The IndieWire Guide To Streaming on a Budget

Paying for multiple streaming services can add up. IndieWire took a look at which services offer the best value in the crowded television market.
Peter Stern, Apple Vice President of Services, speaks at the Steve Jobs Theater during an event to announce new products, in Cupertino, CalifApple Streaming TV, Cupertino, USA - 25 Mar 2019
Peter Stern, Apple Vice President of Services, speaks at the Steve Jobs Theater
Tony Avelar/AP/REX/Shutterstock

There’s no shortage of shows to binge in the era of peak TV, but figuring out where the good stuff is streaming can be tricky, especially for viewers on a budget. There’s a dizzying array of streaming services on the market, and choosing which platforms are worth subscribing to can be further complicated by multi-tiered pricing options and licensing deals that mean your favorite content could abruptly disappear from a platform.

With that in mind, here’s a guide on the streaming services that could offer you the most bang for your buck, depending on your budget. Obviously, viewer preferences are subjective and pretty much all of the major platforms have at least a few original shows worth watching. Therefore, this guide is less about platforms with one or two recent breakout hits and more about services with a solid quantity of high-quality new and legacy content, reasonable pricing, and long-term value.

It’s also worth noting the streaming market is going to look quite different in just a few months. Disney+ and Apple TV+ are expected to debut in November, at $6.99 per month and $9.99 per month, respectively. Disney and Apple are spending significant amounts of money to make their services stand out in the increasingly crowded TV industry. HBO Max and the still-unnamed NBCUniversal streaming service will further shake up the industry when they launch in 2020. But until then, the following services will offer more than binge-worthy content to keep you glued to your screen:

If your budget is $10 or less per month:

The ad-supported The CW, CW Seed, and Pluto TV are all free, which is a pretty good price, especially for viewers on a tight budget. No registration is required, which is another plus. The CW has the exclusive in-season streaming rights to upcoming shows such as “Batwoman,” Nancy Drew,” and “Katy Keene,” while CW Seed has a handful of popular existing shows, such as “Schitt’s Creek.”

Unlike the former two platforms, Pluto TV works more like a traditional TV channel package. The service offers more than 100 channels, including ones focused on action, horror, news, and other expected genres. There are a few catches — plenty of ads and a lack of new and “prestige” content — but hey, it’s free.

For fans of British shows and other international television series, Britbox and Acorn TV are the market leaders and subscribing to either of them won’t break the bank. A monthly Britbox subscription costs $6.99, while an Acorn TV subscription is $5.99. The BBC-owned Britbox is mostly focused on British content, while Acorn TV tends to offer more programming from other regions, such as Canada and Australia, in addition to its British offerings.

CBS All Access is also continuing to expand and the platform is essentially a must-have for Trekkies thanks to its original “Star Trek: Discovery” and upcoming “Star Trek: Picard” series. Like its competitors, the CBS service is doubling down on original content, but CBS All Access stands out from most of the other industry giants with its cheaper subscription options. A $5.99 per month CBS All Access subscription includes advertisements, but even the ad-free $9.99 plan is notably cheaper than the service’s largest streaming rivals — and you can stream live local CBS broadcasts, as well as stream current and legacy CBS programming.

"The Handmaid's Tale"
“The Handmaid’s Tale”Hulu

If your budget is $20 or less per month:

Pretty much all of the major SVOD streaming services fall somewhere in the $10-$20 price range. Though Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video all have sub-$10 subscription options, there are a few catches that make them far less appealing than their slightly more expensive price plans. For example, Netflix’s cheapest option doesn’t include HD streaming, Hulu’s includes ads, and the basic Prime Video subscription doesn’t include the other Amazon Prime perks. However, those services’ standard plans — $12.99 for Netflix, $11.99 for Hulu, and $12.99 for Amazon Prime — are plenty worth it.

Netflix and Hulu have a huge amount of content and put a lot of focus on high-quality originals. IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers noted that several acclaimed series hit Netflix in August, and unless you’ve been able to keep up with Netflix and/or Hulu’s onslaught of content over the recent months, there’s almost certainly enough on either platform to keep you busy. Netflix’s recent price hikes and the impending departure of fan-favorite shows aren’t exactly fostering goodwill with consumers, but the veteran streaming platform is still an industry leader for good reason. (Meanwhile, Hulu will still house plenty of broadcast TV favorites during the upcoming fall season, making for a content splurge of its own come September.)

Speaking of pricing, HBO Now might be the most expensive of the mainstream streaming platforms at $14.99 per month, but most critics would argue you’re absolutely getting what you pay for. HBO Now has a swath of high-quality original programming — from recent hits like “Succession” to past favorites like “Veep” — which is why HBO Entertainment blew all of its competitors away with its 137 Emmy nominations in July.

Then there’s Prime Video. Amazon’s flagship streaming service doesn’t have quite the same quantity of acclaimed originals as its competitors, though there are notable exceptions, such as “Fleabag” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” That said, Amazon Prime subscribers also get free two-day shipping from Amazon, Whole Foods Market savings, music streaming, and a laundry list of other perks. Even if only a few Prime Video shows catch your eye, the additional benefits of an Amazon Prime membership make it an easy sell.

It’s also worth noting that Hulu and Prime Video allow subscribers to add a variety of cable TV networks, such as Showtime, to their plan for an additional cost, which makes these platforms especially attractive for cord cutters.

Tetona Jackson, "Boomerang"
Tetona Jackson, “Boomerang”BET

If your budget is more than $20 per month:

There are few streaming services that cost more than $15. Those that do are largely marketed for cord cutters who still want to keep up with sports broadcasts, cable news, or major channels such as AMC and TBS. Most of those, such as YouTube TV and PlayStation Vue, are much more expensive than most standalone streaming platforms, but for the cord cutters on a budget, Sling’s $25 Orange & Blue plan lets subscribers stream a host of cable networks, including ESPN, BET, and Food Network. Sling also has two $15-per-month plans that offer a smaller selection of networks.

Beyond that, once your budget reaches this point, mixing and matching enough of the aforementioned streaming services will easily give you enough television content to binge throughout the end of the year. That said, it could be worth considering some of the following smaller, more niche services to round out your viewing diet.

Crunchyroll is the most well-known anime streaming platform for good reason, thanks to its huge content library and good subtitles. The platform uploads new content shortly after it airs in Japan, though the lack of English dubbing could be a deal-breaker for some viewers. Crunchyroll Premium costs $8 per month and although the subscription is optional, the free version’s large amount of ads and more restrictive show availability can be a hassle.

Korean TV isn’t quite as popular as the region’s pop music is in the United States, but Viki Pass Plus boasts a huge library of content for those interested. An $8.33 per month subscription gives access to a variety of Korean, Chinese, and Taiwanese dramas, and the “Pass Plus” part also allows subscribers to watch content from Kocowa, the streaming service run by Korea’s three largest broadcasters.

For the truly superhero obsessed, DC Universe has plenty to offer, thanks to a strong roster of older cartoons, including “Justice League” and “Justice League Unlimited.” Just keep in mind that DC Universe, which costs $8 per month, doesn’t have films from the DC Extended Universe, such as “Shazam!” or “Aquaman.” Because, y’know, that would be way too simple. That said, the platform is getting an adult-oriented series based on Harley Quinn in October.

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