Ryan Downey, executive director of The Streaming Advisor, a website that provides news, reviews and guidance related to online video content. TheStreamingAdvisor.com
Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are the big names, but they are far from the only options if you want to stream movies and TV shows to your television, computer or other digital devices. There are plenty of lesser known services that offer various combinations of old and new programming—and many do it for less than the $100 per year charged by Netflix and Amazon. You could combine a few of them to serve as a less expensive substitute for cable or satellite TV—or pick one or two as a supplement to cable or satellite. Many offer free trials, so there’s no harm in trying them.
Eight attractive streaming services you may not know about…
Acorn TV concentrates on British television shows and offers programs from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Ireland as well. It has a particularly strong catalog of British mystery shows including popular series such as Foyle’s War, Midsomer Murders and Agatha Christie’s Poirot. There are plenty of lesser known shows worth watching, too, such as the award-winning Canadian police drama 19-2…the Australian period drama A Place to Call Home…and the Acorn original British mystery series Agatha Raisin. All programs are free of ads.
Price: $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year. A seven-day free trial is available. Acorn.tv
CuriosityStream is the streaming service for people who especially like intellectually stimulating television. There’s a two-part series titled The Secrets of Quantum Physics…a David Attenborough documentary about bioluminescence called Light on Earth…a three-part series called Deep Time History about how civilization has been influenced by events that occurred long before humans ever walked on Earth…and hundreds of other thought-provoking shows. All programming is free of ads.
Price: $2.99 per month. A 30-day free trial is available. CuriosityStream.com
FilmStruck could be the streaming site for you if you strongly prefer art-house movies and classics over recent Hollywood blockbusters. It offers hundreds of films of the type that win awards at festivals—there recently were several films related to the breakup of Yugoslavia, for example. There also are plenty of older films along the lines of those you might see on the cable channel Turner Classic Movies—FilmStruck was created in part by Turner Classic. For an additional monthly fee, FilmStruck provides access to the films of “The Criterion Collection,” which features more than 1,000 “cinematic masterpieces” such as The Lady Vanishes, Belle de Jour and Seven Samurai. All content is commercial free. (FilmStruck was not compatible with Roku streaming devices as of mid-February, but that was expected to change soon.)
Price: $6.99 per month…or $10.99 per month or $99 per year with Criterion Collection access. A 14-day free trial is available. FilmStruck.com
HBO Now offers access to the HBO network’s original programming as well as the dozens of movies that HBO is playing in any given month—without having to subscribe to a premium package of cable or satellite-TV service or even subscribe to cable or satellite at all. (If you do subscribe to the HBO network through a cable or satellite company, you likely can stream much of this programming at no additional charge through a video-on-demand service called HBO Go.) HBO Now provides more than just HBO’s current programs, such as Game of Thrones and Westworld—subscribers also gain access to HBO’s complete archive, including programs that it originally ran years earlier. You could watch the entire runs of the critically acclaimed series The Sopranos and The Wire, for example.
Price: $14.99 per month. A one-month free trial is available. HBONow.com
History Vault offers access to many of the documentaries and shows that have run on the History Channel over the years. Its emphasis is on the history-related content that the History Channel used to specialize in before it turned into yet another cable channel airing reality shows such as Pawn Stars. On History Vault, you’ll find documentaries covering everything from Incan mummies to the space shuttle and from the Vikings to Vietnam.
Price: $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year. A seven-day free trial is available. HistoryVault.com
Hulu is probably the best-known streaming service after Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, and it certainly provides an impressive amount of content. The service offers access to most of the shows currently airing on ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC (but not CW), with new episodes generally available the day after the first broadcast. Hulu also offers programming from dozens of cable networks (ranging from Comedy Central, Disney and MTV to CNN, Discovery and ESPN) as well as classic older series—Hulu offers every episode of Seinfeld, for example. And it has a small number of original shows that are not available on cable or satellite or other streaming services, such as 11.22.63, an action series featuring James Franco…and Casual, a Golden Globe–nominated comedy. Hulu’s movie selection is less impressive but not without some highlights—for example, recently more than a dozen James Bond flicks were available.
Price: $7.99 per month with commercials or $11.99 per month for a version with commercials during only a few programs. A seven-day free trial is available. Hulu.com
Smart: If you want to add CW to the lineup, its streaming service is available for free, with programs such as Supergirl and Jane the Virgin available one day after they originally air.
NewsOn lets you stream local news broadcasts from stations across the US either live or up to 48 hours after they originally air. Broadcasts from more than 170 local TV stations in more than 110 US markets are available. You could use NewsOn to watch your own local news from anywhere in the world (assuming that you have Internet access)…or to watch the local news of a different part of the country—maybe you like to keep up with what’s happening where you used to live or where your adult child recently moved, for example. These newscasts include commercial breaks just as they would if you were watching them over the air.
Price: Free. WatchNewsOn.com
Showtime streaming service is the Showtime equivalent of HBO Now, described above. (If you subscribe to the Showtime network through a cable or satellite provider, you likely can stream its current and past movie and TV programming to other devices at no additional charge through a similar video-on-demand service called Showtime Anytime.) Current Showtime hits range from the spy thriller Homeland and the comedy-drama Shameless to the Wall Street drama Billions and the dramas Masters of Sex and The Affair. There are no ads.
Price: $10.99 per month. Showtime.com