Spending

How to Pick the Best Streaming Service for Your Viewing Habits and Budget

John Schmidt

If you’re like a majority of Americans, you’re getting a lot of your entertainment from streaming services. But considering that Netflix prices have gone up and there are so many new services vying for your subscription dollars, it’s harder than ever to figure out what’s right for you and your budget.

Grow’s got you covered. Depending on what you value most, here are the services that are most cost-effective and best for you.

If you want network programming

If you’re one of those who’ve cut cords and removed actual television sets from your life, but you want to keep up with network hits like “The Good Place,” “NCIS,” or “The Big Bang Theory,” you might think about still shelling out for a cable subscription, even if you’re watching on your computer. A cable login can unlock access to current broadcasts as well as content almost immediately after it airs yet will run you about $100 a month.

But you don’t have to spend that much to stay up to date on Eleanor Shellstrop.

Instead: Consider live television streaming platforms, like AT&T WatchTV, Sling TV, Hulu with Live TV, FuboTV, or YouTube TV. Prices range from $15 a month (AT&T WatchTV) to $55 a month (FuboTV). Not every service offers access to all local stations everywhere, though, so be sure to check offerings in your area before signing up.

You can still access select network content for free online. Major broadcasters, including ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and The CW, offer recently broadcast episodes, as well as access to select previously aired series, for free online and through their apps.

A couple of caveats: You may be living a week behind broadcast, depending on which network you watch, if you don’t have a cable login. And you also will need to watch most content within a month of its airing. Most major networks don’t offer more than the five most recently aired episodes for free.

If you need to keep up with the shows everyone’s talking about

Even in the wake of the finale of “Game of Thrones,” the rest of the year is still packed with buzzy TV, like the latest installments of Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” HBO’s “Big Little Lies” (it’s got Meryl!), and BBC America’s “Killing Eve.”

Sure, one streaming subscription probably isn’t going to break the bank, but when you’ve got multiple prestige television interests, the bill adds up quick, especially when the original content you crave is on different platforms.

Instead: Think about subscribing seasonally. You aren’t beholden to Home Box Office for a contract term when you sign up. As with most streaming services, you’re free to join or cancel at anytime. And viewers are notoriously fickle: HBO NOW has lost thousands of subscribers following the end of each season of “Game of Thrones.”

If you choose to subscribe to streaming platforms this way, make sure to cancel at the end of the season and avoid discount deals for whole-year subscriptions, like with Amazon Prime. Otherwise, you could be on the hook for subscription fees months after the finales you care about.

If you want sports

If your goal is watching goals, you might think you need a cable subscription so you don’t miss the big games. But you don’t need to sign a contract for eight different ESPN channels.

Instead: Score big with online streaming. For serious sports fans, ESPN+ hosts live streams of games from most major professional sports leagues as well as college sports and original content. Even with the launch of its $4.99-a-month subscription offering, ESPN still provides a selection of sports content online for free, and subscriptions to Amazon Prime include NFL Thursday Night Football. Professional wrestling fans can stream pay-per-view matches using WWE Network for $9.99 a month.

If you crave movies

If you prefer your stories wrapped up in 120 minutes, instead of playing out over eight seasons, you might think you need Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Amazon Prime, and even the Criterion Collection for your movie-watching needs.

Instead: If you’re in it for sheer volume, it’s hard to beat Amazon Prime’s more than 17,000 movies. That’s more than four-and-a-half times Netflix’s offerings.

For quality, though, Netflix stands out, according to Streaming Observer, which notes that the platform provides more Rotten Tomatoes Certified Fresh movies than Amazon Prime, Hulu, and HBO Now combined.

And if you’re open to exploring older or foreign films, you may not need to pay a subscription fee at all. Ad-supported services like Crackle, Vudu, and PopcornFlix as well as library-supported Kanopy provide free access to tens of thousands of independent, classic, and documentary films.

Whatever your entertainment style, though, remember that small changes can add up to big savings. Canceling unused or underutilized subscriptions can save you more than $500 a year, and cutting just one streaming subscription service from your life could save you more than $100 a year.

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