Once upon a time, Netflix used to rule the roost when it came to streaming TV and movies, offering content both old and new for all kinds of genres. However, the last few years have brought some new rivals to the table.
We’ve taken a look at nine different streaming subscriptions across both the UK and the US, and ranked them based on the TV and film libraries on offer, the cost of each one and any other pros and cons we could find:
What should I look for in a streaming service?
First and foremost: the best range of content to suit your tastes. Having the biggest library may not mean anything if you’re looking to watch a specific show, or aren’t interested in a platform that doesn’t allow content above a 12A rating (hello Disney+). We recommend checking out each of the libraries for these services before discounting any completely, as there may be a hidden gem that sparks your TV taste buds.
The price of course is also a big factor. Investing in a streaming service is fortunately quite a flexible way to get your content, meaning that if one platform isn’t doing it for you, and can easily switch to another without losing out on a lot of money. The majority of these services also offer free trials to get a taste of what’s on offer. These are mostly seven days, but Britbox offers a month, so it’s absolutely worth shopping around.
Consider the number of devices that an account boasts. You can save a lot of money if you split a streaming service subscription with a family member or friend, but this is only useful if you can all watch the platform at the same time on various devices. Some platforms like Netflix offer a tiered payment system which is influenced by this, so investigate to see what’s right for you.
The level of accessibility is another thing to keep in mind. We’ve included a range of services - some of which are exclusive to either the UK or US. Whilst many of these are still accessible using a VPN, it may end up making your streaming a lot more convoluted than what it needs to be.
Finally, some subscriptions offer extras or bundles that may be a draw. Amazon has its Prime benefits, Disney+ can be bought with two other channels for a reasonable bundle, and Apple TV+ can be accessed for free with any new Apple product purchase.
- Biggest range of content
- Competitive pricing
- Worldwide accessibility
- Mix of originals and syndicated work
- Cheapest plan doesn’t offer the same benefits as competitors
- Will eventually lose content to rivals
Sure it’s obvious to start with this one, but Netflix is still the big cheese when it comes to streaming services. With over 4,000 films and 1,500 shows, this service has carved out a niche for itself as becoming a household name. It’s the most accessible service worldwide, now available in over 200 countries - though some shows and movies vary depending on the region.
The pricing for the UK and US currently stands at £5.99/$9 per month for its most basic plan (one screen and no ultra-HD), £8.99/$13 per month for the standard plan (two devices for streaming and HD content), and £11.99/$16 per month for premium which comes with HD, Ultra HD and the ability to stream on up to four screens.
Netflix Originals are also available in huge abundance now. Some of the most well-known include Stranger Things, Orange Is The New Black, Narcos and Queer Eye. These can obviously be hit and miss (there was a lot of money sunk into an average Adam Sandler movie), but there’s some real gems that stand up with the likes of HBO content.
Originals however aren’t the most popular thing on the platform. It may come as no surprise to know that Friends holds that top spot, and other syndicated content is not far behind. However, with Disney Plus and HBO Max bidding for the rights of some of the most popular content, Netflix may see some of its flagship shows and films eventually fall to rivals. But for now, it still stands on the gold podium for streaming.
- Offers other benefits besides video streaming
- Amazon Originals are much better now
- Worldwide accessibility
- Original content not quite on par with Netflix
- May also lose out on future content
Amazon may dominate when it comes to online shopping, but it still can’t quite match Netflix on streaming content just yet - though it is very close. With classic shows like The Office to cinema blockbusters like Wonder Woman, there’s a mixed bag to keep you streaming.
Amazon Prime Video is £5.99/$8.99 per month, but you can sign up for Amazon Prime for £79 per year (or pay £7.99 per month) in the UK and $119 or $12.99 per month in the US which also includes extras such as free next day delivery, Amazon Prime Music and free eBooks. Like with Netflix’s standard package, you can stream two devices at once.
Amazon also has some really successful exclusives including Good Omens, The Boys, Mr Robot, Vikings, Preacher, The Grand Tour and American Gods, though few can match the Netflix shows for quality or popularity. Some of the shows in the catalogue are on borrowed time - Fleabag for example will eventually move to BritBox once the contract with Amazon is up.
The Prime catalogue can be extended even further by signing up to additional Channels. These are essentially streaming services that either feature content made by specific studios like MGM, HBO, and the Discovery channel or genre specific offerings such as the horror-focused Shudder, anime-hub Viewster, and high-brow/arthouse BFI. However, these extras do come at a hefty price.
- Some of the biggest blockbuster films and shows
- Accessible pricing
- Big shows scheduled for future
- Not available in the UK until March 2020
- No 15+/R-rated content
Disney+ may be the new kid on the block when it comes to streaming, but it’s come in with a bang. Not only does it have a whole library of MCU, Disney Channel, Pixar and Fox content - but its original Star Wars show The Mandalorian had one of the biggest debuts of any show on a streaming platform. Once that has ended, the platform will still have a big draw with hero shows like The Simpsons offering weeks worth of entertainment to enjoy.
Disney+ is only currently available in the US, Canada, The Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand. In the US, a standalone subscription is $6.99, but it can be bundled with Hulu and ESPN+ for $12.99. When it launches in the UK in March, it will cost £5.99 per month, and £59.99 for a year. This pricing includes up to four devices for watching in ultra-HD, and the service can be accessed on a wide range of media boxes, PCs, smartphones, tablets and consoles.
Unfortunately, despite the high demand, Disney+ isn’t available in the UK until 24 March. Though of course if you’re prepared for some work, you can still access it in the UK using a VPN. This may not be a huge deal for some though, as lots of future flagship shows like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier won’t be available until the end of 2020 anyway.
As it’s Disney, the content has to have the ‘family-friendly’ approval, so don’t expect to be able to watch the likes of Deadpool on here. If you’re wanting to watch more mature films and TV, then this may not be the right subscription to invest in.
- Flexible range of passes to choose from
- Sky content without the need for a box or contract
- High quality shows from cable and some big blockbusters
- Only available in the UK
- Pricey if investing in multiple passes
- Have to pay extra for full HD, no 4K or HDR at all
Now TV is the streaming alternative to Sky. It’s only available in the UK, so US viewers should instead take a look at HBO Now as they’re a lot of crossover. There are four separate passes to choose from with Now TV: Entertainment, Sky Cinema, Kids, and Sky Sports. Entertainment is predominantly TV, including the best output from Sky's channels such as The Wire, True Detective and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
Prices for the passes vary: the Entertainment pass is £8.99 a month, while Sky Cinema is a steep £11.99 per month, but you'll get a very decent selection of recent film and TV, and there are usually some introductory discounts. It's also worth noting that by default the quality is capped at 720p and you'll have to pay an extra £3.99 per month for Now TV Boost to get HD (along with Dolby 5.1 surround sound and support for 50fps on some Sky Sports content). There's still no 4K or HDR support at all.
Now TV is also one of the easiest streaming sites to watch - it's available online, through iOS and Android, on the PS4 and Xbox One, Roku, Chromecast, Apple TV, and most smart TVs. You can add up to six devices to your account, but can only watch on two devices at the same time.
As the passes for Now TV are quite expensive, we would recommend investing in a bundle first, and then sticking with your favourite pass for your content. Of course bear in mind that this will mean choosing between TV and film - so if you'd like both on the cheap, this isn't the right pass to pick.
- Watch the most recent US content
- Lots of attractive original series
- The choice for anyone who wants more mature Fox content not on Disney+
- Only available in the US
- Big difference between basic and premium plans
- Lots of other content on other streaming platforms
The basic plan for Hulu is one of the cheapest on here - $6 a month. However, don’t be swayed just yet as this includes annoying ad breaks when watching brand new shows. You can omit most of these by going for the premium package, but that doubles the price to $12 a month, and doesn’t really offer any additional content.
To do that, you’d have to pay for extra add-ons which consist of $15 for HBO, $10 for Cinemax and $9 for Showtime. Add all these together, and you’re looking at the same price for your electricity, probably.
Top original series on Hulu include The Handmaid’s Tale, an increasingly relevant thriller based on a classic novel alongside the likes of Castle Rock, Shrill and Ramy. Though of course there’s no arguing that some of these shows are available on the likes of Amazon Prime.
This platform may also be a good option option for those who wants to watch the mature content that comes from the 21st Century Fox merger that’s not available on Disney Plus. As stated above, you can also invest in the bundle that offers both (plus ESPN+, if that’s your thing) for $12.99 - an attractive deal which still undercuts some standalone services on this list. Hulu is a US exclusive service, but UK viewers can try our workaround to access it abroad.
- Offering British classics - something a little different
- Five channels worth of content in 2020
- Great for US viewers
- Why would UK viewers pay for catch-up content?
BritBox achieved mass success in the US, with audiences finally being able to access British classics from years gone past. Now the service is in the UK, with five channels worth of content going into 2020. Some of the classics on the service include Doctor Who, Downton Abbey and Blackadder.
BritBox costs just £5.99/$6.99 per month - a price which includes multiple screens, devices and HD content - so it’s quite a bargain on that front. If you're not quite ready to shelve out nearly six quid per month, then no worries. BritBox offers a full 30 day free trial - certainly more generous than some other competitors which mainly offer seven day free trials.
Though this service went down a storm in the States, it’s a little confusing for people in the UK. Any TV licence holder can currently access older content on online catch-up services like iPlayer, and of course the ITV Hub. So at this stage it’s a bit puzzling as to why UK-based customers would subscribe at all when they can access most of BritBox’s library for free.
This may change in the future, when BritBox eventually gets first bid at brand new UK channel content like Bodyguard and Fleabag over other rivals. Otherwise, we suggest checking online to see if you can catch up on classic series for free before making the BritBox plunge.
- HBO content without the need to sign-up for cable
- Only available in the US
- Probably worth waiting for HBO Max in 2020
Once upon a time (AKA, when Game of Thrones was still popular and successful #burn) HBO Now may have seemed like one of the most popular services on this list. Of course that’s not to say that it doesn’t still have some tempting things to choose from: series like Veep, The Wire and of course an array of films for kids and adults alike may still make this a contender.
Not to be confused with HBO Go - the streaming service for existing HBO users to access content on the move - HBO Now offers premium HBO content on a monthly subscription basis. For this reason, you’re looking at $15 a month to stream a few devices at one time. In comparison to others on this list, that’s not great. However, if you’re looking for an HBO exclusive, it may be your only option.
Of course, there is another draw-away from this platform by the giant that is Amazon, which allows users to buy HBO Now as an add on to their Amazon Prime Video subscription. UK viewers do not have access to HBO Now, but there is a workaround using a VPN. Alternatively, Now TV or Amazon Prime probably have the most crossover in terms of shows and films that are stapes of HBO Now.
It may also be of interest to know that HBO Max launches in 2020. Not only will this service have HBO content, but it will also boast brand new content and existing things from the WarnerMedia library - include Fresh Prince of Bel Air and (Netflix’s current golden child), Friends. It’s safe to say that this service may be shaking up the market once it’s released.
- Films that you wouldn’t see on any bigger platform
- Offers a changing variety for viewers
- Some stuff may be just too niche
- Time limit on watching content may feel pressuring
- Now out-priced by other rivals
Mubi is a bit of a rogue choice in the streaming wars, but if your tastes are quite high brow then it may be the perfect option for you. It offers a big vintage film collection and a few select contemporary modern art house titles, and all the movies are critically acclaimed.
Deliberately, Mubi has a fast-moving library, with films only being kept on the platform for 30 days at a time, with one film being swapped out every single day. One one hand, this means that you’ll always have something new to watch, and check out curated collections from certain directors or genres.
On the other hand, sometimes it's nice to have a watch list for the future, and the month-long deadline may turn your relaxing streaming into a bit of a pressure-inducing system. It’s also not the platform if you want something nice and fluffy or mind-numbing. You should only check out Mubi if you’re looking to expand your film knowledge or challenge your familiar tastes.
Mubi is available on most devices and boxes in both the UK and US. It costs £7.99/$8.99 per month (cheaper if you pay for a full year) and there's a seven day free trial. This puts it in the middle of the pricing bracket, which may be a bit baffling considering that they don’t have big titles to fall back on. However, the eclectic library can be found nowhere else.
- Cheapest subscription on the list
- New Apple customers get the subscription free for one year
- Barely any content compared to rivals
- No syndicated shows or movies to draw in fans
Fans of Apple will be pleased to know that the company has now entered the streaming wars. However, their current lineup leaves a lot to be desired. Price wise they’re the cheapest on the list at £4.99/$4.99 for multiple devices and ultra-HD content. This is even sweeter when you take into consideration that any new customers of Apple get a whole year for free.
However, even that can’t save what is a sparse list of content. When other rivals are boasting over ten times the amount of shows and films, just a few quid off per month doesn’t seem quite enough. Maybe Apple has other deals planned for the future, and will be building up its content over the year. But right now? It’s bottom of the pile.
If you are planning on investing, then some of the most popular programmes include See, a fantasy series starring Jason Momoa, and The Morning Show, a contemporary drama with Jennifer Anniston and Reese Witherspoon.