Your Guide To Choosing The Right Streaming Services
There are now about a dozen prominent streaming “channels.” How to choose streaming services has evolved into “subscription fatigue” — a growing disquiet with the number of streaming subscriptions required to watch what we want to watch. The new networks don’t make it negligible. The growing catalog of award-winning shows produced by Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and others have spurred another dreaded digital frustration, “FOMO” — “fear of missing out.”
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Outfitting existing technology for streaming likewise is pretty painless. If you purchased a TV in the last 5 to 8 years, you likely have options for TV streaming you’ve never explored. If yours isn’t a smart TV, there are several very affordable add-ons such as Roku, Amazon Fire Stick, Apple TV, and Chromecast. Most can be purchased for roughly the cost of a tank of gas in the old family truckster.
It comes down to viewing habits, entertainment quality and subscription price point. The best streaming options are those with the widest breadth of entertainment options, or the shows you want most, at a cost that’s comfortable to absorb or add to others (because the average is three).
NetflixThe streaming giant Netflix began its streaming subscription with a small catalog of content in 2007. In 2013, it premiered its first (award-winning) show, House of Cards. In September, it took home 27 Emmy awards — more than all four major broadcast networks, VH1 and CNN combined.
- PRICE $9/month basic access, $16/month for 4K Ultra HD video and up to four accounts.
- ENTERTAINMENT There’s no question that Netflix, today, is the king of original shows and, recently, feature-length movies. It also has a wide selection of popular movies and old shows.
- BEST STREAMING OPTION if you’re open to new shows, a lot of them, and have good taste. If “new entertainment” is a priority for you, Netflix is tops. If you’re thinking “I just want cable TV without the cable price,” then Netflix is still competitive.
Disney+Netflix subscribers still have access to some Disney-owned titles, but Disney is quickly migrating those back to the mother ship for its new streaming service that went live in the fall.
- PRICE $7/month or $70 per year for Disney+, $13/month for Disney+ bundled with Hulu and ESPN.
- ENTERTAINMENT When you think of Disney, you think Snow White. Or maybe you think Woody from Toy Story, Luke Skywalker from Star Wars, Homer Simpson from The Simpsons, Iron Man from Avengers and more. In short, truly blockbuster entertainment.
- BEST STREAMING OPTION if you love big iconic movies … and, sports?
Amazon PrimeNetflix took home 27 Emmys, followed in third place by Prime with 15. That yawning gap speaks to its priorities. Prime is scaled to compete with Netflix, but Amazon wants to be at least as competitive as a bundled streaming subscription, and that shaves resources away from the showcase entertainment.
- PRICE $9/month or free for Amazon Prime members, a $119 per year fee.
- ENTERTAINMENT From award-winning original programming such as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Fleabag to many of HBO’s back catalog of shows. It’s also a portal for adding channels such as HBO and Showtime.
- BEST STREAMING OPTION if you already have Prime (and if you don’t).
YouTube TVThe place with all the cat videos and single-serving Saturday Night Live skits (also car repair how-tos, mommy vlogs and music videos) is now one of the most competitive streaming services for people who basically never fell out of love with cable TV to begin with.
- PRICE $50/month.
- ENTERTAINMENT With more than 70 channels, including all four major broadcast networks, ESPN and Fox Sports, beloved entertainment networks like AMC, PBS (and PBS Kids!) and National Geographic, and the highest rated cable news channels, YouTube TV offers subscribers their favorite “cable” channels along with new streaming entertainment like YouTube Kids.
- BEST STREAMING OPTION for those wondering how to pick a streaming option while simultaneously reflecting fondly on old cable TV.
HuluA distant third in the Emmy race was Hulu with five wins. Despite its occasional splash (The Handmaid’s Tale), Hulu is happier to keep a well-stocked pantry of past hit shows from ABC, Fox, CBS and NBC. Hulu + Live TV was one of the first major streaming platforms to offer live network broadcasts (shows, sports) over a streaming subscription. Disney now fully owns Hulu.
- PRICE $6/month ad-supported, $12/month ad-free (neither offers live broadcast/cable), $55/month Hulu + Live TV.
- ENTERTAINMENT Hulu + Live TV is a fulsome catalog of old shows and new, live entertainment and movies, and sports broadcasts from ESPN, Fox Sports and the broadcast networks. Because its Live TV is ad-supported, and live TV itself is ad-supported, the amount of time spent watching advertisements may beg the question, what does my subscription fee support?
- BEST STREAMING OPTION if you’re a student and into Spotify, the music streaming subscription service, because a combined Hulu-Spotify bundle is $5. Otherwise, Hulu is best if you like their lineup.
Sling TVLike its parent company, Dish, Sling Orange and Sling Blue streaming subscriptions endeavor to compete among streaming services as Dish competes with cable — by bundling channels at a competitive price point without producing entertainment.
- PRICE $25/month for Sling Orange, $25/month for Sling Blue, or $40/month combined.
- ENTERTAINMENT The Orange package comes with about 30 popular cable channels but limited broadcast networks. In some markets subscribers get Fox, NBC and Univision in the Blue package.
- BEST STREAMING OPTION if you’re a coupon clipper, or know and like Dish service.
Apple TV+Despite its vaunted place among the stars of technology (and ticker symbols), Apple TV+ is a modest offering. It launched just before Disney+ with more original programming but, ultimately, a far smaller catalogue of entertainment.
- PRICE $5/month.
- ENTERTAINMENT This streaming network came out of the gates with The Morning Show starring Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell and Reese Witherspoon. Other than this and a handful of other original shows, it does not boast a robust catalog of TV content.
- BEST STREAMING OPTION if you have purchased an Apple device (say, an Apple TV streaming box) within the last few months or will. Then it’s free.
AT&T TV / AT&T TV+ AT&T WatchTV
DIRECTV Now/AT&T TV NowAT&T TV is essentially DIRECTV’s ineup over an internet connection. Unfortunately, it’s only available in very select markets. ,
- PRICE Free (AT&T WatchTV) for AT&T Unlimited subscribers, otherwise $15/month, while AT&T TV is $50-$100 or more per month for assorted packages.
- ENTERTAINMENT At the premium price point, 50 channels including regional sports, Cinemax and HBO. (AT&T owns HBO as a result of its acquisition of Time Warner.)
- BEST STREAMING OPTION if you want a streaming option with live TV, HBO and Cinemax but without original branded content, at a budget-busting price point.
PhiloAnother quirky but budget-conscious pick among the constellation of options for TV streaming is Philo, a strong pick for those who basically want cheaper cable.
- PRICE begins at $20/month ad-supported.
- ENTERTAINMENT No sports, live news or local channels, but beloved standard cable fare from Comedy Central, AMC, Nickelodeon and others.
- BEST STREAMING OPTION if you’ve cut the cord and miss it or know you will.
CBS All AccessMaybe it’s appropriate that CBS is the first of the major networks to offer its own streaming pretty much as you’d want it.
- PRICE $6/month ad-supported, $10/month ad-free.
- ENTERTAINMENT CBS All Access is the network in its entirety — live shows, past shows, live sports and news special reports just like you’d get over the air or cable but on-demand.
- BEST STREAMING OPTION if you’ve cut the cord and don’t have a digital antenna that can catch this broadcast network over the air.
StarzWith TV shows such as Outlander and Power, Starz is a production operation with a following, but whether it’s one of the best streaming options is up to the beholder.
- PRICE $9/month
- ENTERTAINMENT Along with Outlander, Power, The Spanish Princess and other episodic and serial programming, popular movies such as Venom and A Dog’s Way Home. New titles include In the Long Run, an autobiographical family comedy created by Englishman Idris Elba, and The Professor and the Madman, a true story about a murderer and his Oxford professor friend, starring Sean Penn and Mel Gibson.
- BEST STREAMING OPTION if you like Starz shows.
A la CarteAlong with the big platforms there’s smaller niche players that, bundled together, could be attractive — say, for a British-loving comic bookish cinephile. Acorn TV and BritBox both specialize in entertainment written and produced across the pond, and they’re light loads at $5/month and $7/month, respectively. Meanwhile, for the film lover in your life, the Criterion Channel has more than 1,000 critically acclaimed classics and moderns for $11/month, $100 annually, or the DC Universe (Batman, and a bit of original content, too) for $8/month, $75/annually.
In 2020, streaming will again be shaken up by the premiere of Peacock, NBC’s (reportedly) free streaming platform, and HBO Max. (Showtime already streams a la carte.)
For many consumers, cultivating the best streaming options into one lineup doesn’t hinge on availability but price. Viewers who have dropped cable pick up a live TV subscription like YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV for news and sports and Netflix or Prime for original content, ultimately reanimating much of the monthly bill they’d intended to cut with the cord.
Still, the allure of subscription streaming is that none of the major players require any contracts, build in hidden fees or keep on-premises equipment. The only requirement beyond the fee is ample internet. More and more, that’s table stakes for a great many exciting new technologies.