Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Tuesday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best show currently on TV?” can be found at the end of this post.)
This week’s question: What is the best current or even upcoming alternative streaming service that is not Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime? Why?
Pilot Viruet (@pilotbacon), Freelance
No one really believes me when I say that I’m a big fan of CBS All Access but: I’m a big fan of CBS All Access. “Twilight Zone” is currently the biggest draw (as are other originals “Star Trek: Discovery” and “The Good Fight”) but to be honest, I use it more for watching past series. Because it’s network-specific, its library isn’t as expansive as Hulu or Netflix but it has just the right mix of “Oh, I forgot about that show!” offerings that make for casual, low-energy background viewing. In the past year, I’ve raced through “Caroline in the City,” “Everybody Hates Chris,” and my beloved “Wings” (twice); I’ve also become super invested in old seasons of “Big Brother.” Its interface — at least on Apple TV — is far easier to navigate than most, you can pay a little extra to opt out of commercials, and it includes a handful of marathon favorites: “Cheers,” “Frasier,” “I Love Lucy,” and if you’re feeling particularly masochistic, “Criminal Minds.”
Allison Keene (@KeeneTV), Collider
As cable companies really began to monopolize markets and only offer outrageously-priced packages, we all cried out for a la carte pricing. But what hath we wrought? There are such a myriad of streaming services now it’s hard for even us media professionals to know which has what and when, or which are worth investing in (or diving through, for those that are free). I don’t blame people for sticking just with Netflix, because it can be overwhelming to add everything together to build your own bundle.
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At this point, I’m less interested in any one individual streaming service than what Apple revealed in their recent presentation; not their streaming service, but an app that would aggregate all of your various streaming subscriptions in one place. So instead of flipping between apps (many of which have unfriendly user interfaces) and trying to remember what you still have left to watch here and there, it would be back to basically a cable package with a robust DVR. Except this time, it’s curated from your own choices, purchased (as desired) a la carte.
Alan Sepinwall (@sepinwall), Rolling Stone
This is a bit of a cheat, but after the Big Three of streaming, it has to be HBO NOW, right? For one subscription, you get the entire runs of “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “Deadwood,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Sex and the City,” “The Leftovers,” “Six Feet Under,” etc., etc. Plus you get “Game of Thrones” (one of the few significant pieces of the HBO library that doesn’t come with an Amazon Prime membership). You get short-lived gems like “Enlightened” and “Flight of the Conchords.” Decades of brilliant comedy specials. Whatever movies are in HBO’s current rotation. Etc. When we reach the point in the future where every entertainment conglomerate will have its own streaming service, and their shows will only be available there, HBO will be way out in front of the competition. (And that’s even without considering the rest of the Warner Bros. library that will likely come with it.)
Kaitlin Thomas (@thekaitling), TVGuide.com
Look, there are many reasons to be excited for Disney+ — the super low cost, the new MCU shows, the Star Wars shows, the Pixar library, basically everything Disney has in its library (once existing licenses expire anyway). But if I’m being honest with myself, my dream is for a streaming service that features only British crime dramas/murder mysteries (preferably ones that follow detectives who wear really great coats and hang out at the local pub a lot), and the closest I can get to that is Acorn TV and BritBox. Sure, there are some great shows that fall into this category that are available on Netflix (“Happy Valley”) or Amazon (“Grantchester”), but Acorn and BritBox deliver boatloads of British TV straight into my eyeballs without me having to go looking through every single piece of content on a larger streaming service, and I love that. There are more than just British murder mysteries available to stream on them, too. Sometimes there are even Australian murder mysteries (I joke but “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” is great and its new spin-off, “Ms. Fisher’s Modern Mysteries,” is coming to Acorn this month and I am very excited). Acorn is also the streaming home of “The Hour,” while BritBox offers up episodes of classic “Doctor Who” and “Fawlty Towers.” So yeah, put me down for Acorn and BritBox. They might not have Netflix’s algorithm and interface or Hulu’s extensive library, but they are essential to my TV viewing habits, and that’s what matters.
Liz Shannon Miller (@lizlet), IndieWire
At one point, back when it had the rights to a lot more obscure British TV, I would have almost immediately answered Hulu, and it is still a service I find essential. However, I feel the need to stick up for CBS All Access. “The Good Fight” is one of the best shows on TV, “Star Trek: Discovery” continues to take big exciting swings, and while I haven’t watched every episode of its original series, in general I like what they make. Plus, all the old or obscure series they have streaming — “I Love Lucy”! “Mission Impossible”! “Caroline in the City”! “Wings”! — make it a lot of fun for TV fans. Would I be able to survive on just CBS All Access alone? Probably not. But as a side dish, I’m very glad to have, um, access.
Damian Holbrook (@damianholbrook), TV Guide Magazine
Oh my god, I love DC Universe. This is my shit 100 percent. Because it pairs original streaming programming with classic DC Comics-related shows, cartoons and content, along with a massive library of their digital comics. And let me tell you, if you have never read a comic book on a giant flat-screen, why even bother getting out of bed in the morning? The scripted shows DCU is delivering are actually impressive, as well. “Titans” had a bloody, dark and wonderfully messy first season that was miles away from the Arrowverse, and “Doom Patrol” is a miracle: They have somehow taken characters from the vault who would have never gotten my money before and crafted a series about chosen families, trauma and heroism that is funny, exciting and increasingly assured. I look forward to new episodes dropping every Friday and in between, I fill that time on an almost nightly basis watching “Krypton,” one of the DC Animated Universe films like “The Flashpoint Paradox” or the crazy weird “Gotham By Gaslamp” (Batman-vs-Jack the Ripper!?), or “Young Justice: Outsiders.” Oh, and when I am feeling really nostalgic, it’s classic “Wonder Woman” episodes. It’s heaven.
Photo by Jace Downs / 2018 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Daniel D’Addario (@DPD_), Variety
Various streamers do a good job, or at least good enough. But only one feels like a must-have to be part of the conversation around TV. (Including it is cheating perhaps – nothing on this streamer is original, and it all airs on linear TV – but it is still a service to which even cord-cutters can subscribe!) HBO Now isn’t just a smooth and pleasant user experience; it’s also a necessary component part of a TV fan’s arsenal, providing easy access to “Game of Thrones,” “Veep,” “Barry,” “Westworld,” “Sharp Objects,” and the like. Unlike, say, CBS All Access, this service isn’t just a fun thing to have but necessary to unlock what’s best and buzziest on TV right now. (That the streamer can provide a master class in recent TV history with a catalog including “The Sopranos,” “Sex and the City,” and “The Larry Sanders Show” is a bonus, too.) The answer to this question, of course, may be very different in a year; HBO Now’s primacy has to do with what new things it provides. Post-“Thrones” and “Veep,” the challenge for HBO will be to ensure its product remains up to its own standard – rooted in the sort of quality and grandeur that makes subscribing a must in order to be informed. It’ll be a tall order!
Daniel Fienberg (@TheFienPrint), The Hollywood Reporter
I appreciate that the question included “or upcoming” so that we can kinda cheat and answer “The answer is clearly Disney+, with its impressive library of content and also a promising slate of originals, all plus 600+ episodes of ‘The Simpsons’ all for the low, low price of $6.99.” And that would be a fine and mostly not-cheating answer. Instead, though, I’m going high culture with the new Criterion Channel, available on most of your finer apps and devices. It’s not quite as robust a library as the late, lamented FilmStruck, an app I simply never had the time to properly take advantage of, but it’s quite impressive. You get 1,000+ films as part of the Criterion Collection (not the complete collection, but enough to keep you busy for a couple weekends) and the bonus features associated with those films, plus a curated selection of licensed and themed film content. Yes, the price tag of $10.99 per month is more expensive than Disney+, but… Disney+ doesn’t exist yet and Criterion Channel totally does and although it may not be as effective when it comes to babysitting your children, it’s probably somewhat more effective when it comes to babysitting your brain.
Jacob Oller (@JacobOller), Paste
My pick is DC Universe. I know, I know. Hear me out. The reason it works best for me is because it avoids the coming streaming plague by specializing beyond TV. Its TV streaming is easy and, even with just two [original] shows out right now, both know their audience dead to rights and – more importantly – know DC Universe has a specific audience to reach. Couple that with its growing comic backlog, which is covered under the same price point that gives access to the shows and movie library, and you have a service that really knows what it wants to be. With every network trying out its own service, confident brand identity goes a long way.
Clint Worthington (@clintworthing), Consequence of Sound, The Spool
While I’m tempted to say The Criterion Channel, its awkward interface (and the fact I’ve already spent a fortune on their Blu-rays) means it’s not really topping the list for me. CBS All Access has some great originals I love watching (the significantly improved second season of “Star Trek: Discovery,” the rebooted “Twilight Zone”), but two shows do not a streaming service make.
To that end, the answer has to go to Shudder, the horror-centric boutique service that gives you all the spooks and scares you could possibly ask for all year round. At $4.99/month (or $50/year, which brings the price down to $3.99/month), Shudder gives you a lot for a little – there are horror classics like “Hellraiser” and “Halloween,” crazy schlock from the ’80s, and all manner of modern horror festival faves like “Mandy” and “Prevenge.” Plus, they’ve brought back Joe Bob Briggs for new episodes of his patented drive-in horror showcases every Friday night, which is worth the price of admission itself.
However, another novel element to Shudder’s programming is something I hope/wish other streaming services adopt: Shudder TV, a channel on their platform that just plays a curated set of their catalog just like an old-school TV channel. It’s a great antidote to the paradox-of-choice other streaming services tend to give you; instead of scrolling for a half hour through Shudder’s programming, just flip to Shudder TV and jump in the middle of a “Creature from the Black Lagoon” movie or something. It’s a welcome bit of nostalgia for the Old Ways of consuming media, and a shockingly effective way to solve the binge-watching indecision we’ve all felt before. Even if I don’t use it as much as I’d like in the non-October months, Shudder’s still more than worth every penny.
Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti), Vox
I’m a big fan of Shudder, which I think does a great job of curating programming for a very, very specific audience. As a horror fan, I’m always delighted when I sign in and find some new thing I’ve never seen before, or maybe even never heard of. And it balances out these discoveries with stuff I already know I like but didn’t know I wanted to rewatch until I saw it. It reminds me, in some ways, of the late, lamented FilmStruck (curse you, AT&T!!!!). But I like a lot of niche streaming players. Like Mubi — that one is wild! The idea that it only ever has 30 movies on it, and they cycle in and out… that’s fascinating to me! I think we’re just entering an era of people getting creative with what it means to be “a streaming service,” and I kind of can’t wait to see what happens next.
April Neale (@aprilmac), Monsters & Critics
For me its DirecTV NOW. There are no contracts, it’s easy, reliable…and you don’t have to have a dish, just internet. I feel like at some point one big entity is going to gobble up all of these – Apple TV, Sling, Pluto, PlayStation – and become a sole streaming cable model operator. WalMart bought Vudu, CostCo is entering the game- enough! At a certain point all the monthly fees add up to a higher bill than just having a DirecTV package (which I have and love) or straight up old school cable. We will see how Disney streaming moves the needle too. Netflix just raised their rates, and the big three, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon all have great original programming, too. It’s a pain in the ass to watch all of these and bounce around with five remotes and remember to switch to HDMI1 or 2 even with a smart TV…but that’s kind of where it’s at for the moment. Too much of a good thing.
Ben Travers (@BenTTravers), IndieWire
If we’re setting aside the Big Three (and focusing on streaming outlets that create original series, instead of ones like PlayStation Vue, which offer live cord-cutting alternatives), I think I have to go with the only originals service I’m willing to pay for: HBO Now. That’s not to say it doesn’t have problems (as illustrated by the buffering during Sunday’s “Game of Thrones“ premiere) but what service doesn’t?
CBS All Access has a relatively small library and the least number of originals I want to watch. (Please keep all CBS originals offline, like their audience.) YouTube Premium is making great original shows lately, but they’re not investing in them or giving me another reason to keep coming back. Starz and Showtime can’t quite compete with HBO in terms of output or must-see TV (for every “Billions” there is an “Our Cartoon President.”) Subscribers could pay for one or two months per year and catch up on whatever they need. Crackle is great considering the fact that it’s free, but only when considering the fact that it’s free. (I do not need another season of “StartUp,” thank you.) Acorn TV is a wonderful option for British TV fans, and a non-factor for anyone outside that demo. (Same goes for Britbox.)
As for prospective services, Disney+ sounded pretty good during Disney’s pitch for it, but it’s supposed to sound good — it’s an ad! — and don’t get me started on Apple TV+, which doesn’t have a release date or starting price. (I also don’t buy into the idea that Disney+’s $6.99 price-tag means Apple has to match. Prices aren’t set by the size of the library, but by where companies can afford to start in order to lure in customers. Netflix streaming started as a free service when it first launched, whereas HBO Now has been $15 for as long as I can remember because its brand is valued that highly.)
HBO Now is expensive, yes. It’s a little laggy on nights when you tune in for live events, or if you live anywhere removed from the best quality internet. But it’s got the best original series by far, so it wins the quality wars in a landslide, and soon will spearhead the WarnerMedia streaming bundle (tied in with TNT and TBS, among others). Presuming the AT&T acquisition doesn’t screw things up (it’s already resulted in the departure of many key HBO execs), I’d be willing to bet on the WarnerMedia bundle. But for now, I’ll be happy enough with HBO prime.
Q: What is the best show currently on TV?*
A: “Killing Eve” (five votes)
Other contenders: “Better Things” (three votes), “Game of Thrones,” “The Good Fight,” “The Magicians,” “The Orville,” and “Veep”
*In the case of streaming services that release full seasons at once, only include shows that have premiered in the last month.