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Which streaming service is best for you?

Cord-cutting at its finest.


Michelle Jaworski


Posted on Sep 21, 2016   Updated on May 25, 2021, 11:20 pm CDT

Whether you cut the cord or supplement your cable subscription, streaming services are an integral part of modern entertainment. We can access premium channels with no strings attached, watch recent episodes of shows, or binge an entire series that went off the air years ago—and many networks like HBO are finally offering their own packages.

We’ve got nearly a dozen services to choose from, and while each on its own is cheaper than a cable bill, content adds up. It’s not feasible for everyone to use all of them, so how do you decide?

Here’s what you need to know—happy comparison shopping!


Price: $8.99/month for Basic; $12.99/month for Standard; $15.99/month for Premium

Free trial period: One month

Can you livestream? No

Are there commercials? No

Original programming: More than 150 original TV shows, films, documentaries, and comedy specials (and counting)

Outside exclusive programming: CW shows (which post full seasons eight days after the finale); Disney, Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar movies

Netflix’s been in the streaming business for nearly a decade (after operating a DVD mailing service since 1998), and has basically become synonymous with streaming itself. It’s been at it longer than many of its competitors and brought a rotation of thousands of movies, shows, documentaries, and specials to viewers. Its selection of TV shows is certainly stronger than its movies, which are decreasing as Netflix doubles down on original programming.

In just a few years, it’s become must-see TV—and it’s also become a savior to shows canceled too soon and nostalgic fodder itching for a reboot. A few years into that initiative, it releases dozens of shows, films, documentaries, and comedy specials throughout the year. Its programming has become watercooler talk that rolls in cascades as viewers binge through seasons.

The difference in price tiers is about access. Basic is for one screen, Standard for two screens and HD capabilities, and Premium is four screens and 4K-quality content. While it doesn’t have everything, you’ll probably get more out of it if you’re more of a TV person.

Amazon Instant Video

Price: $99/year for Amazon Prime; $10.99/month for monthly Amazon Prime plan; $8.99/month for Prime Video only

Free trial period: 30 days

Can you livestream? No

Are there commercials? No

Original programming: An expanding list of shows, movies, and children’s program but Transparent put Amazon on the map; users can vote on their favorite pilots

Outside exclusive programming: Doctor Who, Mr. Robot, Downton Abbey, Vikings, Orphan Black, Justified, and many more (See full list of movies and shows here)

If you’re already a frequent Amazon shopper, getting a full Prime plan (you save slightly by opting for the year-long service over monthly payments) is a no-brainer; it also offers music streaming, free two-day shipping, free Kindle eBooks, photo storage, and original Audible series.

Amazon’s original programming initiative isn’t as far along as, say, rival Netflix, but with Transparent and The Man in the High Castle as Emmy contenders and more unique shows being released, there’s promise in the program. Amazon’s pilot program is also unique in that it allows users to watch pilots and vote on whether they should be greenlit.


Price: $5.99/month for plan with limited commercials; $11.99/month for No Ads plan

Free trial period: One month

Can you livestream? Hulu with Live TV allows users to livestream channels (for $44.99 per month, including Hulu library access)

Are there commercials? Yes, if you pay for the cheaper tier

Original programming: A comedy stronghold and some notable dramatic shows and miniseries, but the bulk of its programs have ended or been canceled—with more than a dozen new programs in the works

Outside exclusive programming: South Park, Seinfeld, Empire, Dawson’s Creek, Cartoon Network and Adult Swim shows; a strong anime selection; current seasons are available as early as next-day

Until recently, Hulu offered a free tier for users who could access the most recent episodes of a particular TV show (sometimes requiring a cable subscription). It’s unique in that you can watch recent shows whereas Netflix and Amazon only stream seasons already released in full, although you can purchase episodes or seasons from the latter for an additional fee. But Hulu’s biggest drawback for some consumers, commercials, are still there for the lower tier; you have to pay an additional $4 a month to get rid of them.

Its original programming didn’t receive much attention for years, but a revamp helped change the conversation. Hulu has critical acclaim in Casual, big names such as the James Franco-led 11/22/63, rescued The Mindy Project from cancellation and has a slate of highly anticipated projects including The Handmaid’s Tale and Marvel’s Runaways.


Price: $14.99/month; $15/month for Sling TV add-on

Free trial period: One month

Can you livestream? Yes

Are there commercials? No

Original programming: Nearly every HBO original series, film, miniseries, and documentary in its arsenal—but chances are you’re looking to watch Game of Thrones

Outside exclusive programming: The Larry Sanders Show (HBO didn’t own its earliest shows); a vast collection of recent films not streaming elsewhere

HBO Now was an answer to people who wanted to watch its programming without the cost of a cable subscription, and it’s basically HBO Go except this version is exclusively online. If you’re already a fan of HBO original programming, this is a no-brainer: you won’t find it on any other streaming service. And while $14.99 is a hefty price to pay for only Game of Thrones, it’s far from the only show worth watching. You can always peruse HBO’s back catalog—at the very least, get everyone off your back for not having seen The Sopranos and The Wire—and worst-case, pick it up for the new season of what you watch and drop it after it ends.

But TV isn’t the only place where HBO Now thrives. Its list of movies updates monthly and is always worth browsing to see what’s been added—although occasionally it may go down when there is a high volume of traffic.


Price: $8.99/month through both Starz app and Amazon Prime

Free trial period: 7 days

Can you livestream? Yes

Are there commercials? No

Original programming: Past and current series of original Starz programs like PowerOutlander, Ash Vs. Evil Dead, and Black Sails

Outside exclusive programming: Classic TV shows, an extensive film collection that currently includes Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Starz, like HBO, now lets viewers pay to watch Starz content without a cable subscription. But unlike other premium cable streaming options, Starz’s streaming capabilities (online or through the Starz app) are combined into one no matter how you pay for it. (You can also purchase it as an add-on to your Amazon Prime account for the same price.) However, Starz allows you to download most of the titles it offers so you can watch offline.

This is a service to go, for more for its movie selection—its original programming, despite housing gems like Power, is slim compared to other services. Although it’s looking like that’ll change soon: American Gods, the TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s famous novel from Bryan Fuller, is arriving next year.


Price: $10.99/month through Showtime; $8.99/month through Amazon Prime, $10.99 a month through Hulu

Free trial period: 30 days if you go through Showtime, PlayStation Vue, or Roku; 7 days if you go through Amazon Prime or Hulu

Can you livestream? Yes

Are there commercials? No

Original programming: Critically acclaimed hits like Homeland, Masters of Sex, Ray Donovan, The Affair, and Shameless; exclusive sports programming

Outside exclusive programming: A vast selection of movies and documentaries in a variety of genres

Showtime’s streaming service is the cable subscription-free version of Showtime Anytime, and like HBO Now and Starz, it gives you access to its extensive movie catalog along with all of its original programming. Showtime is especially versatile in that you can subscribe through a number of avenues and make it work with whatever device or screen you’re watching it with.

You’re also able to access Showtime’s East and West Coast feeds through the show, which will let you watch those big shows along with everyone else.

CBS All Access

Price: $5.99/month for Limited Commercials; $9.99 for Commercial-Free

Free trial period: One week for Limited Commercials option

Can you livestream? No, but local channels can be streamed live in 151 TV markets

Are there commercials? Yes

Original programming: Access to more than 8,500 episodes on demand—mostly classics; current seasons of TV shows (but not past seasons); exclusive programming such as Star Trek: Discovery and The Good Wife spinoff The Good Fight

Outside exclusive programming: Older CBS shows that aren’t available to stream on other services

If you’ve ever itched to get access to all of your CBS shows, CBS All Access certainly has them. Most of its catalog consists of older shows no longer on the air, but you can watch current seasons of shows starting the next day; backlogs of current TV shows, such as The Big Bang Theory, aren’t available. It also allows you to livestream your local CBS news station if you live in a certain television market.

However, CBS All Access does have its limitations. NFL games aren’t included on CBS All Access unless you sign up with Optimum internet. And if you already have a cable subscription, it looks like you still have to pay for CBS All Access (instead of it being a supplement to cable, as is the case for most of these services) to essentially watch two exclusive shows.

You can pay an extra $4 a month to get rid of commercials, but at the end of the day the Commercial Free option still has commercials. You can’t get rid of commercials that air during live local broadcasts, and some shows will still have short “promotional interruptions.” Given that, if you’re not looking forward to Star Trek or the Good Wife spinoff, it’s hard to argue for this one.

Sling TV

Price: $25/month for Sling Orange; $25/month for Sling Blue; $40/month for Sling Orange + Blue (plus 40% off the first month); add-ons available for an additional monthly cost

Free trial period: 7 days

Can you livestream? Yes

Are there commercials? Yes

Original programming: N/A

Outside exclusive programming: N/A

Sling TV, an offset of Dish TV, is essentially an answer for people who want their TV a la carte—as opposed to paying for channels you will never watch. The cheapest tier comes in at $20 a month and gives you access to 28 channels such as ESPN, AMC, Comedy Central, and Food Network. For $5 more, you can get 44 total channels but ESPN channels are off the list. Like regular TV, it’s subject to the same kind of commercials and blackouts.

You can add more options for anywhere between an additional $5-15 per month, but with enough of them, it could easily pass the cost of a cable bill.

PlayStation Vue

In Body Image
PlayStation Vue’s Core package

Price: $49.99/month for Access Package; $54.99/month for Core Package; $64.99/month for Elite Package; $84.99/month for Ultra Package; add-ons and other standalone channels also available

Free trial period: 7 days

Can you livestream? Yes

Are there commercials? Yes

Original programming: N/A

Outside exclusive programming: N/A

Playstation Vue is expensive, especially for streaming. The cheapest option rolls in at $49.99 a month. That’s twice as much as Sling TV, its main competition in an overall cable replacement, but the initial package comes with more than twice the amount of channels in the cheapest Sling TV option and more channels than its most expensive option.

Vue, which you can access through your PlayStation 3 or 4, offers a wide variety of channels that may be a slight improvement on your cable.

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*First Published: Sep 21, 2016, 5:00 am CDT