People have the power, as Patti Smith sang, at least when it comes to TV. And people are overwhelmed, too, especially when it comes to streaming. There are many, many options — new (Disney+), old (Netflix), and forthcoming (HBO Max) — and you now have to negotiate them all carefully, with your credit card close at hand, of course.
Unless you have a bottomless budget for TV content, you’re making choices all the time about which services to subscribe to — especially if you’ve cut the cable cord and want to come up with a personalized grouping. You may want a Netflix base, say, with Apple TV+ and Acorn TV on top, or perhaps a Hulu base with Disney+ and ESPN+ on top. The streaming market, after only little more than a decade, is approaching the complexity of those intricate old cable bundles. To help, here is a directory of much of what’s out there and what is to come.
By the way, many services offer free trial periods. Visit their sites for details.
Price: $4.99 per month. If you buy a new iPhone, iPad, Apple TV unit, Mac, or iPod touch, you get a free year.
In short: With lots of money and big names, but no library, Apple hopes to be a prestige outlet — if it doesn’t get lost in the crowd.
Content: All the shows are original (and commercial-free). With the help of some 6 billion bucks, Apple gathered up major stars for its debut last November, most notably the cast of “The Morning Show,” led by Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell, and Reese Witherspoon. Oprah is onboard, too, with regular “Oprah’s Book Club” meetings. Like Hulu, episodes are released weekly rather than in binge format.
Coming up: The big-name drop will continue: Julianne Moore and Clive Owen in a miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s “Lisey’s Story,” a miniseries adaptation of the novel “Defending Jacob” with Chris Evans, and Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg’s “Masters of the Air,” the third installment of their World War II series after “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific.”
My 2 cents: You don’t get the kind of hours you get elsewhere, which may be a turnoff for many. But it’s a relatively inexpensive chance to watch a few top-notch shows, including the immigrant-themed anthology series “Little America” and the tech comedy “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet.” This one may be worth getting for a month or two at some point, to catch up on its goodies.
Price: $6.99 per month or $69.99 per year. Disney is also offering Disney+ in a bundle with its two other streamers, Hulu and ESPN+, for $12.99 per month ($5 cheaper than subscribing to all three separately).
In short: Disney+ wants to be everything to all families. As usual, the House of Mouse will dominate.
Content: Movies and TV series from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, “Star Wars,” and National Geographic make their home on Disney+, and all of Disney Studios’ movies from 2019 and beyond such as “Avengers: Endgame” stream here exclusively. You’ll also find 30 seasons of “The Simpsons,” old kid shows including “Hannah Montana,” old Disney classics including “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Jungle Book,” and new original series including the “Star Wars”-based “The Mandalorian” and the “Toy Story”-based animated series “Forky Asks a Question.”
Coming up: A few Marvel-related shows are on their way, including “Ms. Marvel” and Tom Hiddleston’s “Loki.” There’s an Obi-Wan Kenobi series in the works, as well as a reality competition called “Be Our Chef.” Also: series spun from “The Mighty Ducks” and “Turner & Hooch.”
My 2 cents: There’s not much tonal variety; it’s all on-brand and blockbuster-franchise-ish. But if you’re a parent of younger kids and/or a superhero geek, this one’s essential — especially at such a low price. The streamer may not emerge as an Emmy magnet, but its deep library is something of a treasure chest. It has already accumulated a whopping 50 million paying subscribers worldwide since its November launch.
Price: $4.99 per month with commercials; $7.99 per month without. The platform has a free 90-day trial period if you sign on before April 30.
In short: Twenty years ago, this phone app with 10-minute episodes might have been a punchline. But it’s here for real, and it wants to dominate mobile viewing among younger demos.
Content: All of the many, many shows — scripted, reality, and news/lifestyle “Daily Essentials” — are created as “quick bites” (thus the service’s name), at about 10 minutes per episode (or movie “chapters”). Also, they’re designed solely for viewing on mobile devices. Developed by former Disney and DreamWorks honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman, Quibi launched on April 6 with more than 40 shows, including Chrissy Teigen’s Judge Judy-like “Chrissy’s Court,” Chance the Rapper’s reboot of “Punk’d,” a documentary about former Fall River mayor Jasiel Correia II, and an HGTV-with-murder-scenes comedy starring Will Forte and Kaitlin Olson. Other familiar names in the Quibi circle: Sophie Turner, Liam Hemsworth, Tony Hale, and the Farrelly brothers.
Coming up: Steven Spielberg has written a horror series called “Spielberg’s After Dark” that will only be available to watch after sunset. Upcoming reboots include “Reno 911” and a series version of the sports movie “Varsity Blues.”
My 2 cents: This short-attention-span product is for the flippest and least discerning of viewers. The content I’ve seen feels like junky fast food that’s been sitting out for too long. You could pay for Quibi, or you could cruise YouTube and, arguably, have a better time.
Price: There will be three tiers: Free, with ads (7,500 hours of content), $4.99 per month with ads (15,000 hours of content), and $9.99 with no ads. It launches on July 15, but Comcast is previewing the service free for X1 and Flex subscribers now.
In short: NBCUniversal is rising to the next level, including a few auspicious original series.
Content: Peacock is promising a lot of backlog, including “30 Rock,” “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation,” the Jason Bourne movies, the “Jurassic Park” movies, “Us,” and — and this is of the utmost importance — the “Law & Order” shows. It’s also going to feature originals, including a Tina Fey-produced girl-group comedy called “Girls5Eva,” a series adaptation of “Brave New World,” and a reboot of “Saved by the Bell.” Also, the NBC late-night talk shows will be available three-plus hours before their East Coast broadcast.
Coming up: Sam Esmail (“Mr. Robot”) is developing another reboot of “Battlestar Galactica,” David Schwimmer will star in a British comedy about a cybercrime unit called “Intelligence,” and Jamie Dornan will star with Alec Baldwin and Christian Slater in a crime drama about a sinister doctor called “Dr. Death.” None of the Peacock shows have release dates yet.
My 2 cents: I’m intrigued by the originals, and the oldies — particularly the comedies — appeal, not least of all because I’m a big “30 Rock” fan. But if I have to pay, I might wait for a quality check on the originals.
Price: $14.99 per month, beginning with the May launch. If you already get HBO through AT&T, or if you already get HBO Now, it won’t cost you.
In short: WarnerMedia is eager to carry HBO’s cable prestige into the streaming world.
Content: More confusion: Despite its name, HBO Max is different from HBO Now and HBO Go, which stream only HBO shows and movies. It’s aiming to cater to adults and children, for whom it will be the home of both old and new episodes of “Sesame Street.” The WarnerMedia service will include all of the HBO stuff (from “The Sopranos” to the upcoming “Game of Thrones” prequel “House of the Dragon”) as well as its own exclusive slate of originals. The company is touting more than 10,000 hours of catalog material, from TNT, TCM, TBS, truTV, CNN, DC Entertainment, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, and Warner Bros. It will be the exclusive streaming home of reruns of “Friends,” “The Big Bang Theory,” “The West Wing,” and “South Park.” By the way, like Apple TV+ and Hulu, HBO Max is not following the binge model, instead releasing new episodes of original series weekly.
Coming up: It’s not clear exactly which new shows will be on the service when it arrives, but it is promising some 38 originals this year, including “College Girls” from Mindy Kaling, the high school comedy “Generation” from Lena Dunham, a “Gossip Girl” sequel series, and a miniseries based on the novel “Americanah” starring Lupita Nyong’o. Warner Bros. will produce eight to 10 movies per year for the service. Other names in the queue: J.J. Abrams, Greg Berlanti, Conan O'Brien, Ava DuVernay, and Steven Soderbergh.
My 2 cents: It’s coming late to the party, and the price is high. Then again, it’s going to be loaded up with quality shows, and, historically, viewers are willing to pay for HBO and HBO-level quality content. While Netflix releases tons of shows of mixed quality and has become a confusing bastion of filler, HBO Max is aiming to curate its releases more carefully.
Price: $12.99 per month or $119 per year. (Membership also offers benefits for shopping on Amazon.) Amazon also offers streaming access to HBO, Showtime, and other premium channels, as well as a la carte movie and TV rentals, for additional charges.
In short: If it’s not on Netflix, it may be here, alongside a few good originals for binge-watching.
Content: You’ll find a huge library of movies and TV series, including the likes of “Thor,” “House,” “Orphan Black,” and “True Grit,” as well as some admired Amazon originals including Al Pacino’s “Hunters,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” with John Krasinski, and “Modern Love.”
Coming up: “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins is developing Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” into a miniseries. Greg Daniels of “The Office” has a sci-fi comedy called “Upload” about people choosing their own version of the afterlife. And Amazon is turning “The Bonfire of the Vanities” into a drama series. Not least of all: “The Lord of the Rings” TV show, which Amazon is hoping to make into its own “Game of Thrones”-like hit.
My 2 cents: Amazon has a broad assortment of oldies — fewer than Hulu and Netflix, but still — as well as a few winning originals, such as “Catastrophe” and “Fleabag.” It won’t quite work as the replacement for cable in the way Netflix or Hulu might, but it’ll give you a few good shows along with your shopping benefits.
Price: $8.99 per month for a single, non-HD stream, $12.99 per month for two streams in HD (the most popular option), and $15.99 for four streams in ultra HD.
In short: Netflix, the granddaddy of streaming and the Binge King, wants to be the base onto which you can choose to add more specific services.
Content: A friend threatened to get to the bottom of Netflix during self-quarantine, but we all know that’s impossible. There are the many original series, which range in quality from the very good “Unbelievable” and “Sex Education” to the pretty good “Ozark” to the unbearable “Tiger King.” And there are big movies (“The Irishman”) and countless TV imports. The library of older series is extensive but shrinking as other services license the likes of “Friends” (HBO Max) and “The Office” (Peacock).
Coming up: A number of major league producers have deals with Netflix. Ryan Murphy is delivering “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” spin-off “Ratched” and post-World War II Tinseltown drama “Hollywood.” And Shonda Rhimes is bringing an adaptation of “The Warmth of Other Suns” and the Regency London drama “Bridgerton.” Also: A miniseries version of “A Chorus Line” and a series spin-off of “Vikings.” “Seinfeld” will live on Netflix beginning next year.
My 2 cents: It remains relatively essential, despite the poor interface and the tendency to throw anything and everything into the mix. The company has a lot of money to buy rights to and make more shows than you’ll ever have the time to watch.
Price: $5.99 per month with ads, $11.99 without. You can get the service (with ads) bundled with Disney+ and ESPN+ for $12.99 per month.
In short: It’s a cord-cutter’s dream, balancing original shows, oldies, and an array of current series for next-day viewing (as well as a live linear TV option for extra money). It’s Disney’s edgier streaming outlet.
Content: When it comes to originals, Hulu has done nicely with “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “PEN15,” ”Shrill,” and, thanks to its recent deal with FX, “Mrs. America” and “Devs.” The service also offers streaming access to episodes of many good old shows (“The Golden Girls,” “Hill Street Blues”) and next-day access to current shows (“Grey’s Anatomy,” “Outlander,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”).
Coming up: A series, called “Love, Victor,” based on the movie “Love, Simon”; a drama based on the “The Dropout” podcast about Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes starring Kate McKinnon; and a series adaptation of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” from Carlton Cuse.
My 2 cents: Hulu is a favorite, as it balances the old and the new, the mainstream and the quirky. If you’ve cut the cord, it’s a great way to watch current shows.
• CBS All Access Many series from the CBS library, including “NCIS” and “I Love Lucy,” as well as a small group of originals such as “The Good Fight” and “Star Trek: Picard.” (starting at $5.99 per month)
• ESPN+ Scripted and live sports, including the “30 for 30” documentary series. ($4.99 per month)
• BET+ Shows from BET, along with some originals. It’s the exclusive home of content produced by Tyler Perry. ($9.99 per month)
• Sundance Now A mix of indie films, documentaries, international TV shows, and originals including Julia Stiles and Lena Olin in the thriller series “Riviera.” ($6.99 per month, $59.99 per year)
• Acorn TV A ton of British (and Canadian, Australian, and Spanish) series including “Doc Martin,” “Line of Duty,” “Vera,” and some originals. ($5.99 per month, $59.99 per year)
• BritBox Another British-focused service — with programming exclusively from the BBC and ITV — offering “Death in Paradise,” “Inside No. 9,” “Midsomer Murders,” “Are You Being Served?” and some originals. ($6.99 per month, $69.99 per year)
• PBS Passport Past and current PBS programming, with no shortage of period dramas and mystery series. ($5 per month, $60 per year; often free with a PBS donation)
• Broadway HD Access to more than 250 productions filmed on Broadway, off-Broadway, in the West End, and at other theaters around the world. ($8.99 per month, $99.99 per year)
• Shudder Specializes in horror, thriller, and supernatural series and movies, including “Halloween,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and original series. ($5.99 per month, $56.99 per year)