By Mike Murphy
April is going to be rough.
The news is likely to get much worse as the coronavirus outbreak spreads, upending lives and the economy, while tens of millions of people hunker down and isolate themselves at home in a bid to slow its spread.
We’re really going to need distractions to stay sane. Streaming services say traffic has spiked in recent weeks, for obvious reasons, and streaming is likely to remain our most accessible temporary escape from the grim everyday news. To that point, at least there will be plenty to watch in April, including the debuts of two new services — NBCUniversal’s Peacock and Quibi (more on those later).
Meanwhile, as the economic impact of the outbreak takes a toll on many people’s paychecks, it may be time to re-evaluate which streaming services are really worth your money.
As we have previously mentioned, consumers can take full advantage of cord-cutting by capitalizing on the ability to add and drop streaming services each month, and all it takes is good planning and timing. Remember, a billing cycle starts when you sign up, not necessarily at the beginning of each month.
Consumers can also take advantage of deals for free streaming trials, as Disney and Apple in particular focus on building subscriber bases rather than growing revenue (for the time being, at least). You’re never going to get a better deal than free, and the offers won’t last forever.
Free possibilities aside, when it’s time to decide where your subscription dollars should go, What’s Worth Streaming will be here to help. We will rate each major streaming service every month as a “play,” “pause” or “stop,” similar to investment analysts’ ratings of buy, hold and sell, and pick the best content that will help you make your monthly decisions.
Here’s a look at what’s coming to the various streaming services in April 2020, and what’s really worth the monthly subscription fee.
Netflix ($8.99 or $12.99 a month)
The shows just keep on coming for Netflix (NAS:NFLX) viewers. That’s a very good thing, now that we all have a lot more free time on out hands.
Among the April highlights: Season 4 of “Money Heist,” aka “La Casa de Papel” (April 3), a ridiculously fun and suspenseful crime drama about a gang of crooks robbing the Bank of Spain, kind of a blend between “Ocean’s 11” and “24”; Season 2 of the gripping sports docu-series “Sunderland ’Til I Die” (April 1), about a once-proud soccer team and its passionate fanbase as they try to fight their way out of England’s third-tier league; Season 4 of the lighthearted baking-disaster competition “Nailed It” (April 1); Season 3 of the tense Israeli espionage drama “Fauda” (April 16); “#blackAF” (April 17), a new mocumentary sitcom from “Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris (which definitely looks more adult-oriented that “Black-ish,” more along the lines of BET’s underrated “Real Husbands of Hollywood”); and “Never Have I Ever” (April 27), a coming-of-age comedy series about an Indian-American teenage girl, inspired by producer Mindy Kaling’s childhood.
There’s also “Brews Brothers” (April 10), a comedy from “That ‘70s Show” producer Greg Schaffer about two estranged brothers who have to run a brewery together; “Outer Banks” (April 15), a mystery series about a group of teens searching for long-lost treasure; and “Too Hot to Handle” (April 17), a trashy dating competition with a $100,000 celibacy challenge.
Netflix is also adding a handful of comedy specials, a load of older movies (including “The Social Network” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” ) and all six seasons of “Community,” which despite being one of the funniest sitcoms of the past decade never really became much more than a cult hit.
Play, pause or stop? Play. There’s enough quality new stuff (along with a whole lot of old stuff in its library) to keep yourself and the whole family occupied.
Hulu ($5.99 a month or $11.99 with no ads)
Hulu’s original offerings are still slim, but its library is so deep that it doesn’t really matter. April’s tent-pole original is “Mrs. America,” a miniseries launching April 15 under the new “FX on Hulu” banner. It stars Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative crusader and vocal opponent of the women’s liberation movement who was a key figure in the culture wars of the 1970s. Other notable addition include the Oscar-winning movie “Parasite” (April 8) and Season 2 of “What We Do in the Shadows,” an excellent and hilarious mockumentary series about Staten Island’s lamest vampires , which will be available a day after new episodes air on FX, starting April 16.
This is when having a massive content library comes in handy. If the new stuff doesn’t wow you, there’s a ton of older shows well worth binging during our collective shelter-in-place, including most FX shows (like “The Shield,” “Justified” and “Atlanta” ), older network shows ( “Lost,” “Seinfeld,” “How I Met Your Mother”) as well as a wide selection of current shows available a day after they air on broadcast ( “Bob’s Burgers,” “Superstore” ) and past seasons of reality shows such as “The Amazing Race” and “Top Chef.” There’s literally something for everyone.
Play, pause or stop? Play. Hulu is currently the best value in streaming.
Amazon Prime Video ($12.99 a month)
Call it “Dad Month” on Amazon’s (NAS:AMZN) Prime Video. OK, not entirely, but the headline additions in April are Season 6 of the popular cop drama “Bosch” (April 17) and most of the James Bond catalog (from 1962’s “Dr. No” to 2002’s “Die Another Day,” all dropping April 1). So that alone will make many happy viewing hours for dads everywhere. But there’s still stuff for everyone else. The most intriguing new series is “Tales From the Loop” (April 3), a contemplative sci-fi drama inspired by the works of Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag, whose art incorporates sci-fi elements into landscapes and portraits of everyday life. It’s an interesting concept at least.
There will also be fresh episodes every Friday of “Making the Cut,” the fashion competition series hosted by former “Project Runway” icons Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, which launched March 27. It’s getting good reviews and has the potential to be solid distraction-TV.
Amazon’s library isn’t so shabby either. This could be a good time to finally watch “Fleabag,” or binge-worthy comedies such as “Red Oaks,” “The Tick” and “Catastrophe.”
Play, pause or stop? Pause. While Prime Video is not essential viewing, there’s still a lot to offer.
CBS All Access ($5.99 a month or $9.99 with no ads)
With the first season of “Star Trek: Picard” ending in late March, ViacomCBS’s (NAS:VIAC) All Access will hope to keep up its viewership momentum in April with Season 4 of “The Good Fight,” the legal drama that’s a spinoff of “The Good Wife,” dropping every Thursday starting April 9. Starring Christine Baranski, the new season will see the firm chafing for independence after it’s bought by a giant multinational law firm. By all accounts, “The Good Fight” is the best thing CBS All Access has to offer — critical acclaim, a strong cast, sharp writing.\
And here’s the twist: While All Access just doesn’t have enough content to justify a monthly subscription, it’s now offering a free 60-day trial if you sign up before April 23 — just use the codes “GIFT” and “ENJOY” when you sign up. You’ll have to enter your credit card to start an account, but as long as you cancel before the 60 days runs out, it won’t cost you a dime. This is an excellent opportunity to binge “Picard,” check out “The Good Fight” and older shows such as Jordan Peele’s “Twilight Zone.”
Updated to reflect CBS All Access extended its free trial from 30 to 60 days.
Play, pause of stop? Pause. Not worth paying for, but the free trial can’t be beat.
Disney+ ($6.99 a month)
Remember when Disney+ had buzz-worthy new shows like “The Mandalorian” ? Yeeesh. The lineup has been mostly fallow ever since, and is likely to stay that way until Marvel’s “The Falcon and Winter Soldier” debuts in (hopefully) August. The big addition for April is “Onward,” the Pixar movie about a pair of elf brothers who go on a quest after their father’s death. It was released in theaters only about a month ago and was doing well at the box office, until theaters closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. “Onward” is already available to buy on Disney+, for $19.99, but will be included free with the service starting April 3.
Aside from that, expect a bunch more kids shows, nature documentaries, new episodes of “Star Wars: Clone Wars,” and older movies such as Eddie Murphy’s “Doctor Dolittle” (April 1), David Lynch’s “The Straight Story” (April 3) and Nicolas Cage’s “National Treasure” (April 30).
Play, pause of stop? Pause. This is an entirely binary decision. With kids cooped up inside for the next month, it’ll be nearly impossible for parents to say no to the vast Disney (NYS:DIS) library. But for those without kids, or who aren’t Disney fanatics — nope, not worth it.
Apple TV+ ($4.99 a month)
As per usual, Apple Inc.’s (NAS:AAPL) TV+ won’t have much new content in April, but what it will have seems intriguing, at least.
Marvel’s Captain America himself, Chris Evans, will star in “Defending Jacob” (April 24), a legal drama about an assistant district attorney who will do anything to defend his teenage son, who’s accused of murder. Judging by the trailer, it looks like a fairly by-the-books thriller, but the excellent cast (besides Evans, there’s Michelle Dockery, Cherry Jones and J.K. Simmons) could make it worth checking out.
Also dropping April 24 is “Beastie Boys Story,” a documentary about the rap legends from Spike Jonze and Beastie members Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz. The film had been scheduled to premiere at SXSW and be released in theaters, until the coronavirus outbreak forced a change of plans.
There’s also “Home Before Dark” (April 3), a mystery series about a 9-year-old budding journalist who works to dig up the truth about a decades-old cold case in a small town.
Play, pause or stop? Stop. The new offerings are worth a look if you’re still on a free preview, but not enough to pay for.
Peacock (Free for Comcast subscribers only, for now)
Technically, NBCUniversal’s much-anticipated streaming service will launch April 15, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Peacock will go live for most Comcast (NAS:CMCSA) cable subscribers right off the bat, for free, before it launches for everyone else in July. There will be three tiers: A free one with ads and 7,500 hours of content, a Premium tier with 15,000 hours of content (which will be free for Comcast and Cox cable subscribers, $5 a month for everyone else), and an ad-free Premium version for $10 a month.
Its vault will be impressive, with more than 600 movies and 400 series, including “30 Rock,” “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Friday Night Lights,” the complete “Law & Order” franchise and “Downton Abbey.” The premium version will also include early access to NBC’s late-night shows and live sports, such as English Premier League soccer, among other things. In terms of original programming, Peacock has touted reboots of “Saved by the Bell” and “Battlestar Galactica,” the Tina Fey-produced sitcom “Girls5Eva” and Season 3 of “AP Bio,” which moves from NBC to Peacock, among others. However, it’s still unclear when exactly those, or any other original shows, will launch.
Play, pause or stop? N/A. If you get Comcast cable, by all means check it out for free. With its extensive content library, Peacock should be a strong contender for your streaming dollars once it launches for everyone in July.
Quibi ($4.99 a month or $7.99 a month with no ads)
As you’ve probably heard, thanks to a massive pre-launch ad campaign, Quibi is a new streaming service for your phone coming April 6 that features exclusively short-form content — stuff that’s 10 minutes or less. The company was founded by ex-Disney exec Jeffrey Katzenberg and former HP CEO Meg Whitman, and it has major support (and financial backing) from both Hollywood and Silicon Valley. The concept is kinda fascinating — quick hits of mobile content, shot two ways (so it’ll look good whether your phone is in portrait or landscape mode), and hundreds of original shows from big names such as Steven Spielberg, Guillermo del Toro, Chrissy Teigen and Jennifer Lopez. Content will range from news to reality shows to movies shown in chapter form.
But — and this is a big but — will people actually pay for that? Quibi is offering a free 90-day trial for those who sign up before April 6, but it’ll typically cost $5 a month, or $8 a month without ads. The product is targeted hard toward young viewers — millennials and Gen-Z-ers — who are not particularly known for their eagerness to pay for content. And it will launch in the middle of a pandemic and budding recession that will likely leave much of its target audience short on money and with much more than 10 free minutes to fill each day.
Meanwhile, while it will launch with 50 shows, the quality appears, ah, questionable, at best. As a recent AV Club story described it, the lineup “sounds like fake ’30 Rock’ shows,” which is sadly true. Take “Murder House Flip,” where reno experts try to rehab literal crime scenes ; “Dishmantled,” a competition show that blasts food in chef’s faces then asks them to recreate the dish by taste; and “Nikki Fre$h,” a comedy about Nicole Richie’s rapper alter ego. Ready to pay for that?
Play, pause or stop? Stop. Quibi appears to be more of a step up from YouTube or TikTok than competition for Netflix. And to put its price tag into perspective, for a dollar more, you could get Hulu (with ads) instead. You’d be much better off.
Mike Murphy is a MarketWatch editor and former TV blogger who still watches way too much TV. Follow him on Twitter at @mmmmurf or email your streaming questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.