There are a ton of streaming services available, from free apps to premium add-ons, major game-changers to hopeful upstarts. But not all streamers are created equal. So we at Paste are here to help you navigate which one(s) might be right for you: We polled our editors and writers—who each subscribe or have access to a majority of these platforms—on price (and value), library (depth and quality of content), and user experience (how easy it is to navigate, availability on different platforms). We then averaged those ratings to create the ranking below, starting with our #1 champ.
Beyond the majors, we also have recommendations on smaller add-on services that are worth subscribing to or adding for free to your TV streaming repertoire. Keep in mind, all of these services are ranked for their television offerings, but we did consider movies as a secondary stat. (One note on lingo, “ad-supported” = commercials).
For an even bigger and ever-growing (unranked) reference map to almost every subscription service out there, check out our Streaming TV Guide.
1. HBO Max
Rating: 4.5 / 5
The Verdict: Despite a confusing launch and not being available on two major platforms at the time (an issue which has been rectified), we could not overlook the streamer’s value and library of content. Though the app itself can be a little hinky, getting all of HBO’s current series and back catalogue alongside great originals and library titles from Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, TNT, TBS, and more is a bargain—not even mentioning the movie side, where you can (this year) see new releases at no additional cost, plus get the Studio Ghibli and Criterion Collections at your fingertips. With a planned discovery+ merger on the horizon, no one has as much to offer at such a good price as HBO Max.
Rating: 4 / 5
Cost: $7.99/mo or $79.99/year There’s also a bundled package option, where for $13.99/mo, you can get Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ ($19.99/mo for Hulu without ads)
The Verdict: As expected, the Mouse House was a consistent performer in our polling across the board. Family-friendly and full of new blockbuster TV collaborations with Marvel and Star Wars, Disney+ makes up for a smaller overall available library with some nostalgic heavy hitters and some awesome National Geographic programs. It also has a very affordable price point. Disney, as always, is a solid bet.
Rating: 3.5 / 5
Cost: Basic (non-HD) is $8.99/mo, Standard (2 HD streams) is $13.99, and Premium (four HD streams) is $17.99/mo
The Verdict: The granddaddy of streaming services has waned a little in terms of its overall prowess in this saturated marketplace. Netflix got high marks from our voters on navigation and user experience, but only middling grades for its library (which now leans more heavily on a mixed bag of original series and movies rather than licensed content from other studios), as well as its ever-climbing price point.
Rating: 3 / 5
Cost: $5.99/mo with ads, $11.99/mo no ads, and Hulu Hulu without ads)
The Verdict: Hulu is a hodgepodge, and has plenty of great stuff… if you can find it. In addition to struggling with app navigation (which has gotten some key upgrades lately), Hulu still runs a high number of ad breaks even in its paid tier. Hulu’s price is certainly decent for what it offers, especially if you bundle it with their Live TV option. But even on its own, Hulu is a great place to catch up with weekly episodes the next day from broadcast networks and cable channels (like Freeform and FX), and has a good assortment of original series.
5. Amazon / Paramount+ / Apple TV+ / Peacock
Rating: 2.5 / 5
Amazon: Included in your $119/year Prime account with free 2-day shipping; $8.99/mo just for video.
Paramount+: A premium plan at $9.99/mo and an ad-supported base plan at $4.99/mo.
Apple TV+: $4.99/mo (If you have recently purchased an Apple device, you get a year of Apple TV+ free).
Peacock: Free ad-supported tier with a limited library; the $4.99/mo tier has ads, but gives access to the full library (free for Comcast cable subscribers); the $9.99 tier is the full library without ads.
The Verdict: We managed a four-way tie for last place in our ranking, with all of these services getting the same middling grades on their libraries of content and user experience (Amazon being the worst, averaging a 1 for Prime’s navigation faults especially on desktop). While the price for each of these individual streamers is decent (especially if you bundle Amazon with Prime shipping), none necessarily make a case yet as a must-own service. Still, each have positives to consider. Paramount+ has niche appeal as a Star Trek hub, Peacock has some good originals (and a free tier to watch select seasons of older shows), Amazon has Lord of the Rings on the horizon, and Apple TV+ has Ted Lasso and is free for a year if you purchase an Apple device. Basically, all are worth a free trial, but take a good look at their library of shows before you make a commitment.
See our full recommendation list of Amazon series here
See our full recommendation list of Paramount+ series here
See our full recommendation list of Peacock series here
See our full recommendation list of Apple TV+ series here
Below are suggestions for small add-on streaming services that are favorites for the Paste editors and writers, including a number of free apps:
As our own Jim Vorel recently wrote, “For the horror, sci-fi and thriller-minded among us, AMC’s Shudder has become an increasingly valuable resource. As one of the first nichey streaming services to go big, it pioneered the idea that genre fans would be willing to pay a monthly fee just to gain access to a specific library of horror and thriller titles, and has since supplemented that library (which has grown and shrunk at various points in the last few years, like all streaming services) with a fair among of original content—none receiving more attention than the well-received reboot of George Romero’s Creepshow this year.”
Cost: Plans start at $5.99/mo or $56.99/yr. The service is ad-free and there are no extra fees.
What Makes It Unique: Shudder is the only horror-focused streaming service, and though it has been bundled into other services like VRV in the past, it’s becoming big enough and popular enough now to stand on its own.
Discovery+ brings together more than 55,000 episodes from your favorite networks that specialize in non-fiction programming, including HGTV, the Food Network, the Cooking Channel, Investigation Discovery (ID), TLC, the Travel Channel, OWN, A&E, Lifetime, and Animal Planet, among others. With everything available in one place and accessible through a relatively simple interface, it’s never been easier to lose yourself in an all-day Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives marathon or to escape to picturesque locales around the country as people buy, build, and renovate homes in Maine (Maine Cabin Masters), Alaska (Buying Alaska), and everywhere in between (Buying the Bayou). And that’s the real beauty of a streaming service like discovery+; it offers thousands of hours of programming that is tailor-made for a day spent lounging on the couch, and unlike scripted TV, it rarely requires your full attention to appreciate it. —Kaitlin Thomas
Cost: $4.99/mo for ad-supported viewing or $6.99/mo for ad-free, with a 7-day free introductory trial for new subscribers.
What Makes It Unique: Most streaming services produce scripted content with only a meager side helping of non-fiction programming, but the vast library of discovery+ features nothing but these programs. It’s the on-demand equivalent of a day spent marathoning a new series you’ve never heard of after randomly stumbling upon it while channel surfing. And making this considerably easier to do is the existence of discovery+ channels. While not available at launch, these channels will debut on the service Jan. 29 and allow subscribers to tune in 24/7 to non-stop steams of their favorite series, including 90 Day Fiancé, Fixer Upper, Chopped, and more. Additionally, various well-known personalities from the Discovery family, including Joe Kenda, Randy Fenoli, and Ben and Erin Napier, are curating custom collections that will feature their favorite discovery+ shows and personal stories.
Kanopy / Kanopy Kids
If you’ve heard of Kanopy before, it’s likely been from someone praising A) its deep catalog of foreign and independent films, B) the fact that, as a streaming reference, it’s free to access through your public library, or C) all of the above. What it’s not usually praised for is its catalog of television shows—and for good reason. While it’s true that its tiny TV section does have a rotation of notable series.
But then, there’s Kanopy Kids, which not only offers unlimited viewing (compared to the 10/month limit on the grown-up side), but which is chockablock full of stellar TV content—both from the usual English-language sources (PBS and the BBC), and from non-English sources around the world. Of highest interest to most kids and families will be things like Sesame Street (multiple, but not all, seasons), Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (same), and Ready Jet Go!, but more exciting for us was finding international series like The Longhouse Tales and Wapos Bay (both Canadian and stop-motion animated), Artzooka! (Canadian/German), Bushwhacked! (Australian), Earth to Luna! (Brazilian), Punky (Irish, about a little girl with Down syndrome) and Bino & Fino (Nigerian), all of which we could only have dreamed about having had access to as kids. With so many families looking ahead to so many more months of staying huddled up at home together, we can’t think of a better streaming service to recommend trying out than Kanopy Kids. And when the kids go to bed, parents can go ahead and watch Wilfred. You deserve it. —Alexis Gunderson
Cost: Free! All you need is a library card, which will almost certainly be available to sign up for online via your local branch throughout the pandemic. (Limit 10 views per month from the grown-up catalog. Unlimited viewing on Kanopy Kids.)
What Makes It Unique: Mostly the breadth of its Kanopy Kids content—though the documentary series on the history of cinema and pioneers of early television are worth checking out when you’re in between films on the grown-up side of the service.
With streaming video on demand so ascendant, we suppose it was only a matter of time before the Internet Movie Database (AKA IMDb, AKA that site you bookmarked for your parent so they could stop asking you “Who’s that person, with the face, who was in that thing with the dog…?”) put together a service of its own. Enter: IMDb TV, the free (ad-supported) streaming service whose biggest leg up over its rivals is that it can present potential viewers with bright pink PLAY buttons whenever they look up a show or movie that happens to currently be available in its rotating catalogue.
As for what that catalogue includes? Well, the average eye might conclude it varies little from what its rival free services offer—think anything that wouldn’t feel out of place as a marathon block on daytime cable—but the discerning viewer will note that a lot of these daytime binge-friendly titles are ones that are hard to track down on any streaming service, free or not—think Ally McBeal; think My So-Called Life; think, most critically, Columbo. That series has been a missing piece of the comfort-streaming puzzle since Netflix gave up its right to it more than a year ago, and which is crucial, all-things-can-eventually-be-put-to-rights viewing in this period of extreme anxiety. Add to all of that five full seasons of recent pop culture darling Schitt’s Creek, and you’ve got streaming television’s equivalent of a true hidden gem. —Alexis Gunderson
What Makes It Unique: A) It’s easy to access, but more importantly B) Columbo.
PBS Passport gives viewers access to selections of PBS’s past and current programming, including early access to new episodes of Masterpiece favorites and others. While many of the series broadcast on PBS can be found elsewhere (on Amazon or Netflix, say), watching them there doesn’t give you the satisfaction of knowing that your dollars are helping to support a public-serving platform made possible by Viewers Like You. Plus, the relatively small catalogue on the app helps one hone in on specific types of programming that are easily lost in a sea of Netflix and Amazon choices. And if you donate to your local PBS station, then in most cases you get PBS Passport included.
Cost: $5/mo or $60/year (often included with a PBS donation)
What Makes It Unique: PBS Passport is essentially PBS on demand, which is a nice option to have for viewers looking for a platform full of worthwhile dramas, mysteries, documentaries, and culinary shows. (As well as those who have cut the cord and can’t get PBS clearly through an antenna).
Another ad-supported free streaming service, Pluto TV is a ViacomCBS subsidiary that launched in 2013 and features both a huge library of on-demand TV and movie content and over 250 “live” channels (some networks, many series-specific), all from more than 170 content partners. With bingeable gems like The Addams Family, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, Kevin Hart’s Comedy in Color stand-up series, not to mention 13 seasons each of Degrassi: The Next Generation and Midsomer Murders, there’s enough solid television available on demand that you might not even need the live element, but these are strange times! Maybe a bit of old fashioned mindless channel surfing is just what the pop culture doctor ordered. —Alexis Gunderson
What Makes It Unique: The Live TV feature really makes Pluto TV stand out, at least insofar as it gives users that more abstract “just flipping through channels” TV-watching feeling. That some of those channels are bullshit bad-actor “news” ones is Not Great, but the idea of live programming, in the vast, ever-expanding SVOD landscape we’re currently in is definitely worth taking note of.
If you’re okay with ads randomly interrupting the flow of what you’re watching, and you’re looking for a little bit of everything that covers a LOT of (mostly old) ground, Tubi is the place to go. Offering more than 30,000 film and television titles from the last 70 years from studios including (at time of publication) Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount Pictures, Lionsgate, Warner Bros, Studio 100, Shout Factory, Nelvana, DHX Media and Bridgestone Multimedia, Tubi is the completely free (yes, free!) streaming service that lets you see the original British runs of series like Being Human, Shameless and Peep Show alongside classics from America’s Golden Age of Television (The Dick van Dyke Show; The Andy Griffith Show; The Patty Duke Show). There are also Australian and Canadian cult faves from the early aughts (Wilfred; Life with Derek) and a whole pile of anime (subbed), animation (random) and K-Dramas (too many, as always, to count). Anime and K-dramas aren’t the only foreign language offerings available, either—Spanish- and Russian-language shows have a big footprint on Tubi, too. Speaking of foreign languages, for fans of incomprehensible British panel shows still on the fence about splashing out for BritBox, Tubi even has a few Stephen Fry seasons (series H-K) of QI currently available. —Alexis Gunderson
Truly, Tubi offers a grab bag of odd, often nostalgic content—throw a dart, you’re sure to hit something unexpected and fun.
What Makes It Unique: Two words: Free and volume.
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