When Netflix introduced its on-demand streaming service in 2007, it was initially slow to gain traction with its original mail-in DVD subscribers. Thirteen years later, most of the world has access to Netflix and other media companies, like Disney with Disney+ and Apple with Apple TV+, are following suit to capitalize on streaming’s popularity. During the COVID-19 pandemic alone, three new major streaming services debuted: HBO Max (launched May 27th at $14.99 per month, no ads); Quibi (launched April 6th at a two tier subscription – $4.99 per month with ads, $7.99 with no ads); and Peacock (launched July 15th at a three tier subscription – free with a much smaller catalog, $4.99 for the full catalog and ads, $9.99 for the full catalog and no ads).
The streaming services that are currently available to us are so varied and all have something that we would consider subscribing for. However, with all the costs of the services, we have to pick and choose what to spend our money on (especially since there’s that joke about no one actually having their own Netflix account).
So what streaming services are worth your money?
Do you find yourself watching more movies than TV shows?
Then HBO Max might be the right choice for you. The website and app interface are pretty easy to use and it’s easy to find what you’re looking for (unlike, let’s say, Hulu). Like other streaming services, HBO Max allows for up to five profiles on one account, though it does have a restriction on how many users can be streaming on the account at the same time. There are thoughtfully curated sections, focused on themes like “Out for Vengeance” (featuring films like Kill Bill: Volume I and John Wick), to help you make up your mind on what to watch if you’re indecisive. A bit more expensive than its competitors, the streaming service makes up for the cost by providing a mixture of HBO’s TV programming (like Insecure and Game of Thrones) and acquired films and shows (the most notable show being Friends). It also features a large collection of Hollywood’s classic golden age films curated by Turner Classic Movies. It is the only streaming service where you can watch all of the acclaimed Studio Ghibli animated features (which is the absolute most important aspect for me), Charlie Chaplin films, and all of the Harry Potter films. The service’s original programming is a bit lacking compared to Netflix, but the service did only launch at the end of May. The focus is more on the quality films it has, which is fitting for a network whose acronym stands for Home Box Office.
Do you like getting the most value for your money?
Hulu is your best option! The pricing is fair, starting at $5.99 per month with ads and $11.99 per month without ads (they also have tiers that include live TV but it seems like no one actually uses those tiers). There are also usually subscription bundles, which help save some money, that include Hulu – the most popular ones being a Spotify with Hulu (and Showtime) bundle for only students at $4.99 per month and a Hulu/Disney+/ESPN+ bundle for $12.99 per month. Hulu currently has an enormous slate of acclaimed international films (such as 2019’s critical favorites Parasite and Portrait of a Lady on Fire) and has frequently participated in film markets like Sundance in order to acquire films for its service (like the upcoming Palm Springs), making it one of the few places to stream some of the films that you hear about during film festival and award show season. However, the streaming service is most known for airing new episodes of TV shows the day after they air. This way, you are able to stay updated on whatever TV show you’re watching and not have to worry about people spoiling anything for you, without needing access to traditional cable TV and the time commitment. The $5.99 per month is reasonable in order to be able to watch incredible international films and a slew of TV shows (tip: if you use Hulu on your laptop and happen to have an ad blocker, the blocker works about 90% of the time on Hulu so that you end up not having to watch any ads).
Do you not have enough funds (or enough people who would let you borrow their login information) for any of these services? Follow up question: do you have a library card?
If the answer is yes to both, or even just yes to the last one, I highly recommend Kanopy. Kanopy is a service that partners with your local library and provides mostly films for free. Some libraries aren’t partnered yet but it is worth a try seeing if your local library is. The one downside of the service is that you can only watch a certain amount of films every month – usually a maximum of fifteen. There are films available that don’t use any of your credits, which is a positive, and can help to explore different types of films. There are so many categories on the service, ranging from LGBTQ films to documentaries to business subjects, and there are even instructional and educational videos. The films usually aren’t unique to just Kanopy; they can be found on other streaming services. However, it’s nice being able to just go to one website in order to watch films by Agnès Varda and the entire collection of A24 produced films and not have to search all of the different websites to try to find them. Plus, it’s free if you have a library card (and most library cards are free as well).
We have so many options when it comes to streaming services that it can be difficult to even choose what to use. So if you can’t choose? Split the list with a group of friends and share accounts with each other. That way everyone can have access to these services’ vast libraries.