Looking at the apps on my Roku TV marketplace — Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Now, Apple TV Plus, and Crunchyroll, just to name a few — I’m overwhelmed at the veritable avalanche of streaming services available to me. Disney Plus is under a week away, while HBO Max and NBC’s Peacock are not far behind. The streaming wars, ushered in by an era of Peak TV, are in full effect.
No one can watch everything; money and time are finite resources, after all. To make it a little easier on you (and your wallet), we here at Polygon broke down nearly every streaming service — how much it costs, what to watch, and who should subscribe — from the big guys like Netflix to niche collections like Mubi.
A word of advice: If you’re going to take advantage of a free trial to binge a show on a service you’re otherwise uninterested in (which you should! it’s free!), set a reminder on your phone or smart home device to cancel before the trial ends. Companies are counting on you to forget about it.
Netflix vs. Amazon vs. Hulu vs. Disney vs. Apple Plus
For a few years now, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu have been the standard-bearers for streaming. Netflix is the O.G., Hulu’s got the most current shows and, well, Amazon is Amazon. But while Disney’s Bob Iger has explicitly stated that Disney Plus won’t compete with Netflix in terms of volume, a Disney streaming service is disruptive enough to consider it one of the big guys. Ditto to Apple TV Plus, which threw massive amounts of production money behind tentpole series. So let’s breakdown the Big Five:
In addition to free one-day shipping, discounts at Whole Foods, and exclusive Twitch benefits, one of the biggest Amazon Prime perks is access to the company’s streaming service. Amazon Prime Video offers a massive library of free content for subscribers, including original TV shows and movies alongside licensed properties.
Amazon Prime Video is one of the few video-on-demand platforms to offer other streaming services as add-ons. With Amazon Channels, Prime Members can subscribe to services like HBO or Shudder without leaving the Prime app. Though notably, its biggest competitors Hulu and Netflix aren’t available on Amazon Channels…yet.
What it costs: $119/year; $12.99/month (30-day free trial)Who should subscribe: Amazon shoppersWhat to watch: Fleabag, Catastrophe, Too Old to Die Young, Good Omens, animeWhen to cancel: When the cost of other Prime perks outweighs the benefits
Subscribe here: Amazon
Apple TV Plus
Unlike Hulu or Netflix, Apple TV Plus isn’t licensing content; At least at launch, Apple TV Plus is solely a hub for Apple’s own original programming. Structurally it’s closer to a premium OTT add-on like HBO Now than a major platform like Amazon. Still, Apple brings a signature Silicon Valley polish — not to mention heaps of money — to its impressive roster, which includes big names like Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Jennifer Aniston, and Oprah.
What it costs: $4.99/month (7-day free trial; 12-month free trial with a new iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple TV)Why to subscribe: New iPhone owners (and Peak TV completionists)What to watch: Dickinson, The Elephant Queen, and eventually Amazing Stories and Mythic QuestWhen to cancel: If/when programming doesn’t live up to the hype
Subscribe here: Apple
Disney Plus, which launches on Nov. 12, 2019, will offer original programming like the Star Wars spinoff The Mandalorian and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, but the biggest draw is Disney’s back catalogue. More than anything, Disney Plus is proof that Disney owns a mind-numbing volume of IP. A Twitter thread detailing every movie and TV show in the Disney Plus library ran more than 600 tweets long — and that’s just on day one.
What it costs: $69.99/year; $6.99/month (7-day free trial)Who should subscribe: Fans of Disney or Marvel or Star Wars or The Simpsons or National Geographic….What to watch: The Mandalorian, obscure Disney movies, Disney Channel classicsWhen to cancel: When Disney stops churning out zeitgeist-commanding content (so probably never)
Subscribe here: Disney
Of the major streaming services, Hulu is the best option for cord-cutters who want to keep up with current TV shows. NBC, Fox and some cable networks drop episodes onto the platform the day after they air, which means you don’t have to wait for an entire season to drop on Amazon or Netflix before catching up with your favorite series. That’s in addition to plenty of original programming, licensed content, and premium cable add-ons.
Note: Hulu also offers a Live TV program, which is detailed in the Live TV section below.
What it costs: $5.99/month ad-supported; $11.99/month ad-free (30-day free trial)Who should subscribe: recovering DVR hoardersWhat to watch: Shrill, PEN15, Looking for Alaska, currently running network showsWhen to cancel: If your must-watch network shows aren’t keeping you coming back
Subscribe here: Hulu
The Xerox of streaming services, Netflix has been able to stay top dog (or at least one of a small litter of top dogs) by a combination of churning out original content and buying up hugely popular licensed properties like Friends and The Office. Now that much of that IP is leaving the platform for different streaming services, Netflix will likely double down on its originals, as well as continue to look abroad for licensing opportunities; Foreign reality shows like The Great British Baking Show and Terrace House seem to be a rich vein.
What it costs: $8.99/month for Basic; $12.99/month for Standard; $15.99/month for Premium (30-day free trial)Who should subscribe: TV bingersWhat to watch: Stranger Things, American Vandal, I Think You Should Leave, Grace and Frankie, Aggretsuko, Terrace House, The Great British Baking Show, The WitcherWhen to cancel: When you’ve binged all you can binge or the output feels like overload
Subscribe here: Netflix
Traditional TV networks have had to adapt to the streaming revolution in order to stay relevant. While nearly every TV network has an app from which cable subscribers can watch its shows, several are now offering over-the-top services with exclusive content and live streaming.
BET’s parent company Viacom collaborated with Tyler Perry Studios on the BET Plus service, a streaming library filled with content from black creators. BET Plus offers ad-free access to BET shows like Being Mary Jane, Tyler Perry’s back catalogue, other Viacom shows like VH1’s Basketball Wives, and new original series including a reboot of The First Wives Club from Girls Trip writer Tracy Oliver.
What it costs: $9.99/month (7-day free trial)Who should subscribe: Tyler Perry and/or Girls Trip fansWhat to watch: The First Wives Club, Being Mary Jane, Tyler Perry’s filmographyWhen to cancel: If The First Wives Club doesn’t get a season 2
Subscribe here: Prime Video Channels
CBS All Access
CBS All Access’ original content has mostly flown under the radar, with the exception of the excellent Star Trek series, Star Trek Discovery and the upcoming Picard. CBS All Access also offers ad-free CBS shows, as well as live TV streaming — including CBS sports and the CBS-owned ET Live.
What it costs: $5.99/month ad supported; $9.99/month ad-free (7-day free trial)Who should subscribe: TrekkiesWhat to watch: Star Trek DiscoveryWhen to cancel: In between Star Trek shows
Though it doesn’t boast the kind of critically acclaimed original programming like other premium cable channels, including its owner HBO, Cinemax is home to a sizable collection of blockbuster movies.
What it costs: $9.99/month (7-day free trial)Who should subscribe: mid-2000s cinephilesWhat to watch: whatever your favorite movie was in high schoolWhen to cancel: As soon as you go a month without using it
If you watch a lot (and I mean a lot) of sports, ESPN Plus is a worthy investment. The $4.99 monthly subscription offers live streaming of seemingly every sport imaginable, including pay-per-view UFC fights. There’s also some original programming available, as well as the full 30 for 30 archives and exclusive writing from ESPN journalists.
What it costs: $49.99/year; $4.99/monthWho should subscribe: sports fansWhat to watch: live sports, 30 for 30 archivesWhen to cancel: when your cable package includes live sports
Subscribe here: ESPN
If you’re choosing one premium cable subscription, it should be this one. The unofficial home of Peak TV, HBO is nearly always airing a show that half of your office can’t stop talking about. HBO’s streaming-only service, HBO Now, also grants access to the first-run movies that regularly air on HBO.
HBO parent company WarnerMedia will launch a new over-the-top service, HBO Max, in May 2020. “Anchored by HBO programming,” the platform will also include other Warner properties. (Notably, Friends left Netflix for HBO Max and Warner nabbed exclusive rights to the Studio Ghibli collection, too.) It will cost the same $14.99 as HBO Now, and current HBO Now subscribers will have access to the service for free.
What it costs: $14.99/month (7-day free trial)Who should subscribe: FOMOOGT (fear of missing out on good tv) sufferersWhat to watch: Succession, Los Espookys, The Righteous Gemstones, Watchmen, new film releasesWhen to cancel: When HBO Max launches
Yes, History Channel offers its own OTT streaming service, though unfortunately the best History Channel show of all time, Knife or Death, is absent from the History Vault. Still, history buffs might be interested in the impressive library of docu-series.
What it costs: $4.99/month (7-day free trial)Who should subscribe: history buffsWhat to watch: Ice Road Truckers, Rise & Fall, The Men Who Built AmericaWhen to cancel: Before you become your dad
Since PBS is a public broadcaster, its streaming service works a little differently. Rather than customers paying for the service outright, PBS offers Passport to paying supporters. Essentially, if you donate a certain amount of money to PBS (usually $60/year,) you get access to the streaming service.
What it costs: varies – check your local stationWho should subscribe: PBS supportersWhat to watch: Downton Abbey, Ken Burns’ Country Music, Antiques RoadshowWhen to cancel: Don’t cancel! Support your local media!
Donate to PBS here: PBS
Showtime’s streaming options are a little confusing. Much like HBO, Showtime separates users based on whether or not they subscribed through a traditional cable prover. Showtime Anytime is the streaming add-on for cable subscribers, while the streaming-only version is just referred to as “the Showtime streaming service.”
What it costs: $109.90/year; $10.99/month (14-day free trial)Who should subscribe: Halo fansWhat to watch: On Becoming A God in Central Florida, The Chi, BillionsWhen to cancel: Wait until the Halo series to subscribe, cancel if the Halo series is bad
Premium cable company Starz is the home of American Gods, which is a favorite among nerds, and Outlander, which is a favorite among moms.
What it costs: $74.99/year; $8.99/month (7-day free trial)Who should subscribe: Neil Gaiman and/or historical romance fansWhat to watch: American Gods, OutlanderWhen to cancel: In between American Gods seasons
Sundance TV has invested in some original programming in recent years — mostly true crime and drama series — but the main draw is still the collection of independent films championed by Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute.
What it costs: $59.99/year; $6.99/month (7-day free trial)Who should subscribe: film festival devoteesWhat to watch: Tangerine, Bill Cunningham New York, Oldboy, A Discovery of Witches When to cancel: After you’ve watched all the good movies
Whether you’re a cinephile, horror aficionado, or comedy nerd, there’s probably a hyper-specific streaming service out there dedicated to your specific interests.
Classic Saturday morning cartoons like Scooby Doo and Looney Tunes are available on Boomerang’s streaming service. Boomerang is available à la carte, but is also included in the VRV Premium bundle listed below.
What it costs: $39.99/year; $4.99/month (7-day free trial)Who should subscribe: parents and/or kids at heartWhat to watch: Scooby Doo, Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry, Courage the Cowardly Dog When to cancel: When your kids get bored of old cartoons
The “biggest streaming collection of British TV…ever” by British broadcasters BBC and ITV is home to such gems from across the pond as Mr. Bean, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, and Pride and Prejudice.
What it costs: $69.99/year; $6.99/month (7-day free trial)Who should subscribe: AnglophilesWhat to watch: Classic Doctor Who, Midsomer Murders, Upstairs Downstairs When to cancel: When your favorite U.K. shows come to Hulu or Netflix
The Criterion Channel
A selection of over 1,000 movies in The Criterion Collection, a series of films deemed “important…to the art of cinema,” is available to stream on The Criterion Channel.
What it costs: $99.99/year; $10.99/month (14-day free trial)Who should subscribe: classic film buffsWhat to watch: classic and art house films, Adventures in MoviegoingWhen to cancel: Make it a project to watch as many as you can in a year, then cancel
Subscribe here: Criterion Collection
The largest anime-focused streaming service available right now, Crunchyroll has since branched out into original programming. Some content is available for free, but a Premium membership is ad-free, and includes access to simulcasted shows as soon as an hour after they air in Japan.
What it costs: $7.99/month; $9.99/month bundled with VRVWho should subscribe: anime fansWhat to watch: When to cancel: This is a keeper if you’re into anime
This streaming service is dedicated to science, nature, and history documentaries (or “geekumentaries” in CuriosityStream’s parlance.)
What it costs: $19.99/year or $69.99/year for 4K; $2.99/month or $9.99/month for 4K (7-day free trial)Who should subscribe: science geeksWhat to watch: incredibly niche documentariesWhen to cancel: It’s so cheap that if you’re watching one doc a month it’s worth it
DC’s streaming (and reading) service merges all things DC onto one platform. In addition to original series, classic TV shows and movies, DC Universe includes access to a rotating collection of DC comic books.
What it costs: $74.99/year; $7.99/month (7-day free trial)Who should subscribe: DC comics fansWhat to watch: Doom Patrol, Swamp Thing, TitansWhen to cancel: After you watch Doom Patrol and Swamp Thing — Comixology is a better value for digital comics (though it’s got a smaller selection)
Subscribe here: DC Universe
CollegeHumor tapped its cast members for original shows on its streaming service Dropout, including animated series and nerdy game shows. Classic CollegeHumor sketches are available on the platform as well, alongside digital comics and interactive “chat stories.”
What it costs: $47.92/year; $4.99/month (7-day free trial)Who should subscribe: Extremely Online millennialsWhat to watch: Dimension 20, Um, Actually, Game Changer, Total ForgivenessWhen to cancel: When you outgrow this style of internet humor
Subscribe here: Dropout
[Disclosure: The writer’s husband is employed by CollegeHumor, and hosts the Dropout shows MegaDungeon Live and Tablepop.]
IMDB’s streaming service, IMDB TV (fka Freedive,) is completely free, offering movies and TV shows on the IMDB website or Amazon Fire devices.
What it costs: nothingWho should subscribe: anyone who likes free stuffWhat to watch: Apocalypse Now, Zodiac, Charlie’s Angels, Forensic FilesWhen to cancel: never — it’s free!
Subscribe here: IMDB
If you’re a member of a public library, chances are you already have access to this collection of classic and indie films. Kanopy partners with schools and libraries to make the service free for students and patrons.
What it costs: nothing (check if your library or school is included)Who should subscribe: anyone with accessWhat to watch: Moonlight, Lady Bird, Eighth Grade, Rashomon When to cancel: never!
Check if you have access here: Kanopy
Rather than a huge collection, Mubi offers a highly curated selection of just 30 films that change each month. It’s an interesting idea that’s perfect for film lovers who are easily overwhelmed by choices.
What it costs: $10.99/month (7-day free trial)Who should subscribe: film lovers who can’t make decisionsWhat to watch: whatever’s availableWhen to cancel: when the month’s selections aren’t interesting
Shudder is the largest horror-focused streaming service, with classic horror films alongside exclusives releases and original features, like the excellent documentary about the history of black horror movies, Horror Noire.
What it costs: $56.99/year; $5.99/month (7-day trial)Who should subscribe: Horror buffsWhat to watch: Creepshow, The Love Witch, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Hellraiser, Texas Chainsaw MassacreWhen to cancel: After Halloween
Another free streaming service, Sony’s Crackle has a pretty impressive lineup of TV and movies, from cult classics to actual classics.
What it costs: nothingWho should subscribe: everyone — it’s free!What to watch: Snatch, Drive, The BlobWhen to cancel: If Sony starts charging for it — most of the best options are available elsewhere
Subscribe here: Sony
VRV bundles several streaming services (many of which are mentioned above like Boomerang, Crunchy Roll, and CuriosityStream) onto one platform. There are also a few “VRV Select” exclusive series, including shows like Harmonquest and My Brother My Brother and Me, which premiered on NBC’s now-defunct streaming service, Seeso. Some content is free, but VRV Premium is ad-free and unlocks everything on the platform.
What it costs: $9.99/month (30-day free trial)Who should subscribe: anime, comedy, and/or science nerdsWhat to watch: My Brother My Brother and Me, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, 90’s Nickelodeon showsWhen to cancel: when it’s cheaper to go à la carte
Subscribe here: VRV
[Ed note: Former Polygon employees Griffin and Justin McElroy produced the show My Brother, My Brother and Me, which streams on VRV.]
Of course there are options for cable cord cutters who still want the experience of watching TV as it airs. Several companies, from Telecom giants to streaming start-ups, have launched Live TV services in recent years. Most of them are pretty similar,
AT&T TV Now
The biggest perk of AT&T TV Now (fka DirecTV Now) is that it includes HBO at no additional cost. Upgraded packages with even more channels are available, plus packages for sports, international, and premium cable available as add-ons. However, it’s got a relatively stingy amount of DVR storage (20 hours) and only allows two people to stream simultaneously, with the option to add another screen for $5/month.
Price: $50/month with upgraded packages available (7-day free trial)Features: Viacom channels, HBODrawbacks: Only 20 hours of Cloud DVR storage and two simultaneous streams allowed
Subscribe here: AT&T TV Now
Hulu + Live TV
If you’re already subscribed to Hulu, it’s pretty easy to add live TV to the service for an extra $39 per month. The basic plan allows only two simultaneous streams and up to 50 hours of cloud DVR storage. However, Hulu offers a bunch of add-ons, available à la carte or bundled together, including unlimited screens and DVR, premium cable, and entertainment and Spanish-language channel packages. It’s also currently the only streaming app available on Nintendo Switch.
Price: $44.99/month ad-supported; $50.99/month ad-free (7-day free trial)Features: lots of customization options, includes Hulu originals, Nintendo Switch appDrawbacks: limited features unless you pay more
Subscribe here: Hulu
Originally launched to livestream international soccer games, Fubo is now known as a “sports first” live TB streaming service. The base package ($54.99/month) includes 71 sports, entertainment and news networks, with up to two simultaneous streams and 30 hours of cloud DVR storage. Upgrade to a Family plan ($59.99/month) for an extra screen and 500 hours of storage, or spring for the Ultra plan ($79.99/month) which doubles the amount of channels available, including Viacom networks and Showtime.
Price: $54.99/month with upgraded packages available (7-day free trial)Features: Tons of live sportsDrawbacks: smaller selection of channels
Subscribe here: FuboTV
The cheapest option for Live TV, Sling is best for those on a budget. By splitting some channels into two packages, both starting at $25, users can choose to keep that smaller selection of channels or combine them for $40. Sling Orange includes Disney-owned networks ESPN, Disney Channel, and Freeform, while Sling Blue has Fox and NBC. There are also plenty of add-ons, including local networks, premium cable subscriptions, and OTT streaming services.
Price: Starting at $25/month ($15 for the first month)Features: Super customizable, cheapest optionDrawbacks: Bare-bones interface, can only stream on one screen at a time (on Orange plan)
Subscribe here: Sling
Our colleagues over at The Verge called YouTube TV “the best streaming TV experience” thanks to its “intuitive and straightforward interface.” And one of the biggest drawbacks, the lack of a Fire TV app, was remedied with the Amazon device’s second generation. However YouTube TV doesn’t include any Viacom channels, which means no Comedy Central, VH1, Nickelodeon, MTV, BET, or Logo.
Price: $49.99/month Features: Up to three concurrent streams, unlimited DVRDrawbacks: No Viacom channels, No HBO add-on
Subscribe here: YouTube
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