Wondering which streaming service gives you the most bang for your buck? Our TV expert has done a thorough investigation – and broken down the best and worst elements of them all
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Has the streaming service bubble finally burst?
Analytics group Kantar released the news this week that UK consumers cancelled approximately 1.5mn streaming subscriptions in the first quarter of 2022. Viewers are turning off from Disney+, Now TV, Netflix and more.
The downturn in subscriptions has been conjectured to be due to both the cost of living crisis, causing consumers to take a long, hard look at their household finances, and the end of the pandemic-fuelled streaming boom, when we all huddled around the TV for distraction during lockdown.
Simultaneously, though, there is more ‘content’ available than ever, as streaming services seek to win new viewers by creating original content, acquiring awards-baiting films (congrats, Apple+, on your savvy purchase of CODA, which went on to win best picture at this year’s Oscars), and purchasing the back catalogues of iconic film and TV series (what’s that, Amazon Prime? You’re now screening every Bond film as part of your subscription package? Impressive!).
Even if you’re feeling the pinch of harder times, the likelihood is that you’ll want one or two streaming channels available to you, to keep you entertained and able to converse with your friends about the latest telly.
But as they’re not all created equally – in terms of cost, interface, or quality of content – which TV streaming service is the right one for you?
Which subscription services are worth it: at a glance
We understand, of course, that what one person wants from a streaming service may differ wildly from another.
Here, we’ve compared prices, user interface, features, TV shows, movies, and movie, and asked our resident TV expert Alex Moreland to weigh in on how each of the services compare.
Here’s a breakdown of each service, and whether you will be getting the most bang for your buck.
Price: £6.99 (Basic), £10.99 (Standard), £15.99 (Premium)
Notable shows: Bridgerton, Stranger Things, You, The Witcher, Squid Game, Money Heist
Compatible devices: Gaming consoles, DVD and Blu-ray players, Smart TVs, set-top boxes, streaming sticks, home theatre systems and mobile phones and tablets
Maximum Resolution: 4K (Premium), HD (Standard), SD (Basic)
Simultaneous streams: 4 (Premium), 2 (Standard), 1 (Basic)
Costing a minimum of £15.99 a month for the HD, Netflix takes the spot as the second most expensive service on our list.
However, with 6,718 movies and TVs on offer, subscribers are getting a lot of value for money.
The service remains the most popular platforms amongst viewers, with 221.6 million global subscribers.
The streaming service built up its subscriber base after launching a selection of award winning must watch originals. The list includes House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things and The Crown.
The premium subscription model allows for up to 4 devices to watch the service at the same time, and also gives the option of Ultra HD and 4K.
A serious issue with the service is their penchant for cancelling popular shows ahead the end of their run: Daredevil, Anne With an E, The OA and Glow were all cancelled despite cult fan bases.
Additionally, they have a tendency to launch films without much fanfare, making it difficult for viewers to find cinematic gems.
Netflix still has two advantages over every other streaming service. Its ubiquity (for the moment) means it’s going to be responsible for a lot of word-of-mouth cultural events – it’s going to be a long time before Apple TV+ has a hit on the scale of Squid Game – and it still has a huge collection of library titles beyond its inconsistent original content.
But as new streaming services continue to spring up, and the licenses to those shows made by other companies expire, the breadth of content available on Netflix is going to start to dry up – and that’s even before you factor in their habit of cancelling shows prematurely.
Familiarity will win out for a while – especially since Netflix has one of the better user interfaces still – but unless you’re a big fan of specific Netflix originals, you might be better off relying on free streaming services like iPlayer and All4 for rewatches and trying some of the originals put out by other platforms.
Price: £7.99 a month or £79.90 for a year
Notable shows: The Simpsons, Moon Knight, The Dropout, Dopesick, The Mandalorian, Get Back (the Beatles documentary)
Compatible devices: Amazon Fire TV and Fire tablets, Android devices and Android-based Sony Smart TVs, Apple TV, Google Chromecast and Chromebooks, iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV LG devices, PlayStation 4/5, Roku, Samsung devices, Xbox One and Xbox Series S/X
The newbie on the streaming service block has come in hard and fast, gaining over 129.8 million subscribers since its launch in December 2019.
For a long time, the platform’s main selling point was having exclusive access to the Marvel universe, the Star Wars franchise, Disney and Pixar originals and The Simpsons – making it the perfect destination for family entertainment.
However, Disney+ took it a step further, adding STAR to its roster, doubling the selection of hit movies and mainstream TV shows available to users.
Disney+ now has 500 films, 350 series, 26 Disney+ Original shows available to watch – as well as over 700 episodes of The Simpsons
The platform has one of the easiest user interfaces to control, adding to its claim of being family friendly.
Shows are available in 4K and HDR, in many cases, for no extra cost.
Surely the competitor that Netflix is most worried about, Disney+ is a lot better value for money than you’d expect – there’s the huge back catalogue of family favourites and franchises like Marvel and Star Wars, but with the addition of FX and Hulu titles like Atlanta or The Dropout there’s a fair amount there in terms of quality original content too.
It’s maybe still worth thinking about it in terms of which of their library titles you’re interested in – classic Disney movies or new Marvel superheroes or every episode of The Simpsons – but if you’re looking to cancel Netflix and try something new, Disney+ is the most obvious starting point.
Apple TV Plus
Notable shows: Ted Lasso, The Morning Show, We Crashed, Foundation, For All Mankind, Slow Horses
Compatible devices: iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac, Amazon Fire TV, Roku and some new sets from Samsung, LG, Vizio, and Sony
Free trial: Yes, seven days
Apple hoped to stake their claim in the streaming service landscape when they launched Apple TV Plus in November 2019.
The tech giant aimed to make a big impact with its high-budget originals like The Morning Show with Jennifer Aniston, and See, starring Jason Momoa.
Their focus was quality over quantity, with Jason Sudeikis football comedy Ted Lasso becoming a lockdown favourite, while recent shows Slow Horses, We Crashed, Mythic Quest, Schmigadoon! and Servant proving critical successes.
Though they sit at a comparatively meagre 50 million subscribers globally, there’s no doubt the platform has made an impact in a short period of time, and with the deep pockets of Apple’s empire behind it, they’re likely to continue to garner a further foothold in the streaming world.
Apple TV+ loses out on quantity, there’s no argument there. But in terms of the quality of its original programming – from Ted Lasso to For All Mankind, from The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey to Severance, from Pachinko to Dickinson to even The Morning Show – it’s honestly probably the best of them all.
With the exception of Ted Lasso, little of Apple TV+’s programming has cut through in the mainstream – you will forever be that person going “look, you really should watch For All Mankind, I know it’s on Apple but it’s worth it really” – so it’s probably not the one for you if you put a lot of value on the communal side of television. It’s also relatively sci-fi heavy compared to the other streamers, which won’t be for everyone.
But, if your main concern is just having something good to watch, Apple TV+ should be your first port of call, offering the highest average hit rate across each platform.
Amazon Prime Video
Notable shows: Homecoming, Fleabag, Jack Ryan, the Marvellous Miss Maisel – and all of the Bond films
Compatible devices: Smart TVs, blu-ray players, set-top boxes (Roku, Google TV, TiVo, Nvidia Shield), Amazon Fire TV, Fire TV Stick, game consoles, Android devices (Prime Video app for Android phones and tablets), iOS devices, Fire phone and Fire tablets
Prime Video is home to the largest library of TV and films with more than 21,066 titles available as part of the subscription, and an additional 40,000 available for a rental fee.
This is great if you are looking for the largest selection, but the streaming service falters at the quality of shows available.
The service has 117 million global subscribers.
Amazon Prime Video has a smaller selection of Amazon Original shows and movies (although this is increasing after a drive for more original content), compared to its rival Netflix.
That said, for sheer volume of content, it’s the leader of the pack, and we enjoy it particularly for it’s film library, if not the TV shows.
Amazon probably has the most difficult-to-navigate interface, which almost seems deliberately designed to obscure what’s actually on there as part of a Prime subscription – about half the time, it feels like, you’ll be expected to pay for something individually that was listed among their general content library.
It’s also difficult to think of any flagship Amazon shows that are essential and unmissable – there’s plenty of good ones, but really Amazon Prime Video is less of a necessity on its own terms, and more a nice addition to have as well if you’re already making use of Amazon Prime.
NOW (formerly NOW TV)
Price: £9.99 a month (Entertainment Pass), £9.99 (Cinema Pass), £4.99 (Hayu Pass), £24.98 a month (Entertainment, Cinema + Boost Pass)
Notable shows: Euphoria, Peacemaker, Winning Time, Game of Thrones, Succession, And Just Like That, The Gilded Age
Compatible devices: Xbox & PS4/PS5, YouView, Roku, NOW TV Box, EE TV, Apple TV, selected LG Smart TV models, blu-ray players and soundbars, Chromecast
Free trial: Yes, seven days
Maximum Resolution: 720p HD (Full 1080p HD with NOW Boost for an extra £5 a month)
Simultaneous Streams: 1 (3 with NOW Boost for an extra £5 a month)
If you want the full-service version, NOW comes in at the most expensive of the streaming services available, but does give viewers a pick ‘n’ mix Sky experience, and the only UK access to HBO.
The platform provides a good rental option for streamers wishing to have a weekend over sport, or access to Sky Cinema’s film selection.
Pick just one pass and at it comes in at £9.99.
The streaming service also falters when it presents users with subscription models that lets users pick either 720p and 1080p HD quality, with the latter costing more money.
The most expensive, but probably the best in terms of what you get access to – it’s the only place in the UK that offers access to HBO (and with it zeitgeisty series like Succession and Euphoria) and Peacock (surprisingly good movie selection) titles, with Paramount+ and Showtime expected to become available by the end of the year.
It might be one you’re better off subscribing to and cancelling in short bursts, but between the live TV, sport, and Sky Cinema packages there’s a lot to appreciate about NOW TV.