Consumers have never had more options for streaming entertainment directly to their TVs, smartphones or computers. Which video streaming services are the best?
Which of these is the “best” SVOD service, of course, is a subjective question. It boils down to a combination of content lineup, price, and features — and your mileage will vary. Here are our picks for the top choices among the major providers, with more discussion and detailed info below.
Best Service Overall: Netflix
Best Service for Families: Disney Plus
Best Service for Movie Fans: HBO Max
Best Service for TV Fans: Hulu
Note that while we’ve focused on the most notable services, there are dozens more streaming options available. Those range from channel-oriented packages like CBS All Access, Showtime and Starz; free ad-supported services like Pluto TV, Tubi, the Roku Channel and IMDb TV; niche-oriented streamers like Crunchyroll, Acorn TV and Sundance Now; mobile video startup Quibi; and pay-TV replacements like Sling TV, YouTube TV and AT&T TV Now (along with Hulu’s live TV tier). In July, NBCUniversal’s Peacock is set to launch nationwide with free ad-supported and paid versions.
Here’s a rundown of the content highlights, U.S. pricing, and availability of the biggest players in the SVOD space today.
Monthly price: $8.99 for single non-HD stream; $12.99 for two HD streams; $15.99 for four HD/Ultra HD streams
Key Content: The current category leader — with 183 million subscribers worldwide as of Q1 2020 — has increasingly shifted spending on original shows and movies: In 2019 alone, it released a whopping 371 original titles. Netflix’s multibillion-dollar content strategy is to have something for everyone, across drama, comedy, action, stand-up, reality, documentaries, and kids and family. Top shows include “Stranger Things,” “The Witcher,” “Ozark” and “The Umbrella Academy,” with more recent hits including “Tiger King,” Mark Wahlberg-starrer “Spenser Confidential,” dating show “Love Is Blind” and animated movie “The Willoughbys.” It also features a selection of popular licensed TV fare like “The Office” (for now), “Riverdale” and “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” and movies including Adam Sandler’s “Uncut Gems,” “Philadelphia,” “Taxi Driver” and “Snowpiercer.” Netflix’s awards-contending original films include “The Irishman,” “Marriage Story” and “Roma.”
Monthly Price: $6.99 per month (U.S.)
Availability: U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, India
Key Content: The streaming service positioned as a must-have for families wins points for its relatively low price point. Disney Plus packs in more than 500 movies, including recent releases and classics from Walt Disney Studios, Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm’s Star Wars franchise (including all nine movies in the Skywalker saga), along with TV series, specials and Disney-centric features. Recent additions include family favorites like “Frozen 2,” Pixar’s “Onward” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” plus blockbusters like “Black Panther” (with “Avengers: Endgame” set to arrive June 2020). Its originals lineup has been less impressive, with Star Wars-set “The Mandalorian” registering as Disney Plus’ undisputed breakout hit so far. Coming this summer: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” movie adaptation of his musical.
Monthly Price: $14.99
Availability: U.S. (May 27)
Key Content: The super-size streamer — with a price higher than any of its main competitors — bows with 10,000 hours of content. In the first year, HBO Max is set to include over 2,000 feature films drawn from Warner Bros. and other studios. Those include “Crazy Rich Asians,” “A Star Is Born” (2018), “Aquaman,” “Joker,” “Suicide Squad,” “Wonder Woman,” “The Matrix,” “Casablanca” and “The Wizard of Oz,” plus 20 films from iconic Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli, including “Spirited Away” and “My Neighbor Totoro.” HBO Max is also stocked with full seasons of past TV hits, including “Friends,” “The Big Bang Theory,” “Doctor Who,” “Rick and Morty,” “Pretty Little Liars” and “The Bachelor.” Family programming includes a wealth of “Sesame Street” episodes.
Monthly Price: $5.99 with ads; $11.99 no ads; SVOD plus live TV starting at $54.99
Key Content: Now controlled by Disney, Hulu provides an extensive lineup of recent and older TV shows, boasting over 85,000 episodes in all, including originals. Those include “Scandal,” “This Is Us,” “The Masked Singer,” “ER,” “Killing Eve,” “The Good Doctor,” “Family Guy,” “Lost,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine, “Bob’s Burgers,” “9-1-1,” “Black-ish” and “Grown-ish.” Originals include “Little Fires Everywhere,” “The Great,” “Pen15” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” plus FX’s “Mrs. America,” “Dave” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”
Price: $119 per year or $12.99 per month for Prime membership; $8.99 per month for Prime Video standalone
Key Content: The ecommerce giant bundles in Prime Video as a benefit for members of its free-shipping program — meaning its whole approach to what it puts on the service to attract and retain viewers differs from other subscription VODs. Amazon Studios has garnered buzz for a range of original shows, including “Fleabag,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Transparent,” “Homecoming,” “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” and Jordan Peele’s Nazi-themed “Hunters.” It also has built up a stable of arthouse-worthy original movies, including “Manchester by the Sea,” “The Big Sick,” “Brittany Runs a Marathon” and “Blow the Man Down.” In addition, Prime Video includes hundreds of licensed movies and TV shows, including “Luther,” “Vikings,” “Orphan Black,” “Bridget Jones’ Diary” and “Dora the Explorer.”
Monthly Price: $4.99; one year included free with purchase of Apple devices
Key Content: With great fanfare and a slew of celebrity names attached to its originals, the tech giant launched in November 2019 — for a monthly price less than initially expected, and free for one year to anyone who purchased an Apple device. But the content catalog on Apple TV Plus pales in comparison to other SVOD offerings. Research indicates most Apple TV Plus viewers aren’t paying for it. To really vie for subscriber dollars, Apple will need to bulk up its content lineup (and it’s reportedly in talks to license library material to do just that). The service’s originals, received to mixed critical reception, include drama “The Morning Show” starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell; coming-of-age comedy “Dickinson”; Jason Momoa-starrer “See”; M. Night Shyamalan’s thriller “Servant”; “Oprah’s Book Club”; and Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s docu-series “Little America.”