The “streaming wars” has turned into a catchphrase so quickly it’s easy to miss how intense the battle has become.
In the past year, media companies have committed to spending hundreds of millions of dollars on content, begun building massive technological infrastructure and marketed their efforts as the must-have services of the digital age.
But where does this dizzying activity leave consumers? Which services are likely to offer the most content — and the most appealing content for you? Which services are worth subscribing to, and why?
The good news is this will be a golden age of content. The bad news is you’ll have to pay a lot of different providers to get it — or make hard decisions about what to skip.
To help you make sense of the jumble, The Washington Post has compiled this breakdown to guide you through. Read it and stream.
» Price: $8.99/$12.99/$15.99 depending on plan
» Ads: Ad-free
» Available: Now
» Top content offerings: Where to start? Even after all the takebacks from media companies, Netflix still offers the deepest well of content, beginning with some 4,000 movies, including 67 originals in October; among the big fall debuts is Martin Scorsese’s highly anticipated mob drama “The Irishman.” And on offer are thousands of hours of TV programming, including classic shows like the soon-to-debut “Seinfeld” and originals such as “Stranger Things.” Not to mention foreign films (“Roma,” e.g.), documentaries and a host of international TV series.
» Competitive strength/weakness: If you’re a voracious consumer of content, Netflix remains the gold standard. The company has 150 million global subscribers for a reason. And it will spend billions of dollars on content in 2020, so don’t expect the roster to diminish. What could weaken Netflix is pricing: If consumers feel like they want to cut back, Disney makes up in brand recognition what it lacks in depth — and for half the price. Apple, Hulu and others also remain cheaper options for many plans.
» Price: N/A
» Ads: Subscription and ad-based plans
» Available: April 2020
» Top content offerings: As the streaming service of Comcast’s NBC Universal, Peacock will offer plenty of hit movie franchises, including “Jurassic Park” and the “Fast & Furious” series. Many of those 2000’s-era NBC hits, such as “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” will be there, too. Also on the horizon are reboots of some classic shows — “Saved by the Bell” could make devotees of Bayside High come flocking.
» Competitive strength/weakness: Even after a launch announcement this week, Peacock remains one of the murkiest direct-to-consumer efforts. Unclear is how deep the content well will go — a number of past NBC hits (e.g., “Seinfeld” and “Friends”) were made by other studios and have been sold elsewhere. Also unclear is the relationship between the platform and Comcast’s cable service. The company wants to walk a line between attracting cord-cutters and incentivizing customers who subscribe to Comcast. It remains to be seen how exactly they’ll do this in their packages — and whether it will work.
CBS All Access
» Price: $5.99 with ads/$9.99 without
» Ads: Ad-free and ad-based
» Available: Now
» Top content offerings: Plenty of old-school TV hits, such as “Cheers” and “Cagney & Lacey” are on the service. So are new originals like the upcoming “Star Trek: Picard” spinoff, this year’s “Twilight Zone” reboot and “Why Women Kill,” the dark comedy from “Desperate Housewives” creator Marc Cherry that was recently released. And there’s “The Good Fight,” the spinoff of fan favorite “The Good Wife.” A subscription also comes with live CBS TV, which means NFL games, CBS News programming and the Grammys.
» Competitive strength/weakness: CBS has a major streaming advantage over its network competitors: It’s been doing this awhile. The first original shows launched on All Access all the way back in 2016, years before Warner and Comcast even announced plans to jump in. So there’s a track record and a long slate of originals. The challenge for All Access is branding: Far fewer people know about it than they do, say, Netflix. The company said earlier this year it has 8 million digital subscribers including Showtime’s service — a fraction of its Silicon Valley competitor. Part of the problem is demographic — CBS has the oldest media viewer age of all broadcast networks, a challenge given the younger ages of many streaming consumers.
» Price: Included with a $119 annual Prime subscription
» Ads: No ads
» Available: Now
» Top content offerings: Amazon’s been spending big on Sundance movies lately, purchasing the Adam Driver whistleblower tale “The Report” and Mindy Kaling’s TV dramedy “Late Night,” in addition to producing upcoming films like this fall’s period adventure “The Aeronauts.” It also has a smattering of prestige TV shows, including Emmy comedy winner “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and current critical darling “Fleabag,”which just won a slew of Emmys. (Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post.)
» Competitive strength/weakness: Amazon has always been something of a unicorn among streaming services, for a simple reason — it doesn’t need to attract subscribers the way Netflix and others do. Hollywood content is a bonus for Prime customers, not a revenue-driver unto itself. That both frees up the company to make bold choices and has sometimes led to a muddled strategy. Under chief Jennifer Salke, who came over from NBC early last year, the tack at present seems to be to spend big on independent films as well as select big-name television properties, such as a “Lord of the Rings” prequel. Whether Amazon will be a heavyweight or a sideline player when the streaming dust settles remains to be seen.
» Price: $6.99 monthly/$5.83 a month with annual subscription
» Ads: No ads
» Available: Nov. 12, 2019
» Top content offerings: Pretty much every Marvel, Pixar, “Star Wars” movie will eventually be here, as will new offerings like Jon Favreau’s “Star Wars” series “The Mandalorian” and reboots of Disney Channel hits such as “High School Musical” and “Lizzie McGuire.” Also, titles from the Fox library, like “The Simpsons.”
» Competitive strength/weakness: It’s hard to imagine a family in America that won’t find something here to watch — and watch and watch. Disney’s bet is that its brands have so infiltrated our lives that this will be a must-have in every household. You won’t find more adult-skewing material (that will be on Hulu) but you’ll find nearly everything else Disney has done or is doing. If you’re really feeling hungry, there’s a $12.99 bundle that comes with ESPN+ and Hulu.
» Price: $5.99 with ads/$11.99 without
» Ads: Ad and ad-free versions
» Top content offerings: The more mature cousin of Disney+’s service, Hulu most famously offers “The Handmaid’s Tale,” not to mention a host of other higher-end darlings, like the revival of “Veronica Mars.” It will also be the primary conduit for Disney’s blue-chip Fox acquisitions, including FX and “The Favourite,” and “The Shape of Water” studio Fox Searchlight.
» Competitive strength/weakness: The company has a clearer focus now that it’s owned outright by Disney after the Fox acquisition and a Comcast and Warner buyout — important given the at-times confused strategic direction that came from multiple owners. But that could also work against it — single ownership means it won’t have the benefit of either an industry-wide brain trust or library.
» Price: $4.99
» Ads: No ads
» Available: Nov. 1, 2019
» Top content offerings: “The Morning Show” with Jennifer Aniston, a reboot of Steven Spielberg’s “Amazing Stories” anthology series, a science-fiction series with Jason Momoa titled “See” and a modern take on Emily Dickinson are among the shows leading the TV slate. Also on the docket: a host of documentaries as well as upscale boutique films — the company has a producing deal with “Moonlight” studio A24.
» Competitive strength/weakness: Apple TV+ is betting big on high-end original programming over previous mainstream hits — a kind of old-school HBO approach. It’s also betting on the low cost inducing subscribers; you likely won’t have to trim elsewhere to afford it.
» Price: N/A
» Ads: Ad-free and ad-supported versions
» Available: Spring 2020
» Top content offerings: Big Warner Bros. movies (“Harry Potter” and the DC Extended Universe), a raft of HBO shows (such as “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Game of Thrones”) and a host of originals (including series reimaginings of past hits such as “The Boondocks” and “Snowpiercer”). Also, “Friends” and “The Big Bang Theory.”
» Competitive strength/weakness: It’s hard to know where Warner fits. On one hand, the studio is one of the most iconic in Hollywood history. On the other, it doesn’t evoke the brand recognition of Disney. Its success will depend on whether top-tier franchises like “Harry Potter” will be enough to make people shell out that monthly fee.
On the plus (max?) side, if you’re already subscribing to HBO, this gives you a lot more content for not many more dollars.