SHOPPING FOR A STREAMING SERVICE? HERE’S A GUIDE

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As the holidays approach, perhaps you are considering purchasing a streaming service for yourself or a loved one. Since cutting the cord on cable is the newest trend to get behind, I’ve compiled a list of the most popular streaming companies and the packages they offer, complete with my unsolicited and unearned thoughts on which ones are worth the monthly commitment.

1.

NETFLIX
Price Range: $9-$16 per month

Considered the “ol’ reliable” of streaming, Netflix has dominated the game with its massive collection of licensed content and hit originals. Moderately priced between $8.99 and $15.99 and devoid of commercials, users can create multiple accounts and enjoy all that the media giant has to offer. The catch comes at the emerging services that are taking back their content, leaving Netflix without favorites like The Office and Parks and Recreation (which will move to NBC’s upcoming streaming platform, Peacock) and Friends (which will migrate to HBO Max in May 2020).

The saving grace for Netflix is its dynamite original movies and series. Netflix has a unique advantage where its creators can take cinematic risks and allow for a couple of projects to flop, since the padding of its success will not see much of a dent if some things fail. That’s why Martin Scorsese can take a $140 million budget, pour it into an experimentally odd-yet-enjoyable crime drama in The Irishman (2019), then turn a $6.5 million profit, still generate broad love and acclaim, and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings does not bat an eye. Pair this practice with the worldwide success from titles like Black Mirror, BoJack Horseman, Stranger Things and Birdbox, and you’ve got a recipe for profit, profit and more profit.

OVERALL: Netflix is a fine investment…right now. Its original content is worth the money alone, but users will have to decide whether they want to foot the bill for Netflix originals plus whatever other streaming services will host their favorite classic binges.

2.

HULU
Price Range: $6-$12 per month, $45 per month with live television

I admit, I have all the bias toward Hulu because I love it so much. Almost acting as Netflix’s little sibling, Hulu carries a similar collection of licensed movies and shows with a healthy dose of original content that has done, for the most part, very well. But, the service definitely has its pitfalls, given that it does not have the cushion of widespread favorites like Netflix does.

However, Hulu has some gems that I absolutely cannot get over. From Canadian favorite Letterkenny to Hulu’s newest limited series Looking for Alaska, the service is covered in lesser-known gems that are so, so cleverly and beautifully made that, despite a resume that pales in comparison to Netflix’s, Hulu is a perfect choice for those who want their fix of mainstream shows with a side of quirky, creative original content. Plus, with Netflix shifting more toward TV show content, Hulu’s library of 1,650 shows and over 2,500 films will keep users engaged and entertained, but only if they are willing to branch out beyond watching Friends for the 60th-straight time.

OVERALL: My biases say go for Hulu and spring for the commercial-free package. Its charm merits the commitment.   Plus, the option for live TV may be the selling point for many folks who want to go cordless. However, you can certainly have Netflix without Hulu, but maybe not the other way around.

3.

DISNEY+
Price Range: $7 per month

Disney+ is the streaming service that has dominated the news since its launch on Nov. 12. It is a giant nostalgia train that many different generations can board, offering 500 movies and 7,500 TV episodes from Disney’s past up to brand new service-specific originals. And with Disney pulling some of its content from preexisting services to develop its own monopoly, coupled with the fact that Disney owns Hulu and ESPN, many streamers are asking if it is worth it to give in to the Mouse and add another streaming company to their entertainment repertoire.

Disney+ does not seem like a worthy service to purchase unless you’re a true buff that will use it to its ultimate worth. For, say, daycare owners, families with large numbers of siblings, schoolteachers and  people with the means to sit around all day and watch The Jungle Book, this seems like a perfectly reasonable purchase. But if you’re a broke college student (like me) who barely has time to call your mother or keep up with your ever-growing mountain of laundry that is becoming more sentient with each passing day, then that $6.99 might be a better fit for an extra coffee on the weekends or, I don’t know, some ramen or something.

OVERALL: I decided I will cash in on Disney+ when Disney creates a streaming conglomerate that will satisfy all my nostalgic, current and sports needs. Basically, when Disney dissolves Hulu and gets ESPN up and running on one cohesive collection, it will be worth it to me. If you have the time and extra cash to keep the magic of your childhood alive, then by all means, go for it. But, if life gets too much in the way to merit the seven bucks per month, then just finesse your way into someone else’s account and keep their password safe for that urge you’ll get once every few months to avoid doing work and just watch Tangled.

4.

AMAZON PRIME VIDEO
Price Range: $9 per month, or included with Amazon Prime subscription

Amazon Prime is one of those streaming services that come in handy exactly when you need it to. With 17,461 movie titles in its library, Amazon Prime Video contains almost five times the amount of movie content than Netflix. Combined with at least 55 Amazon original series, the service seems like a pretty good deal, especially for those who already have Amazon Prime subscriptions.

As for the content, I am considerably impressed by the original work Amazon is putting out. With favorites like Jack Ryan, Fleabag and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Amazon is doing an incredible job in the cinematic industry. Plus, with a killer student discount on Amazon Prime, the video membership comes automatically, which is pleasant. Amazon is contributing to the Netflix-esque style of releasing entire seasons of a show at once, encouraging a delightful weekend of binging followed by absolute turmoil for like, a year and a half before doing it all over again with the next season. That, to me, makes the service worth it. If I had to pay $9 per month for one TV episode per week, especially with the minuscule amount of television that I watch, it just does not seem palatable.

OVERALL: Would I purchase an Amazon Prime Video subscription if I did not have Amazon Prime? Probably not. But, do I appreciate the wonderful content Amazon is putting out and consider it worth paying for? Absolutely. Consider this service a middle-tier priority, compared to the other options on this list.

5.

HBO GO, HBO NOW, HBO MAX
Price Range: Included with cable or up to $15 per month

I will admit, I am not the biggest fan of HBO. It’s not because it does not have amazing work (it does), but the 90-minute episodes kind of lose me in this age of quick-moving binge media. But, I cannot say it is not worth it. For phenomena like Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, Veep and Curb Your Enthusiasm alone, HBO has proven to be a monstrous success in the world of cinema.

With three tiers of HBO packages to choose from, users can enjoy a free version (HBO GO) with a cable subscription or two higher-quality versions for $15 per month. HBO NOW can be purchased a la carte or as an add-on to a Hulu subscription. HBO MAX, coming May 2020, will contain a collaboration between AT&T and Warner Media to bring users classic content from Hanna-Barbera, Cartoon Network, Turner Media and others. HBO seems to be stepping up its game to try to rise up to the caliber of media giants like Netflix and Hulu, but I fear its star programs will be the only worthwhile thing going for it. Even though HBO has had some serious winners over the years, the sad reality is that every show has an expiration date and genius ideas are relatively finite in the television world, so its longevity will surely be tested come May 2020.

OVERALL: HBO is going to have to prove its merit through the various programs it can rope into its service. As Netflix has taught us, a strong foundation of successful work can allow for the more risky, out-of-the-box programs to reach audiences without fear of going under completely. HBO is probably a low-tier priority for now, until it can prove with the upcoming HBO MAX what it is capable of offering for $15 per month.


FINAL THOUGHTS

No matter which streaming service(s) you choose to purchase, I firmly believe it is worth cutting cable and going cord-free. With services like SlingTV, Amazon FireSticks and the like, it is hardly a problem nowadays to stick to a few streaming apps and a good Wi-Fi plan. This is, of course, all dependent on where someone lives, their internet capabilities at home and what they can afford. But, with a quick pro-con list and a little simple addition, a good streaming setup may be the most cost-effective and enjoyably worthy choice over the classic cable box.

EDITOR’S NOTE

The author was unaware of the existence of Apple TV+, which isn’t that surprising because nobody’s talking about it and it’s easy to miss. It’s $4.99 a month, and everything on it is original programming. It exists. That’s it.

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