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Best Streaming Services: Guide to Netflix, HBO Max, Peacock

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As mergers, acquisitions, and convoluted licensing deals continue to further complicate the streaming wars, it’s becoming more difficult than ever for subscribers to decide which services are worth paying for.

In the past few months alone, reports have suggested that Disney is considering licensing more films and television series to rival streaming platforms, Warner Bros. Discovery pulled several titles off HBO Max with plans to license them to free, ad-supported TV (FAST) providers like Roku, Freevee, and Tubi, and Netflix unveiled more details about its plan to crack down on password sharing following the launch of its first-ever ad-supported tier.

“Executives facing huge losses now appear to be questioning everything they thought they knew about their business,” TIME TV critic Judy Berman wrote in February in the wake of these developments. “In other words: the streaming wars have entered their chaos era.”

Read more: The Streaming Wars Have Entered Their Chaos Era

The rise of streaming has brought more content into our homes than ever before. But as established industry leaders like Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max, and Amazon Prime Video have faced growing competition from major new players, this wealth of content has been spread out across a proliferation of platforms, each with its own subscription fee.

Here’s everything you need to know about every streaming service to decide which ones are right for you.

Netflix

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Price

$9.99, $15.49, or $19.99 per month for a Netflix Basic, Standard, or Premium plan, respectively, or $6.99 per month for a Netflix Basic with Ads plan

What’s available

Netflix’s biggest draw lies in original scripted series like Stranger Things, The Crown, Wednesday, You, Bridgerton, and Squid Game, as well as popular reality shows like Love Is Blind, The Circle, and Selling Sunset. The streamer continues to expand its collection of original movies, including recent award contenders like The Irishman, Don’t Look Up, Blonde, and Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, and big-budget action flicks like The Gray Man and Red Notice. It also dominates the market for third-party licensed content, with offerings ranging from bingeworthy TV series like Gilmore Girls, Seinfeld, Grey’s Anatomy, and Breaking Bad, to beloved movies like The Lord of the Rings and The Hangover trilogies.

What’s not

With network-specific streamers on the rise, Netflix has lost the rights to a number of popular shows and movies that used to be mainstays for the platform, including sitcoms like The Office and Friends and its catalog of Disney content. The platform also doesn’t offer live sports like a number of its rivals do.

What else to know

Netflix is set to begin making subscribers pay an additional fee for sharing their account with users outside their household in the near future. Details about how this crackdown will be enforced—and how much adding additional subscribers to your account will cost—are still emerging.

Hulu

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Price

$7.99 per month or $79.99 per year for Hulu with ads, or $14.99 per month for Hulu with no ads; $69.99 per month for Hulu + Live TV with ads or $82.99 per month for Hulu + Live TV with no ads

What’s available

Hulu has become a powerhouse of original content in recent years, earning a reputation for buzzy limited series like The Dropout, Normal People, Dopesick, and Little Fires Everywhere, ongoing original scripted and unscripted series like The Handmaid’s Tale, The Great, Only Murders in the Building, and The Kardashians, and an original movie selection that includes Prey, Fresh, Happiest Season, and Palm Springs. The platform is also the official streaming home of FX, meaning its where you can find new seasons of gems like The Bear, What We Do in the Shadows, American Horror Story, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, as well as the full run of Atlanta, Justified, The Americans, and more. For third-party content, Hulu has the rights to a number of cult classic series, including Schitt’s Creek, The X-Files, Hannibal, Veronica Mars, and Arrested Development, while ABC and Fox offer next-day access to their primetime programming on the streamer. Springing for Hulu + Live TV means you get all of the above in addition to Disney+, ESPN+, and live streams from a lineup of sports, entertainment, and news channels.

What’s not

Hulu’s on-demand catalog, once its greatest asset, has dwindled of late, with NBCUniversal pulling the plug last year on providing current-season shows like Saturday Night Live, The Voice, and all Bravo series in favor of moving them to NBC’s own Peacock streaming service. CBS and The CW had both already removed their shows from Hulu by this point. The streamer has also lost the right to a number of popular third-party series, including South Park and Seinfeld.

What else to know

With a Disney Bundle plan, you can access a combination of three services—Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN+. Bundle plans start at $9.99 per month for Disney Bundle Duo Basic (Hulu and Disney+ with ads), and increase to $12.99 per month for Disney Bundle Trio Basic (Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN+ with ads) or $19.99 per month for Disney Bundle Trio Premium (Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN+ with no ads).

HBO Max

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Price

$9.99 per month or $99.99 per year for HBO Max with ads, $15.99 per month or $149.99 per year for HBO Max with no ads, or free for those who already pay for HBO through certain cable providers

What’s available

If you want to keep up with the water cooler show du jour, HBO Max is probably your best streaming bet. New episodes of prestige HBO series like The Last of Us, Succession, House of the Dragon, The White Lotus, and Euphoria go straight to streaming on HBO Max the minute they air. The service also has an expansive back catalog of past HBO greats, including Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, The Wire, Watchmen, Sex and the City, The Leftovers, and I May Destroy You, and a collection of tried-and-true standbys like Friends, South Park, and Looney Tunes. Since HBO is owned by Warner Bros. Discovery, subscribers have access to programming produced by CNN, Warner Bros., TBS, DC Comics, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, and more. That means big-name movies like Dune, The Batman, Don’t Worry Darling, Tenet, and The Matrix franchise. Additionally, HBO has an exclusive deal with Japan’s Oscar-winning animation house Studio Ghibli, making it the only place you can watch beloved Hayao Miyazaki films like Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki’s Delivery Service. The streamer has also broken into the live sports world via a $200 million deal with the U.S. Soccer Federation to air 20 U.S. Women’s and Men’s National Team matches annually for eight years.

What’s not

Since last summer, Warner Bros. Discovery has unceremoniously pulled over 80 titles from HBO Max, including Westworld, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Nevers, Raised by Wolves, FBoy Island, and Legendary, amid a push to “maximize audiences and monetization opportunities for its content” by licensing certain HBO and HBO Max original programming to third-party FAST services. It has also canceled projects that had nearly been completed, including a Batgirl movie that was set to be released in December, and a second season of Minx.

What else to know

Warner Bros. Discovery has ditched its plan to turn HBO Max and Discovery+ into one big streaming service in favor of keeping Discovery+ as a standalone offering while still launching a rebranded combo service simply called Max that’s set to launch first in the U.S. on May 23. That means Discovery reality TV mainstays like 90 Day Fiancé will soon be available alongside all your HBO faves, and an average of more than 40 new titles and TV show seasons will supposedly be added each month. Max will be available in three different pricing tiers, with Max Ad-Lite and Max Ad Free set to align with the current pricing for HBO Max with ads and HBO Max with no ads, while Max Ultimate Ad Free (which will allow for up to four concurrent streams and include 4K content) will cost $19.99 per month or $199.99 per year.

Amazon Prime Video

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Price

$8.99 per month for Prime Video, or free for those who already pay $14.99 per month or $139 per year for a full Amazon Prime membership

What’s available

Prime Video is host to a broad assortment of original shows like Daisy Jones & the Six, The Boys, Fleabag, Reacher, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and the billion-dollar The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, as well as original movies like The Lost City of Z, Beautiful Boy, The Big Sick, Manchester by the Sea, and Late Night. The service is also the streaming home for select titles from studios like MGM, Paramount, Universal, Lionsgate, Sony, and more. Prime Video lets subscribers rent or buy more shows and movies, or add third-party channels like SHOWTIME, STARZ, and AMC to their streaming library, for an extra fee. For sports, Amazon has inked a $13 billion deal with the NFL to exclusively carry most Thursday Night Football games through 2033, and a multi-year agreement with the WNBA to stream 16 regular-season games and the Commissioner’s Cup Championship. Subscribers can also access sports channels like MLB.TV, NBA League Pass (which includes NBA TV), and La Liga TV for an extra fee.

What’s not

While Prime Video is good for bingeing Amazon originals and older third-party content, its standard streaming plan doesn’t allow for watching new episodes of any current non-Amazon shows as they drop.

What else to know

Amazon’s Lord of the Rings prequel series is the most expensive show ever made and broke Prime Video viewership records when more than 25 million people watched on the first day the series was available. The streamer has committed to a five-season story.

Disney+

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Price

$7.99 per month for Disney+ Basic (with ads) or $10.99 per month or $109.99 per year for Disney+ Premium (no ads and the ability to download content to watch offline); $9.99 per month for Disney Bundle Duo Basic (Hulu and Disney+ with ads), $12.99 per month for Disney Bundle Trio Basic (Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN+ with ads), or $19.99 per month for Disney Bundle Trio Premium (Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN+ with no ads)

What’s available

Disney+ is a one-stop-shop for all your favorite Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic programming. That means original series like The Mandalorian, Andor, WandaVision, Loki, and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, shows that original aired on other platforms like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, and classics like The Simpsons, X-Men: The Animated Series, and Disney Channel standouts like Hannah Montana, Lizzie McGuire, and That’s So Raven. ABC shows like Alias, Black-ish, 8 Simple Rules, and Boy Meets World are also available on Disney+, while Dancing With the Stars recently became the streamer’s first live, ongoing show. The majority of movies from the Disney and Pixar vaults and Marvel and Star Wars catalogs are also at your fingertips.

What’s not

A number of beloved Disney-owned movies and shows remain missing from Disney+, including House of Mouse, The Brave Little Toaster, and Angels in the Outfield.

What else to know

Disney+ is reportedly exploring licensing some of its underperforming movies and shows to rival media outlets in order to earn more money from its extensive content library.

Peacock

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Price

$4.99 per month or $49.99 per year for Peacock Premium, or $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year for Peacock Premium Plus (everything you get with Premium, plus no ads, the ability to download and watch select titles offline, and a live stream of your local NBC channel)

What’s available

Peacock has reclaimed programming from a variety of rival streamers in recent years to build up a library of NBCUniversal content from NBC, Bravo, USA Network, Syfy, Oxygen, E!, CNBC, MSNBC and Universal Pictures. There’s also some content licensed from outside parties, including A&E, ABC, Fox, Hallmark, History, Nickelodeon, DreamWorks Animation, Focus Features, and Lionsgate. These days, Peacock is home to streaming juggernaut The Office, sitcom standbys like Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock, Modern Family, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, top-tier reality TV like Vanderpump Rules, Top Chef, and all of the Real Housewives iterations, original shows like Poker Face, Bel-Air, and Girls5eva, big-name movies like M3GAN, Tár, and Nope, and a variety of other classic series, including Saturday Night Live, Days of Our Lives, Cheers, and Law and Order: SVU. Plus, Peacock offers next-day access to current NBC and Bravo shows—meaning subscribers are able to watch new episodes the day after they air on their respective networks—as well as a multitude of live sports, including Premier League soccer, NFL football, golf, rugby, WWE, and the Olympics.

What’s not

Peacock hasn’t yet managed to deliver the same level of must-see original programming that top-tier streamers like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Max thrive on.

What else to know

Peacock recently stopped offering a free, ad-supported tier for new customers as part of a push to remain competitive in the oversaturated streaming market.

Paramount+

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Price

$4.99 per month or $49.99 per year for Paramount+ Essential with ads, or $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year for Paramount+ Premium with no ads and the ability to livestream your local CBS station; Paramount+ Essential with SHOWTIME or Paramount+ Premium with SHOWTIME for $11.99 per month or $199.99 per year

What’s available

Paramount+ is betting big on the Taylor Sheridan-verse for success. Sheridan’s expanding catalogue—which includes the massively popular Yellowstone, its prequel spinoffs 1883 and 1993, and other series like Tulsa King and Mayor of Kingstown—has been a boon for the service, which added nearly 10 million new subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2022, more than any other streamer, to hit 56 million subscribers worldwide. Paramount+ also offers on-demand and live content from CBS, BET, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, MTV, VH1, and more, which means same- or next-day access (depending on your plan) to new seasons of competition shows like Survivor, The Amazing Race, and The Challenge: World Championship, and popular series like Star Trek: Picard, NCIS, and Evil, as well as the full catalog of past hits like Twin Peaks, The Good Wife, The Twilight Zone, and SpongeBob SquarePants. For movies, award contenders like Top Gun: Maverick and Babylon are currently streaming on Paramount+ alongside old favorites like Mean Girls, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Grease, while horror movie fans will be happy to see Smile, A Quiet Place, The Sixth Sense, and all entries in the Scream franchise. Subscribing to one of Paramount+’s SHOWTIME bundles gives you additional access to all SHOWTIME has to offer, including Yellowjackets, Your Honor, and Best Picture winner Everything, Everywhere, All At Once. Sports lovers can stream live NFL and NCAA games, and UEFA, NWSL, Concacaf, Serie A, AFC, and AFA soccer matches on Paramount+.

What’s not

Like Peacock, Paramount+ hasn’t been around long enough to match the abundance of original content offered by some of the established streaming giants.

What else to know

Paramount has announced that Paramount+ and SHOWTIME are merging together in both streaming and linear TV later this year. SHOWTIME will be “fully integrated” with Paramount+ and the SHOWTIME network and premium Paramount+ streaming tier will both be rebranded as “Paramount+ with SHOWTIME.” It’s currently unclear how much the new version of this tier will cost.

Apple TV+

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Price

$6.99 per month or free for three months when you purchase an Apple device and redeem the offer within 90 days

What’s available

Apple TV+ has quietly become one of the top producers of critically acclaimed original content. The service earned 52 Emmy nominations across 13 titles in 2022 thanks to award darlings like Severance, Ted Lasso, and The Morning Show. It also became the first streaming platform to win the Oscar for Best Picture with Coda. Other popular Apple TV+ original series run the gamut from dramas like Pachinko and Black Bird to dark comedies like Bad Sisters and Shrinking to thrillers like M. Night Shyamalan’s Servant. The streamer is also a major player in sports streaming, having cut exclusive deals with the MLB to stream two games each Friday of the season and with the MLS to broadcast every game of the season for 10 years. Subscribers can add MLS Season Pass to their plan for $12.99 per month or $79 per season.

What’s not

Apple TV+ doesn’t have a deep catalog of original movies and hosts only a very slim selection of third-party content.

What else to know

Apple has said that it’s focused on quality over quantity when it comes to its Apple TV+ offerings, making it one of the most reliable streamers to go to for prestige content. But if you’re looking for endless hours of casual viewing, it’s probably not worth the money.

Discovery+

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Price

$4.99 per month for Discovery+ with ads or $6.99 per month for Discovery+ with no ads

What’s available

As the streaming home of HGTV, Food Network, Magnolia Network, TLC, ID, OWN, Animal Planet, Travel Channel, and, of course, Discovery Channel, Discovery+ is where you can find endlessly bingeable reality and non-fiction shows like 90 Day Fiancé, Say Yes to the Dress, House Hunters, Fixer Upper, Chopped, Deadliest Catch, Mythbusters, and more. The service also boasts a library of exclusive original series like 90 Day: The Single Life, American Detective With Lt. Joe Kenda, Love Off the Grid, and Trixie Motel. Select content licensed from CNN, A&E, History, Lifetime, and even NBCUniversal—think The Biggest Loser, Flipping Out, and American Ninja Warrior—is available as well.

What’s not

While Discovery+’s library of on-demand content is more than 55,000 hours deep, the platform doesn’t allow for live streaming of any Discovery channels.

What else to know

Warner Bros. Discovery was originally planning to scrap Discovery+ in the process of merging content from Discovery and HBO Max into one supersize service. It’s now keeping the platform in a bid to avoid losing subscribers who might not be willing to move to a pricier platform.

ESPN+

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Price

$9.99 per month or $99.99 per year for ESPN+; $12.99 per month for Disney Bundle Trio Basic (Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN+ with ads), or $19.99 per month for Disney Bundle Trio Premium (Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN+ with no ads)

What’s available

If you’re looking for a central streaming hub for live sports, ESPN+ may be the service for you. The streamer offers live access to MLB, NHL, MLS, and college sports games, as well as the PGA Tour, the Masters, Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, and more. You can stream UFC Pay-Per-View events by paying an additional $79.99 per event. ESPN+ originals like Man in the Arena: Tom Brady, Peyton’s Places, Basketball: A Love Story, and the complete 30 for 30 library are also available on the service.

What’s not

ESPN+ currently doesn’t offer streams of any live NFL or NBA games, two of the most popular sports leagues in the world.

What else to know

ESPN+ allows for three simultaneous streams, meaning you can watch up to three different games on three different devices at the same time.

MGM+

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Price

$5.99 per month or $49.99 per year

What’s available

The streamer formerly known as EPIX hosts an expansive library of original series like Godfather of Harlem, Billy the Kid, FROM, and Rogue Heroes, modern movie hits like No Time to Die, Candyman, House of Gucci, and Licorice Pizza, and iconic Hollywood blockbusters like The Silence of the Lambs, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, 12 Angry Men, and the original Rocky and most of its sequels. In addition to its on-demand library, MGM+ also features four channels, each with a theme like MGM+ Hits or MGM+ Drive-In, that broadcast a variety of films 24/7.

What’s not

There are a few noticeable gaps in MGM+’s movie collection, including some of the Rocky and James Bond movies.

What else to know

Prior to its rebrand, Amazon acquired EPIX for $8.5 million in 2022. However, there is no original programming from either MGM+ or Prime Video available as a crossover on the other platform.

STARZ

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Price

$3 per month for the first three months, then $8.99 per month or $74.99 per year

What’s available

Popular original series like Outlander, Power, P-Valley, Hightown, The Girlfriend Experience, and Party Down are the name of the game on STARZ. The streamer also has an impressive collection of hit movies, ranging from Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood to Jumanji to Die Hard to Alien. Additionally, STARZ is home to Sony Marvel movies like Spider-Man: Homecoming and Venom, and has 17 channels sorted by genre, including STARZ Comedy, STARZ Cinema, and STARZ Kids & Family, that you can watch through your subscription.

What’s not

STARZ hosts a few third-party TV shows like Damages and Luther, but it’s not where you’re going to find a wide-ranging catalog of non-original series.

What else to know

Starz picked up the buzzy comedy Minx earlier this year after it was dropped by HBO Max in December 2022 despite an earlier renewal for a second season.

The Criterion Channel

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Price

$10.99 per month or $99.99 per year

What’s available

A streaming savior for fans of classic films, the Criterion Channel features a revolving selection of Hollywood, international, art-house, and independent movies. Criterion’s entire streaming library of more than 1,000 classic and contemporary films is available on the service, highlighting trailblazing directors ranging from John Cassavetes to Ingmar Bergman to Akira Kurosawa to Agnès Varda. It also allows you to stream spotlighted series on directors, stars, genres, and themes.

What’s not

Criterion Collection caters to a specific niche of film lover, putting an emphasis on titles not available anywhere else. That means there’s not a lot of what is widely considered mainstream content on the platform.

What else to know

Criterion has been criticized for hosting a lack of films from Black directors. In 2020, the New York Times reported that of the 461 directors from more than 40 countries represented in the collection, only four were African-American.

Shudder

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Price

$5.99 per month or $56.99 per year

What’s available

AMC Network’s all-horror streaming service is the home of fright flicks and scary shows galore. A subscription to Shudder gets you access to close to 700 horror, thriller and sci-fi titles, ranging from recent horror hits like Skinamarink and The Watcher to cult classics like Halloween, Hellraiser, and Night of the Living Dead to original series like The Last Drive-in with Joe Bob Briggs and the Creepshow revival.

What’s not

You won’t find anything that falls outside the horror spectrum on Shudder. So if you’re not a fan of scares, it’s probably not the streamer for you.

What else to know

Shudder is curated by humans rather than an algorithm, which has resulted in a library spanning decades of high-quality niche horror entries sorted into specific categories like Folk Horror, Zombie Jamboree, and Spectral Encounters.

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Write to Megan McCluskey at [email protected].