Our guide to the best streaming services
Wondering which platforms would best suit you? We’re here to help.
Cutting the cable cord was supposed to make life easier. But today, viewers face a dizzying selection of streaming services, and rising subscription fees mean most people can’t subscribe to all of them. But fear not — Vincent Piturro, professor of Film and Media Studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver, provides an expert tour.
Signature shows: “The Mandalorian,” “WandaVision,” “The Simpsons”
Disney is a really solid choice for viewers, with a wide variety of content that hits a whole bunch of different age groups. The Disney movies are great for children and family viewing, the Marvel Universe grabs the teens, and then there’s a huge swath of “Star Wars” content to keep nostalgia-tinged oldies happy. Even better, new programs such as “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” “Moon Knight” and “Loki” seem machine-tooled to have crossover appeal across numerous demographic groups. Disney+ is probably doing the best job among all the streaming platforms just now.
Signature shows: “Squid Game,” “Bridgerton,” “Stranger Things”
In the current streaming wars, Netflix could end up being the biggest loser for two reasons. First, other companies are now claiming back their own popular programs such as “How I Met Your Mother” and “Modern Family” that were once Netflix staples. And second, despite churning out new stuff at a frightening rate, much of Netflix’s own material just isn’t very good. There’s way too much throwaway content, and even some of its biggest blockbusters such as “Red Notice” and “Don’t Look Up” fall flat. The platform is still beloved by older viewers who enjoy network-style programs and fluffy sitcoms, but it needs to improve quickly because the competition is catching up fast.
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Amazon Prime Video
Signature shows: “The Boys,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Reacher”
Amazon doesn’t produce nearly so much original content as Netflix, but it generally does a better job. Aiming for a slightly older demographic, it has produced a number of high-quality series (“Bosch,” “Goliath,” “The Expanse”) that focus squarely on character and good storytelling. Under the radar, Amazon has also made some sneaky-good movies lately, such as “Sound of Metal” and “The Tender Bar,” and it will launch a much-anticipated “Lord of the Rings” spinoff later this year. Prime is also the exclusive home to Thursday Night Football as of 2022. Pet gripe? The user platform is deliberately vague in how it mixes free and paid content, which feels exploitative.
Signature shows: “Game of Thrones,” “Euphoria,” “Dune”
There are many reasons to love HBO Max, which feels like a natural home for “grownup” viewers. The company still consistently produces high-quality original programs (“Succession,” “Station Eleven,” “Peacemaker”). It has a deal with Warner Brothers, which gives it first dibs on some big cinematic releases such as “Dune,” recently. But perhaps best of all, they have literally decades’ worth of top-drawer content, including iconic dramas (“The Sopranos,” “The Wire”) and a packed library of renowned documentaries. As streamer competition intensifies, HBO Max is also (unsurprisingly) busily bringing home all the content it previously leased out to other platforms.
Signature shows: “Star Trek” Universe, “Halo,” ’90s sitcoms
Sci-fi fans will feel at home here. Paramount owns the entire “Star Trek” back catalog and is also pushing new “Trekkie” content such as “Discovery,” “Strange New Worlds” and “Picard.” Its other big release this spring is “Halo,” another smash-bang sci-fi series based on the popular video game. But conversely, this platform is also a great place for nostalgia buffs. That’s because parent company Paramount (formerly ViacomCBS) owns an absolute stack of vintage content — 30,000 TV episodes and 2,500 movies — that viewers can easily access with a flick of the remote. Fancy catching some “Frasier,” comedy roasts, MTV specials or even “SpongeBob SquarePants”? That won’t be a problem here.
Signature shows: “Ted Lasso,” “Severance,” “The Tragedy of Macbeth”
The jury is still out on this new contender. Apple initially threw millions at a spate of star-fueled movies (such as “Finch”) and series (“The Morning Show”) that seemed pretty soulless. But the platform has since rallied with some genuinely intriguing shows. The twisty and haunting “Severance” is deservedly getting a lot of buzz, and Apple even scooped the Best Movie Oscar with “CODA” last week (though an altogether different kind of unexpected hit sadly stole all the limelight). Ultimately, it feels like Apple TV+ still has to find its niche. Maybe they will gravitate toward more thoughtful and challenging material because it definitely feels like there’s an audience out there.
Signature shows: “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Palm Springs,” “Pam & Tommy”
Hulu is not bad, as such, but it doesn’t really have much of an identity. For ages, the platform was primarily about featuring TV shows from other networks soon after they aired. Then they hit big with an original production, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and since then have had moderate success with a selection of miniseries (“Pam & Tommy,” “Dopesick”) and comedies (“Reservation Dogs,” “Only Murders in the Building”). It helps that they’re owned by Disney and so can dip into the sizable content stashes of ABC, NBC and FX. There’s plenty of good content in those libraries to keep most viewers happy.