Updated on December 10, 2021
It’s been a year since I last wrote a guide about recommending video streaming services. As much has changed since then, it’s time for an updated version.
Note I’m mostly focused on on-demand streaming services (Netflix, Hulu, etc.) versus live streaming services (Sling TV, etc.).
Stick to no more than three or four video streaming services
I recommend paying for no more than three or four video streaming services. If you end up needing more services than that, either: buy or rent the shows on DVD/digital video; keep your cable TV subscription (if cord cutting); or rethink how much TV you’re watching.
Reconsider getting a service for just one show
As I said before, every Tom, Dick, and Hulu is trying to launch a streaming service. Many of them are based on luring in subscribers with just one big new show—see: CBS All Access and “Star Trek: Discovery.”
I’d avoid buying an entire service for just one show. Unless you’re a hardcore fan that needs to discuss it in real-time online, I’d consider buying or renting the show on DVD/digital video instead.
Another possible option is to subscribe to the service anyway—but only long enough to watch the entire season of said show before cancelling. Ideally, this would be via binge-watching, if an entire season’s been released at once.
Recommended streaming devices
If you’re looking for a streaming device, I’d recommend the Roku. It has the advantage of not being tied to any particular company (Amazon, Google, or Apple). The Roku also carries all non-Apple streaming services available, and is an inexpensive device.
Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu are the three dominant general video streaming services. As they carry a fair amount of material, I’d suggest at least one of these services.
Amazon’s Prime Video has the advantage of being free with Prime. Prime subscribers could take this into account when looking at other video streaming services.
Hulu has the advantage of offering new episodes of broadcast TV shows shortly after they air.
Netflix has the advantage of a very large library of material, including in-house programming.
See also my video streaming services for cartoons guide.
Netflix, Hulu, and/or Amazon should be fine for casual cartoon viewing. All of them offer a variety of Western and Japanese animated fare.
Boomerang is the service for fans of classic cartoons, including Looney Tunes, “The Flintstones,” “Wacky Races,” and “Scooby-Doo.”
I’m not as familiar with covering anime, but Daily Dot and a few others online note Crunchyroll is probably your best bet for a dedicated anime streaming service. Netflix and Hulu also offer a sizable anime selection.
Going by the major animation networks:
- Cartoon Network/Adult Swim fans will want Hulu; it seems to carry the bulk of CN/AS shows.
- Disney plans to launch its own service sometime in 2019. However, for now, Netflix (Disney Channel sitcoms/movies) and Hulu (Disney XD/Disney Junior shows) still carry their programming.
- Nickelodeon fans might want Amazon Video, which carries some of the older Nick library of shows, including “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Otherwise, you’re better off buying DVD/digital video copies of Nickelodeon shows; with few exceptions, Viacom’s quite reluctant about releasing its shows to streaming services.
- Fox fans will want Hulu, which carries the entire run of “Family Guy” and similar shows. “The Simpsons” isn’t readily available for streaming without a cable subscription, however.
Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu all offer a variety of kids programming. While I’d favor Netflix (for variety and features), any of these services should please children.
Netflix offers a sizable selection, an easy-to-use kids programming section, and parental controls. There’s also its Netflix original programming for kids.
Amazon has the advantage of offering some older Nickelodeon programming (including “SpongeBob”). It also offers an enhanced kids’ programming service called FreeTime, for $3/month (for Prime users; for non-Prime users, it’s $5/month). FreeTime provides access to a variety of children’s programs and other material (books, etc.).
Hulu has made an exclusive deal with DreamWorks, so it might be an attractive option.
Along with any of the above services, I’d also add PBS Kids. PBS Kids is free, offers episodes of its various programs (“Wild Kratts,” “Ready Jet Go,” etc.), and is commercial-free.
ESPN+ is ESPN’s new streaming service for sporting events. While some of the “big four” sports are offered (such as hockey), it’s mostly “secondary” sports (soccer, tennis, etc.), or fare that was formerly available for free via ESPN3 (such as Canadian Football League games).
Otherwise, fans wanting to watch “Monday Night Football” will need to pay for a live streaming service package offering ESPN. The cheapest one offering ESPN is probably Sling TV (at $25/month).
There’s also league specific streaming services for pretty much all major sports. The NHL, for instance, offers NHL.TV for out-of-market hockey coverage.
Streaming’s currently in a highly competitive state. 2019 will see things get even more so, with Disney and WarnerMedia planning to launch rival streaming services. We’ll see what this means for streaming champ Netflix at this time next year.