Watching more TV these days? You're not alone. Here's a look at how the top five providers stack up.
Once upon a time, in The Before Times, our 2½-year-old son was limited to 15 minutes a day of screen time. Now, with both of his parents working full-time jobs with little child care relief, and with outside activities curtailed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, television has become much more present in our house. And we’re not alone, given the millions of people who have signed up for subscriptions to one or more streaming services.
Netflix is the biggie, of course, with more than 182 million subscribers; its closest rival is Amazon Prime, which has 156 million members. Much further behind are Disney+ (60.5 million subscribers), Apple TV+ (33.6 million U.S. subscribers) and Hulu (30.4 million subscribers). What draws people to one service over another? And which one is best for you? Here’s a look at what the big five streaming services have to offer and how much it’ll cost you.Get top reads, event recommendations, guides, parenting trends and more ideas for family fun. Subscribe to Columbus Parent’s weekly newsletter, The Bulletin.
Amazon Prime Video
What doesn’t Amazon do? Shop, watch TV, store photos and stream music as part of your membership. Through partnerships with other services such as PBS Kids, Noggin, HBO and Showtime, Amazon can serve as a one-stop shop (with additional fees) for multiple paid channels.
Cost: Free with an Amazon Prime membership ($12.99/month or $119/year). However, an increasing amount of its programming carries rental/purchase charges.
Noteworthy offerings: Blockbuster movies like “How to Train Your Dragon” and original shows such as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel mean there’s a wide range of fare to choose from. Kid-friendly originals include newer shows such as Stinky and Dirty, old favorites such as Thomas & Friends and “Charlotte’s Web” (both the original and a remake), and even a singalong featuring ’90s-popstar-turned-children’s-chanteuse Lisa Loeb. In all, there are a number of excellent shows and movies for kids to watch. And also Blippi.
Unlike most of its competitors, Apple TV+ isn’t dipping into a back catalog to deepen its offerings, but instead is focused on providing new content. And there are no commercials.
Cost: $4.99/month, or free for a year with the purchase of an iPhone, iPad, Mac, or AppleTV. Like Amazon, some programming carries an extra charge.
Noteworthy offerings: Lots of family-friendly documentaries, including “Beastie Boys Story,” “Boys State,” “Dads” and “Hala”; a reboot of the ’90s-tween fave Ghostwriter and the Sesame Street-adjacent Helpsters. Shows on the “Family Fun” channel are limited, but include reboots of favorites parents will love, including throwbacks such as Fraggle Rock: Rock On and Snoopy in Space. Plus, Apple TV+ has spared no expense casting big-name actors, such as Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carrell, Chris Evans and Samuel L. Jackson, in its lineup.
Though not yet a year old, Disney+ is hardly an underdog, with a slew of fan favorites including the film catalog and a new show from the Star Wars franchise, movies and new shows from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and titles from National Geographic.
What’s the cost? $6.99/month or $69.99/year
Noteworthy offerings: A personal favorite is the relaunched Muppet Babies (both live-action and animated) and the charming Australian cartoon Bluey. Not to be overlooked is the treasure trove of animated and live-action Disney movies and shows stretching back to 1928’s “Steamboat Willie.” And if you’ve got time to kill, the service has all 30 seasons of The Simpsons and “The Simpsons Movie.”
The service offers three price levels, including Hulu + Live TV, the ad-free, top-tier that features more than 65 live and on-demand channels, a cloud-based DVR and Hulu’s streaming library. That live element provides local networks as well as sports from the NCAA, NBA, NHL, NFL, English Premier League and others. Plus, you can add premium cable channels for an extra fee.
Cost: Prices range from $5.99/month (or $59.99/year) for basic Hulu with ads to $60.99/month for Hulu + Live TV. Paid extras include more screens, more DVR storage, Spanish-language TV and entertainment add-ons.
Noteworthy offerings: Kids’ selections for standard Hulu include the movie “Pokémon Detective Pikachu,” series like Disney Junior’s Doc McStuffins and crowd-pleasers such as “The Lego Movie 2.” Note that Hulu does not carry preschooler favorite Nick Jr.
Netflix has an extensive library of feature films, documentaries, reality TV shows, comedies, sci-fi and fantasy, and more. Its wide array means that it likely has something for every member of your household.
Cost: $8.99/month to $15.99/month, depending on the number of screens and video quality
Noteworthy offerings: All ages can find films they enjoy, from “The Lorax” to the Back to the Future trilogy. Our toddler loves sailing the seas with Octonauts; friends with older children swear by The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants. The Baby-Sitters Club recently won raves for tweens. Older kids will also enjoy Emily’s Wonder Lab, which teaches STEAM lessons in a fun and accessible manner.
Jennifer Wray is a freelance writer, mother and fan of all things pop culture.