By Mike Murphy
Let’s face it: There’s more content on streaming services than you can possibly watch. As new services launch, this dilemma is only getting more pressing — and more expensive.
But you don’t need to watch — or even subscribe to — everything. This new MarketWatch column, What’s Worth Streaming, is here to sort out which services are worth paying for each month, based on the content that is arriving and leaving.
The recent launches of streaming services from Apple Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL -4.75% and Walt Disney Co. /zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite DIS -4.29% , which are set to be joined by AT&T Inc.’s /zigman2/quotes/203165245/composite T -1.30% HBO Max, Comcast Corp.’s /zigman2/quotes/209472081/composite CMCSA -2.66% Peacock and the short-form startup Quibi in 2020. All of those new offerings seek to compete with Netflix Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202353025/composite NFLX -2.99% , Amazon.com Inc.’s /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -4.14% Prime Video and Disney’s Hulu, among others.
Despite all those choices, almost 60% of respondents plan to pay for only one or two streaming services, a recent MarketWatch poll found:
So what’s a budget-minded, FOMO-wary viewer to do? Well, one big advantage of cord cutting is the ability to add and drop services each month. Waiting for all the episodes of “The Mandalorian” to be released so you can binge it during a seven-day free trial of Disney+? You can do that. Nothing grabbing you on Netflix right now? Drop it for a month or two and come back when the pickings are better.
It takes good planning and timing (remember, a billing cycle starts when you sign up, not necessarily at the beginning of each month), but canceling online or from an app is much easier than trying to drop a channel from your cable company’s service.
One note: When considering what to subscribe to, check to see what you can get for free, and how. For example, Apple TV+ is free for a year if you’ve bought an iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, iPod Touch or Mac since Sept. 10, and Verizon Wireless /zigman2/quotes/204980236/composite VZ -0.36% is giving some subscribers a free year of Disney+. If you can get it for free, do it, because the no-cost offers won’t last forever. Just stick a Post-it on next year’s calendar to remind you when the free trial is up.
When it is time to decide what you should pay for, What’s Worth Streaming will be here to help. We will rate each streaming service every month as a “play,” “pause” or “stop,” similar to investment analysts’ ratings of buy, hold and sell, and detail the content that will help you make your monthly decisions.
Here’s a look at what’s coming to the various streaming services in December, and what’s really worth the monthly subscription fee.
Netflix ($8.99 or $12.99 a month)
Streaming is a volume game, and, for its sheer inventory of content, Netflix is a must-have for most people. Yes, it’s roughly the price of Disney+ and Apple TV+ combined, but you get a lot more.
Netflix is rolling out a ton of new series and movies in December, and should still be well worth the price.
The biggest must-see actually came out Nov. 27: Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. A critically acclaimed Scorsese gangster movie just in time for the holidays? It’s an excellent way to escape the family for 3½ hours.
For December releases, there are three more major movies, two of them strong Oscar contenders: Noah Baumbach’s emotionally wrenching “A Marriage Story” (Dec. 6), starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson; Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce in the based-on-real-life Vatican drama “The Two Popes” (Dec. 20); and Michael Bay’s “6 Underground” (Dec. 13), an explosion-laden action flick that looks exceedingly dumb but that holds the potential to be the best movie ever named after a Sneaker Pimps song . Ryan Reynolds’s charm alone can make a bad movie about 20% more watchable, so there’s a slight bit of hope.
Netflix is rolling out the fantasy series “The Witcher” on Dec. 20, hoping to make a “Game of Thrones”–type splash with an adaptation of the popular book and videogame series about a supernatural, sword-wielding monster hunter. It’s already like “Game of Thrones” in one way — the eight-episode first season’s budget is reportedly around $70 million — comparable to how much the HBO epic cost per episode. This can only go two ways for Netflix: home run or strikeout. Either way, it’ll be worth checking out, at least for an episode or two.
For lazing around on the day after Christmas, you could do worse than binge “You,” which drops a new season and a new potential victim for Joe to stalk . The melodrama’s first season exploded in popularity on Netflix last year after flopping on Lifetime, and it’s got some serious trashy-fun credentials, seeing as it stars a “Gossip Girl” leading man (Penn Badgley) and comes from the producers of “Riverdale.” Also look for new comedy specials from Tiffany Haddish (“Black Mitzvah,” Dec. 3), Michelle Wolf ( “Joke Show,” Dec. 10), Ronny Chiang ( “Asian Comedian Destroys America!” Dec. 17) and a John Mulaney children’s variety special on Christmas Eve.
If you’re looking for something fairly family-friendly in the Netflix library, check out “Instant Hotel,” an oddly addictive reality show about couples competing for the best Airbnb in Australia. It’s got the house-porn of HGTV combined with the scheming of “Survivor” — plus Aussie accents — and it’s delicious.
Play, pause or stop? Definitely hit play. December is a good month to have Netflix, and well worth the price.
Amazon Prime Video ($12.99 a month or $119 a year)
Prime Video is mostly a bonus for folks who pay for one-day delivery from Amazon, but it has a pretty impressive library and some quality series. Two of its best series are back in December, with Season 3 of the Emmy-winning comedy “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Dec. 6) and Season 4 of the gritty sci-fi drama “The Expanse” (Dec. 13). Both are worth watching, and “The Expanse” deserves a bigger audience than it had on cable (Amazon rescued it from cancellation last year).