LOS ANGELES — To stream or not to stream?
It's no longer a huge question among consumers, as a combined 300 million plus subscribers now pay monthly for services like Netflix, Hulu, Apple Music and Spotify. But as a big study pointed out this week, the days of folks happily paying for multiple services could be in for a crash landing.
Apple is expected to join the fray Monday with the sneak peek of a new entertainment subscription service to take on Netflix, featuring programming from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon; and later in the year, Disney and Warner Media are looking to launch high profile services that will further compete for your dollars.
How to decide between all the offerings? We offer a cheat sheet of prices and pros/cons for the top services.
Prices: starts at $8.99, $12.99 for HD on 2 screens or $15.99 for 4K and four screens.
Story: At more than 20 years old, the oldest of the services, Netflix (which started offering DVDs by mail) is now known for popular originals like Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black and The Umbrella Academy, the Academy Award winning film Roma, and fewer older movies and TV shows than it used to show in the past. The company is on record with spending over $8 billion a year on programming.
Pro: There is so much to watch on Netflix, it could take you months, if not years, to get through all the selections. Available on virtually every device, from smart TVs and streaming sticks, to apps for phones and tablets.
Con: There is so much to watch on Netflix, it's hard to decide what to see, and the bulk gets in the way.
Price: $119 yearly, as part of the expedited shipping and entertainment offering. Also includes access to a limited online music service, Amazon Prime Music (with 2 million songs, vs. 10 million and up from rivals) and free photo uploads and Whole Foods discounts for Prime members.
Story: Prime started off with more independent, edgy fare like The Man in the High Castle and Transparent, but has edged into the mainstream with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, a period comedy that won four Emmy awards in 2018.
Pro: You get a lot for your subscription, and Amazon's Prime offerings, beyond the originals, are more well rounded than Netflix, with more documentaries, music specials and older movies than you'd find at the no. 1 service.
Con: Should it surprise you that a service from an e-tailer would be constantly trying to get more money out of you? Many movies or TV shows you'll search for are only available for viewing with an additional fee.
Price: (It's complicated.) Starts at $5.99 for watching with ads, or $11.99 without them. Hulu also has a cable TV alternative service, Hulu with Live TV, which offers access to many broadcast TV and cable networks, as well as Hulu's regular fare. That starts at $44.99 with ads or $50.99 without them. (Hulu is currently available for free with a promotion with Spotify.)
Story: Hulu was originally formed by three media concerns, NBC, ABC and Fox, to compete against Netflix, and offer a vehicle for streaming fans to get access to TV shows from the networks for a fee. Today, NBC is now owned by cable conglomerate Comcast, and Disney owns ABC and Fox. Hulu still offers current TV fare, along with originals like The Handmade's Tale, but it's big push is the cable alternative, Hulu with Live TV, which has all the broadcast networks (except PBS), originals and movies.
Pro: Great interface, especially for the Live TV option, a wealth of content and a helpful app.
Con: The Live TV offering is high priced, doesn't offer the same liberal terms for its Cloud DVR (YouTube is unlimited hours, Hulu is 50, unless you pay extra) and the ad version is riddled with many annoying, and loud ads.
CBS All Access
Price: $5.99 with ads or $9.99 without ads.
Story: CBS didn't join the other networks with Hulu when it launched in 2007, preferring to go alone. It launched All Access in 2014 with a handful of originals, like a new Star Trek, a sequel to The Good Wife and access to the latest CBS prime-time fare, news and sports, and oldies from the CBS library like Perry Mason, Cheers and I Love Lucy.
Pro: The Good Fight is a fantastic legal drama and worth the price of subscription, and like Netflix, CBS is available on virtually every device.
Con: The Good Fight only lasts a few months a year. Is Star Trek, Fight and a new Twilight Zone enough for you to pay $72 yearly? The lineup is just too thin for this reporter to justify a subscription, especially when prime-time is still available for free with an antenna.
Price: A free, ad-supported but limited version; to get all the features, Spotify charges $9.99 monthly.
Story: Spotify isn't the first music subscription service. Listen, which morphed into Rhapsody (and is now known as Napster) has that honor. But Spotify quickly came to dominate, after launching in Europe and finding fans. It launched here in 2011, and gained fame by allowing people to share their playlists and see what the other was listening to. Today, Spotify is the no. 1 music service, with just under 100 million subscribers.
Pro: Giant music library, heavy recommendation engine based on playing history, with charts and playlists, a new welcome focus on podcasts.
Con: The Discover Weekly feature of suggested songs can be spotty. Free users would find ads to be annoying.
Price: $9.99 monthly
Story: Apple paid $3 billion to buy Beats in 2014, a little-used music service, and morphed it into Apple Music in 2015, expanding beyond unlimited music to radio as well.
Pro: A good, rich library with recommendations and strong editorial suggestions from Apple.
Con: Recommendations, like with Spotify, are not always right on. iPhone users who want to use Siri to access music can only do it if they pay $9.99 for Apple's services.
Price: Free, with ads, or $4.99 monthly for limited song selection, $9.99 for full on-demand.
Story: The oldest music player, starting in 2000, Pandora started with the idea that the computer could predict songs you like based on your musical tastes. Today it has just under 70 million active monthly listeners.
Pro: It's free, the ads aren't annoying, Pandora is available virtually everywhere, and the music mix is pretty great. Face it, we all don't know what we want to listen to. So I'm a fan of "Thumbprint Radio" which takes all my thumbs up likes and mixes them into a never ending playlist.
Con: The song mixes don't change that often, so Pandora is hard to listen to day after day.
Readers: What's your favorite of the subscription services? Let me hear from you on Twitter, where I'm @jeffersongraham.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: So you want to stream? How to choose between Netflix, Hulu and more subscription services