch the whole show for less than that -- in HD, no less. HBO masterpiece "The Wire" has also gotten the HD treatment, if you want to rewatch it with more glorious pixels this time around. You usually don't get the special features from the DVD and Blu-ray packages, though.

  • Find it on: HBO Now's dedicated website, or sign up with an Apple TV
  • Cost: $15 per month
  • Watch it with: Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV, Fire TV, Fire HD tablets, most iOS and Android tablets and phones, Web browser, and more
  • Time investment: Original dramas are around 55 minutes per episode, with 10 to 13 episodes per season
  • Content rating: Varies from kids' programming to slurpy horror movies;
  • 4K streaming: Not yet

More Resources

Top software trends of 2015

Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.