You’ve gotten rid of cable TV and its exorbitant bills, but streaming services are not what they used to be, and guileless customers may end up with a comparable or even higher bill, even if they’re getting more of the kind of programming they want.
For many, being beholden to the only cable company in your area meant you were forced to choose from a few heavily curated “bundles,” none of which can be customized. This means, if you want HBO, you’ll also get Showtime, but if you want the NFL Network or Starz, you have to order each separately—for additional fees, of course. If only there was an intuitive way to satisfy viewing habits…and now you can get closer than ever to meeting your viewing expectations.
Many have opted to get rid of cable television services, cut that cable cord off and turned to streaming. A variety of delivery systems are available, from one that will slowly ease viewers away from cable by offering familiar options to another which allows viewers to pay only for the individual programming they choose.
Can streaming replace cable TV programming?
Netflix, which earlier this year introduced a three-tier subscription price, began streaming in 2007 (when it effectively decimated the video/DVD rental industry), in 2013, it began producing original content, solidifying its dominance in the streaming world, and eventually became a viable alternative as consumers stopped cable provider subscriptions, opting only to stream.
Today, the big three are Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, with Disney+ and AppleTV nipping at the big three’s heels. Yet, there are so many new streaming platforms it might be easily to fall into a similar trap as the cable provider one.
While it does seem inevitable that there will be customers who will eventually subscribe to several streaming services, you still have more control over what you’ll be watching than you would be hamstrung to a cable provider bundle. Nearly all streaming services can be canceled at will.
Sussing out the slew of streaming services
While HBO and Showtime streaming services, for example, offer the same premium content as on cable TV, the majority of the new services mimic the “old guard” (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime). This means that it wouldn’t make much sense to subscribe to just one to three (at the most) of the basic packages. As it is, a single “main” streaming service plus a “premium” is certainly more than enough screen time for an entire household.
The streaming services can be viewed on several platforms, i.e., Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Fire TV, Roku, X-Box, Chromecast, etc. All listed are available to stream in the US.
Here’s a look at just a few of the streaming services available, with suggestions of which might be best for you, based on what you like and are looking for to watch.
Since prices vary greatly with subscriptions and add-ons, prices indicated are the starting prices, see the service’s website for details.
The 411: In the old days, the Criterion Channel would be described as streaming “art house films,” but on the company’s website it simply describes the channel as “A Movie Lover’s Dream,” It features, the website said, more than 1,000 (yet a search on Thursday revealed “All films” showing 2536 results) “important” classic and contemporary films, plus a “constantly refreshed selection of Hollywood, international, art house and independent films from major studios and dozens of independent distributors.” There’s also an online magazine called “The Current,” with essays, features, interviews, analysis and more, updated daily. Cost is monthly. Annual fee is $100.
Choose if: You favor art-house and indie films
To Watch: The Gamblers, 18 films focused on, well, gamblers. Check out The Best of The Marx Brothers and The Marx Brothers Home Movies Collection, which needs no explanation.
Misses: Comparatively limited library.
The 411: Replaces the former CBS All Access. In addition to CBS series, look for programming from Viacom channels such as MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon. Price is monthly for commercial free. Ad supported Paramount+ is $6/monthly. Enter the code YEAR for a 50% discount
Choose if: You want a pay service that will interest a range of ages.
To Watch: Classic TV shows, including one of the best, “Frasier,” Trevor Noah on “The Daily Show” and Paramount films 45 days after theatrical release (this means look for “Mission Impossible 7” later this year.
Misses: Needs a “My List” or a way to keep track of and save shows you want to watch later.
The 411: AT&T TV describes itself as “the best of live TV and on demand.” With AT&T TV you can stream live local and national channels on all screens. You can watch via an AT&T streaming device or use your own compatible device. Gives members access to more than 7,000 apps including HBO Max. Google Play on the AT&T TV streaming device gives access to HBO Max, Prime Video and Netflix. It offers unlimited hours of Cloud DVR recordings for $10/monthly. Price is the lowest-priced package (90 channels) and is monthly. The other two packages are $95 (130 channels) and $140 (more than 140 as well as live channels).
Choose if: You really liked the model of plans you had with cable TV and you really like sports.
To Watch: The Cooking Channel and Comedy.tv
Misses: A lot of sports, and comparatively the same if not pricier (you need to get the internet additionally and separately).
The 411: There are two separate Acorn services, one subscription is exclusive to Amazon Prime members and the other is a standard subscription. While BritBox and Acorn both purport to offer the best in British TV, Acorn predates BritBox. Acorn began streaming in 2011. It might be difficult to choose between the two (less so for Prime members since it’s a quick add-on to service), they both offer robust programming. Both ways of subscribing to Acorn feature the same shows. Acorn doesn’t have quite as many programs as BritBox and some of their programming includes older shows that are included on Prime Video or on the streaming service Tubi. A yearly subscription is $60.
Choose if: You’re interested in British programming, but don’t mind shows from Australia, Canada, and other European countries to mix it up.
Misses: It has 327 titles, as opposed to competitor BritBox’s 415; more overlapping shows (from other services) than BritBox.
Amazon Prime Video
The 411: In addition to benefits on the Amazon site (Prime shipping, etc), there are prime originals and exclusives: Look through the programming lineup and if you see at least seven you’re excited to watch, this may be the service for you. Also available in more than 240 countries and has 90 million subscribers. An Amazon Prime subscription includes the ad-supported streaming channel IMDB TV (which means the well-done and enjoyable IMDB original, “Alex Rider,” despite commercial interruptions).
Choose if: You only want one streaming service with a truly variety of choices (and you want free shipping when you shop on Amazon).
To watch: Amazon Prime has several original shows to watch and recommend. The following excellent examples are a few addictive favorites, and cover procedurals, modern sci-fi, wild fantasies, quirky superheroes, and bitingly funny comedies: “Bosch,” “Sneaky Pete,” “Carnival Row,” “Good Omens,” “The Boys,” “Upload,” “The Man in the High Castle,” “The Tick,” “Fleabag,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Wayne,” “His Dark Materials,” “Lore,” “The Vast of Night,” “Hannah,” “Fortitude,” “Tales from the Loop,” and “Catastrophe.”
Completed originals, all excellent, still available to watch: “One Mississippi” “Red Oaks,” “Tin Star,” “Doctor Thorne,” “Goliath” (Seasons 1 and 2).
Amazon Prime misses: “I Love Dick,” “Homecoming,” “The Lie,” “Chemical Hearts,” “The Romanoffs” (thumbs-up only for episode seven, “From Russia with Love”), “Making the Cut” and “Goliath” (Season 3).
The 411: Arriving last year, with a good deal of fanfare, Apple TV+ can be viewed on Apple devices through an app and a subscription is good for five family members. It is available in subscription bundles and a student plan. It can be viewed on Apple TV, iPhone, iPad, Mac, AirPlay, PlayStation, XBox, Roku, Fire TV, Samsung Smart TV, LG Smart TV, Vizio, Sony, and PCs (but only on a web browser).
Apple Originals Some of the notable (i.e. promoted) shows of the 49 available originals include “The Morning Show” (Steve Carrell, Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon), “Dear…,” “Oprah Talks,” “Oprah’s Book Club,” “The Oprah Conversation,” “Greyhound” (Tom Hanks), “Trying” (Rafe Spall), and “On the Rocks” (Bill Murray, Rashida Jones).
Choose if: You are a die-hard Apple or Oprah fan.
To Watch: “Long Way Up,” the third in a series starring Ewan McGregor’s and Charley Boorman’s insane 13K mile motorcycle journey (their previous rides were 20K and 15K, respectively).
Misses: Android users are unsupported.
The 411: All British programming all the time, created by BBC and ITV. Having BritBox quite replicates the experience of watching television in the UK. BritBox offers next-day viewing for Brit soaps, like “Eastenders,” “Emmerdale,” and “Coronation Street.” You can subscribe directly through BritBox or through Amazon Prime.
Choose if: You can’t enough of those procedural, droll comedies, and poignant documentaries. You like the idea of one fee, for one year ($70).
The 411: Disney television shows and films, Disney classics, Pixar, Marvel, National Geographic programming
Choose if: You love Disney programming, want many options for family-friendly viewing, “Star Wars” franchise, “The World According to Jeff Goldblum.”
Misses: If you have someone in your household who wants to watch “Moana” daily (and you don’t).
The 411: full-length stage plays and musicals. A one-time annual subscription fee is $100.
Choose if: Your inner “theater kid” still exists.
The 411: Sports. All kinds. An enhanced version, ESPN+ is also available for an additional fee.
Choose if: You are a sports fan.
Misses: Not for those who don’t like sports.
The 411: Mimics cable-TV providers. FuboTV offers packages (The Family Plan with 117 channels $65/monthly, 250 hours of Cloud DVR, and three screens; FuboTV Elite with 162 channels, 1,000 hours of cloud DVR space and five screens $80/monthly, fubo Latino, 32 channels, 250 hours cloud DVR and two screens ), and add-on features ($5 to $29/month).
Originals to watch: N/A
Choose if: You’re cool with a minimal choice of pre-programmed packages.
Misses: No originals.
The 411: All HBO programming, plus feature films and “Max Originals.”
Choose if: You grew accustomed and addicted to HBO when you had cable service.
Misses: It’s pricey for a single “channel’s” worth of programming.
The 411: When Hulu debuted in 2007, its marked difference from fiercest competitor Netflix is that it offered network television shows to watch on demand. It’s only available in the US and Japan and has 30 million subscribers. Hulu is $6/month, $60/year; ad-free Hulu is $12/month and for $55/monthly you get Hulu + Live TV without ads, this package is $61). Premium channels are available for add on.
Fun fact: Hulu’s name comes from Mandarin Chinese (“bottle gourd” and “interactive recording”).
Originals to watch: A new “Animaniacs,” “The Handmaid’s Tale” (be forewarned that by the end of season three, the storyline loops around and recycles), “Shrill,” “The Great.”
Choose if: You want both Hulu originals as well as network TV.
Completed originals, still available to watch: Includes the highly recommended “Normal People,” “11.22.63,” “Shut Eye,” “Castle Rock,” “Mrs. America,” “Difficult People,” “Casual,” “High Fidelity,” “Harlots,” “Hard Sun,” “Palm Springs,” “Big Time Adolescence,” “Too Funny to Fail,” “Tiny Shoulders,” “Minding the Gap,” “Untouchable,” “I Am Greta,” “Chance.”
Misses: “Freakish,” “Reprisal,” “All Night.”
The 411: Perhaps the most identifiable of the big three, Netflix was introduced in 2007 as a mail DVD rental service. It has since evolved into No. 1 streaming service and quickly evolved into a catch phrase (“Netflix and chill”). It’s had more time to establish itself, and present more original programming than other streaming services. It has 130 million subscribers.
Originals to watch: So many! “Stranger Things,” “Ozark,” “The Crown,” season one of “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” “The Umbrella Academy,” “Queen’s Gambit,” “Dash & Lily,” “Russian Doll,” “After Life,” “Dead to Me,” “The Politician,” “Gentefied,” “The Duchess,” “Jack Whitehall: Travels with My Father.”
Choose if: You’re already hooked on the originals or you’re just weaning off of cable TV.
Completed originals, still available to watch: “Mindhunter,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “Love” if you can handle the cringe factor, “Flaked,” “Lady Dynamite,” “Friends from College,” “Unorthodox,” “The Making of a Murderer,” “The Keepers,” “Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer,” “Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez,” “The Family,” “The Pharmacist,” “Tiger King,” “The Rain,” and “Dark.” The last two are Danish and German, respectively, and are subtitled, or, you can opt for the slightly off putting dubbed English.
Misses: By far “Haters Back Off” leads this category, followed by “The OA.”
The 411: The NBCUniversal service is free, but ad-supported, and can be streamed on a number of devices. You can upgrade to ad-free Premium ($5) or Premium Plus ($10). Shows feature past and present NBCl, Bravo, and Telemundo programming, including drama, comedies, sports and news, as well as movies from Universal, DreamWorks Animation and Focus Features exclusive to Peacock (i.e. “American Pie,” and “Bourne” films and more.)
Originals: New “Saved by the Bell,” “Save Me Too,” second season of “Save Me,” live news programming, sports-talk programming.
Originals to watch: “The Office,” the new, weekly “Wilmore,” starring Larry Wilmore, formerly of “The Daily Show,” and “The Amber Ruffin Show.” Ruffin, a writer on”Late Night with Seth Meyers,” whose “Amber Says What?” introduced her to TV audiences.
The 411: Unless you are truly economical about your TV viewing (and your personal budget), Showtime streaming is likely to be an “add-on” to one of the larger streaming services. It’s available to stream across the US and there are several ways to subscribe, through Showtime.com. There are no contracts, and subscriptions are monthly.
To watch: In addition to movies (some exclusive to Showtime), the service has original show lineups; the best known may be the very long-running US-version of “Shameless,” and the final season starts Dec. 6. There’s also the heralded “Billions,” and “Back to Life,” too.
Completed series still available: The excellent “Episodes,“ “Nurse Jackie,”
“Homeland” (which is both engaging and frustrating, thanks to lead Carrie, played by Clare Danes), “Weeds,” “Ray Donovan,” seasons one to five of the hit-and-miss “The Affair,” “The Borgias,” “Escape at Dannemora,” “The Circus,” “The Brotherhood,” “House of Lies,” the quirky “Patrick Melrose,” “The Big C,” and “Californication.” “The United States of Tara” was hit and miss, but Toni Collette is great, as always). There’s also “Masters of Sex” (and not just because the front of my house has a cameo). And, a couple of controversial choices, “Penny Dreadful City of Angels,” and “Web Therapy.”
Choose if: You are a “Dexter” fan, because it’s coming back in a new limited series, ideal for fans who were dissatisfied with the original series’ ending. It may also be worth it to tune into the edgy, clever and decidedly dark “Black Monday,” starring Don Cheadle; the first and second seasons are available now, and the third season begins production next year. Programming can be found here.
Misses: “Our Cartoon President,” “Roadies,” “Dice” and “Kidding” (even though it was primarily filmed at the end of my block).
The 411: SLING TV streaming closely models cable TV provider services, but with the ability for some customization. Available throughout the US, a rep describes SLING TV as designed for cable customers looking ” to cut the cord on their traditional pay-TV provider in favor of a flexible live TV streaming experience.” Sling TV has a variety of packages (i.e. 30 channels or 50 channels, etc.) As of last week, the rep said the service has 2.46 million subscribers. Somewhat complicated Black Friday deals are available, too. Price reflects the starting price.
Choose if: You’re comfortable with the lineups you had with your cable TV provider, but want the ability to add specific channels to suit your needs.
The 411: The bluestocking of this group. Rather than subscription packages, Vudu features movies and TV for rental ($1 to $6) or purchase ($5 to $25). Offers a free service, Vudu Movies on Us. Features a service to turn your Blu-rays or DVDs to digital ($2). Created by Walmart, bought by Fandango earlier this year.
Originals to watch: N/A
Choose if: You watch TV and movies infrequently. You miss the days of perusing and carefully choosing what to watch at the DVD rental shop.
Completed originals, still available to watch: N/A
Misses: Unlike other inclusive streaming, if you don’t like what you chose and rented/purchased, you’ve paid for it and you either watch or take the $ loss.