According to a recent report, American cord-cutters — those who have severed ties with traditional cable or satellite plans — now number about 50.4 million. But even if you haven’t fully taken the plunge, you probably subscribe to at least one streaming platform, such as Amazon Prime Video, Hulu or Netflix. The streaming revolution has led to an explosion of new content and saved many of us big bucks on cable bills, but let’s face it: It can get complicated! Which services can you watch for free? And which are worth your money? Should I be bundling? What is bundling? Are there any deals I’m missing out on? These seven tips will help you make sense of the streamers, learn about niche services to add to your bingeing repertoire and, we hope, save you some bucks.
1. Consider bundling
Much like shopping at Costco or Sam’s Club, there are deals to be had when you buy in bulk. Take, for instance, the Disney Bundle, which gets you access to Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ for $13.99 a month. If you subscribed to each separately, that would cost $21.97, so bundling results in a savings of 36 percent. Similarly, you can bundle Paramount+ and Showtime for only $9.99 a month or $12.99 for the premium plan, which also includes live access to your local CBS station and no ads on streaming content.
2. Check if streaming is included with your cable subscription
If you haven’t officially cut the cord, there’s a good chance that you may already have access to a few great streaming services. HBO, for one, offers HBO Max access to most of its existing customers (you can check the handy “Do I already have access to HBO Max?” guide to confirm). Showtime, similarly, provides most traditional subscribers access to its Showtime Anytime app.
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3. Cut costs by sitting through a few commercials
We’re sure you’ve heard of the big three streamers (Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and Netflix), but did you know there are a ton of free ad-supported options out there? So while you may have to watch a few commercials, you don’t have to pay a dime. Think of the following sites as noncombatants in the streaming wars.
The Roku Channel: You may be familiar with Roku as a streaming device, like an Amazon Fire TV Stick, but the brand also has a channel of free content, which includes original shows from the dearly departed Quibi app. This winter the channel premiered Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas, a follow-up to NBC’s canceled musical dramedy Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.
Peacock: NBCUniversal’s year-old streaming service includes a totally free tier, which offers access to movies, TV shows (including Downton Abbey) and Peacock originals, such as the Punky Brewster reboot. There’s plenty to watch for free, but there’s also a paid premium tier that allows you to unlock more content.
Pluto TV: While this free streaming service also includes a library of on-demand movies, such as the James Bond franchise, it’s notable for its refreshingly old-school format. Meant to reduce decision fatigue, the service is set up like a traditional TV: You can flip through thematic channels (TV Land Sitcoms, Black Cinema) and drop in on whatever’s playing. And because this is a digital library, if you like what you see, you can always restart from the beginning.
Sling Free: You’ll find a robust collection of bingeable shows, such as 3rd Rock from the Sun, Grace Under Fire, 21 Jump Street and The Commish, plus movies and live news. The service also allows subscribers to add premium channels or rent first-run films.
Tubi: With more than 20,000 movies and TV series, Tubi calls itself the largest library of streaming content. It’s recently started releasing original content, such as the adult animated series The Freak Brothers, which features the voices of Woody Harrelson, John Goodman and Tiffany Haddish.
IMDb TV: Launched in 2019, this ad-supported service is the streaming home of Mad Men and loads of TV classics, and it’s branching out with new original shows, including the crime drama Leverage: Redemption and the Judge Judy follow-up, Judy Justice.
Vudu: You can buy or rent films from this Fandango-owned streaming service, but the site also offers a selection of free options; the choices may not be as A-list as those found on some other streamers, but you can still find hidden gems such as Carol, Pumping Iron and Melancholia.
4. See if your mobile provider has any partnership deals
Did you know that your cellphone plan may include complimentary subscriptions to streaming services? A number of the country’s top providers have exclusive partnerships that could end up saving you quite a bit of money. Depending on their plan, some T-Mobile customers get access to Netflix, Paramount+ and Apple TV+. Sprint Unlimited includes a Hulu subscription, and eligible AT&T Unlimited plans come with HBO Max. Finally, many Verizon Wireless customers can get the entire Disney Bundle, a year of Discovery+ and six to 12 months of AMC+.
5. Focus on the entertainment you love
Services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video boast expansive content libraries that can often feel overwhelming when you’re trying to pick something to watch. If you find yourself gravitating toward the same types of content every night (say, documentaries or arthouse films), you may want to consider switching to a more niche streaming service dedicated to a specific genre. Options include the Criterion Channel ($10.99 a month), featuring more than 1,000 classic and contemporary films; Shudder ($5.99 a month), focused on horror and supernatural; Dekkoo ($9.99 a month), for LGBTQ-themed movies, shorts and TV shows; and ALLBLK ($4.99/month), offering “entertainment that’s inclusively, but unapologetically, Black.”
6. Take advantage of the public library
If you’re a member of your local library (and, of course, you should be), you may already have access to a free streaming service called Kanopy, which offers thousands of movies, including Moonlight, Chinatown, Breathless and Parasite. We're particularly impressed by their catalog of early films, including Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and Buster Keaton's The General. Not every public library system in the U.S. subscribes to the service, so be sure to chat with your librarian or check if you have access on the website.
7. Think about rotating your services
OK, this money-saving measure requires a bit of planning, but hear us out. If you subscribe to a streamer for only one or two shows per year, you can always cancel the subscription between seasons and re-up after the full season airs. After your quick full-season binge, cancel again until new episodes drop. Remember that most streamers also offer free trial periods of about a week up to a full month, so if you’re a new customer, you can plan a binge before having to shell out a penny.
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.