Netflix and bills: which streaming services are really worth shelling out for? | TV streaming

Rremember being excited about new streaming services? A decade ago, when Netflix launched in the UK, it felt like a bracing (and cheap) antidote to expensive DVD box sets. Rather than shelling out £20 every time you wanted to watch a single season of Breaking Bad, you could access every episode – plus seemingly every episode of every other show that anyone liked – for £5 a month.

That golden age now seems like ancient history. Today’s streaming landscape is cluttered and overly partitioned. Swarms of competing streaming services have flooded in to carve up the market, each with a hefty subscription fee, and the result can be only bad news for the viewer. Now, if you want to keep abreast of all the buzzy new shows, you require (at a minimum) Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV+, Now and BritBox – a collection that adds up to more than £800 a year. Want to add in sports or family accounts, or anything remotely niche on top of that? Great, but it will cost you.

During the cost of living crisis, many people have been cutting back. Netflix’s share price tumbled in April when it revealed that it had lost more than 200,000 subscribers in the first quarter of 2022. The company estimates that it will lose another 2 million in the second quarter.

All of this makes it the worst possible time to launch a streaming service. Yet still new platforms appear. On 22 June, Paramount+ will become available in the UK, with its slate costing £69.90 a year. We are now in a situation where hardly anyone can afford to watch everything. Paramount+ could announce that it will livestream the birth of my next child and at this point I would have trouble justifying the outlay.

So, if you want to streamline your streaming, but don’t want to give it up completely, which platforms offer the best value for money? Here is a guide.

Netflix

Netflix banker … Ryan Gosling in The Gray Man. Photograph: © 2022 Netflix, Inc.

Cost: £6.99-£15.99 a month.

Best shows: Stranger Things, a retro teen-horror phenomenon now in its fourth season. Better Call Saul, Breaking Bad’s peerless prequel. Squid Game, a dark South Korean drama – nay, phenomenon – with a staggeringly high body count. Heartstopper, an achingly gorgeous LGBTQ+ love story.

Best films: The Power of the Dog, an Oscar-winning revisionist western. Uncut Gems, an unbearably stressful Adam Sandler drama. The Mitchells vs the Machines, a riotous, joyful animation about a robot uprising. The Adam Project, a big, fun sci-fi comedy starring Ryan Reynolds. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a delightful Coen brothers anthology.

Best hidden gem: Standing Up, Fanny Herrero’s long-awaited follow-up to the beloved Call My Agent. Following a clutch of aspiring standup comedians in Paris, the series is full of warm, heart and sharply defined characters. A complete joy.

Coming up: The Gray Man, Netflix’s biggest movie so far. A globe-trotting action thriller, starring Ryan Gosling and Chris Evans, directed by the Russo Brothers of Marvel fame. Netflix really needs this film to work, so expect to be bored senseless with trailers.

Verdict: It might be losing pace to younger rivals, but Netflix still has an enviably large catalog. It would benefit from some of the big legacy franchises that have migrated to other services, but you can still justify a subscription. Hopefully the long-promised ad-supported version will drive down prices in the near future, too.

Amazon Prime Video

Comedy gold … Jean Smart in Amazon Prime's Hacks.
Comedy gold … Jean Smart in Amazon Prime’s Hacks. Photograph: Amazon Prime Video

Cost: OK, this is tricky. Technically, a subscription costs £7.99 a month, but this also gets you free next-day delivery for many Amazon products. However, expect to find several hidden extras. Amazon offers about 50 additional channels – for sport, reality TV, foreign channels, movies, documentaries, etc – and these tend to cost between £5 and £10 a month each. Plus, some films and TV shows have to be bought on top of the subscription. There is basically no upper limit to the cost.

Best shows: Hacks, a beautifully observed Jean Smart comedy about an ageing Las Vegas performer. The Boys, an audacious superhero satire that is the platform’s buzziest show. Undone, a mind-blowing rotoscoped sci-fi drama about mental illness. Hunters, a series in which Al Pacino hunts Nazis. Clarkson’s Farm, a show in which Jeremy Clarkson attempts an agricultural side-hustle.

Best films: Sound of Metal, Riz Ahmed’s deaf-drummer drama. One Night in Miami, a fizzy civil rights movie. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, a lovely musical adaptation.

Best hidden gem: Sea Oak, a dark comedy about Glenn Close dying and wreaking a terrible revenge on everyone around her, created by the Booker-prize-winning author George Saunders. Amazon commissioned it as a pilot, then bewilderingly neglected to make it into a series.

Coming up: Brace yourself for a very big deal. In September, Amazon will launch The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, a wildly ambitious Tolkien prequel series that will reportedly be the most expensive TV series in history. Again, you will hear about this one ad nauseam.

Verdict: A strange one. There are long stretches of time where Prime Video seems like an afterthought, a semi-neglected sidesshow to all the commerce and logistics of its parent company. Based on its current offerings, it is hard to know who Prime Video is for. Perhaps The Lord of the Rings will change all that.

Apple TV+

Warmhearted … Brendan Hunt (left), and Jason Sudeikis in Ted Lasso on Apple TV+.
Warmhearted … Brendan Hunt (left), and Jason Sudeikis in Ted Lasso on Apple TV+. Photograph: AP

Cost: £4.99 a month.

Best shows: Severance, a Kaufmanesque workplace sci-fi. Ted Lasso, a warmhearted football sitcom. Mythic Quest, a video-game-development sitcom by the creator of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The Morning Show, a ludicrously operatic #MeToo drama starring Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston. For All Mankind, a wildly ambitious alternative-universe drama.

Best films: Coda, this year’s best picture Oscar winner. The Tragedy of Macbeth, Joel Coen’s stirring Shakespeare adaptation. Greyhound, in which Tom Hanks plays a naval captain in the second world war.

Best hidden gem: Physical, a bizarrely undiscussed comedy drama in which Rose Byrne discovers herself through the medium of aerobics in the 1980s.

Coming up: Killers of the Flower Moon, the next Martin Scorsese movie.

Verdict: For a while, thanks to a shaky launch that included a terrible Jason Momoa series, Apple TV+ looked destined to become the streaming service that was the easiest to avoid. But in the past few months, it has managed to find its feet with a procession of some of the best-reviewed TV shows in recent memory. For a fiver a month, Apple TV+ is pound for pound the best-value platform available.

Disney+

The gang's all here ... Avengers: Infinity War and every other Marvel film on Disney+.
The gang’s all here … Avengers: Infinity War and every other Marvel film on Disney+. Photograph: null/PR Company Handout

Cost: £7.99 a month.

Best shows: The Dropout, a magnificent retelling of the Theranos scandal. WandaVision, a genre-bending Marvel series that felt like an extension to, rather than a competitor of, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Mandalorian, an epic space western that takes Star Wars to a new place. Only Murders in the Building, Steve Martin’s riotous and forensically plotted murder-mystery. Dopesick, a harrowing pharmaceutical drama.

Best films: Every Marvel film, every Star Wars film, every Disney film, every Pixar film.

Best hidden gem: Reservation Dogs, Taika Waititi’s thoughtful, low-key sitcom about life on a Native American reserve.

Coming up: A Cars spin-off, a Willow spin-off, a Pinocchio remake, a Big Hero 6 spin-off, loads of Marvel shows, loads of Star Wars shows.

Verdict: As you may have guessed from the above, your enjoyment of Disney+ will probably hinge on how much you enjoy watching Disney+ properties being spun off into infinity. If you can’t imagine your life without Star Wars or The Avengers, a subscription will be mandatory. At the same time, however, you can’t help feeling it would benefit greatly from some new ideas.

Now

One of the best shows of all time ... Succession on Now.
One of the best shows of all time … Succession on Now. Photograph: HBO

Cost: £14.99 a month to watch TV shows, £14.99 a month to watch films, plus £33.99 a month to watch sport.

Best shows: Barry, Bill Hader’s incredibly dark hitman comedy. Succession, one of the best shows of all time. Yellowjackets, an all-female Lost-style drama that may well be about cannibalism. The Sopranos. The Wire. Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Best films: Dune, Ghostbusters: Afterlife and Pig. Many new cinema releases eventually end up on Now.

Best hidden gem: Girls5eva, a tremendous comedy about a reforming girl group. It is produced by Tina Fey, so expect more gags per minute than anything else on television.

Coming up: Season four of Westworld, a show that manages to be simultaneously beloved and impenetrable.

Verdict: A tricky one. By far the most expensive streaming service, Now is basically Sky in fancy clothes. It has possibly the best selection of any service (thanks to its deals with HBO and NBC), but its movie offerings are noticeably lighter than they were a year ago (thanks to other platforms nabbing the good stuff). Also, it is worth noting that HBO and NBC have their own streaming services in the US. If they migrate over here, Now’s appeal will evaporate.

BritBox

Skippable … Carry on Screaming on BritBox.
Skippable … Carry on Screaming on BritBox. Photograph: Studiocanal Films/REX/Shutterstock

Cost: £5.99 a month.

Best shows: The Beast Must Die, a Jared Harris thriller. Lambs of God, an Australian drama about abandoned nuns. Spitting Image, a revived version of the satirical puppet show.

Best films: Trainspotting, Bent, all the Carry On films.

Best hidden gem: The Dry, an Irish comedy drama about a recovering alcoholic.

Coming up: To the Manor Born.

Verdict: BritBox is by far the most skippable streaming platform. There are several reasons. First, its original programming is nowhere near grabby enough to make people want to part with money. Second, the bulk of its offering comes in the form of old BBC and ITV shows, and as such should probably be made available on BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub, which are free.

Paramount+

Coming soon to Paramount+ … Chiwetel Ejiofor and Naomie Harris in The Man Who Fell to Earth.
Coming soon to Paramount+ … Chiwetel Ejiofor and Naomie Harris in The Man Who Fell to Earth. Photograph: Rico Torres/Showtime

Cost: £6.99 a month.

Best shows: All the new Star Trek shows. South Park. Halo, a video-game adaptation. The First Lady, a drama about three American first ladies. Super Pumped, a drama about Uber.

Best films: The Star Trek movies, Paw Patrol: The Movie, most films made by Paramount.

Best hidden gem: It’s hard to say pre-launch, but probably The Man Who Fell to Earth, a new series starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Naomie Harris.

Coming up: Paramount+ hasn’t launched yet, but expect many Showtime favorites – Billions, Dexter – to be cordoned off here. If you want to see what happens on the next series of Yellowjackets, chances are you will need a Paramount+ subscription.

Verdict: At the moment, the thought of parting with yet more money to watch another streaming service is galling. There is a good chance that Paramount+ will represent the moment where households dig their heels in and refuse to shell out any more. True, this will mean missing out on the big, prestigious Showtime shows that have traditionally been available as part of a Now subscription. But times are hard and money isn’t limitless. Besides, at the end of the day, it is just TV.

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