Streaming Smackdown: Comparing the 10 Top Pay Services, Costs and What They Offer

8:00 AM 11/5/2015

by Natalie Jarvey

Confused on whether you should subscribe to Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, HBO and more? THR looks at the cost and the content for each.

  • Amazon Prime Instant Video

    Price: $99 a year (part of Prime subscription)

    Subscribers: N/A

    What It's Got: Niche original series led by Emmy winner Transparent — as well as the new 1980s comedy Red Oaks and drama The Man in the High Castle (Nov. 20) — round out licensed titles that include the HBO back catalog and CBS summer series; Prime is expanding into indie-oriented original films with Spike Lee's Chi-Raq.

    What's Missing: A broad original hit a la Netflix's Orange Is the New Black; newer HBO shows like Game of Thrones; distribution on the new Apple TV set-top box.

    Why Subscribe: Part of a Prime subscription that offers free shipping on many Amazon items; also includes Prime Music and unlimited photo storage.

  • CBS All Access

    Price: $5.99 a month

    Subscribers: N/A

    What It's Got: More than 7,500 on-demand episodes of CBS hits including The Good Wife and Mom as well as classics such as Cheers and Taxi are the big draw for the service, which also offers live local broadcasts in more than 100 affiliate markets. Coming in 2017: Star Trek.

    What's Missing: CBS' Thursday Night Football games, which are not available to live-stream.

    Why Subscribe: Past episodes of many shows are available elsewhere, and streams new episodes for nonsubscribers, but All Access offers fewer ads and next-day viewing on mobile.

  • HBO Now

    Price: $14.99 a month

    Subscribers: N/A

    What It's Got: All the perks of HBO without the pesky cable subscription, including new episodes of hits like Game of Thrones as well as hot-button documentaries and comedy specials; also offers full seasons of classics like The Sopranos and a rotating roster of several hundred film titles.

    What's Missing: More programming for new digital subscribers, but it's coming via a daily newscast from Vice and the shortform hit High Maintenance.

    Why Subscribe: HBO Now offers the same content as regular HBO but at a slightly cheaper price than having it added to a cable bundle — and with unlimited password sharing.

  • Hulu

    Price: $7.99 a month (limited ads)

    Subscribers: 9 million

    What It's Got: A small but growing slate of originals, including Jason Reitman's Casual and upcoming projects from J.J. Abrams and Jason Katims, bolster a strong library of next-day TV as well as exclusive streaming of Fox breakout Empire, the Seinfeld library, South Park and more.

    What's Missing: A more robust film library, despite exclusive Criterion Collection rights and a deal to add releases from Lionsgate, MGM and Paramount.

    Why Subscribe: A new ad-free $11.99-a-month option addresses customers' biggest complaint about the service, still one of the few places to watch a TV show the day after it airs.

  • Netflix

    Price: $9.99 a month (Standard)

    Subscribers: 69 million worldwide

    What It's Got: An ever-expanding slate of originals includes Aziz Ansari's Master of None (Nov. 6), a future Chelsea Handler talk show, children's series and original movies starting with Beasts of No Nation and Adam Sandler's The Ridiculous 6 (Dec. 11) — plus the series Breaking Bad, Mad Men and more.

    What's Missing: A larger selection of popular movies, deals for which have lapsed as Netflix's focus has turned to creating hits from scratch. Disney will help when its movies hit in 2016.

    Why Subscribe: The first online service to break out with original programs also has the greatest breadth of originals and is one of the few to offer streaming in ultra HD (though it costs extra).

  • PlayStation Vue

    Price: $49.99 a month (Basic)

    Subscribers: N/A

    What It's Got: More than 50 channels of live and recorded TV including AMC, Bravo and Cartoon Network mean a subscriber won't miss The Walking Dead. An additional $10 a month adds channels including local sports, and an extra $20 a month adds niche cable nets and college sports to the lineup.

    What's Missing: Wide availability. Subscriptions require a PlayStation con- sole and are offered only in seven major markets, including Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.

    Why Subscribe: The breadth of networks available for live-streaming — and unlimited storage for recording shows — help justify a cablelike price.


  • Seeso

    Price: $3.99 a month

    Subscribers: N/A

    What It's Got: The yet-to-launch NBCUniversal service will include ad-free NBC fare available elsewhere (30 Rock, Saturday Night Live), more than 20 original comedies from funnymen including Dan Harmon and Wyatt Cenac and exclusives such as Monty Python's Flying Circus and The Kids in the Hall.

    What's Missing: A current half-hour hit on NBC (the network doesn't have any) and exclusives on the old stuff. Seeso will need to bolster its library if it wants to keep subscribers coming back.

    Why Subscribe: Hard-core comedy fans looking to replace the Community-shaped hole in their TV diet can't beat a price that makes it one of the cheapest ad-free options.

  • Showtime

    Price: $10.99 a month

    Subscribers: N/A

    What It's Got: The pay cable network's CIA hit Homeland and sophomore drama The Affair, available since July for streaming without the monthly cable commitment, join older hits Weeds and Dexter, more than 300 movie titles and live boxing bouts.

    What's Missing: A broader range of acclaimed originals and the bigger HBO library of top-tier Hollywood movies to justify a monthly subscription.

    Why Subscribe: A wide distribution plan — Hulu subscribers, for example, can sign up at a discount — and lower price make it easier to watch Showtime than HBO online.


  • Sling TV

    Price: $20 a month

    Subscribers: 169,000 (as of March)

    What It's Got: More than 20 curated cable and online video networks make up Dish TV's "skinny" live bundle. That includes ESPN, AMC and Disney Channel, which comes with commercials. Sports, entertainment and children's programming packages can be added for $5 a month each.

    What's Missing: The broadcast networks and a lion's share of cable channels including MTV and Comedy Central; a wide selection of VOD titles.

    Why Subscribe: A compelling alternative to a cable package (even for sports fans), with an option to add HBO for an additional cost, makes watching live TV easy for the cord-cutter.


  • YouTube Red

    Price: $9.99 a month

    Subscribers: N/A

    What It's Got: Everything available for free on YouTube is on Red, but without ads. A small slate of original series and movies from top YouTube creators, reality spoof Sing It! from The Fine Brothers and the film A Trip to Unicorn Island, starring Lilly Singh, eventually will premiere.

    What's Missing: Clips and highlights from ESPN, one of the few media outlets that did not agree to makes its existing YouTube videos available on the new ad-free service.

    Why Subscribe: If ad-free doesn't entice, YouTube also has packed Red with features users have been demanding, including the ability to play videos in the background and while offline.