We’ve ranked the content on the streaming services. Now it’s time to rank the services themselves.
There are a ton of streaming services, but five (5!) majors have launched since the end of last year. How were their debuts? How have they done for themselves since? Well, let’s take a look. (And keep in mind this is from a TV perspective—movie-wise your mileage may vary).
Pros: Still waiting.
Cons: Only initially available on mobile, confusing interface, bizarre programming, lots of money down the drain.
The Latest: You can’t convince me Quibi isn’t a money laundering operation. It feels destined to fail and be written off as a tax loss. I mean Quick Bites? The recent coverage and quotes in Vulture really sealed the deal that this was always a bad idea—one that is unlikely to survive the Streaming Wars.
Pros: A massive library of content (although it is confoundingly curated).
Cons: Mega confusing branding and launch; lack of an app on Roku and FireTV a serious issue.
The Latest: This was tough, but the launch itself was a mess. I was really stumping for HBO Max, because—done properly—they could have been the closest thing to a “Netflix killer” (even though at this point perhaps nothing can ever be that). While priced higher than most services on this list, it also offers oodles more. But as I detail here, HBO Max’s launch was a total disaster, one that may have irreparably damaged consumer confidence in the brand (whatever that brand is now calling itself). And yet, you can’t ignore how many networks are synergized through Max, including all Turner properties and the Warner movie catalogue. Once it cleans itself up, HBO Max could be a force—if it can get out of its own way.
Pros: Free for a year if you have an Apple device.
Cons: No library of familiar content, only new originals (which are mostly just ok).
The Latest: Apple is throwing a lot of money at Apple TV+. It has to overcome a deficit, first of all, of not having a streaming library other than its original programming. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime built their empires on licensing deals—Come for The Office, stay for Orange Is the New Black (or what have you). To compensate, Apple has gotten big stars (Octavia Spencer, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Evans and many more) to front its original series, which have been fanning out to cover every conceivable genre. And yet, few of these series have entered the zeitgeist, and it’s uncertain how many people are really signed up for Apple TV+ and watching in the first place. One day, Apple may gobble up other streaming services with bigger libraries, or it may create an app through which you can watch all of the other streaming services you subscribe to. But for now, it’s not making much of a splash.
Pros: Hey, a free, ad-supported tier! Imagine!
Cons: Not available on Roku or FireTV.
The Latest: The newest service to launch, NBCUniversal may have struck out with its Original Series for Peacock (save one), but it does feature a decent array of classic (and new) TV shows to watch on its free tier. It’s kinda like cable syndication, but on demand. And did we mention free? That’s its winning play.
Pros: Nostalgia; you don’t have to bother with parental controls; Baby Yoda.
Cons: Thin library beyond the big launch titles, search function isn’t great.
The Latest: An unexpected champion! Though Disney+ had some buffering issues to start, now it’s all in hand. And while its library of content isn’t as robust as many of us were hoping, and most of its original series haven’t made much of a splash, it did give us The Mandalorian and Baby Yoda, so really, this whole thing was rigged.
But genuinely, Disney+ was the least fraught of all of the new launches, and has a tidy interface with great options for families. Plus, they had one of the best pre-launch pricing deals of any new streaming service. Still, we’d like to see it do free preview weekends like the Disney Channel did back in the ‘90s. Keep riding that nostalgia train, Disney!
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.