If you subscribe to cable or satellite TV, you’re probably paying $75 per month or more—perhaps much more—for a package that includes dozens of channels you never watch.
Money saver: There are video streaming services that offer programming that might be more attuned to your tastes for a fraction of the price—most of them cost $5 to $15 per month*—and there even are some great free streaming channels.
Most streaming services let viewers select the shows and movies they want to watch when they want to watch them. There are other streaming services that instead provide a fixed programming schedule, which allows a more conventional but less flexible approach to TV watching.
Millions of viewers subscribe to the big three streaming services—Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime—but there are dozens of other streaming services. And depending on your viewing interests, some of these services might be worth subscribing to instead of or in addition to the big names.
• For recent Hollywood films, the best bets are the streaming services offered by the premium cable channels. HBO Now features the hundreds of movies that the HBO cable channel currently has the rights to air. Subscribers also can stream most of HBO’s current and past series. Examples: Game of Thrones…Westworld. Cost: $14.99/month.
Showtime streaming service provides access to the movies Showtime has the rights to air. It also offers Showtime’s full catalog of series such as Homeland and Billions. Cost: $10.99/month.
• If you prefer Christian films to the typical Hollywood fare, there’s Pure Flix, which offers thousands of faith-based and family-friendly movies and TV shows. Cost: $10.99/month.
• If you prefer art house and foreign films, consider MUBI. There are 30 films available at any given time with one film added and one removed daily. Recent examples: Delicatessen…Under the Sand. Cost: $8.99/month.
• Sports: Most major professional sports leagues, with the exception of the NFL, offer their own streaming packages. Major League Baseball has MLB.TV, which started at $115.99/year in its most recent season…the NBA has NBA League Pass ($119.99/year)…and the NHL has NHL.tv ($139.96/year)—but local teams’ games typically are blacked out on these packages. If you want to stream your local teams’ games (or NFL football), the best option often is to sign up for a live TV channel-streaming package such as those described below under “For Cable-TV Programming.” Check that the package you select includes the channels that typically air your favorite teams’ games.
Also for sports fans, ESPN+ offers a limited amount of live sports plus other programming such as the excellent 30 for 30 sports documentary series. Cost: $4.99/month.
And CBS Sports HQ is a 24-hour sports news streaming channel. Cost: Free, with commercials.
• For British TV (or other foreign TV shows): Consider AcornTV, which offers commercial-free TV series from the UK plus a smaller number from Australia, Canada and elsewhere. The service has some British movies and a few original shows as well. Cost: $4.99/month. SignUp.Acorn.tv
BritBox also provides TV from the UK. Cost: $6.99/month.
THE BIG THREE
Netflix has a massive catalog of movies and TV, including Netflix’s own highly regarded original shows, such as The Crown and Stranger Things. It’s the obvious place to start if your goal is to gain access to a very wide range of movies and TV shows for a reasonable price. Examples: Black Panther…The Shining…Monty Python’s Flying Circus…The Good Place. Cost: Plans that most people get start at $7.99/month.
Amazon Prime offers thousands of movies and TV series as well as some original shows. Examples: The Man in the High Castle…The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel…Jaws…Manchester by the Sea…Cheers. Still, its main selling point is that it isn’t just a streaming service—subscribers also receive unrelated perks such as free second-day or same-day shipping of Amazon.com purchases. Cost: $119/year or $12.99/month…or $8.99/month for video streaming only with none of the other benefits.
Hulu subscribers can stream episodes of recent shows from ABC, NBC and Fox starting one day after they air on those networks. Hundreds of older series are available, too, as are some shows from cable channels, movies and original Hulu-only series. Examples: Seinfeld…CSI…Shark Tank…Goldfinger…RBG…The Handmaid’s Tale. Cost: $7.99/month with commercials or $11.99/month without.
If you subscribe to Hulu, you might want to add CBS All Access, which offers current CBS shows plus many older CBS series and a few shows made exclusively for this streaming service. Examples: The Good Fight…Star Trek: Discovery. Hulu provides more for the money, but if you enjoy CBS shows (and can’t pick up CBS with a digital antenna), this could be a good option for you. Cost: $5.99/month with commercials…or $9.99/month largely without them.
FOR CABLE-TV PROGRAMMING
Cable channels such as History Channel and FX typically have their own streaming services—but those tend to be available only to people who already pay for access to the channel through a cable or satellite subscription. If you don’t do that, many cable shows eventually are offered by one or more of the streaming services mentioned in this article, such as Netflix or Hulu—but be aware that the current season might not be available for a year or longer.
If your goal is to stream current-season cable programming without depending on a cable-TV or satellite service, your best bet is to subscribe to a live TV channel-streaming package. These packages provide streaming access to the live feeds of a few dozen or more traditional TV channels, often including popular basic cable stations and perhaps broadcast networks, too. It’s like subscribing to a stripped-down version of a cable plan. The packages are pricier than most streaming services—often $25 to $50 per month—but that’s still less than cable. Which is best for you depends on which carries the channels that you want to watch. Examples: PlayStation Vue…Sling TV…DirecTV Now…YouTube TV…Hulu with Live TV…and FuboTV.
*To stream video to your TV, you’ll need a smart TV…a streaming device such as a Roku, Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV Stick…or a Blu-ray player or game console that’s capable of streaming. You’ll need broadband Internet, too. Not every streaming service is compatible with every streaming device—confirm that your device is compatible before subscribing.