Disney+ to Apple TV+ to Netflix: All the major streaming services, ranked
Cable watching may still be more popular than streaming, but as Disney+ and others join the battle, will streaming remain the cheaper option? Just the FAQs, USA TODAY
Welcome to the era of the Streaming Wars.
Hollywood is getting more crowded than ever as two new online streaming services, Apple TV+ and Disney+, join the digital fight for your eyeballs and money in November. And there's still more to come: Next spring, WarnerMedia's HBO Max (which just announced big plans for a May 2020 launch on Tuesday) and Comcast's Peacock join the mix.
With Netflix, Hulu and Amazon already dominating the streaming world, and smaller players like CBS All Access, Shudder and Acorn TV fighting for their place in the mix, the new TV landscape can be a daunting avalanche of choices, and subscribing to every new service can easily end up costing more than that cable bill you already cut.
But not all streaming services are created equal. Before you subscribe to the latest, consider our list of the major services, ranked from best to worst. We've included only services not available as a cable channel (sorry, HBO Now), and those streaming in 2019 (we’ll get back to HBO Max and Peacock later).
Cost: $5.99/month with ads; $11.99/month commercial-free
Originals: A mix of award-winning high profile dramas (“The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Act”), tiny, quirky and acclaimed comedies (“PEN15,” “Shrill”) and occasional theatrical or streaming-only films (“Little Monsters,” “Fyre Fraud”).
Library: Includes currently airing TV shows on ABC, NBC and Fox (“The Masked Singer,” “Stumptown”) paired with archival series (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Designing Women,” “Seinfeld”) and films (“Boyz n the Hood”).
Kid-friendly? A robust kids' section has mostly older shows (“Sailor Moon,” “Doug”) but a few originals like “The Bravest Knight.”
Hulu tops our list because it's a broadly appealing service that offers plenty of genres and styles without scraping the bottom of the barrel for new content. The ability to watch current broadcast shows in-season is a huge advantage. And Hulu has the best selection of archival TV series with a solid showing of films, too. Its originals could be better, but the service has wisely chosen not to overload us with shoddy new programming, a mistake its biggest competitor, Netflix, has unfortunately made. Hulu’s value is likely to grow in the next few years, now that Disney effectively owns the service. Adult Marvel content will likely gravitate here, along with a trove of FX series.
Cost: $8.99/month to watch on one screen at once, $12.99/month to watch on two screens or $15.99/month to watch on four screens in Ultra HD.
Originals: Has the largest crop of originals, which means the biggest mix in quality as well. Notables include “Stranger Things,” “Queer Eye” and “The Crown,” in addition to Oscar-bait movies like Martin Scorsese's “The Irishman.”
Library: Shrinking every year. Although some stalwarts remain on the service (“Breaking Bad,” “Dexter,” “Supernatural”), Netflix is investing in originals, not in holding onto the rights for legacy series and films. ("Friends," "The Office" and "Parks and Recreation" are among those shifting elsewhere by 2021 for U.S. subscribers).
Kid-friendly? Netflix’s kids’ section is massive, populated mostly with dozens of originals (A “Boss Baby” series, an upcoming “Green Eggs and Ham” adaptation) and some library content (“Pokemon").
Netflix may be synonymous with the idea of streaming content, but while it pioneered the format, it hasn’t perfected it. The service has a huge number of films and TV shows to choose from, but that library isn’t as good as it once was. Netflix’s biggest flaw is that it is abandoning its archival content in favor of an ever-more-mediocre slate of originals across all genres of TV and film. Some of these series are brilliant (“The Crown,” “BoJack Horseman”), others are decent (“Queer Eye”), but most are poor facsimiles of better TV (“Ozark,” “Fuller House”). The movies that premiere on the service without a theatrical run (and thus, aren’t vying for Oscars) have a distinct “TV movie” vibe. Still, Netflix is a really valuable service and the biggest name in the game, only slightly edged out by Hulu.
Cost: $6.99/month or $69.99/year (available Nov. 12)
Originals: The first Star Wars live-action series (“The Mandalorian”), teen comedy “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series,” “Toy Story” spinoff “Forky Asks a Question” and a slew of nonfiction series. More Star Wars and Marvel series are promised over the next few years.
Library: The Disney Vault has opened, and classics (“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs") and duds (“The Shaggy D.A.”) alike will flood the service, along with recent blockbusters (“Avengers: Endgame”) from the studio. Some titles inherited from the merger with 20th Century Fox (“The Simpsons”) also are available.
Kid-friendly? Extremely. All content on the service is family friendly to some degree, to fit with the Disney brand.
The biggest threat to existing services comes from the biggest conglomerate in Hollywood. Disney is flexing its considerable muscle by offering its classic films paired with original series from its biggest brands: Star Wars, Pixar and Marvel. Its huge library is its biggest advantage, as is the ability to reboot and revive (“Lizzie McGuire,” here we come). But the biggest disadvantage is the lack of diversity in programming. Everything here will be very Disney in tone and style, and the service has no plans for mature programming and mindless reality TV, which has its time and place. If you have kids, the value of the service goes up exponentially, but for those of us not trying to entertain tykes, other streamers have more to choose from.
4. Amazon Prime Video
Cost: $12.99/month, but comes with free two-day shipping
Originals: "Jack Ryan," "Bosch," "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" and lots of small, awards-friendly fare, a lineup that's changing rapidly as the company embraces genre shows like an upcoming “Lord of the Rings” series.
Library: A wide assortment that most notably includes Masterpiece dramas(“Downton Abbey”), mid-2000s procedurals (“The Closer,” “Bones”), USA Network shows (“Mr. Robot,” “Suits") and some older HBO programming.
Kid-friendly? Yes, Amazon includes originals like “Kung Fu Panda” and Nickelodeon series like “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Dora the Explorer.”
Amazon’s TV output is perfectly acceptable, especially if you like quaint British television and series your grandparents will enjoy. The streamer excels at comedies (Emmy-winning “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and “Fleabag”) and has an impressive selection of British TV (“Doctor Who,” “Broadchurch”). Its library of old series and originals is not as big as Hulu and Netflix, but it does have Oscar-nominated films ("The Big Sick" and "Manchester by the Sea") acquired from festivals. Your money goes further, because it pays for two-day shipping with TV as a bonus, but it still offers a higher proportion of niche programming than its rivals. Unlike Netflix or Hulu, it can’t replace your cable subscription all on its own, but its lineup will expand to include a fashion series from Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum and an expensive “Rings" adaptation.
5. CBS All Access
Cost: $5.99/month with commercials, $9.99/month without
Originals: “Star Trek: Discovery,” “The Good Fight,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Why Women Kill”
Library: Current (and recent) CBS series, classics (“I Love Lucy”) and movies (“Rocky”).
Kid-friendly? Some library content like “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and “Everybody Hates Chris,” but nothing for preschoolers and no originals.
Don’t knock the Eye’s streaming service until you’ve tried it. It's a little on the expensive side for the number of originals, but its streaming shows have a better batting average when it comes to quality (“The Good Fight” is one of the best shows on TV). In addition to CBS shows, its library includes a treasure trove of classic films and TV, such as “Happy Days” and “The Brady Bunch.” However, it's still limited in scope, so seeing some episodes of “Star Trek: Picard” a few times a year may not be worth the expense.
6. Apple TV+
Cost: $4.99/month; free for one year with purchase of an Apple product (available Nov. 1)
Originals: “The Morning Show,” “See,” “For All Mankind,” “Dickinson,” “The Elephant Queen,” “Oprah’s Book Club,” and other new shows from M. Night Shyamalan and Steven Spielberg.
Kid friendly? Some kids's shows will be available at launch, including "Snoopy in Space" and "Helpsters."
Despite its low price tag, Apple has a distinct disadvantage in value because it has no back library of classic shows or films. You could burn through their entire new catalog in a few weeks. And you wouldn’t get much from binge-watching the new series, which include “The Morning Show,” a mediocre soap starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon. The best of the bunch is alternate history drama “For All Mankind,” from the creator of “Battlestar Galactica,” but is it worth the money to see just one maybe-good show? Probably not.
Honorable mentions: AcornTV, Britbox, Shudder, YouTube and Facebook Watch
A few other, much smaller streaming services are vying for your wallet. AcornTV and BritBox are for serious Anglophiles (Acorn has more mysteries, Britbox has all of classic "Doctor Who"). Shudder is devoted to horror. Facebook Watch and YouTube are a mix of user-created and professional content. Facebook Watch has one good original series ("Sorry for Your Loss" starring Elisabeth Olsen); so does YouTube ("Karate Kid" sequel "Cobra Kai"). Facebook Watch is free if you have time for it, and YouTube also has a free tier, with ads.