Home Entertainment

Spring Cleaning? Focus on Your TV Streaming Service Budget Too

Is your wallet stretched from Netflix, Disney Plus, HBO Max and other streaming service subscriptions? Pare down that budget.

CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
We're definitely not saying you can't keep them all. 
Sarah Tew/CNET

While you're doing your spring cleaning and tidying up around the house, you may want to consider decluttering your subscriptions, too. After all, you really don't need to pay for every streaming platform. There are already many free TV streaming and free movie streaming services available, and even options to replace every paid streaming service with a free one. Plus, as content cycles in and out on each service, you may find there are gaps in your personal viewership needs.

But there are so many cord-cutting options on the market today that it can be hard enough to choose one to watch, let alone what to get rid of.

You have your established heavy hitters (a la Netflix and Hulu), your younger powerhouses (like Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus), your traditional networks in the game (such as Paramount Plus, HBO Max and NBC's Peacock), your startups and your wildcards -- including YouTube's free movie library

Every streaming household is different, so the service you might want to drop will vary. We've broken down five of the most popular streaming services to help you make the decision on which one you can part with most painlessly. 

Read moreBest Streaming Services for Kids

Angela Lang/CNET

I upgraded to Hulu Live TV and now I probably watch that platform the most. The Live TV package also means catching reruns of The Office or Parks and Recreation, despite the shows moving to Peacock.

Even before upgrading, I was happy with how episodes of current shows were uploaded to Hulu quickly, giving folks the opportunity to stay caught up even after cutting the cord. Though NBC content is set to depart from Hulu, you can get the Disney Bundle and have access to Disney Plus and ESPN Plus. 

Read more: Best live TV streaming services for cord-cutters in 2021

If you've subscribed to either the basic ($7 per month) or Premium ($13 per month) Hulu plan, you can watch it the next day. There's also the option of Hulu with Live TV for $70 per month, which acts as more of a cable replacement and lets you watch your shows in real time.

A downside to Hulu is that every season of a given show might not be available, so if you're looking to do some serious catching up, you might have to look elsewhere for past episodes. Hulu does have all the seasons of some shows, like Bob's Burgers and Family Guy. 

Other programs, like the BBC's Killing Eve, come out with an entire season at once. This is perfect for bingeing, but if you blow through them all, you're stuck in a "show hole" until the next season comes out. Hulu Originals such as Pen15, Dopesick and The Handmaid's Tale sometimes release either weekly episodes or an entire season at once. 

While Hulu's catalog is extensive, it doesn't include everything. It can be frustrating to search for a movie or show, only to realize that you have to buy an add-on to watch it. Hulu subscribers can tack on HBO, Cinemax, Showtime or Starz for an extra fee.

Read our Hulu review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Netflix is a veteran streaming service and essentially introduced us to the modern binge-watch, as it houses iconic shows old and new including Supernatural, Glee, Gilmore Girls and Avatar: The Last Airbender. It's easy to put on an old favorite and let it play, whether you're actively watching or not. 

Netflix has also become known for its Originals -- movies, shows and multiple documentaries, many of which have received both popular and critical acclaim. Think about the hype surrounding Squid Game, Bridgerton, Ozark and Stranger Things. Netflix has even shown up during Oscar season with Mank and My Octopus Teacher. 

New seasons typically come out all at once, and after you blow through them in one afternoon, you have to wait months or even years for the next one. Recently, the streamer's been splitting new seasons in half, debuting eight to 10 episodes months apart as separate voIumes. But I would keep Netflix for the binge-watching and for its fascinating investigative docuseries, which include The Keepers and The Tinder Swindler. While you're waiting for your favorite show to come back, Netflix mixes up its content every month, releasing new titles every week. 

You can choose between basic ($10 a month), standard ($15.50) and premium ($20) plans.

Read our Netflix review.

 

Read more: Peacock vs. HBO Max vs. Disney Plus vs. Apple TV Plus vs. Netflix: How streaming stacks up

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you're subscribed to multiple streaming services, they can all link to your Apple TV (or Roku or other streaming device) so you've got a command central of sorts. Apple leveled up its Apple TV box and app with Apple TV Plus a few years ago. The addition of exclusive, star-studded shows such as The Morning Show, See, and Ted Lasso is a significant draw for the service -- especially if you're already an Apple user. Additionally, the platform is the home of the Oscar-winning film, CODA.

However, unlike Netflix or Hulu, Apple TV Plus doesn't have a library of licensed shows or movies. It also doesn't always release full seasons of its shows at once. Currently, it has more than two dozen films and 60 shows. However, subscribing only costs $5 per month, or $50 annually. 

Apple offers a seven-day free trial of Apple TV. Or, if you've recently purchased a new iPhone or other iOS device, you get three months of Apple TV Plus for free (it was previously a year). 

Read our Apple TV Plus review.

 

Read more: Best streaming device of 2021: Roku, Apple TV, Fire Stick, Nvidia Shield and more

Amazon Prime Video

If you subscribe to Amazon Prime for savings on the e-commerce site -- $15 a month, half price for students) you also get access to Prime Video -- Amazon's streaming service. The service has new movies to rent or buy, and you can watch a number of movies and shows for free, so long as they have the little Prime tag on the corner of the icon. You can also subscribe to Prime Video without the e-commerce savings for $9 a month. 

If you're a movie fan, Prime Video might be the right choice for you: Amazon's platform has three times as many movies as Netflix does, one study found. Not all of them are major blockbusters, but it is an extensive catalog. 

As with Hulu, you can buy add-on channels for Prime Video such as HBO and Starz. You can also find programs by searching a channel like BET or Boomerang. Sometimes, even if a show requires an add-on, you can usually watch a season or two for free on Prime. I like Prime Video because it typically has films that are more off the beaten path in addition to mainstream new releases. Plus, there are quality original shows, including The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Man in the High Castle, as well as original movies like Sound of Metal.

Read our Amazon Prime Video review.

 

Pixar

If you have young ones or you're young at heart, the Disney Plus streaming service is packed with content for you. In addition to original shows such as The Mandalorian, Loki, WandaVision, and Moon Knight, Disney Plus is also home to Marvel movies and the Star Wars universe

Disney Plus found a strong foothold during 2020's lockdowns for old favorites and new originals but for big-screen releases, too. At first, it started streaming already-released movies months earlier than planned, including Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Frozen 2 and Pixar's Onward

The live-action remake of Mulan arrived in 2020, and was available to stream at the same time it hit theaters for $30 (it's now available for free). Marvel's Black Widow arrived on Disney Plus the same day it hit theaters for an extra $30 charge. Shang-Chi and Encanto hit the streamer weeks after their theater releases.

There's also the nostalgia factor: My watchlist is almost entirely Disney Channel Original Movies from the late '90s and early 2000s. There's classic Disney content, too, from original Mickey Mouse cartoons to vaunted films like Aladdin, The Jungle Book and Cinderella. 

After the seven-day free trial, Disney Plus costs $8 a month. There's also an option to bundle Disney Plus with Hulu and ESPN.

Read our Disney Plus review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Peacock, the streaming service from NBCUniversal, is a bit different from the others on this list. While, like many of the streaming services, it has a tiled interface and a big-name network behind it, it also includes live news and sports, new original series and a large back catalog of TV shows and movies. Many of the titles are available to watch for free, making it somewhat similar to a free streaming service like Tubi or Roku Channels. 

Peacock's free tier offers tons of ad-supported content, with the option to upgrade to ad-supported Premium ($5 a month) or ad-free Premium Plus ($10 a month) if you want to expand the library even more. You'll find shows, movies, news, live sports and skit-style clips, with standouts including The Office, Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock, some Premier League soccer matches, and more. You'll also get episodes of current NBC shows like La Brea the week after they air on the free tier, or the day after on the premium tier. 

For shows like The Office or Parks and Recreation, you'll only get access to a few episodes. You'll need to upgrade to premium to get full access. 

Since launch, Peacock has added the few features it was lacking, like Roku and Amazon Fire TV support, profiles for different users and some mobile downloads. But it still doesn't offer mobile downloads for its cheaper tiers or 4K HDR streaming -- both of which are available on the paid competition like Netflix and Disney Plus.

Peacock probably won't replace Netflix or Hulu, at least in the short term. But it's a good free option for finding some older movies and shows you might have missed (or want to watch again), and keeping up with current NBC shows, as long as you don't mind watching a few ads.

Read our Peacock review.

 

HBO Max

HBO Max, HBO's entry into the streaming wars, is a slick app chock-full of popular TV shows and movies. It's got HBO's entire catalog, along with favorites such as Friends, Rick and Morty, The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies -- making it a solid streaming collection for adults and kids. 

HBO Max also has a few breakout original series such as The White Lotus, but is building a base of exclusive content with Max Originals -- like Zack Snyder's Justice League director's cut, And Just Like That... and The Flight Attendant. Original shows release new episodes weekly.

The Friends Reunion special also aired on HBO Max. Due to the pandemic, HBO Max streamed new, theatrically released movies at no extra charge the same day each film hits US theaters, including King Richard, The Matrix Resurrections, and Dune

While HBO Max lacked a breakout original series at launch, it does have a great selection of movies, some new and many older. The service has the full Matrix and Lord of the Rings trilogies (though only two of The Hobbit movies), DC movies like Joker and Wonder Woman, classic films like The Wizard of Oz and Casablanca, and newer hits like A Star is Born and Crazy Rich Asians. Not to mention there are 21 Studio Ghibli anime films that have never been released for streaming in the US before. 

The downside? HBO Max's price is at the high end of the spectrum, at $15 a month. Fortunately the service offers a cheaper tier -- HBO Max with Ads for $10 a month (but you'll need to pay the full $15 to get access to those new movies the same day as theaters).

Read our HBO Max review.

 

Discovery Plus

Discovery Plus tossed its hat into the streaming service ring in January 2021. Cable programmer Discovery launched the service with two tiers -- $5 a month with commercials or $7 a month ad free -- after a seven-day free trial. The service is also free with certain Verizon Unlimited and home broadband plans.

Like Disney Plus, Discovery Plus has a niche content catalog. The service's library contains nature documentaries, A&E true crime, HGTV fixer-upper shows, the Travel Channel, the Food Network, science content and more.

The service supports 4K HDR, but no mobile downloads for offline watching, and you can stream on up to four devices. But either tier you choose, you're paying less than $10 for over 55,000 episodes from Discovery's own channels and exclusive Discovery Plus content.

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Plus -- formerly CBS All Access -- brings a sort of mash-up streaming experience with hints of Netflix, Hulu, Peacock and HBO Max. The service has found its legs since launching in 2014 -- expanding, but keeping an affordable $5-a-month price tag. However, Paramount Plus is more of a casual streaming experience when compared with others. 

The service offers a wide range of familiar television shows from the days when everyone had cable. You can watch shows like NCIS, Blue Bloods, The Good Wife, The Brady Bunch, Jersey Shore, The Real World, MTV Cribs and more. In addition, Paramount Plus has an impressive lineup for kids, including early Nickelodeon shows like All That, Clarissa Explains it All and Are You Afraid of the Dark. 

You can also watch original shows like Star Trek spin-off Picard, The Stand, Why Women Kill, and Yellowstone spin-off 1883. Fan-favorites Evil and Seal Team migrated to the streamer in 2021. In addition, Paramount Plus has some newer theatrical releases like A Quiet Place II and Infinite.

Paramount Plus also offers an annual plan for $50 a year, or a commercial-free experience for $10 a month ($100 a year). 

For more, check out all the free streaming TV trials you can try, as well as free live TV news to stream and the best movies you can stream for free right now

Now playing: Watch this: These apps can help you save some cash
5:29