En español | Not only are television screens getting larger, but the tally of must-watch shows is increasing across a growing number of streaming services.
By now everyone is familiar with streaming pioneers Netflix, the first to begin streaming in 2007, and Amazon Prime and Hulu, which both started streaming the next year. Now, because faster internet speeds now allow for video replays in large swaths of the country, more companies want to tap into that market.
Consumers have more options, but if you’re paying monthly charges for several streaming services, it can add up. Many offer free trial periods but require a credit card to sign up. Keep in mind that you will be charged automatically if you don’t cancel the subscription before the free trial ends.
On the plus side, streaming allows viewers to select programs to watch on their own time, and enables them to play, pause, rewind, easily turn on subtitles or even change the language of a show. Instead of making viewers wait a full week for a new episode, an entire season is often made available at once.
“The positive of the contemporary television environment is the sheer richness of content out there, of new material, and the easy availability of watching entire runs of shows 10, 20, 50 years old,” says Josh Jackson, assistant director of the media studies program at the University of California, Berkeley. “The downside is the research that has to go into determining who’s playing what and which $15-a-month streaming service is the best match for you.”
Cable TV channels will continue to exist because “they serve their parent corporations a unique economic opportunity,” he says. “Broadcast television is still the primary vehicle for advertisers to reach a massive audience quickly.”
But much of television relies on advertisers who prioritize viewers ages 18 to 49, and content is created to appeal to that age group.
“A subscription-based television environment that’s more concerned with numbers of subscribers and less concerned with demographics might provide a greater variety of shows that might value and target an older audience, because their appeal to advertisers isn’t part of the equation,” Jackson says.
As we enter the colder months and have fewer opportunities to socialize outside our homes because of the pandemic, the information below may help you navigate this new and complicated world.
Comparing Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Netflix
If you aren’t already familiar with Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and Netflix, all three services provide a variety of original shows and films, some of which have won top awards. Each platform carries additional movie and television options that were broadcast on the silver and small screens, but they differ in a few ways.
- Amazon Prime Video, at $8.99 a month, is ad-free and does not require an Amazon Prime account. But even without a Prime Video subscription, you can rent or buy newly released television and movies individually.
- Hulu, at $5.99 a month, has the cheapest subscription, but ads will interrupt its video. It carries new episodes from some broadcast TV shows the day after they air. This includes content from ABC and Fox, which don’t have their own subscription services.
- Netflix basic membership, like Amazon Prime, is $8.99 a month and is ad-free
What is it? Apple TV+’s programs include the Emmy award-winning The Morning Show, Jennifer Anniston’s return to TV; Greyhound, a film featuring Tom Hanks; and Helpsters, from the makers of Sesame Street. Newly released programs include The Oprah Conversation; On the Rocks, a comedy written and directed by Sofia Coppola starring Rashida Jones and Bill Murray; and Long Way Up, motorcycle adventure documentary.
The service has no ads, and Apple has said it will come out with original programming monthly.
How to access: The content can be played through the Apple TV app, available on most Apple products and most smart TVs, and on Amazon Fire TV, PS4, Roku and Xbox One.
Price: One-week free trial, then $4.99 a month. A year of the service comes free with the purchase of a new Apple TV, iPad, iPhone, iPod touch or Mac.
What is it? BET+ provides a collection of dramas, movies and sitcoms featuring Black culture, with more than 1,000 hours of ad-free viewing. This includes exclusive programming such as documentaries, originals from Tyler Perry and specials from BET Networks.
How to access: You can subscribe to BET+ through its website or add it to your Amazon Prime Video account. It can be viewed on Android or Apple devices, Roku, and the web.
Price: One-week free trial, then $9.99 a month.
CBS All Access
What is it? Users can stream shows from BET, CBS, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon and the Smithsonian Channel; live television from your local CBS station, CBS News, CBS Sports, and Entertainment Tonight Live 24/7; and an array of original programs such as Star Trek: Picard and Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic The Stand.
How to access: CBS All Access is available on Android and Apple devices, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, PS4, most smart TVs, the web and Xbox One.
Price: One-week free trial, then $5.99 a month or more.
What is it? Disney, which oversees Marvel, National Geographic, Pixar and the Star Wars franchise, provides thousands of movies, including the Broadway production of Hamilton, and shows to stream.
Programming includes documentaries, films and series for subscribers of all ages. Popular original programs include Star Wars The Mandalorian; High School Musical: The Musical: The Series; and the nature documentary Elephant.
How to access: Disney+ is available on Android or Apple devices, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, most smart TVs, PS4, the web and Xbox One.
Price: It no longer offers a free trial. The service is $6.99 a month, $69.99 a year, or bundled with ESPN+ and Hulu for $12.99 a month.
What is it? In addition to all of HBO’s programming, HBO Max features iconic shows, such as Friends and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and original programming, including the sci-fi series Raised by Wolves and the coming-of-age drama film Charm City Kings.
Plus HBO Max has more than 10,000 hours of curated content, including third-party licensed movies and program favorites from Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, CNN, Crunchyroll, DC, Looney Tunes, New Line, Rooster Teeth, TBS, TNT, truTV, Turner Classic Movies, Warner Bros. and more.
How to access: Programs can be streamed on Android or Apple devices, Chromecast, PS4, the web and Xbox One.
Price: One-week free trial, then $14.99 a month.
What is it? Peacock includes shows from MSNBC and NBC, such as the third season of A.P. Bio, which first premiered on broadcast television; a reboot of Battlestar Galactica; and Brave New World, based on the Aldous Huxley novel. The service’s film catalogue includes some classic franchises and recent hits that appeal to a variety of ages.
How to access: Android and Apple smart devices, AppleTV, Chromecast, PS4, Roku, most smart TVs, the web and Xbox One.
Price: Peacock is free but has commercials. For $4.99 a month after a one-week free trial, you can get extra movie options, next-day access to NBC programming, and live sports. For $9.99 a month, you can watch ad-free and get access to select titles you can watch offline on mobile.
For the sports junkie
Finding the correct channel to watch your favorite team can be a frustrating task, especially right before a big game. Fortunately, streaming provides options for sports fans, too.
- ESPN+ can be streamed for $5.99 a month and offers live events, original shows and acclaimed programs such as the entire 30 for 30 documentary library.
- fuboTV, at $54.99 a month, is one of the more expensive but most comprehensive options for sports fans. It features all the major broadcast networks, national sports league channels and even some entertainment options. It comes with DVR on the “cloud,” meaning you can record and watch programs from anywhere at any time without purchasing additional equipment.
- You can add sports packages to existing streaming subscriptions from Hulu, Peacock, Sling TV and YouTube TV.
A different type of streaming
If you’re looking to ditch cable or satellite TV altogether, there are a variety of options that provide live channels, often for less than a cable subscription.
Editor’s note: This article, originally published Oct. 4, 2019, has been updated to reflect new information.