Streaming Service Showdown: What Subscriptions Do You Actually Need?

Streaming Service Showdown

Streaming media may be the face of the future, but all those subscriptions add up fast. It’s hard to know which ones are actually worth it until you’ve already handed over your credit card number. Don’t worry – we’ve collected everything you need to choose the best streaming services for getting your geek on.

Cable TV is on its way out. Viewers are losing interest in paying for things they never use, and cable TV is basically “500 channels and nothing to watch”. No one wants to drop $85 to flip channels for ten minutes before settling on HGTV reruns. (Most of the people I know who have cable fall into one of two categories: Sports Fans and Old People.) Streaming services have been filling the growing gap between cable and consumers for a while.

Now, with major players like HBO and Disney setting up their own platforms, it’s obvious that streaming media is the future. Why let DVDs take over your house when when one subscription offers a constantly updated collection of TV shows, movies, and other media?

Of course, one subscription isn’t really enough these days. It used to be that Netflix was considered the only streaming service worth paying for, and it’s still a gold standby (especially for innovative shows like Siempre Bruja). Now it seems like everyone is getting into the streaming game. Most are pretty cheap – under $20, and usually with some level of free or under-$10 option as well.

Those tiny fees add up, though. It’s easy to get carried away in excitement and wind up with a collective monthly bill much higher than a premium cable bundle. To make it easy to choose the right streaming services for you, we put together this overview of some of the best out there along with advice on how to stretch your subscription the farthest.

Netflix

Streaming Service ShowdownFor most people this is the go-to option. There’s good reason for that. Available in over 190 countries, Netflix is the OG streaming service with more than 137 million subscribers worldwide. The company works hard to stay relevant and in touch with modern pop culture. Their recommendation engine is famous for creating funny, pointed category titles to making finding something to watch easy. If there is a downside, it’s waiting until a season ends to catch up. Netflix is geared more towards binge-watching than weekly viewing.

  • What kind of content do they have?
    Stranger Things, Sens8, Black Mirror, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Riverdale, and (currently) a whole bunch of Marvel shows, plus lots of nerdy shows and movies from around the world
  • How Much Does It Cost?
    Netflix offers three plans which limit the number of devices you can use at the same time (no limit for the number used to access it in general, though!). One device will run you $7.99/ month, two goes for $10.99/month, and for $13.99 you can be watching on four devices at once. That 4-screen option is also the only one that offers 4K viewing, if you’re using a 4K screen. There is an Ultra HD service being piloted which offers lower-tier access to HD, but it’s not available in every city yet.
  • Number of devices
    1, 2, or 4 depending on package
  • Can you share accounts?
    Officially, you’re not supposed to give anyone your password. Unofficially, Netflix is fine with account sharing. CEO Reed Hastings has said, “We love people sharing Netflix. That’s a positive thing, not a negative thing.” It does get them more valuable ad revenue, so that’s unlikely to change despite ominous warnings about AI-powered account-sharing detection services.
  • Is it worth subscribing?
    Definitely. Netflix has been in the game long enough to have the brand recognition that lets them punch above their weight class when attracting shows and movies. They’re making new, exciting content and pushing boundaries with shows like Sens8 (who else would have made that?). Even after Disney moves their content to their new platform, Netflix will have plenty to offer. It’s also possible that the struggle of maintaining audiences will eventually push many channels toying with a custom streaming service back to central platforms like Netflix.

Hulu

Streaming Service ShowdownHulu is another streaming service with a huge library. It’s mostly geared towards letting people keep up with current seasons of shows as well as catching up on older favorites. Because the platform is a collaboration between Disney, Fox, NBCUniversal, and WarnerMedia it has access to a lot of great content. ABC, Fox, NBC, and The CW all have partnerships that let Hulu stream the five most recent episodes of a show, though a lot of full seasons get dropped over at Netflix instead. They’re now making some original content, too (we like The Handmaid’s Tale and Marvel’s Runaways here).

  • What kind of content do they have?
    The Handmaid’s Tale, This Is Us, Harlots, Marvel’s The Runaways, The Good Doctor, Bob’s Burgers, Brooklyn 99, plus old favorites like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Community
  • Pricepoint
    Hulu has a bunch of options. The biggest differences is really whether you want ads or not. Regular Hulu is $7.99 with ads/$11.99 without. Hulu + Live TV (mostly for sports fans) runs $39.99 with ads/ $43.99 without. There are add-ons for premium channels, Cloud DVR, and extra screens, but it gets very pricey when you go down that path.
  • Number of devices
    You can be logged in to as many devices as you want, though only one can stream at a time. For $14.99/month more you can get unlimited screens.
  • Can you share accounts?
    Yes, though Hulu cautions that the primary account holder is responsible for any shenanigans users get up to. The issue is that single screen limitation. Some people have been able to watch 2 at once, but if you’re sharing with more than that you’ll want to get the unlimited screens kicker.
  • Is it worth subscribing?
    If you like to keep up with shows as they air, this is probably your best bet. Other than watching shows on the channel’s site or finding a friend with cable it’s your only good option. Be careful with the add-ons, though, because at a certain point you’ll wind up paying more for this streaming service than cable (though you do get access to Hulu’s custom content, so maybe it’s still a better deal).

Amazon Prime Video

Streaming Service ShowdownAmazon Prime Video is an odd duck because it’s not really a standalone streaming service. It comes bundled with Amazon Prime, and there are a lot of reasons to have it that have little to do with TV. That said, there are some cool shows on Prime Video and you can buy seasons of shows rather than carting around DVD sets. Yes, buy – because there is some content that isn’t included in your subscription. They seem to change what is and isn’t included without much warning. Like we said, it’s an odd duck.

  • What kind of content do they have?
    The Purge, Jack Ryan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
  • Pricepoint
    Amazon Prime costs $119 annually or $13/month (which works out to $156 but is easier to spread out). There is a new plan where you can get just Prime Video for $8.99/month, but at that point you might as well treat yourself to a full membership. Students can get a huge discount – 6 months free with $59/year cost as long as they can meet the plan’s requirements.
  • Number of devices
    You can be logged into as many as you want. Streaming can happen on 3 screens (2 if it’s the same show) and there’s a Household option that lets you add kids and teenagers with different levels of access.
  • Can you share accounts?
    It’s not a great idea to share with someone outside your household or a very close friend. Anyone with access to your Prime has access to your full account, so if you wouldn’t trust them with your wallet don’t share your password.
  • Is it worth subscribing?
    It’s definitely worth watching as part of your Prime subscription, and it’s a factor in favor of shelling out for Prime. By itself, though? Honestly, probably not. The content is a lot of fun but there’s not enough of it to warrant the $9/month, especially not compared to other streaming services.

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HBO Now and HBO Go

Streaming Service ShowdownHBO Now is the twin to HBO Go, which allows those with cable subscriptions to access HBO… well, on the go. The difference is that HBO Now doesn’t require cable. The streaming service offers all of HBO’s proprietary content, including movies they have rights to distribute.

  • What kind of content do they have?
    Game of Thrones, Westworld, Silicon Valley, True Blood, Shape of Water, Wonder Woman, Logan, The Lego Batman Movie
  • Pricepoint
    Flat fee of $15/month for HBO Now. HBO Go depends on the price from the cable provider, which could be anywhere from $5-$20.
  • Number of devices
    Simultaneous viewing caps at 3.
  • Can you share accounts?
    Officially users are asked not to share accounts outside their household. Unofficially, the leadership famously doesn’t care about account sharing within the device cap.
  • Is it worth subscribing?
    If you have HBO through a cable package, HBO Go should be a no-brainer. It’s a free side-benefit. HBO Now is trickier. $15 a month is a lot to shell out for one channel’s content. That said, they do have some great shows and access to a lot of movies with solid rewatch value. If you like HBO but don’t want to mess with cable, this is a solid option. One tip: some people turn their subscriptions on and off seasonally if they only watch one or two shows.

Crunchyroll

Streaming Service ShowdownCrunchyroll is the most popular streaming service for anime and manga. With more than 45 million users and nearly a thousand anime titles (with more manga), it’s the giant in the anime category. Even some outside the genre know it – it’s definitely a presence at conventions. They also run special events which are a big draw.

  • What kind of content do they have?
    Yuri!!! On Ice, Attack On Titan, My Hero Academia, Cowboy Bebop, Dragon Ball Super, Bleach
  • Pricepoint
    Premium subscriptions are reasonably cheap. Monthly is $6.95, 3 months is $19.95, and 12 months is $59.95.
  • Number of devices
    One, usually. Sometimes they make exceptions for same-household people.
  • Can you share accounts?
    Nope. The company will allow 2 for a family member, but you can’t expect to watch at the same time.
  • Is it worth subscribing?
    If this is your genre, absolutely. It’s one of the better anime and manga streaming services, and the others are either worse quality or not much cheaper (the cheapest I’ve seen starts at $5/month). There are a bunch of shows free to watch, though, so it’s worth checking out before you subscribe.

Starz Play

Streaming Service ShowdownStarz Play is the streaming service for the premium cable channel of the same name. You get access to all the usual Starz shows and movies offered on the Starz Network. It’s one of the channels you can get as a Hulu add-on, but if you don’t want Hulu it’s available for a standalone at the same price.

  • What kind of content do they have?
    Outlander, American Gods, Power, Black Sails, Ash Vs The Evil Dead, The Girlfriend Experience
  • Pricepoint
    Free with a cable subscription or $7.99 alone.
  • Number of devices
    You can register five devices at a time.
  • Can you share accounts?
    Since you can only stream on 2 screens at a time and register five devices, it’s pretty hard to share. It’s also technically not allowed… but they don’t seem to enforce that unless there’s an issue.
  • Is it worth subscribing?
    Unless the shows you like on Starz run throughout the year, it’s better to subscribe to the streaming service while they’re airing, then take a break between seasons. Plus, the app doesn’t work on all devices. Make sure you check whether it works before making the purchase.

CBS All-Access

Streaming Service ShowdownLike a lot of geeks I ignored CBS All-Access until Star Trek:Discovery came out. Once I had it, I found there was a lot more to it. First of all, you can stream ALL of Star Trek. All of it. Some old favorites are available through CBS’s streaming service (JAG and the original Sabrina, The Teenaged Witch are both fun to rewatch), but a lot of their library seems to be reality TV or older classics like Cheers and Wings. Current CBS shows are available on All-Access, but you have to wait a day after airing for them to drop. Some markets have a Live Streaming option, so you can check the support section of the site to see if you’re in one. One thing the app promises is the ability to watch the Big Brother house feeds in real time, if that’s your thing.

  • What kind of content do they have?
    Star Trek: Discovery, Strange Angel, The Good Fight, Tell Me A Story, The Twilight Zone
  • Pricepoint
    $5.99/month, or $9.99/month if you want to skip commercials. It’s available as an Amazon Prime add-on if you prefer to buy it that way, but the price is the same.
  • Number of devices
    There doesn’t seem to be a limit of devices to be signed into, but you can only stream two at a time.
  • Can you share accounts?
    The terms an conditions say no and there’s digital screening to catch those who share with tons of people, but as far as we can tell they don’t crack down if you happen to share it with a friend or two.
  • Is it worth subscribing?
    Maybe? It’s only available in the USA and you have to wait a day for current shows, but… you know… Star Trek: Discovery. Plus lots of reality TV and custom content. Go with your heart. (If you decide to subscribe, do us a solid and go through our affiliate link below.)

YouTube Premium

Streaming Service ShowdownWondering what happened to YouTube Red? It’s been YouTube Premium since May of 2018, a move Google made to include YouTube Music in the package. Having the streaming service removes ads from music and videos, and you can download videos to watch offline (without using an iffy third-party downloader). Streaming in the background of your phone with no ads is another benefit. Plus, you get access to YouTube originals. That is kind of a niche group of content that heavily features famous YouTube personalities and game streamers.

  • What kind of content do they have?
    Rhett and Link’s Buddy System, Cobra Kai, Overthinking It with Kat & June, MatPat’s Game Lab
  • Pricepoint
    $11.99/month
  • Number of devices
    This gets complicated. You can use offline features (like downloading videos) on 10 devices at a time. If you try to use an 11th, you will be asked to deactivate one of the others – but you can only do that four times a year.
  • Can you share accounts?
    Technically, not outside the household. There’s a Family Plan that lets you share with up to five people in the same household (same residential address). Not technically. There are some techniques for sharing that involve having the account holder set friends up as family members, but they have to log in from home every so often to keep that going. Frankly, it’s a little too complicated and sharing passwords means sharing your Google account, which is a terrible idea.
  • Is it worth subscribing?
    People who are crazy into YouTube influencers will find a lot of familiar faces in the premium content. Also, it’s handy to have no ads on your videos. I myself have a subscription. That said, if you don’t listen to music on YouTube and you can’t name four or five YouTube channels you watch every time they drop a video, it’s probably not something you’ll use a lot.

Dropout

Streaming Service ShowdownCollege Humor’s nerdy culture and inclusive comedy channel is one of the more niche streaming services, but it has a low price point and has a really engaging library of content. You’ll find original shows, comics, chats, podcasts, and a bunch of random premium content for the nerd in your soul. (Technically it’s owned by CH Media which encompasses College Humor, Dorkly, and Drawfree, so any of those personalities can pop in.) Some of the content drops to the free version eventually, but not the “best stuff” and not very quickly. One standout is the incredible Dimension 20: Fantasy High which is a tabletop RPG but with actual production value: painted 3D terrain models with actual work put into them, minis for each character and all NPCs, a set that looks like the inside of a D20 and changes color, and sound effects added in post production. On the slightly less nerdy side is an amazing LGBTQ+ series called Tales From The Closet. Imagine College Humor with a better budget and more room to play without platform censors and you have Dropout.

  • What kind of content do they have?
    Dimension 20: Fantasy High, Lonely and Horny, Um, Actually…, Cartoon Hell, Tales From The Closet, Troopers Chat Story, Erotic Book Club, Jake & Amir
  • Pricepoint
    It launched in beta at $3.99/month with a hike after February. You get a discount if you’re willing to commit to pay for several months up front. It’s $47.88/year ($3.99/month), $29.94 for six-months  ($4.99/month) and $5.99 for a month-by-month subscription.
  • Number of devices
    There doesn’t currently seem to be a limit of devices you can be signed into at once.
  • Can you share accounts?
    The terms and conditions say no. It’s too new to know whether they will enforce account sharing rules, so use your best judgement.
  • Is it worth subscribing?
    Going with yes, and they’re not even paying me to say it. This is a pretty low-priced streaming service that will entertain you for hours on end. Dropout is super nerdy. It’s specifically inclusive but doesn’t seem contrived or preachy. It’s engaging and genuine and just a lot of fun without a lot of pretense. Watching Dropout feels like hanging out with your childhood friends.

Creating A Streaming Service Menu

If you subscribed to every streaming service on this list, you’d be handing over at least $80.91 a month. Sound like a lot? Compared to the average cable bill of $85 a month (over $100 for satellite subscribers), that’s a bargain. Cable companies like to point out that streaming services still require internet, but let’s be real – cable is not a substitute for internet. You’re probably going to have an internet bill either way.

Still, $80 a month is a lot. How can you enjoy streaming services without breaking the bank? Here’s the best way to lower the collective bill:

  • Choose streaming services that you’re actually going to watch. This should be a no-brainer. Every streaming service has a trial period, so use that to figure out if the library fits your interests.
  • Check for cross-posting. If you only watch a couple shows on one platform, see if another streaming service has it. There’s a healthy amount of cross-pollination due to a complicated network of distribution rights.
  • Don’t duplicate accounts. Household members can almost always share accounts for free, no problems. Check with your family or roommates before paying for a new subscription.
  • Share accounts with trusted friends. Several of these streaming services look the other way on account sharing, and a few actively encourage it and offer extra profiles. It works for them – if you get hooked but your account holder friend drops it, you’re likely to pick up the service yourself. One sharing strategy is to trade subscriptions – you pay for one, a friend pays for another, and you both share. A word of warning: if you’re the account holder, you’re usually responsible for anything your moochers do. Share wisely.
  • Turn subscriptions off and on seasonally. There’s no sense in paying year-round when your show is only on part of the year. When there’s only one show you want to watch on a platform, activate your subscription while it’s airing (or right before the finale if you want to binge the whole season). Usually streaming services don’t have penalties for this, though if you took a reduced rate for a longer subscription this won’t work for you.
  • Consider mobile subscriptions. Do you watch most of your media on mobile? Several streaming services have (or are planning) lower rates for mobile-only plans.
  • Skip the HD. Unless you have an HD display, you aren’t getting your money’s worth from an HD plan.
  • Use the free versions. The “freemium” model is alive and well for streaming services. Though you won’t get access to the most current content, platforms like Crunchyroll and Dropout (via College Humor’s online presence) make part of their libraries free. If you find yourself watching that free content a lot, though, it’s a safe bet you would really enjoy the premium subscription.

Most importantly, reassess your subscriptions every now and then. It’s ridiculously easy to fall into a rut of paying for something you don’t use anymore. (That’s kind of the point of subscriptions, from a marketing standpoint.) Keep track of which streaming services you’re currently paying for and how often you use them. Every few months, cut out those you haven’t watched or find new friends to take the place of slacking moochers. Consider adding channels whose free content you’re mainlining. Even if you don’t change anything, take a look just to know what you have going on.

Feeling stressed by the idea of juggling all these channels? Don’t be. Once you set account up they’re easy to use and maintain. It’s true that streaming services take a little more work than cable – but the savings are definitely worth cutting the cable.

Did we list your favorite streaming service? Have a few tips on how to share safely, or have you found a way to get a better deal? Share your advice in the comments below!

 

Author: Khai

Khai is a writer, anthropologist, and game enthusiast. She can talk fandom in five languages, and her proudest nerd moment so far was presenting original research titled “Gender, Sex, and Werewolves” at an international anthropological conference. Her first game, None For Me, is due out from Calico Games early next year.



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