Streaming services are as popular as ever, but all of the options can be overwhelming. This guide … [+] will help you determine which streaming subscription is right for you.
With the rollout this month of Disney+ and Apple TV+, the streaming wars have been joined.
While Netflix used to reign supreme when it came to an at-home streaming subscription, there are now so many strong options to choose from that it’s hard to keep track. The concept of ditching cable and going to streaming-only, known as “cutting the cord,” was once seen as a way to save on the hefty prices charged by cable providers. But now, with so many tempting services available—offering not only libraries of old movies and TV shows but also original, highly reviewed new content, too—streaming itself can easily become a budget buster.
To help you pick the right services for your tastes and budget,we review the major offerings below, including info on content, cost (including for premium channel add-ons), and also how many users per account you’re allowed. And before you sign up for any service, consider these four tips:
Be realistic about what you’ll actually watch and how often. Some services offer dozens of channels, shows or movies to watch. If you’re like most of us, there’s way more on any service than you’ll ever have time to watch. So create a list of what programming you (or others in your family) are likely to watch on a regular basis. You may find the right service for you isn’t the most expensive one or the one with the most programing.
If you’re going to bundle up, do the math first. Many streaming services offer add-ons for premium content from networks like Showtime, HBO or Starz. If having access to these networks is important to you, one or another streaming service could save you money compared to purchasing subscriptions to those services on their own.
Check for cashback deals before signing up. Currently, Rakuten is offering cash back while signing up for select subscription services. For example, Rakuten is offering $10 cash back on Disney+ annual subscriptions, $7.50 cash back on Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ monthly Bundle Subscriptions and $5 back on the Disney+ monthly subscription.
Pay for your subscription with a credit card that offers extra cash back or points on streaming. There are multiple credit cards that offer extra rewards for streaming subscriptions as a card benefit. For example, the American Express Blue Cash Preferred card offers 6% cash back including Prime Video, HBO Now, Hulu, Netflix and more. And, of course, the Apple credit card offers 3% cash back on Apple TV+.
More reading: The Best Credit Cards For Millennials
More reading: The Apple Credit Card Review
Guide to the Top Streaming Services
Amazon Prime Video
Prime Video is a powerful subscription service offered through the e-commerce giant. The service’s ability to bundle other big-name streaming services with its membership makes it an alluring choice for consumers who want freedom and flexibility in creating their own unique, one-stop-shop streaming subscription.
Cost: Free with Amazon Prime membership ($119 per year); Non-Prime members can subscribe to a video-only membership for $8.99 per month—-in other words, they pay almost as much on an annual basis as Prime members, without getting the other Prime benefits, such as free shipping. Both Prime and non-Prime members can also rent selected titles at a cost-per-basis.
What it comes with: Access to a library of TV shows and content, including Emmy winning Amazon originals such as Fleabag and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Access to additional content through other streaming services, which Amazon calls channels (including CBS All Access, HBO, Showtime, Starz, Cinemax and sports networks) can be purchased for an additional fee per channel, per month. (Fees vary from $4.99 to $14.99 a month.)
Number of users per account: Users can stream up to three videos at the same time using the same Amazon account.
Apple recently gave itself an edge in the streaming wars by announcing Apple TV+, its subscription service that offers premium original content. To become relevant against competitors, its contracted for original content from some of the best creators in the entertainment industry including M. Night Shyamalan, Oprah, Francis Lawrence and the creators of The Muppets. Consumers who have to be up-to-date with the latest and greatest in shows will find Apple TV+ appealing.
Subscribers don’t need an Apple product to watch Apple TV+; it’s also compatible with Samsung Smart TVs, Roku Players and TVs and FireTV.
Cost: $4.99 per month after a free seven-day trial; one year free with the purchase of an Apple product (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Mac or Apple TV); included for free with an Apple Music Student Plan ($4.99 per month.)
What it comes with: Access to original content from Apple, including Oprah’s Book Club, The Morning Show, Snoopy in Space and more. Content offerings are slim for now, but Apple promises more content to come.
Number of users per account: Six users per account and six simultaneous streams at a time.
CBS All Access
CBS All Access is the only streaming provider that has an exclusive deal with the NFL, which runs through 2022. Consumers who want the ability to watch live football and other programming without having to be tied into a cable subscription will find CBS All Access a decent choice. The service plans on offering original, streaming-only content in the future.
Cost: $5.99 per month or $59.99 per year with ads; $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year, ad-free.
What it comes with: Access to more than 10,000 episodes of CBS programming (including current seasons); live NFL games including pregame and halftime coverage; access to live TV (including CBS local affiliates in select markets).
Number of users per account: Only two simultaneous streams at a time.
AT&T TV Now
AT&T TV Now offers an extensive list of channels available to stream 24/7. For an additional fee each month, subscribers can add on premium channels like Showtime and Starz. This is a service best suited for consumers who don’t want to be locked into an annual cable contract but still want access to premium channels.
Cost: $45 per month for a Plus subscription with 45+ channels and HBO included; $70 per month for a Max subscription with 60+ channels and HBO and Cinemax included.
What it comes with: Access to popular TV networks including ABC, CNN, Comedy Central, Disney Channel, NBC, Nickelodeon, HBO and more. The service also offers a “cloud DVR” that lets subscribers record up to 20 hours of programming at a time.
Number of users per account: Only two simultaneous streams are possible at once, but a third can be added for an additional $5 per month.
Disney caused quite the stir when it announced it would be releasing its own streaming service, Disney+; the service had an astonishing 10 million sign-ups in its first day alone. Not only does the service capitalize on nostalgia by being the only place where consumers can stream Disney original movies and TV shows, but it also offers Marvel and Star Wars content. Disney+ is best suited for families and has a wide range of content for both children and adults.
Cost: $6.99 per month with a free 7-day trial; $12.99 per month for included access to Hulu and ESPN+.
What it comes with: Access to the Disney Vault, which includes classic movies and content from Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic. The service also has Disney+ original content not available anywhere else, such as The Mandalorian.
Number of users per account: Up to seven user profiles per account, and up to four simultaneous streams allowed per account.
Sports fans who are loyal to ESPN and its original content can turn to ESPN+ for their fix if they choose to ditch a standard cable provider that offers it as a network. This service is best for viewers who enjoy the value of ESPN commentary and its original storytelling, but is a better value if you purchase it with a Disney+ membership.
Cost: $4.99 per month; $12.99 per month for included access to Hulu and Disney+.
What it comes with: Access to live sports events from the MLB, NHL, NSL, Top Rank Boxing and more. UFC fights can be purchased on an event-basis. The service also offers ESPN original content like shows about Fantasy Football league analyses and original documentaries.
Number of users per account: Up to three simultaneous streams per account.
FuboTV is a sports-focused streaming service that has additional programming to make it a well-rounded option. With all of its optional add ons, however, it’s one of the more expensive streaming services available. It’s best suited for sports fanatics who want the flexibility of sports programming with regular TV networks.
Cost: $59.99 per month for its family package; $74.99 per month for its Ultra package, plus $5 off Showtime for the first three months; $19.99 per month for its Latino Quarterly package. Subscribers can add its SportsPlus option for an additional $10.99 per month to receive NFL Redzone programming.
What it comes with: Access to live sports and TV including college sports, NFL Network, Tennis Channel, Fight Network, Fox, NBC, Comedy Central, CNN, Showtime and more. Subscribers have access to a cloud DVR that allows up to 500 hours worth of recordings to be stored at a time.
Number of users per account: Two simultaneous streams allowed per account, but one additional stream can be added for an additional $5.99 per month.
HBO is known for its stellar original programs, such as Game of Thrones. Until recently, accessing HBO meant paying for a costly add-on to a cable subscription. HBO Now is the network’s solution for customers who want to access its signature programming without being tied to a cable bill.
Cost: $14.99 per month after a free 7-day trial
What it comes with: Access to HBO content including live streaming of TV premiers.
Number of users per account: Three simultaneous streams allowed per account.
Hulu was one of the first streaming services to offer live streaming; however, the basic tier of service omes with the burden of having to sit through ads. Consumers who don’t want the live TV option are better off getting Hulu with a Disney+ subscription plan that runs at $12.99 per month.
Cost: $5.99 per month after a one month free trial; Hulu + Live TV costs $44.99 per month with a free 7-day trial.
What it comes with: The most basic $5.99 a month plan comes with access to the Hulu streaming library, which includes movies and original content, such as the Handmaid’s Tale. However, there are ads. The next tier up offers movies, original content, limited ads, 50 hours of cloud DVR storage and the ability to watch live TV. Services like HBO and Showtime can be added on for an additional cost each month.
Number of users per account: Standard streaming allotment of two different screens at one time; Live TV subscribers can purchase the Unlimited Screens Add-on for an additional $9.99 per month to have unlimited streams while connected to your home network, and up to three mobile devices; premium content from HBO, Cinemax, STARZ and Showtime will be limited to a total of five screens (in or out of the home network) at once.
The original streaming service is still reigning supreme, even as competitors such as Disney have yanked their programming from the platform. Netflix is a great pick for consumers who love spending time binging shows or movies and don’t need special add-ons from HBO, sports networks or live programming.
Cost: Basic subscription costs $8.99 per month; Standard costs $12.99 per month; Premium costs $15.99 per month. All tiers come with a free 30-day trial.
What it comes with: Access to a variety of TV shows and movies, including Netflix originals. The difference in the subscription tiers is how many devices can stream simultaneously (one, two and four, respectively).
Number of users per account: Basic plans allows streaming on one device at a time; Standard allows streaming on two devices at a time; Premium allows streaming on four devices at a time.
Showtime’s streaming option is most cost-effective when it’s purchased as an add-on through another streaming service, such as Amazon Prime Video or Hulu. For individuals who only want to watch specific Showtime programming, such as “Shameless” and “The Chi” and don’t have those two subscription services, purchasing the streaming on its own will make sense.
Cost: $10.99 per month after a free 7-day trial.
What it comes with: Subscribing for Showtime on its own comes with access to all of its original series, on demand. The streaming service is compatible with a variety of streaming devices including Roku devices, iPhones, iPads, Amazon Fire TV and more.
Number of users per account: Three simultaneous streams allowed per account.
Individuals who want network programming without being tied to a cable provider will like Sling TV’s low-cost offerings. Though Sling TV offers additional channels in bundles of four for a discounted price, individuals should calculate the additional costs before signing up; depending on what you want, a competitor service might end up costing less.
Cost: $15 per month for Sling Orange or Sling Blue; $25 per month for both.
What it comes with: Sling Orange and Sling Blue differ in the channels they offer, but include networks like ESPN, AMC, Comedy Central, CNN, Bravo, NBC and more (depending on which one you sign up for.) Additional channels can be purchased in bundles of four for an additional $10 per month.
Number of users per account: Orange plans allows streaming on one device at a time; Blue plan allows streaming on three devices at a time; Combining Sling Orange and Sling Blue allows up streaming on four devices at a time (these are sold separately, not as a bundle.)
Similar to Showtime, Starz is a streaming service that’s offered with plenty of other streaming services; purchasing it on its own only makes sense for individuals who want strictly Starz programming and nothing else.
Cost: $8.99 per month after a free 7-day trial.
What it comes with: Access to popular series and movies including “American Gods” and “Jumanji.”
Number of users per account: Simultaneous streaming on up to four devices at a time.
YouTube TV is pricey, but gives subscribers access to more than 70 channels and includes live TV programming. The service is available for streaming on a variety of devices including iPhones, tablets, Rokus, Amazon Fire TVs, Xbox Ones and more. Ads are shown with the regular TV programming streamed through YouTube TV.
Cost: $49.99 per month
What it comes with: Access to 70+ live TV channels including ESPN, ABC, CBS, Fox and regional networks.
Number of users per account: One membership can have up to six accounts.