Tips on deciding the best streaming services for you—and how to get them for the best price.
So you’ve decided to ditch your cable connection and switch to streaming services. What’s next?
There’s no shortage of options. There are more than 200 video streaming services available in the US alone, and every service offers a unique set of movies, series, and perhaps most importantly, rates. There are the biggest streamers, like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Disney+. But for the Anglophiles, there’s Acorn TV and BritBox; for live TV, you have DirecTV Stream and Fubo; for the foodies, you’ve got Discovery+ or Food Network Go.
And unlike cable, you don’t have to choose just one. The average American household subscribes to four streaming services, as reported in the entertainment industry magazine Variety. The trick is to figure out which combination is right for you. Here are some tips for finding them.
Find your favorites
The first step in choosing a streaming service is to figure out where your favorites are — from the shows you’re watching right now to your favorite classic films.
One of the best resources to figure out who streams what is JustWatch.com. Using their search bar at the top of the page, you can look up any movie or TV show.
Conveniently, you’ll find that many of them appear in multiple services. For example, the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life is streaming on Amazon Prime, Roku, and Hoopla; the critically acclaimed show This Is Us appears on Netflix, Hulu, NBC, and USA; and you can find the beloved I Love Lucy on Paramount+ and PlutoTV. Using a website like JustWatch.com can help you see just how many options you have.
Keep costs down
Chances are, the price of streaming versus cable is one of the reasons you decided to make the switch in the first place. The math makes it an easy decision: basic subscriptions to Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and Max cost less than an average cable subscription.
But with so many new streaming services entering the arena—each costing between $5 and $20 a month—it can be easy for that streaming bill to get away from you. But you also have even more options to slim down the cost.
Streaming for free
There’s a new class of streaming services that are passing up the monthly subscription charge, while still offering huge libraries of movies and TV shows. Amazon’s Freevee (which used to be called IMDb TV) offers a combination of live TV channels, on-demand shows and movies—from hits like Lost and Mad Men to classics like Bewitched and Columbo—and even some of their own original content.
Crackle, which is owned by Chicken Soup for the Soul, offers classics like Dark Shadows and The Dick Van Dyke Show, while Pluto TV has more than 200 curated channels that pull shows from all of the Paramount channels (BET, CBS, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, and Paramount Pictures). And The Roku Channel offers a streaming library and live channels for free.
And if you have a library card, a whole new world of free entertainment opens up. Apps like Hoopla and Kanopy offer free movies and shows, without any ads, through your local library.
Opting for ads
Ads are to be expected if you’re not paying a subscription, but if you’re hoping to shave a few dollars off of your monthly costs, consider opting into ads for your subscription services too. (For example, Hulu’s ad-free option costs $10 more per month than the ad-supported option.) You wouldn’t be alone: a study from 2022 found that 55% of Americans use ad-supported streaming services.
“Streaming first hit audiences as an ad-free, content-when-you-want-it replacement to cable,” Samba TV wrote in their 2023 State of Viewership report. “But, as these a la carte streaming options swell, audiences are open to welcoming ads back in if it lowers their monthly costs.”
Look for deals
Most streaming services offer a trial period before they charge their monthly subscription fee, and you can look for shared family plans to help share costs in your household—Hulu and Netflix allow you to make profiles for each member of your household so you don’t influence each other’s recommendations.
Bonus tip: Are you an Amazon Prime member? Consider choosing “No Rush Shipping'' the next time you shop. As a thank you, you may receive a reward you can apply towards Amazon’s streaming service.
Building your package
Once you’ve done your research—including your free trial periods—it’s time to choose your services. Here are some tips for getting the most out of them.
Now that you know which streaming services you want, look out for great bundles. For example, you can get a basic subscription Disney+ for $7.99 per month, but you can add Hulu (which is typically the same price as DIsney+) for just $9.99 for the pair. And if you add ESPN+ to the package, you can get all three for just $14.99. (All prices as of January, 2024.)
Timing can be everything
Like anything we buy, streaming services can have great sales if you know when to catch them. They can happen year-round, but look out for some of the best deals in November, on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Subscribing isn’t forever
Unlike cable packages, which come with endless fine print, most streaming services are a month-to-month commitment. (Though, annual subscriptions will often get you a significant discount.) Interested in just one show on a streaming platform? Subscribe for a month, and cancel it when you’ve finished the show. Realize you’re not watching one of them as much as you used to? Unsubscribe.
Your streaming portfolio is yours for the making. Time to get started!
Seeing Medicare ads on your ad-supported free stream?
A Medicare Advantage plan may be a smart choice for many people, but don’t pick one based on an ad alone. You want to know that your plan will cover the doctors you want to see. If the plan provides Part D coverage, you’ll want to be sure your prescriptions are covered, too. To find the right plan for you, give us a call or check out our easy-to-use Find a Plan tool.
- ClearMatch Medicare: Find a Medicare Plan
- Variety: Americans spend $48 per month on video streaming services
- Stream TV Insider: 55% of consumers use at least one free ad-supported stream
- IbisWorld.com: Video streaming services in the U.S.
- Consumer Reports: Guide to Streaming Video
- Samba TV: State of Viewership Report