’Tis the season of giving, and movies and TV are no-brainers because they can all be shared. On IndieWire’s Very Good TV Podcast, TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller and TV Critic Ben Travers break down how the gift of TV has changed over the years. While physical copies are still preferable – tangible gifts are so satisfying – digital has increasingly become the norm.
Giving streaming services may feel like more of a commitment, but it really gives far more bang for your buck. While the wealth of digital offerings can be overwhelming, it’s perfect for last-minute gift-giving. There’s no shipping time involved and no wrapping hassles, unless you want to spring for a greeting card (so retro!).
At this point, it can safely be assumed that everyone has access to Netflix, and is already familiar with Hulu and Amazon Prime. Here’s a guide to some of the best alternate streaming services for more specific, discerning tastes.
Who It’s For: Anglophiles and anyone who loves their TV with a bit of foreign inflection and outlook.
What It Offers: Acorn TV has some of the most enthralling mysteries, thrillers, dramas, and comedies from Britain and beyond, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Sweden. Ranging from witty mystery series “Agatha Raisin” or quaint medical series “Doc Martin” to more dramatic fare such as the dark crime drama “Loch Ness” to the sexy Aussie period soap “A Place to Call Home.”
And while this is considered a niche streaming service, that doesn’t prevent it from having original content, such as the U.S. premiere the ingenious and sophisticated “Witness for the Prosecution” miniseries based on the Agatha Christie short story of the same name.
Bonus: Like its bigger and broader mainstream cousins, Acorn TV can boast an Emmy nomination. Not too shabby.
How to Watch: Apple TV/iOS, Android, Roku, Fire TV, Samsung Smart TVs, and various PC/Mac browsers.
Price: $4.99/month or $49.99/year for a gift membership. You can also test-drive it with the one-week free trial.
What It Offers: It’s a front-row seat at a fraction of the cost to Broadway musicals such as “Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn” or “Falsettos,” off-Broadway plays, all things Shakespeare, experimental performances, concerts, Riverdance, behind-the-scenes specials, foreign plays, and more. Stage plays are carefully captured to create dramatic and vibrant on-screen experiences.
Bonus: “The Gabriels” is a three-part drama that unfolds in real time around the past presidential election, with the third party set on Election Night.
How to Watch: Apple TV/iOS, Android, Roku, Chromecast.
Price: $8.99/month or $99.99/year. Or $14.99/show for an individual rental if you want to test it out first.
Who It’s For: Cord-cutters who still want their procedural fix, along with live viewing options.
What It Offers: “Star Trek: Discovery” is its showiest original, and is carrying out its beautiful, cinematic vision on TV. That said, “The Good Fight” (spun off from “The Good Wife”) and the well-received comedy “No Activity” are also great new offerings. Current broadcasted shows worth watching – and available live – are the acclaimed “Young Sheldon” (the narrative if not spiritual prequel to “The Big Bang Theory”), satisfying procedural “Elementary,” and “The Amazing Race.” The NFL can also be viewed live.
The back catalog boasts all the other “Star Trek” series (even the animated one!), vintage “I Love Lucy,” the original “Twin Peaks,” and 141 episodes of the soothing airport comedy “Wings.”
Bonus: For just a bit more, Showtime can be bundled in for access to “Twin Peaks: The Return,” “Homeland,” “Penny Dreadful,” and all other acclaimed Showtime series.
How to Watch: Apple TV/iOS, Android, Chromecast, Fire TV, PS4, Roku, Windows 10, Xbox.
Price: $6/month for limited commercials or $10/month for no commercials. Additional $8/month for the Showime add-on.
What It Offers: With over 800 titles of any possible genre imaginable, there’s plenty of everything to keep you busy watching. Offerings range from the ultra popular fantasy-adventure series “One Piece” and “Naruto” to the supernatural mystery series “The Ancient Magus’ Bride” and the culinary adventure series “Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma.” Of course, the acclaimed “Yuri on Ice,” which includes actual figure skating choreography and is also available as well. There really is something for everyone.
Bonus: Keeping up with the latest series is easy with membership, which allows for simulcasting the newest episodes of anime an hour after it has aired in Japan.
How to Watch: Apple TV/iOS, Roku, Android, Windows Phone, Chromecast, Wii U, Xbox One/360, Playstation 3/4/Vita
Price: Free for limited anime and manga titles, with ads. $6.95/month for premium membership which includes the full catalog and simulcasts sans ads. The $11.95/month membership plan includes all that in addition to free shipping on products from the Crunchyroll store, VIP convention perks, exclusive content, and access to beta test new features.
Who It’s For: Those with curious minds about the world around them.
What It Offers: Nonfiction storytelling that digs into science, technology, nature, history, and more. Over 1,700 documentary features and series range from titles such as “Destination Mars” and “The Human Face of Big Data,” to BBC fare like “The Secret Life of Dogs” and “Sex, Death and the Meaning of Life.” CuriosityStream also offers a number of original documentaries and series, including “Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places” starring Hawking himself.
Bonus: No commercials ever. New films and series are added weekly.
How to Watch: AppleTV/iOS, Android, Chromecast, Fire TV, Roku, Xbox.
Price: $2.99/month or $29.99/year for the basic plan, which includes the full catalog and the ability to cancel anytime. Higher plans ranging from $5.99-$11.99/month allow for HD or Ultra HD/4K viewing.
Who It’s For: Viewers who can’t get enough of K-dramas and other international programming.
What It Offers: While Dramafever has had made deals with Netflix to stream the super popular “Boys Over Flowers,” among others, there is a whole wide world of serialized drama that ranges from comedic, romantic, soapy, melodramatic, historical, or fantastical. “Goblin” is currently causing a stir for its all-powerful male lead, and fans of ABC’s “The Good Doctor” can check out the drama of the same name that inspired it. While K-dramas are the big draw, the service also offers J-dramas, Taiwanese dramas, Latin American telenovelas, feature films, and K-pop performances.
Bonus: DramaFever dipped its toes into the simulcast waters with “My Secret Romance” in March, which streamed in the U.S. while it aired on Korean TV.
How to Watch: Apple TV/iOS, Android, Chromecast, Fire TV & Kindle, PS3/4/Vita, Roku, Samsung Smart TVs
Price: Limited videos with ads are available for free. $4.99/month or $49.99/year subscription gives full access without commercials and in high definition.
What It Offers: Everything that’s right and good in the world of film, from contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign, and cult films. Akira Kurosawa, Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut, David Lynch, all the films that inspired Wes Anderson or Todd Haynes, films from the Golden Age of Hollywood – most of them can be found here. Paying extra for the Criterion Channel is well worth it. As with DVDs and Blu-Rays, this will get you all the add-on content like interviews, trailers, shorts, and making-of feature documentaries.
Bonus: Filmstruck original content includes interviews with actors and directors, video essays from film scholars, and audio commentaries.
How to Watch It: Apple TV/iOS, Android, Chromecast, FireTV, Roku.
Price: Two-week free trial, and then $6.99/month gets about 500 film titles that are constantly refreshed, while $10.99/month adds in the Criterion Channel. It’s $99 for a full year with Criterion, but as a special holiday promotion, $99 gets an annual gift subscription and a free Roku Express.
Who It’s For: Cord-cutters who want to get the quality of premium cable content.
What It Offers: Most people would get this for “Game of Thrones” and other similarly high-profile series like “The Sopranos,” “Big Little Lies,” “The Wire,” and “Westworld,” but there’s also “Flight of the Conchords,” “Insecure,” “The Young Pope,” “Room 104,” and so many more, not to mention all of its films – original and acquired – sports, documentaries, talk shows, and comedy specials.
Bonus: Strong children’s programming makes the cost worth it for families. Not only does HBO get the first run of “Sesame Street,” but it also has “Fraggle Rock,” “The Electric Company,” and kid-friendly films.
How to Watch It: Web browser, AppleTV/iOS, Android, Chromecast, FireTV, PS3/4, Roku, Samsung Smart TV.
Price: One-month free trial, then it’s $14.99/month.
Who It’s For: Cinephiles, curious minds, students, teachers, career seekers, self-improvers, anyone who likes quality content.
What It Offers:A ridiculously wide array – over 30,000 titles – of amazing films from the Criterion Collection, classic and arthouse horror, sci-fi, romance, LGBTQ, foreign films, and more. TV-wise, there’s also curated internationally acclaimed TV series, literary adaptations, PBS series, dance and concert performances. Because this is set up for educational purposes, videos are also available for career development, teaching tools, guides to healthy living, journalism studies, science programming, social sciences, and instructional films and lessons.
Bonus: Support your public library by watching this content, some of which is difficult to impossible to access elsewhere.
How to Watch It: AppleTV/iOS, Android, Chromecast, Roku.
Price: FREE – for college students, professors, and users of the public library. You just need a library card and login, so it’s easy to set up an account for a gift.
What It Offers: So many horror, thriller, and supernatural titles for any appetite. The “Collections” section curates the offerings into themes, such as The Family Table (great of the holidays!), A-Plus (a selection of East Asian films), Zombie Jamboree (zombie flicks from around the world), and selections chosen by guest curators like Elijah Wood, Kumail Nanjiani and more. There are plenty of global TV series also, but original series like “Neil Gaiman’s Likely Stories,” and “The Core,” which goes behind the gore to speak to filmmakers about their craft.
Bonus: If you want to trust the Shudder gods, ShudderTV is a free 24-hour stream of pre-programmed content that is available for all.
How to Watch It: AppleTV/iOS, Android, FireTV, Roku, Xbox One.
Price: After a two-week free trial, it’s $4.99/month or $49.99/year.