Looking at the apps on my Roku TV marketplace — Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Now, Apple TV Plus, and Crunchyroll, just to name a few — I’m overwhelmed at the veritable avalanche of streaming services available to me. Disney Plus is under a week away, while HBO Max and NBC’s Peacock are not far behind. The streaming wars, ushered in by an era of Peak TV, are in full effect.
No one can watch everything; money and time are finite resources, after all. To make it a little easier on you (and your wallet), we here at Polygon broke down nearly every streaming service — how much it costs, what to watch, and who should subscribe — from the big guys like Netflix to niche collections like Mubi.
A word of advice: If you’re going to take advantage of a free trial to binge a show on a service you’re otherwise uninterested in (which you should! it’s free!), set a reminder on your phone or smart home device to cancel before the trial ends. Companies are counting on you to forget about it.
Netflix vs. Amazon vs. Hulu vs. Disney vs. Apple Plus
For a few years now, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu have been the standard-bearers for streaming. Netflix is the O.G., Hulu’s got the most current shows, and, well, Amazon is Amazon. But while Disney CEO Bob Iger has explicitly stated that Disney Plus won’t compete with Netflix in terms of volume, a Disney streaming service is disruptive enough to consider it one of the big guys. Ditto for Apple TV Plus, for which Apple threw massive amounts of production money behind tentpole series. So let’s break down the Big Five.
Amazon Prime Video
In addition to free one-day shipping, discounts at Whole Foods, and exclusive Twitch benefits, one of the biggest Amazon Prime perks is access to the company’s streaming service. Amazon Prime Video offers a massive library of free content for subscribers, including original TV shows and movies alongside licensed properties.
Amazon Video is one of the few video-on-demand platforms to offer other streaming services as add-ons. With Amazon Channels, Prime members can subscribe to services like HBO or Shudder without leaving the Amazon Video app. Notably, though, its biggest competitors — Hulu and Netflix — aren’t available via Amazon Channels ... yet.
What it costs: $119/year; $12.99/month (30-day free trial)
Who should subscribe: Amazon shoppers
What to watch: Fleabag, Catastrophe, Too Old to Die Young, Good Omens, anime
When to cancel: when the cost of other Prime perks outweighs the benefits
Subscribe here: Amazon
Apple TV Plus
Unlike Hulu or Netflix, Apple isn’t licensing third-party content for Apple TV Plus. At least at launch, Apple TV Plus is solely a hub for Apple’s own original programming. Structurally, it’s closer to a premium over-the-top add-on like HBO Now than a major platform like Amazon. Still, Apple brings a signature Silicon Valley polish — not to mention heaps of money — to its impressive roster, which includes big names like Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Jennifer Aniston, and Oprah.
What it costs: $4.99/month (seven-day free trial; 12-month free trial with purchase of a new iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple TV)
Who should subscribe: new iPhone owners (and Peak TV completionists)
What to watch: Dickinson, The Elephant Queen, and eventually Amazing Stories and Mythic Quest
When to cancel: if/when programming doesn’t live up to the hype
Subscribe here: Apple
Disney Plus, which launches on Nov. 12, will offer original programming like the Star Wars spinoff The Mandalorian and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, but its biggest draw is Disney’s back catalog. More than anything, Disney Plus is proof that Disney owns a mind-numbing collection of IP. A Twitter thread detailing every movie and TV show in the Disney Plus library ran more than 600 tweets long — and that’s just for the day-one content.
What it costs: $69.99/year; $6.99/month (seven-day free trial)
Who should subscribe: fans of Disney or Marvel or Pixar or Star Wars or The Simpsons or National Geographic ...
What to watch: The Mandalorian, obscure Disney movies, Disney Channel classics
When to cancel: when Disney stops churning out zeitgeist-commanding content (so, probably never)
Subscribe here: Disney
Of the major streaming services, Hulu is the best option for cord-cutters who want to keep up with current TV shows. NBC, Fox, and some cable networks drop episodes onto the platform the day after they air, which means you don’t have to wait for an entire season to be released on Amazon or Netflix before catching up with your favorite series. That’s in addition to plenty of original programming, licensed content, and premium cable add-ons.
[Note: Hulu also offers a live TV option, which is detailed in the Live TV section below.]
What it costs: $5.99/month ad-supported; $11.99/month ad-free (30-day free trial)
Who should subscribe: recovering DVR hoarders
What to watch: Shrill, PEN15, Looking for Alaska, currently running network shows
When to cancel: if your must-watch network shows aren’t keeping you coming back
Subscribe here: Hulu
The Xerox of streaming services, Netflix has been able to stay top dog (or at least one of a small litter of top dogs) through a combination of churning out original content and buying up the rights to hugely popular licensed properties like Friends and The Office. Now that much of that third-party IP is leaving the platform for various streaming services, Netflix will likely double down on its originals, as well as continue to look abroad for licensing opportunities — foreign reality shows like The Great British Baking Show and Terrace House seem to be a rich vein.
What it costs: $8.99/month for Basic; $12.99/month for Standard; $15.99/month for Premium (30-day free trial)
Who should subscribe: TV bingers
What to watch: Stranger Things, American Vandal, I Think You Should Leave, Grace and Frankie, Aggretsuko, Terrace House, The Great British Baking Show, The Witcher
When to cancel: When you’ve binged all you can binge or the output feels like overload
Subscribe here: Netflix
TV channels with streaming services
Traditional TV networks have had to adapt to the streaming revolution in order to stay relevant. While nearly every TV network has an app from which cable subscribers can watch its shows, several are now offering over-the-top services with exclusive content and live streaming.
BET’s parent company, Viacom, collaborated with Tyler Perry Studios on the BET Plus service, a streaming library filled with content from black creators. BET Plus offers ad-free access to BET shows like Being Mary Jane, Tyler Perry’s back catalog, other Viacom shows like VH1’s Basketball Wives, and new original series including a reboot of The First Wives Club from Girls Trip writer Tracy Oliver.
What it costs: $9.99/month (seven-day free trial)
Who should subscribe: Tyler Perry and/or Girls Trip fans
What to watch: The First Wives Club, Being Mary Jane, Tyler Perry’s filmography
When to cancel: if The First Wives Club doesn’t get a season 2
Subscribe here: Prime Video Channels
CBS All Access
CBS All Access’ original content has mostly flown under the radar, with the exception of its excellent existing Star Trek series, Star Trek: Discovery, and the upcoming Picard. The service also offers ad-free CBS shows, as well as live TV streaming — including CBS Sports and the CBS-owned ET Live.
What it costs: $5.99/month ad-supported; $9.99/month ad-free (seven-day free trial)
Who should subscribe: Trekkies
What to watch: Star Trek: Discovery, The Good Fight
When to cancel: in between Star Trek shows
Though it doesn’t boast the kind of critically acclaimed original programming that other premium cable channels have — including its owner, HBO — Cinemax is home to a sizable collection of blockbuster movies.
What it costs: $9.99/month (seven-day free trial)
Who should subscribe: mid-2000s cinephiles
What to watch: whatever your favorite movie was in high school
When to cancel: as soon as you go a month without using it
If you watch a lot (and I mean a lot) of sports, ESPN Plus is a worthy investment. The $4.99 monthly subscription offers livestreaming of seemingly every sport imaginable, including pay-per-view UFC fights. There’s also some original programming available, as well as the full 30 for 30 archives and exclusive writing from ESPN journalists.
What it costs: $49.99/year; $4.99/month
Who should subscribe: sports fans
What to watch: live sports, 30 for 30 archives
When to cancel: when your cable package includes live sports
Subscribe here: ESPN
If you’re choosing one premium cable subscription, it should be this one. The unofficial home of Peak TV, HBO is nearly always airing a show that half of your office can’t stop talking about. HBO’s stand-alone streaming service, HBO Now, also grants access to the first-run movies that regularly air on HBO.
HBO parent company WarnerMedia will launch a new over-the-top service, HBO Max, in May 2020. “Anchored by HBO programming,” the platform will also include other Warner properties. (Notably, Friends left Netflix for HBO Max, and Warner nabbed exclusive rights to the Studio Ghibli collection, too.) It will cost the same $14.99 as HBO Now, and some current HBO Now subscribers will get access to the service for free.
What it costs: $14.99/month (seven-day free trial)
Who should subscribe: FOMOOGT (fear of missing out on good TV) sufferers
What to watch: Succession, Los Espookys, The Righteous Gemstones, Watchmen, new film releases
When to cancel: when HBO Max launches
Yes, the History Channel offers its own OTT streaming service, though unfortunately the best History Channel show of all time, Knife or Death, is absent from History Vault. Still, history buffs might be interested in the impressive library of docu-series.
What it costs: $4.99/month (seven-day free trial)
Who should subscribe: history buffs
What to watch: Ice Road Truckers, Rise & Fall, The Men Who Built America
When to cancel: before you become your dad
Since PBS is a public broadcaster, its streaming service works a little differently. Rather than customers paying for the Passport service outright, PBS offers it to paying supporters. Essentially, if you donate a certain amount of money to PBS (usually $60/year), you get access to the streaming service.
What it costs: varies — check your local station
Who should subscribe: PBS supporters
What to watch: Downton Abbey, Ken Burns’ Country Music, Antiques Roadshow
When to cancel: don’t cancel — support your local media!
Donate to PBS here: PBS
Showtime’s streaming options are a little confusing. Much like HBO, Showtime separates users based on whether they subscribe through a traditional cable provider. Showtime Anytime is the streaming add-on for cable subscribers, while the streaming-only stand-alone version is just referred to as “the Showtime streaming service.”
What it costs: $109.90/year; $10.99/month (14-day free trial)
Who should subscribe: Halo fans
What to watch: On Becoming a God in Central Florida, The Chi, Billions
When to cancel: Wait until the Halo series to subscribe, cancel if the Halo series is bad
Premium cable company Starz is the home of American Gods, which is a favorite among nerds, and Outlander, which is a favorite among moms.
What it costs: $74.99/year; $8.99/month (seven-day free trial)
Who should subscribe: fans of Neil Gaiman and/or historical romance
What to watch: American Gods, Outlander
When to cancel: in between American Gods seasons
Sundance TV has invested in some original programming in recent years — mostly true crime and drama series — but the main draw is still the collection of independent films championed by Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute.
What it costs: $59.99/year; $6.99/month (7-day free trial)
Who should subscribe: film festival devotees
What to watch: Tangerine, Bill Cunningham New York, Oldboy, A Discovery of Witches
When to cancel: after you’ve watched all the good movies
Smaller streaming services
Whether you’re a cinephile, horror aficionado, or comedy nerd, there’s probably a hyper-specific streaming service out there dedicated to your interests.
Classic Saturday morning cartoons like Scooby-Doo and Looney Tunes are available on Boomerang’s streaming service. Boomerang is available à la carte, but is also included in the VRV Premium bundle listed below.
What it costs: $39.99/year; $4.99/month (seven-day free trial)
Who should subscribe: parents and/or kids at heart
What to watch: Scooby-Doo, Looney Tunes, Tom and Jerry, Courage the Cowardly Dog
When to cancel: when your kids get bored of old cartoons
The “biggest streaming collection of British TV...ever” by British broadcasters BBC and ITV is home to such gems from across the pond as Mr. Bean, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, and Pride and Prejudice.
What it costs: $69.99/year; $6.99/month (seven-day free trial)
Who should subscribe: Anglophiles
What to watch: classic Doctor Who, Midsomer Murders, Upstairs Downstairs
When to cancel: when your favorite U.K. shows come to Hulu or Netflix
The Criterion Channel
A selection of over 1,000 movies from the Criterion Collection, a series of films deemed “important [...] to the art of cinema,” is available to stream on the Criterion Channel.
What it costs: $99.99/year; $10.99/month (14-day free trial)
Who should subscribe: classic film buffs
What to watch: classic and art house films, Adventures in Moviegoing
When to cancel: make it a project to watch as many as you can in a year, then cancel
Subscribe here: Criterion Collection
The largest streaming service for licensed anime, Crunchyroll has also branched out into original programming. Some content is available for free, but a premium membership gets rid of ads, and includes access to simulcasted shows as soon as an hour after they air in Japan.
What it costs: $7.99/month; $9.99/month bundled with VRV
Who should subscribe: anime fans
What to watch: Polar Bear Café, Mob Psycho 100, Yuri!!! On Ice, Laid-back Camp
When to cancel: this is a keeper if you’re into anime
This streaming service is dedicated to science, nature, and history documentaries (or “geekumentaries,” in CuriosityStream’s parlance.)
What it costs: $2.99/month ($19.99/year); $9.99/month ($69.99/year) with 4K (7-day free trial)
Who should subscribe: science geeks
What to watch: incredibly niche documentaries
When to cancel: it’s so cheap that if you’re watching one doc a month, it’s worth it
DC’s streaming (and reading) service merges all things DC onto one platform. In addition to original series, classic TV shows, and movies, DC Universe includes access to a rotating collection of content from DC Comics.
What it costs: $74.99/year; $7.99/month (seven-day free trial)
Who should subscribe: DC Comics fans
What to watch: Doom Patrol, Swamp Thing, Titans
When to cancel: after you watch Doom Patrol and Swamp Thing — Comixology is a better value for digital comics, although it’s got a smaller selection
Subscribe here: DC Universe
CollegeHumor tapped its cast members for original shows on its streaming service Dropout, including animated series and nerdy game shows. Classic CollegeHumor sketches are available on the platform as well, alongside digital comics and interactive “chat stories.”
What it costs: $47.92/year; $4.99/month (7-day free trial)
Who should subscribe: Extremely Online millennials
What to watch: Dimension 20; Um, Actually; Game Changer; Total Forgiveness
When to cancel: when you outgrow this style of internet humor
Subscribe here: Dropout
[Disclosure: The writer’s husband is employed by CollegeHumor, and hosts the Dropout shows MegaDungeon Live and Tablepop.]
IMDb’s streaming service, IMDb TV (formerly Freedive), is completely free, offering movies and TV shows on the IMDb website or Amazon Fire devices.
What it costs: nothing
Who should subscribe: anyone who likes free stuff
What to watch: Apocalypse Now, Zodiac, Charlie’s Angels, Forensic Files
When to cancel: never — it’s free!
Subscribe here: IMDb
If you have a library card, chances are you already have access to this collection of classic and indie films. Kanopy partners with schools and libraries to make the service free for students and patrons.
What it costs: nothing (check if your library or school is included)
Who should subscribe: anyone with access
What to watch: Moonlight, Lady Bird, Eighth Grade, Rashomon
When to cancel: never!
Check if you have access here: Kanopy
Rather than a huge collection, Mubi offers a curated selection of just 30 films that change each month. It’s an interesting idea that’s perfect for film lovers who are easily overwhelmed by choices.
What it costs: $10.99/month (seven-day free trial)
Who should subscribe: cinephiles who can’t make decisions
What to watch: whatever’s available
When to cancel: when the month’s selections aren’t interesting
Shudder is the largest horror-focused streaming service, with classic horror films alongside exclusive releases and original features, like Horror Noire, the excellent documentary about the history of black horror movies.
What it costs: $56.99/year; $5.99/month (seven-day free trial)
Who should subscribe: horror buffs
What to watch: Creepshow, The Love Witch, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Hellraiser, Texas Chainsaw Massacre
When to cancel: after Halloween
Another free streaming service, Sony Crackle has a pretty impressive lineup of TV and movies, from cult classics to actual classics.
What it costs: nothing
Who should subscribe: everyone — it’s free!
What to watch: Snatch, Drive, The Blob
When to cancel: if Sony starts charging for it, since most of the best content is available elsewhere
Subscribe here: Sony Crackle
VRV bundles several streaming services (many of which are mentioned above, like Boomerang, Crunchyroll, and CuriosityStream) onto one platform. There are also a few “VRV Select” exclusive series, including shows like HarmonQuest and My Brother, My Brother, and Me, which premiered on NBC’s now-defunct streaming service Seeso. Some content is free, but a VRV Premium membership eliminates ads and unlocks everything on the platform.
What it costs: $9.99/month (30-day free trial)
Who should subscribe: anime, comedy, and/or science nerds
What to watch: My Brother, My Brother, and Me; JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure; ’90s Nickelodeon shows
When to cancel: when it’s cheaper to go à la carte
Subscribe here: VRV
[Ed note: Former Polygon employees Griffin McElroy and Justin McElroy produced and starred in the show My Brother, My Brother, and Me, which streams on VRV.]
Streaming live TV
Of course, there are options for cable cord-cutters who still want the experience of watching TV as it airs. Several companies, from telecom giants to streaming startups, have launched live TV services in recent years. Most of them are pretty similar.
AT&T TV Now
The biggest perk of AT&T TV Now (formerly DirecTV Now) is that it includes HBO at no additional cost. It also offers upgraded packages with even more channels, and packages for sports, international, and premium cable are available as add-ons. However, it’s got a relatively stingy amount of DVR storage (20 hours) and only allows two people to stream simultaneously, with the option to add another screen for an extra $5/month.
Price: $50/month, with upgraded packages available (seven-day free trial)
Features: Viacom channels, HBO
Drawbacks: only 20 hours of cloud DVR storage, and only two simultaneous streams
Subscribe here: AT&T TV Now
Hulu + Live TV
If you’re already subscribed to Hulu, it’s pretty easy to add live TV to the service for an extra $39 per month. The basic plan allows only two simultaneous streams and up to 50 hours of cloud DVR storage. However, Hulu offers a bunch of add-ons, available à la carte or bundled together, including unlimited screens and DVR, premium cable, and entertainment and Spanish-language channel packages. Hulu is also currently the only streaming app available on Nintendo Switch.
Price: $44.99/month ad-supported; $50.99/month ad-free (seven-day free trial)
Features: lots of customization options, includes Hulu originals, Nintendo Switch app
Drawbacks: limited features unless you pay extra
Subscribe here: Hulu
Originally launched to livestream international soccer games, Fubo is now known as a “sports-first” live TV streaming service. The base package ($54.99/month) includes 71 sports, entertainment, and news channels, with up to two simultaneous streams and 30 hours of cloud DVR storage. Upgrade to a Family plan ($59.99/month) for an extra screen and 500 hours of storage, or spring for the Ultra plan ($79.99/month), which doubles the amount of channels available, including Viacom networks and Showtime.
Price: $54.99/month, with upgraded packages available (seven-day free trial)
Features: tons of live sports
Drawbacks: smaller overall selection of channels
Subscribe here: FuboTV
The cheapest option for live TV, Sling is best for those on a budget. By splitting some channels into two packages, both starting at $25/month, users can choose to keep that smaller selection of channels or combine them for $40/month. Sling Orange includes Disney-owned networks ESPN, Disney Channel, and Freeform, while Sling Blue has Fox and NBC. There are also plenty of add-ons, including local networks, premium cable subscriptions, and OTT streaming services.
Price: Starting at $25/month ($15 for the first month)
Features: super customizable, cheapest option
Drawbacks: bare-bones interface, can only stream on one screen at a time (on Orange plan)
Subscribe here: Sling
Our colleagues over at The Verge called YouTube TV “the best streaming TV experience” thanks to its “intuitive and straightforward interface.” And one of its biggest drawbacks, the lack of a Fire TV app, was remedied with the Amazon device’s second generation. However, YouTube TV doesn’t include any Viacom channels, which means no Comedy Central, VH1, Nickelodeon, MTV, BET, or Logo.
Features: up to three concurrent streams, unlimited DVR
Drawbacks: no Viacom channels, no HBO add-on
Subscribe here: YouTube