The 11 months since I’ve been freed of cable has been like a soul-searching exploration into a rain forest or small country in Asia after a crummy breakup. At first you immediately doubt your decision. Unhappiness settles in. You fight all day to resist the urge to phone Verizon or Cable Vision or Cox and let them know you’re thinking about them. When the empty black space on your television reflects back at you, you’re reminded how lonely you are. Then you get away, far away, and realize you had the power to make yourself happy and fulfilled all along.
All it takes is internet service and a dream. And your ex-boyfriend’s college roommate’s neighbor’s local bartender’s Netflix account.
Earlier this year, we published our Cord Cutting Guide Part 1 and 2: How to Beat Cable, a primer on device options for people looking to upgrade their streaming hardware and save money in the process by cutting cable once and for all. If you followed our advice and got a Smart TV or streaming device like Roku or Google Chrome, you’re ready to move along to part 3: Internet Movie and Live TV Streaming Services.
You’re here because cable was getting expensive and you got tired of paying for hundreds of garbage channels you don’t watch. As we touched on in the previous article, loading up on premium streaming services will ultimately be costly if you’re not careful. To keep these costs down, we outlined what each service does, which prices points might make sense for your budget, and made recommendations for what to stream. Note: This article will be updated to reflect new information.
What it costs: Usually nothing because you’ve probably found a way to mooch off something else’s account, you cheapo! If you’re actually going to pony up, Netflix has three plans:
Premium $11.99 (Allows up to 4 users on the account at any given moment)
Standard $9.99 (Allows 2 users)
Basic: $7.99 (1 user, but no HD streaming)
Spend the two extra dollars for standard and stream in HD. Families are typically going to want premium since up to four devices can be used simultaneously. Premium also streams Ultra HD, if you have a compatible TV. Whether you’re “borrowing” someone else’s account or paying for it on your own, Netflix is a bargain for how much people tend to use it…
Streaming Netflix Originals Is The Present and Future
At this point, there’s little need to gush over what Netflix has become. It’s a daily part of life in a streaming world. We’re all guilty of making “Netflix and chill” a thing, even if you’re not using that goofy phrase. The company has ensured it will be a major player in the industry for years to come. Netflix stickers are slapped onto half the TV boxes at your local department store, the logo is built into remotes, and it streams seamlessly on your phone, and they’ve committed to spending nearly $1.5 billion in 2016, much of that on original content.
Netflix is racing to make more hits like Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black, House of Cards and Making a Murderer because licensing fees are expensive. You’ll notice that Netflix doesn’t quite have the library it once did, particularly on the film side. When it comes to streaming, Netflix is still essential. However if their original series are failing to capture your attention, it make be cause for concern in the near future. The company is hoping to make half of their library original content.
Verdict: Right now, we can’t live without Netflix. It’s essential streaming. Everyone is chasing the global leader, so it will be interesting to see Netflix plans to retain users in the next few years.
Amazon Prime Video
What it costs: $99 per year. Slightly cheaper than Netflix’s “Standard” package for the year and a tad more expensive than Hulu. Comes with the added bonus of free two-day shipping on Amazon.com, which is a huge benefit for frequent Amazon shoppers.
Stream Amazon for Movies and HBO
Take a look at Amazon’s new releases each month and you’ll see a consistent influx of quality movie choices. In that department, it has an advantage over Netflix. Another distinct difference is Amazon also gives users the chance to purchase Starz or Showtime “on-demand” as an add-on.
Again, that bolsters the movie selection, and gives Amazon a deep well of quality Showtime and Starz series. Beyond accolades and critical love for Transparent, Amazon lacks original series that have made a significant cultural impact in a way Netflix shows seem to routinely do. Amazon did make a huge addition to its library in 2014 by inking a deal with HBO for some of its best series.
Verdict: The name of their service is confusing (Amazon Prime vs. Amazon Prime Video vs. Amazon Video). The service’s interface on all the devices I’ve tried tends to be clunky compared to Netflix. These are major barriers to entry. The good news here is Amazon Studios is committed to ambitious projects and they have the capital to give Netflix serious competition. That’s a good thing, even though competition in cable television backfired and left us with the great reality television boom of the 2000s. Hence why we’ve defected to the land of streaming.
Anyway, the film selections are strong, HBO’s massive library is as attractive as it gets, and the option to add Showtime for $8.99 per month makes Amazon Prime Video worthy competition for your dollars.
What it costs: $7.99 with commercials. $11.99 for the commercial-free product. Three hours of Hulu commercials will make your head explode.
When You’re Missing Cable, Stream Hulu
Boiling these down to their most basic descriptions, you take Netflix for its water-cooler talk originals and “new” classics like Breaking Bad. Amazon, you take the free shipping and the movies. Hulu is for the cord cutters that want cable without all the hassle. ABC, NBC, and Fox all have stake in Hulu and the company has long talked about setting up a live TV streaming service. That maybe be a year or two away, but right now Hulu has plenty of currently airing TV shows that are available the day after air. Like Amazon, Hulu also has an option to add Showtime for $8.99.
Verdict: Hulu is for the TV junkie who can’t wait a full year for a season to be available on Netflix.
Check back later this week for part four and an in-depth look at niche streaming services.