Streaming Services used to be simple. Back in my day, you had Netflix, and that was about it! Now, it’s getting a bit more complicated. Netflix has begun a war with newer subscription streaming services, such as Amazon Prime, Hulu, as well as brand new platforms like Acorn, DirecTV Now, and Sling TV. Here is Your Guide To Subscription Streaming Services, Explained.
Consumer Reports states that if you watch only a few movies or shows each month, it probably makes the most sense to opt for a pay-per-view service such as Amazon Video, FandangoNow, or Vudu.
But if you watch a lot of programs or movies or you’re looking to cut back on—or cut off—your pay-TV service, subscription services may be the best deal. They offer an all-you-can-watch buffet of streaming content, often at a price well below what most of us spend each month for pay TV.
It’s not always easy to untangle your choices, though. This guide to the major video streaming services should help. (And we have advice on choosing a smart TV or streaming media device, too.)
We’ll be adding new services as they emerge, so keep checking back for updates.
Price: $5 per month or $50 per year.
Who it’s best for: Lovers of British TV fare. Goodies include TV dramas (“A Place to Call Home”), mysteries (“Agatha Raisin”), and comedies.
Latest news: Acorn TV is now available on Comcast’s Xfinity X1 cable box, accessible via Xfinity on Demand and on the go via the Xfinity Stream App. Among the exclusives on the service is the classic ’80s comedy series “Alfresco,” which kick-started the careers of Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Robbie Coltrane, and Stephen Fry. Also in the mix: “The Witness for the Prosecution,” an original Agatha Christie movie with Kim Cattrall.
Amazon Prime Video
Price: $99 per year or $11 per month, with free shipping. A video-only subscription costs $9.
Who it’s best for: Anyone who’s already paying for an Amazon Prime membership. It now has a solid roster of original shows, including “Z: The Beginning of Everything” and “The Grand Tour.” Amazon Prime has some exclusive series, such as “Downton Abbey” and “The Americans,” plus HBO’s back catalog of shows. You can add HBO, Showtime, and other premium channels for $9 to $15 per month.
Latest news: Amazon just snagged the rights to a 10-episode anthology series, “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams.” Extra Prime perks include access to Prime Music and a free Kindle book each month.
CBS All Access
Price: $6 per month with ads or $10 per month ad-free.
Who it’s best for: Cord-cutters looking for major-network fare without using an antenna. The service provides full-length episodes of CBS programs, plus live programming streams of local CBS affiliates in 124 markets. CBS All Access also includes complete back catalogs of most of its current series.
Latest news: At a recent analysts’ conference, a CBS executive said there would be six or seven new original series on CBS All Access in the next 12 months. The company reports that there are now a combined 5 million subscribers to its two paid streaming services, CBS All Access and Showtime, roughly split half and half. The company says that later this year it will launch two new streaming services, CBS Sports HQ and Entertainment Tonight. CBS All Access saw an increase in subscribers thanks to the new series “Star Trek: Discovery.” That series started off free on broadcast TV, but the remainder of the episodes can be seen only on CBS All Access. The streaming service now lets you watch local Sunday and Thursday night NFL games. In addition to “Star Trek: Discovery,” original series include “The Good Fight,” the sequel to “The Good Wife.”
Price: $35 per month.
Who it’s best for: Anyone who wanted DirecTV but not the satellite dish. Right now you get about 60 channels for $35 per month, or 80 channels for $50 per month at any time. The service is limited to two simultaneous users at a time.
Latest news: The company will be launching a next-gen version of the service this spring that adds a cloud DVR and bumps up the number of simultaneous users to three at one time. Earlier, after AT&T announced it was bringing CBS stations and Showtime to DirecTV Now, it added new live, local ABC, NBC, and Fox affiliates. That means that DirecTV Now has locals in about 75 percent of the country. The deal with CBS immediately provided access to stations owned and operated by CBS in 14 major markets; deals for affiliates are pending. Subscribers can add Showtime for an additional $8 per month. (Adding HBO costs only $5 more each month.) The new affiliate deals with ABC, NBC, and Fox will enable it to provide coverage of those networks to more than 70 percent of U.S. TV homes. DirecTV is now beta testing a cloud DVR for DirecTV Now subscribers (and DirecTV app users), with a rollout planned for the back half of the year. Programming in 4K with HDR is planned for 2018.
As part of a current promotion, new customers prepaying for three months of DirecTV Now can get a free Apple TV 4K media player. This replaces an earlier promotion that gave those prepaying for two months of DirecTV Now a free Roku Premiere streaming player.
Price: $5 a month, or $50 a year, for the basic service. You can pay an additional $25 a month each for the full MLB.TV baseball or NHL hockey seasons.
Who it’s best for: Hardcore sports junkies looking to add out-of-market baseball and hockey games to their menus, college sports fans who want a broader assortment of collegiate sports than they can get with traditional TV, or those who have an interest in niche sports like rugby and cricket.
Latest news: ESPN+ just launched, and it’s now part of the main ESPN app. It’s available for iOS and Android mobile devices, Apple TV, and Chromecast media streamers. You can also watch it online at ESPN.com. We assume there will be more device support—smart TVs, and perhaps Roku and Amazon Fire TV media streamers—in the future.
Price: $7 per month for the basic service; $11 per month or $99 per year with Criterion Channel.
Who it’s best for: Cinephiles who love indie, art-house, and classic movies. The service was started in November 2016 as a joint venture between Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection, a video-distribution company known for critically acclaimed classic, independent, and foreign films with extensive bonus features. FilmStruck has exclusive rights to Criterion Collection titles, which were previously on Hulu and Netflix. New titles are added to the rotating selection weekly. The service offers curated groups of films, such as “Vivien Leigh Before Scarlett,” and weekly packages (Tuesday’s Short+Feature and Friday Night Double Feature).
Latest news: The company just struck a deal to add hundreds of classic movies from the Warner Bros. library—think “Casablanca” and “Citizen Kane.” A new feature, called TCM Select, highlights a selection of iconic films, prefaced by an introduction by the TCM host Ben Mankiewicz. Other recent additions include “The Third Man,” with special features including multiple documentaries about the 1950 masterpiece set in postwar Vienna, an alternate opening scene, the original theatrical trailer, and episodes of a radio show based on the movie. You can also watch “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” with special features including original trailers, radio ads, and a 197-minute extended cut.
Price: $45 per month for about 80 channels; initial subscribers still pay the $35 per month introductory price.
Who it’s best for: Sports fans looking for a streaming alternative. This sports-centric service offers a mix of live and on-demand channels from broadcast networks (CBS, Fox, and NBC in most markets), cable channels (A&E, Bravo, FX, SyFy, USA), and sports networks (BeIn Sports, FS1, Golf Channel, NBA TV). You also get a robust roster of regional sports networks, including those from NBC, Fox, and Yes, for local-team action, including MLB and NHL games. The service comes with a free cloud DVR that lets you store 30 hours of shows, movies, and games. If you forget to record a show, there’s a 72-hour “look back” that lets you replay most programs that aired in the past three days.
Latest news: FuboTV says it is now out of beta on Roku streaming players and Roku TVs. Roku users get a new, updated interface, better video controls, and access to a cloud DVR. The company also recently launched a Family Share plan that adds a third simultaneous stream for $6 more a month.
FuboTV has just added a new Adventure Plus package, a $5-a-month add-on to the Fubo Premier base package. It offers access to the MAVTV Motorsports Network, the Outdoor Sportsman Group Networks (“The Deadliest Catch” and other hunting/fishing/gun shows), and Outside TV (adventure/lifestyle sports such as skiing, snowboarding, and surfing).
FuboTV has added more CBS, Fox, and NBC affiliates and on-demand content from many networks. It also has a multiyear deal with MSG Networks for FuboTV Premier subscribers in New York to get the MSG regional sports networks, as well as a new deal to bring NESN to subscribers in New England.
New prices are now in effect for new customers. There’s a $20-per-month promotional price for the first month, and then the rate climbs to $45 per month. The $35-per-month plan will remain for existing subscribers. The NFL Network in its Premier Plan and NFL RedZone can be added for $9 more each month. This follows a deal with CBS that brought in CBS locals in some markets as well as CBS Sports, the CW, and Showtime. Nine Showtime channels can be added for an additional $11 each month.
Fubo’s updated cloud DVR lets you save up to 30 hours of programming for as long as you remain an active subscriber. (You used to get just 10 “slots” that expired after 10 days.) Paying an additional $10 per month gets you 500 hours of DVR storage.
Price: $15 per month.
Who it’s best for: HBO fans who don’t want to pay for cable. Sign up to get all of the network’s series, movies, specials, and documentaries. If you already get HBO through your cable package, remember that the HBO Go app lets you watch HBO on your phone, tablet, and other devices.
Latest news: HBO Now has passed the 5 million subscriber mark, and it’s now available on more devices, including Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Microsoft Xbox, Roku, Samsung TVs, and PlayStation Vue. It’s also available via a growing number of cord-cutting streaming services, including DirecTV Now, and as part of Amazon Channels.
Price: $8 per month with ads or $12 per month without ads.
Who it’s best for: Cord-cutters who don’t want to miss out on broadcast TV. Hulu has current shows from ABC, Fox, and NBC; older ones from CBS; plus the “Seinfeld” library. Original content includes “The Path” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Latest news: While Netflix is raising prices, Hulu has dropped its price, down to $6 per month for the first year of service. It also recently signed a deal with NBCUniversal for hundreds of episodes of TV shows such as “30 Rock” and “Parenthood,” and it shares the streaming rights to “This Is Us” with NBC. Hulu also has the streaming rights for the original “Will and Grace” series.
In other news, Hulu has teamed up with the music service Spotify to offer a combined bundle to college students for just $5 per month. Because Spotify Premium for Students usually costs $5 per month, it’s like getting the basic Hulu service free. Hulu also has an exclusive deal with Magnolia Pictures to stream the company’s films after their theatrical release.
Hulu With Live TV
Price: $40 per month.
Who it’s best for: Cord-cutters who want yet another option. Hulu TV, which is now live, offers about 50 channels, including the major broadcast channels—ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC—albeit only in a handful of markets right now. You also get cable channels such as A&E, the Cartoon Network, CNN, Disney, Fox News, FX, TBS, and TNT, among others. The lineup includes CBS Sports, ESPN, and Fox Sports, plus some regional sports networks.
Latest news: For March Madness basketball fans, Hulu is adding game-start alerts; you just pick your favorite teams and you’ll be notified when a game including those teams is about to begin. Hulu says it may try to add this feature to other sports later this year. Also, Hulu just added the CW channel—home to “Supergirl” and “Riverdale,” among other shows—in some markets, though not yet major cities such as Los Angeles and New York. More live channels, including several sports channels such as CBS Sports and Fox Sports, can now be streamed at 60fps for smoother motion with less blurring during fast-moving scenes.
Hulu With Live TV is now available on most Roku streaming players and all Roku TVs. The Live TV service is also now supported on Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV devices, Google Chromecast, PlayStation and Xbox game consoles, and iOS and Android mobile devices. Hulu says it will support Amazon’s Alexa digital voice assistant this fall. It also continues to add local TV affiliates. It also signed a deal to offer the CW Network as part of its service in the coming months. Right now the network, which attracts younger viewers with such shows as “Riverdale” and “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow,” doesn’t include AMC, Discovery, or Viacom (Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon).
The service’s basic plan lets you create six separate profiles—though only two people can use the service at a time—and includes a cloud DVR with 50 hours of recording time. You can pay $15 extra each month to get a DVR with 200 hours of recording time plus the ability to skip through commercials. For another $15 per month, the service will support unlimited users in the home, plus three mobile users. A bundle of these two options costs $20, a $10 discount off the cost of purchasing them separately.
Price: $8 per month for standard-def video on a single screen; $11 per month for high-def video on up to two screens; $14 per month for 4K Ultra High Definition video on up to four screens.
Who it’s best for: Everyone. Netflix is still the king of binge. It has a vast library of movies and TV shows, plus now-classic original shows (“House of Cards,” “Orange Is the New Black”) and newer hits (“Stranger Things”). It even has original movies (“Beasts of No Nation”). A deal with Marvel has spawned “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones,” and Netflix subscribers still have access to Disney titles through the end of 2018, when Disney will pull those films from Netflix to start its own streaming service.
Latest news: Netflix signed a deal with ex-Saturday Night Live comedian Norm McMcDonald for a talk show to launch later this year. The streaming network is also reportedly talking to the Obamas to produce an original series. The network, which recently raised prices on its two most popular plans, says it will spend about $7 billion on content in 2018. The service has lured Jerry Seinfeld away from Crackle, so this year subscribers get new episodes of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” plus two exclusive stand-up shows.
Price: $16 a month; $4 more for an add-on channel pack.
Who it’s best for: Viewers who don’t care about sports and don’t want to subsidize those who do. Philo is a sports-free streaming service that’s backed by several cable networks, including A+E, AMC, Discovery, Scripps, and Viacom. Not surprisingly, its lineup includes 37 channels from those and other cable networks, so you get A&E, AMC, BBC America, Cheddar, Comedy Central, Discovery Channel, Food Network, HGTV, History, Lifetime, MTV, Nickelodeon, TLC, Travel Channel, and others. There’s also a $4-a-month add-on pack that includes nine additional channels: the American Heroes Channel, BET Her, the Cooking Channel, Destination America, Discovery Family, Discovery Life, Logo, MTV Live, and Nicktoons.
Latest news: Philo will work on a variety of devices, including computers, Android and iOS phones and tablets, plus Roku players and Roku TVs. And the company says more devices will be added soon.
The service will support up to three simultaneous users, and you get a cloud-based no-limit DVR for recording shows, and can keep them for up to 30 days. You can also watch a show from the beginning if you join late and watch any shows that aired within the past three days. Philo says that it will be integrating a social platform soon, so you can share your favorite shows with friends and family—or even watch them together.
Price: $40 to $75 per month depending on the package.
Who it’s best for: Those who are looking for a real cable TV-style programming package and are willing to pay for it. Packages range from basic channels (the $40-per-month Access plan) to a comprehensive package of about 90 channels, including some premium channels (the $75-per-month Ultra plan). You also get local channels in many major markets—on-demand in others—plus a cloud DVR for recording shows.
Latest news: Sony PlayStation Vue has been updated to include mobile sign-up, so new users can sign up and start watching the service directly from mobile phones, tablets, or PCs, even when they’re outside the home. Another change is that you can now access favorite local teams on regional sports networks (such as Fox Sports or NBC Sports) even if you are traveling to another city. You can now also watch local broadcast channels that are available when traveling.
PS Vue continues to add more affiliate broadcast networks. It just added ABC in 11 major markets, plus four NBC affiliates. Late last year Vue added several channels, including BBC America, NBA TV, and Vice, but lost Viacom stations such as Comedy Central, Spike, and MTV. It also added support for Apple TV last fall.
Price: $11 per month, or $9 per month when purchased through certain services, such as Amazon Prime and Hulu.
Who it’s best for: Showtime fans. Like HBO Now, this service lets you watch a cable network without the cable. You get all of Showtime’s movies, plus original shows such as “Billions,” “Homeland,” and “The Affair.” If you subscribe to Showtime through your cable provider, Showtime Anytime lets you watch Showtime fare on your phone, tablet, and other devices.
Latest news: Showtime aired the 18-part “Twin Peaks” this year. Also on tap is “Purity,” a 20-episode drama starring Daniel Craig that debuts in 2018. Showtime Films released the documentary “Eric Clapton: A Life in 12 Bars” theatrically in 2017. It will hit Showtime in 2018.
Price: Sling Orange costs $20 per month; Sling Blue costs $25 per month. A combined package costs $40 per month. Add-on packs cost $5.
Who it’s best for: Cord-cutters. With Dish’s Sling TV you don’t get individual shows; you get channels. The basic Orange package comes with about 20 cable offerings, including A&E, the Food Network, and TBS, but not broadcast TV. It’s also one of only a few ways you can get ESPN without a TV service. Themed add-on packs cost $5 per month, and HBO costs $15 per month.
Latest news: Following the launch of NBA League Pass, a $29-a-month add-on that lets fans watch out-of-market games, Sling now also has NBA Team Pass, a separate plan that lets you get out-of-market games for just a single NBA team. Team Pass costs an extra $18 per month on top of a Sling Orange, Sling Blue and/or Spanish-language services plan. Sling TV’s latest promotion is a free Roku TV Express when you prepay two months of Sling service.
Sling’s cloud DVR is now more widely available and includes more channels and some new features, such as the ability to protect recordings from being deleted. Also, there’s now an in-browser player for Google Chrome, so you don’t have to download an app; you can watch right from Chrome. Sling TV is now supported by more devices, including Amazon Fire TV, Android TV devices, Apple TV, Roku and Roku TVs, and Xbox One. A $100 AirTV box combines Sling TV channels and free over-the-air broadcasts in one device.
Price: $9 per month.
Who it’s best for: Like HBO and Showtime, you can now get Starz without a pay-TV subscription. Content includes such shows as “Outlander” and “Power,” plus movies including “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
Latest news: The Starz streaming service is newly available on DirecTV Now for $8 per month. The much-anticipated series “American Gods,” based on the Neil Gaiman book, is now available on the service.
Price: $40 per month.
Who it’s best for: Cord-cutters looking for another option in addition to Sling TV and DirecTV Now. YouTube TV, which started in April, offers access to live TV from up to 50 providers, including all the major networks. It also has a cloud DVR with unlimited storage. With expanded availability in more markets, right now its biggest limitation is that it doesn’t support Amazon Fire TV streaming players. (More support is coming; see below.)
But YouTube TV does have a nice selection of channels, including Bravo, Disney, ESPN, FX, Fox News, Fox Sports, MSNBC, National Geographic, USA, and some regional sports networks. AMC will be added soon, and you also get access to the original programming on YouTube Red, usually $10 per month. Showtime and a few other channels can be added for an additional fee. But right now it lacks programming from Viacom (Comedy Central, MTV), Time Warner (HBO, CNN, the Cartoon Network, TNT), Discovery Communications, and Scripps Networks Interactive (the Food Network, HGTV). YouTube says it’s still in discussions with networks, so more channels could be added soon.
Latest news: When Google announced this winter that it was raising the price of YouTube TV from $35 to $40 a month, it said the MLB Network would be included soon. Now the service has launched the live MLB Network channel. Eventually, the companies say, YouTube TV will also carry MLB.tv, the league’s online subscription service, for an undisclosed additional fee.
Subscribers also get a few new Turner channels, including CNN, TBS, and TNT, plus the NBA. YouTube TV is now available on the Roku platform, something Google had said would happen in early 2018. Also, the service just struck a deal to show games from a new LA-based Major League Soccer team, the Los Angeles Football Club. It also has naming rights on the players’ jerseys. The team, whose owners include Magic Johnson and Will Farrel, joins the MLS in March.
The service recently announced it has expanded into 34 additional markets, putting YouTube TV in 84 cities around the U.S. It launched earlier this year in five major metro areas: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Google says that more device support is coming to YouTube TV, including smart TVs from LG, Samsung, and Sony; Apple TV, Nvidia Shield; Xbox One game consoles; and a slew of other streaming devices.
YouTube TV supports up to three simultaneous users and up to six separate accounts. It has a cloud DVR—a virtual recorder that stores programs for you on YouTube’s servers—that lets you save as many shows as you want for up to nine months before they’re deleted.
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