Not only are television screens getting larger, but the number of must-watch shows is increasing across a growing assortment of on-demand streaming video services intent on persuading you to cut your cable TV cord.
For those looking to ditch cable TV in favor of saving some money through subscription streaming services, a change is coming that may affect that strategy.
On Oct. 12, Disney, the parent company of Hulu and ESPN, raised the price of some of its subscription options. Apple+, Netflix, Paramount+, Peacock and Starz also had price hikes over the course of the year.
Though everyone is familiar with streaming pioneers Netflix, the first in 2007, and Amazon Prime and Hulu, with so many evolving streaming options, choosing the right budget-friendly platform can be challenging. See our breakdown to help you determine the best streaming platform for your needs.
What is a streaming service?
Unlike cable television, streaming services don’t charge fees for installation or for starting or canceling service. That’s because streaming platforms offer on-demand movies and TV shows over the internet. The only requirement is a reliable internet connection and a compatible device such as a smartphone, TV, tablet, computer or gaming console.
So you can subscribe for just a month — as long as you remember to cancel before the next billing cycle — and resubscribe later when the platform repopulates with new viewing choices.
Another option is bundling, which allows you to pay one price for two or three streaming platforms. This could lower your costs, but only if you like enough shows on every service in the bundle.
Or you can try downloading free ad-supported video-on-demand (AVOD) services, which offer all their programming for free with ads. Though they might not provide the newest movies and TV shows, they do offer many timeless classics.
Ways to keep costs in check
For consumers, more options can mean more temptation, kind of like the by-the-pound buffet at the grocery store. To keep your budget in line, ask yourself:
- How many hours of TV do I want to watch in a month?
- Does a new service have enough shows I like to be worthwhile?
- What are a service’s terms of cancellation?
Some companies offer a free trial period, which can help you assess their programming, but they require a credit card to sign up. Keep in mind that you will be charged automatically if you don’t cancel your subscription before the free trial ends.
Amazon Prime Video vs. Netflix
Netflix reigns over Amazon Prime Video as the streaming service with the most subscribers, based on estimates through June 2023, according to Statista Consumer Insights. Disney+ and Hulu are third and fourth, respectively. Disney has been the majority owner of Hulu since 2019.
Both Amazon and Netflix provide original shows and films, some of which have won top awards. Each platform carries additional movie and television options never broadcast on the big or small screens, but the services differ in a few ways.
- Amazon Prime Video is available at $8.99 a month. However, when signing up from the Prime Video page, you must change the default plan to standard delivery service. Users can rent or buy newly released television shows and movies individually without an Amazon subscription.
- Netflix has a membership option with ads at $6.99 a month. Some of its movies and shows are not available to subscribers on this plan because of licensing restrictions. The platform’s standard plan without ads recently increased to $15.49 a month. But video quality is not full high-definition unless you join its premium plan at $19.99 a month.
The company has cracked down on password sharing and only allows two people to stream Netflix at once on its standard plans and four on its premium option. Members may be added to an account for an additional $7.99 a month.
AARP Members Only Access
What is it? AARP Members Only Access offers exclusive and premium content for members, including a rotating selection of on-demand, full-length films and documentaries, as part of your AARP membership. Other content available includes celebrity interviews, Spotify playlists from legendary musicians, popular books and AARP Smart Guides.
How to access: Log in and create an account with aarp.org using your AARP membership number. You can view the material on your PC or Mac or cast it to a bigger screen, such as your TV.
Price: Access comes with joining AARP: $16 a year, $12 a year for automatic renewal.
What is it? Apple TV+’s latest award-winning and viral successes include Severance, a show about office workers whose memories are divided between their personal and work lives, and Ted Lasso, a comedy about a football coach leading a British soccer team. The service has no ads, and Apple says it comes out with new original programming each month.
How to access: The Apple TV app, which is available on most Apple products and most smart TVs, PS4, Roku and Xbox One.
Price: One-week free trial, then $6.99 a month. Additionally, three months of the service come free with the purchase of a new Apple device.
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: Subscribe to BET+ through its website or add it to your Amazon Prime Video account. View it on Android and Apple devices, some smart TVs and the web.
Price: With ads, one-month free trial, then $5.99 a month, or for the first year $23.99, then $54.99 a year; without ads, seven-day free trial, then $9.99 a month, or 49.99 the first year, then $94.99 a year.
What is it? Discovery+ gives users access to current and former shows from Animal Planet, CNN, Discovery Channel, Food Network, HGTV, Investigation Discovery (ID) and TLC. Exclusives and Discovery+ originals feature personalities such as the Irwin family, Jonathan and Drew Scott, Bobby Flay and more.
How to access: Amazon and Apple devices, Android TV, Chromecast, Roku, Samsung TVs, the web and Xbox. A full list is available here.
Price: With ads, $4.99 a month; without ads, $8.99 a month after a seven-day free trial.
What is it? Disney+ — which oversees Marvel, National Geographic, Pixar and the Star Wars franchise — provides thousands of movies, such as 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: Andor, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law and the nature documentary Super/Natural.
How to access: Android and Apple devices, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, most smart TVs, PS4, the web and Xbox One.
Price: No free trial. The service starts at $7.99 a month with ads or $13.99 a month to go ad-free. Disney programming may be bundled with ESPN+ and Hulu with ads for $14.99 a month or $24.99 a month without ads.