Best Streaming TV Services 2021
You want it all, you want it now: The 16 favorite on-demand streaming TV services of CableTV.com’s expert reviewers.
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Simultaneous streams: 3
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We take on-demand internet TV for granted now, but when Netflix started including streaming with its by-mail DVD subscription service in 2007, it was an industry-upending game changer. Broadcast-quality TV shows and movies over the internet? Whoa.
There are now hundreds of on-demand TV streaming services; the experts at CableTV.com have compiled and reviewed 10 of our paid-subscription favorites, along with six free services. We rated five of them as the best overall, the best value, the cheapest, the best for sports, and the best for kids in on-demand streaming.
Two of the reviewed streaming services fell outside of these categories: HBO Max and Apple TV+. Both are turning out high-quality originals, and HBO Max includes same-day theatrical movie releases with its premium subscription, so we think they deserve some extra accolades.
Best on-demand streaming TV services
- Netflix – Best overall ($8.99–$17.99/mo.)
- Prime Video – Best value ($8.99–$12.99/mo.)
- Hulu – Best on-demand/live TV streaming combo ($6.99–$12.99/mo.)
- Peacock – Cheapest (Free–$9.99/mo.)
- ESPN+ – Best for sports ($6.99/mo.)
- Disney+ – Best for kids ($7.99/mo.)
- HBO Max – HBO originals and exclusives ($9.99–$14.99/mo.)
- Paramount+ – Deep TV and movies library ($4.99–$9.99/mo.)
- Apple TV+ – Excellent original content ($4.99/mo.)
- Discovery+ – Best for reality TV fans ($4.99–$6.99/mo.)
Compare on-demand streaming TV services
|$8.99–$17.99/mo.||4.3/5||1–4||1080p, 4K||View plans|
|$8.99–$11.99/mo.||4.2/5||3||1080p, 4K||View plans|
|$6.99–$12.99/mo.||4.2/5||2||1080p, 4K||View plans|
|Free–$9.99/mo.||4.3/5||3||1080p, 4K||View plans|
|$6.99/mo.||4.6/5||4||1080p, 4K||View plans|
|$9.99–$14.99/mo.||4.5/5||3||1080p, 4K||View plans|
|$4.99/mo.||3.9/5||6||1080p, 4K||View plans|
|$4.99–$6.99/mo.||4.0/5||4||1080p, 4K||View plans|
Data effective as of post date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.
They may be cheaper, but don’t sleep on Apple TV+ or Discovery+. Some of Apple TV+’s originals are on-par with the quality of HBO series (We. Love. Ted. Lasso.), and Discovery+ features a staggering 55,000 hours of content.
We’d also recommend springing for the more expensive plans of Prime Video and HBO Max. The $12.99 tier of Prime Video includes Amazon Prime membership, and the $14.99 version of HBO Max gets you access to same-day theatrical movie releases and features zero commercials. (Ads on HBO shows? No thanks.)
Best on-demand streaming TV services in depth
We’ve given you a high-level rundown of the best streaming services, now let’s dig in a little deeper on why we recommend these on-demand streaming services.
Again, if you’re looking for live TV streaming, check out our expert guide, Best Live TV Streaming Services, for more recommendations.
Best overall: Netflix
- Massive variety of movies and TV shows
- 4K Ultra capability
- No live TV or sports
- Long waits for non-Netflix shows
You know it, and you probably already have it—or at least a pal’s password.
Netflix has established itself as a relentless firehose of original programming and curated outside favorites, but live TV is nowhere on its radar. Well, not unless the Tiger King decides to relaunch his internet show, anyway.
We’ve named Netflix our best overall on-demand streaming service because of its commitment to original content for adults and kids. Sure, scrolling through Netflix’s movies and shows can be overwhelming, but no one wants to be underwhelmed—just ask Quibi.
Netflix compatible devices
Netflix is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, LG TVs, Nintendo consoles, PlayStation consoles, Roku, Samsung TVs, Vizio TVs, and Xbox consoles.
Best value: Prime Video
- Included with Amazon Prime membership
- Over 25,000 movies and TV shows
- Limited original content
- Less essential as a standalone service
If you like on-demand movies to go with your Amazon Prime free shipping, Prime Video is tough to beat: there are over 18,000 movies available on Prime Video, and most of them stream free with Prime membership. And you thought you were awestruck by Netflix (which carries around 4,500 movies, for comparison).
Amazon may be doubling down on original programming ambitions (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Jack Ryan are a power couple to reckon with), but live TV, not so much.
Prime Video does offer live TV streaming of select NBA and NFL games (including Thursday Night Football), but it’s still largely an on-demand service. We think it’s a killer value, considering what you get for $12.99 a month (or $8.99 a month, if you don’t want the Amazon Prime membership).
Prime Video compatible devices
Prime Video is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, LG TVs, PlayStation consoles, Roku, Samsung TVs, Vizio TVs, and Xbox consoles.
Best on-demand/live TV streaming combo: Hulu
- Next-day streaming shows
- Quality originals
- Smaller library than the competition
- Only 2 simultaneous streams
We’ve featured Hulu + Live TV more prominently on CableTV.com than Hulu because it’s a great value in live TV streaming. But that value comes mostly from Hulu, the on-demand side of the streamer.
For $6.99 (with ads) or $12.99 (without ads) a month, Hulu without the live TV channels still gives you plenty of entertainment, including next-day streaming of shows from channels like FOX, FX, ABC, and more.
Hulu’s original content is also a strong selling point, with series like The Handmaid’s Tale, Letterkenny, and Shrill, and movies and documentaries like Palm Springs, McCartney 3,2,1, and Boss Level. It may not have the sheer content quantity of Netflix or Prime Video, but the critical acclaim over Hulu’s quality output is consistent year-to-year.
And don’t forget FX on Hulu, the cross-corporate deal that produces exclusive content for Hulu and brings next-day drops of FX shows to the streamer. Meaning, you don’t need cable to watch the latest episodes of What We Do in the Shadows or Mayans (if you can wait for 24 hours).
Hulu compatible devices
Hulu is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, LG TVs, Nintendo Switch, Roku, Samsung TVs, Vizio TVs, and Xbox consoles.
- Inexpensive plans
- Exclusive NBCUniversal content
- Limited original content
- Lackluster interface
NBCUniversal’s Peacock jumped into the streaming wars during the summer of 2020, offering a big twist that set it apart from the others: an ad-supported free tier. Yes, you get more content with Peacock’s two paid tiers—but, in this time of too many subscription apps, a freebie is refreshing.
That said, Peacock’s paid tiers aren’t all that expensive. Peacock Premium (with ads) is $4.99 a month, and Peacock Premium Plus (no ads) is $9.99 a month. The Premium tiers give you access to 15,000 hours of total content from NBC, USA Network, Syfy, Bravo, MSNBC, and other NBCUniversal cable nets, where free Peacock limits you to 7,500 hours (still not bad).
Most importantly, Peacock is now the only place you can stream The Office. Sorry, we should have led with the big one—that’s what she said! (Sorry for that, also.)
Peacock compatible devices
Peacock is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, LG TVs, PlayStation consoles, Roku, Vizio TVs, Xbox consoles, and Xfinity Flex.
Best for sports: ESPN+
- Rich on-demand library
- Plenty of live soccer and college sports
- No NFL or NBA games
- No popular ESPN shows
ESPN+ isn’t a streaming replacement for ESPN, but it’s a great (and inexpensive) addition to it. ESPN+ carries live content that its cable counterpart doesn’t, including UFC, MLS, MLB, NHL, international soccer, boxing, tennis, and college sports events—all for six bucks.
But really, ESPN+’s strength is its deep on-demand library, which includes every 30 for 30 documentary, and original shows like Peyton’s Places, In the Crease, SportsNation, and several others. You can even manage your fantasy league on ESPN+ and read exclusive analysis articles from top sportswriters.
Even though ESPN+ lacks in NFL and NBA coverage—ESPN certainly isn’t going to give those up—it’s still a killer sports streamer. When bundled with Disney+ and Hulu for $13.99 a month, it’s even better.
ESPN+ compatible devices
ESPN+ is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, LG TVs, PlayStation consoles, Roku, Samsung TVs, and Xbox consoles.
Best for kids: Disney+
- Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic all in one place
- 4K Ultra HD video quality
- Limited content for adults
- Small lineup of original shows (so far)
Disney’s long-awaited streaming service arrived like a digital Deathstar in November 2019, dropping a handful of new originals (like the Star Wars–adjacent series The Mandalorian) and thousands of legacy shows and movies from the Disney, Star Wars, and Marvel vaults. If you haven’t heard of Disney+, where ya’ been?
Considering the sheer volume of content available, most expected Disney+ to cost more than other services like Netflix and Prime Video. Nope: at $7.99 a month (or $79.99 for a year), Disney+ is one of the cheaper on-demand streaming services—chalk one up for the Mouse (and Loki).
Disney+’s low price tag, generous multiple-streams allowance (up to 4), and overall kid-friendly vibe make it a gotta-have for families in our opinion. It’s not just for the little ones, either: Disney+’s mega-premieres of Hamilton and Black Widow prove the streamer aims to be more than just a babysitter.
Disney+ compatible devices
Disney+ is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, LG TVs, PlayStation consoles, Roku, Samsung TVs, and Xbox consoles.
HBO originals and exclusives: HBO Max
- HBO series and HBO Max originals
- Same-day theatrical movie releases
- Higher price
- No free trial
HBO Max carries not only the entire HBO library of original shows and films, including blockbuster theatrical movies, but also original series like Doom Patrol, Search Party, and buzzy hits like Hacks, Made for Love, and The Flight Attendant.
HBO Max’s biggest differentiator from HBO, however, is its exclusive catalog of classic shows produced by its parent company, WarnerMedia. You’ve probably heard that all 10 seasons of Friends now stream only on HBO Max; the same holds true for The Big Bang Theory, South Park, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
You get all of this for $14.99 a month, the same price as standard HBO on cable or satellite. There’s also an ad-supported HBO Max tier for $9.99 a month, but it excludes the same-day theatrical Warner Bros. movie releases and sticks you with commercial breaks. We’d rather pay the five extra bucks.
HBO Max compatible devices
HBO Max is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, LG TVs, PlayStation consoles, Roku, Samsung TVs, Wii, and Xbox consoles.
Deep TV and movies library: Paramount+
- Deep library of TV shows and movies
- Local CBS live TV stream ($9.99 tier)
- Limited sports and movies
- Small lineup of originals
Beyond streaming exclusives Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Discovery, The Good Fight, and Why Women Kill, the draw of Paramount+ is its deep library of ViacomCBS classics and, in most markets, a live TV stream of local CBS affiliates.
That means live access to CBS Sports, CBS News, and CBS shows like Survivor, NCIS, and Young Sheldon. You can also attempt to keep up with Stephen Colbert’s nightly political takedowns on The Late Show, though we wouldn’t recommend it—it’s exhausting.
Paramount+ also recently added over 70 TV series from the vaults of parent company ViacomCBS. This means you can find SpongeBob SquarePants hanging out with Chappelle’s Show and Snooki & Jwoww.
In all, Paramount+ now carries over 30,000 hours of content from Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, TV Land, VH1, and other cable networks, in addition to CBS shows. That’s a lot of classic content from a lot of different sources—if Paramount+’s new originals don’t wow you, the old library might.
Paramount+ compatible devices
Paramount+ is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, LG TVs, PlayStation consoles, Roku, Samsung TVs, Vizio TVs, and Xbox consoles.
Quality original content: Apple TV+
- Low price
- Acclaimed original shows
- Limited content
- Limited device compatibility
A week before Disney+ blew up the streaming world in 2019, Apple TV+ debuted with more subdued buzz and little understanding of what exactly it was. Would Apple TV+ stream any of your favorite old shows? Would it be typically Apple-pricey? Would it work on non-Apple devices?
The answers: Apple TV+ carries only new, original content (like Ted Lasso and Mythic Quest), no previously released shows or movies from outside sources. Also, the monthly subscription rate of $4.99 is pretty sweet, and it’ll work on most non-Apple streaming devices.
Apple TV+’s performance and picture are as gorgeous as you’d expect from an Apple product, but, right now, the platform is ahead of the content. Going the all-original route means there’s only a small pool of in-house Apple TV+ series and movies to choose from, but the quality of that content has increased dramatically since the streamer’s launch (no, we’re never going to shut up about Ted Lasso).
Apple TV+ compatible devices
Apple TV+ is available on Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, LG TVs, Roku, Samsung TVs, and Vizio TVs.
Best for reality TV fans: Discovery+
- 55,000+ hours of content
- Exclusive original spinoffs
- Some popular shows missing
- No latest seasons of popular shows
Discovery+ is a streaming service with over 55,000 hours of classic and exclusive content from the Discovery group of cable TV channels. Besides Discovery Channel, those include HGTV, Food Network, TLC, Investigation Discovery (ID), Animal Planet, OWN, A&E, Lifetime, History, Travel Channel, and Science Channel.
But Discovery+ catalog mostly offers previously aired content. The latest episodes and seasons of your favorite shows are still on cable (or Hulu), not Discovery+. The latest 90 Day Fiance episodes aren’t available here, but several 90 Day spinoffs are; the same goes for Property Brothers and other network hits.
Besides Discovery’s networks, Discovery+ also features content from A&E, Lifetime, HISTORY, and animal-centric digital media brand The Dodo.
Even without the most popular shows and newest seasons, Discovery+ is still a good deal for Discovery superfans who want to keep up with the exclusive spinoffs, or newbies looking to “discover” 55,000 hours of new-to-them content.
Discovery+ compatible devices
Discovery+ is available on Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku, Samsung TVs, and Xbox One consoles.
Best free streaming TV services
Can you stream TV for free? Of course. For as many paid streaming services that are available, there are even more free apps. In most cases, you’ll have to put up with ads, but so what? Free is free.
Here are six of our favorite free streaming TV services.
Pluto TV is a free, ad-supported streaming app that features hundreds of “channels,” most of which are just loops of older programming from MTV, SHOWTIME, Comedy Central, Animal Planet, Investigation Discovery, and many others. There’s even a 24/7 American Gladiators channel!
Pluto TV is broken up into scrollable tiers for movies, drama, comedy, sports, news, science, music, Spanish-language content, and other genres. Some of the news and weather channels are live; others are on 24-hour delays from the original broadcast.
If you don’t mind ads, Pluto TV offers a ridiculous amount of free programming, with much of it also available on demand. It seems like there should be a catch, but there isn’t one . . . yet.
With over 50,000 licensed movies and TV shows available on-demand for free, it’s easy to get past the cutesy name. Streaming app Tubi is an unassuming little powerhouse that blows away both Netflix and Prime Video in terms of sheer content.
Of course, most of that content is older catalog material, and Tubi forces ads on you. (If anything is “free” in streaming, assume there’ll be ads). But a lot of the movies and shows at least look familiar, making Tubi the closest thing to browsing the aisles at a good ole Blockbuster Video store as you’ll get in this century—and it doesn’t cost a thing.
Formerly-Sony-owned Crackle has been streaming content for almost 15 years. If you’ve never clicked on that orange button, you’ve been missing out on hundreds of free movies and TV shows (with ads, of course).
Crackle’s on-demand app features mostly older shows and movies produced by Sony. But there’s also a handful of exclusive original series, ranging from the hilarious comedy Rob Riggle’s Ski Master Academy to the harrowing crime thriller, StartUp.
As for movies, Crackle has a wide mix of blockbusters, bombs, and cult items. For every hit like Speed or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, there’s a hidden gem like Mike Myers’ So I Married an Axe Murderer or Nicole Kidman’s To Die For—or even a so-bad-it’s-almost-good oddity like Lindsay Lohan’s I Know Who Killed Me.
Sling Free is Sling TV’s version of ad-supported free streaming services like Pluto TV, Tubi, and Xumo. It features a mix of live and on-demand content, including TV shows, movies, kids, news, and sports shows. It’s free, and you don’t have to provide a credit card number or log in to use it.
Like with the other free services, the selection on Sling Free is an assortment of older movies and TV shows with commercial breaks. You can access Sling Free through the Sling TV app under “Explore Sling Free,” and you can also rent movies and TV shows without being a Sling TV subscriber.
The CW is usually the hardest-to-find local channel on any live TV streaming service, a real letdown if you want to catch DC’s new Stargirl series or keep with whatever’s happening in Riverdale this week.
Fortunately, The CW knows its audience: younger viewers who’d rather stream shows on their own schedule. The ad-supported CW app makes all of The CW’s new broadcast episodes available for viewing the day after they’ve aired live, as well as select older shows. It’s almost easier than setting up an antenna.
For even more free content, check out The CW’s sister app, CWSeed. It carries whole seasons of older shows from The CW, as well as classic content from other networks.
The PBS Kids streaming app features thousands of video clips and full episodes from popular shows like Sesame Street, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Odd Squad, and more. Free, on-demand content for the kiddies that’s also educational? Score.
The app will also allow you to stream PBS Kids content from your local PBS station live, with no cable or satellite login credentials required. Double score.
What to look for in an on-demand streaming TV service
Does the service offer a free trial?
One of the best perks of streaming TV services is the free trial period. Unlike cable or satellite, streaming TV services don’t have installation appointments or contracts, so taking a service for a spin is simple and costs nothing. The trial windows are brief (usually seven days) but adequate.
Are your streaming device and apps compatible?
Setting up and trying out a streaming TV service is as easy as downloading an app—but is that app available on your set-top box or mobile devices?
Most services reviewed here are available as smart TV apps, though we recommend streaming devices like Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, or Roku for better stability and performance.
Final take: Netflix is still the king of on-demand streaming TV
There are hundreds of on-demand streaming services, both free and paid, available in your respective device’s app stores—if we listed them all, you’d be scrolling for days (so, just like with Netflix). We’ve included 16 of our favorites here to get you started on your streaming adventure.
We’re particularly partial to HBO Max, Apple TV+, and Netflix at CableTV.com, though we will admit to spending many an hour watching free app Pluto TV (mostly the looping Mystery Science Theater 3000 channel). But you do you—there are plenty of streams to choose from.
Our experts spent hours testing services hands-on to review and rate these on-demand TV streaming services on bang for your buck, reliability, features, and customer satisfaction. Then we compared the on-demand TV streamers head to head to contrast their strengths and weaknesses. For more information on our methodology, check out our How We Rank page.
On-demand streaming TV FAQ
Even the best streaming service can’t produce the best streaming shows by simply backing money trucks up to the studio. Just like mainstream movies and premium cable outlets, streaming TV has launched as many pricey flops as blockbusters.
If only we could time travel ahead a few years to assess Prime Video’s Lord of the Rings adaptation series, which reportedly will cost $1 billion to make (approximately $100 million per episode). Let’s hope struggling startup Amazon can absorb the hit.
In the meantime, CableTV.com has compiled a list of the 10 most expensive streaming shows to date, then cross-referenced them with audience and critical ratings (which aren’t always the same). Most of them earned their keep—others, not so much.
Those are some staggering price tags, huh? Let’s take a closer look at these high-dollar shows from some of the top streaming TV services.
- The Mandalorian (Disney+) is a hit with audiences and critics alike, easily justifying its $15-million-per-episode cost. How could you go wrong with Star Wars branding and Baby Yoda adorability? The Mandalorian put Disney+ on the streaming map overnight.
- Stranger Things (Netflix) also ranked high with fans and reviewers, but it’s almost half as expensive as The Mandalorian. Between raises for the show’s child actors and international filming for the upcoming fourth season, however, the rent might be going up in Hawkins.
- The Crown (Netflix) is posh, and so is its price tag of $13 million an episode (or 10.2 million in British pounds). Most of that cost can be attributed to the UK period drama’s lavish costumes and dazzling sets, as well as its expansive, rotating cast of actors.
- House of Cards (Netflix) was one of streaming TV’s earliest original hits, debuting way back in 2013 and wrapping up in 2018. It’s also the least expensive series on our list, costing just $6 million per episode—probably because they didn’t have to pay Kevin Spacey for the final season.
- Game of Thrones (HBO®, HBO GO®, HBO NOW®) was technically a cable series, but enough viewers streamed the final seasons on HBO GO and HBO NOW to crash the systems, so we’ll allow it. Fans and critics weren’t thrilled with the ending, but GoT earned its $15 million per episode.
- Sense8 (Netflix) was a classic example of a show with a small-but-passionate fanbase that couldn’t make up for costly production ($9 million an episode over two seasons). After a fan petition, Netflix agreed to close Sense8 with a—presumably expensive—2018 movie.
- The Get Down (Netflix), a 2016–2017 docudrama chronicling New York’s hip-hop scene in the ’70s, joined the $15-million-an-episode club thanks to showrunner Baz Luhrmann and crushing music licensing. It looked and sounded amazing, but The Get Down couldn’t pay for its groove.
- The Morning Show (Apple TV+) was supposed to mark Apple TV+’s grand entrance into the streaming TV wars . . . but nope. The newsroom drama’s cast (including Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon) ate most of the $15 million per episode, as did the series’s TV news sets.
- Marco Polo (Netflix) never fulfilled its promise to be streaming’s first international hit, but it was one of the most expensive TV shows ever as of 2014 ($9 million per episode), so there’s that. Critics wrote Marco Polo off as adventure cheese, though it did click with a (limited) audience.
- See (Apple TV+), about a post-apocalyptic tribe of blind warriors, cost $15 million an episode and flopped harder than the iPhone X and Apple Maps combined. Star Jason “Aquaman” Momoa must account for most of that budget, as See is filmed on the cheap in Canada.
We started with Radar Online’s “The Most Expensive Streaming Shows on TV” list, then compared the top 10 shows’ critical and fan rankings in Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer® and Audience Score columns. Balancing cost and response, we determined each show’s “hit” ratio.
So, how was your 2020? Yeah, same here—but at least we had our old friend TV to help get us through it. The COVID-19 pandemic lockdown year basically began with Tiger King and ended with Cobra Kai, qualifying ’20 as the weirdest year on the screen ever, but we were here for it.
Which got us at CableTV.com thinking about the country’s streaming TV habits over the past 12 months: Did being cooped up in the house change people’s viewing regimens? Have they piled on more subscriptions? What are they looking forward to in 2021 (besides getting out more)?
We polled 500 Americans about their 2020 viewing habits, and this is what we learned:
68.2% added a new streaming service
Many a household beefed up its streaming lineup with a new subscription or two in 2020. HBO Max and Peacock were the most obvious shiny new objects, with both debuting to much anticipation. The now-defunct Quibi didn’t show up in our polling because, well, it was Quibi.
53.7% signed up for Disney+
Last year’s hottest streaming service arrived in December 2019: Disney+. It doesn’t get any more escapist than Mickey Mouse’s streamer, which had a high-profile year thanks to premieres like Hamilton, Soul, and a new season of The Mandalorian. Grogu is still Baby Yoda to us, BTW.
74.6% want to binge their shows now
We blame/thank Netflix—no one wants to wait a week for the next episode. Even though some streaming services are sticking with the old-school TV practice of dropping episodes week-by-week (therefore keeping you subscribed longer), most viewers are hooked on a good binge.
63.2% turned to comedy
Hard times call for hearty laughs, so it’s not at all surprising that many gravitated to comedy series and movies in 2020 (17.6% also indicated sitcoms). Most of that comedy viewing was probably spent marathoning The Office on Netflix before it moved to Peacock in the new year.
21.2% are amped for The Bachelor in 2021
Even though there are several new series premiering in 2021, streaming Americans (Streamericans?) are most looking forward to comfort viewing with old favorites. HBO Max’s Gossip Girl reboot has decent buzz, and The Bachelor franchise just might outlive us all.