United States of Streaming (Finding the Best Service for the Best Price)
Updated: Jun 13
*Piece from Feature Writing course (GWU, 2021)
When I moved into my apartment in DC early in September, the first thing I noticed was this large television that took up an entire wall of my bedroom. At the time I thought that it was way too big to be practical in any way, but it has proven its worth during this cold, pandemic-stricken winter more than I could have ever imagined.
With indoor gatherings coming to a halt and the choices of how to spend a Friday night or those lengthy gaps of free time in the day growing limited, that television has become a saving grace. Between fighting off the dreary winter weather and that sense of boredom, isolation, and urge to find novelty and comfort during a year filled with anything but, TV streaming has provided me with the ability to escape into a world of endless stories.
Whether I’m watching Framing Britneyalone in bed on a Tuesday night, or gathered with friends each Sunday morning to watch the latest episode of Saturday Night Live, the Roku remote remains in hand as I go from the Netflix channel to Hulu to HBOMax in search of something new to watch. And the options of what to stream are seemingly infinite.
But what exactly is Roku? Less than a year ago, I had never heard the word before yet it has become a part of my everyday vernacular, along with nearly 78 percent of the US population who have turned to streaming services for their entertainment needs. These systems are easy to navigate and offer access to the best shows and movies ever made, which must be why there are now 51.2 million active accounts as of January 2021.
Developed in 2008, Roku is considered one of the first brands of hardware digital media players, which offer access to endless content from a variety of online services and subscription based channels. In September of 2020, Roku released the ninth generation of its software that boasted faster compression and delivery technologies to adhere to a world being conducted solely online. This has made the ability to stream content and shows that much more efficient.
How often do you normally watch TV? Where do you usually watch (device, location)?
“I typically watch TV at night, but also have it on in the mornings when I do my makeup or am getting ready. I usually watch on the television, but sometimes I’ll use my laptop.” – Savannah Hanley, 21 (Washington, DC)
“Normally we watch TV at night, around 8pm. We use our cable box mostly for now, but have Disney+ and PBS apps for our daughter.” – Stacy Wolffe, 36 (New York)
“I watch TV after dinner in my bed until I fall asleep, or when I’m drawing and working on art.” – Mary Langseder, 21 (Delaware)
“I stream from any device – TVs in my home, the bedroom, or my Ipad.” – Ilene, 56 (Florida)
It’s not just Roku that has rapidly seeped into homes and apartments in recent months or even the last year; the industry is in constant competition with itself and similar companies. There are decisions to be made everywhere: will Roku support my desired content, or would Apple TV be better for me? Amazon Fire just released its own services - will I get more from them for my money?
The pandemic, in part, has resulted in a major shift from traditional cable to these contemporary services. A study from Future of TVshows more than 27 percent of U.S. cable subscribers are planning to end their subscriptions by the end of the year. This is nearly twice the amount of people who cut their subscriptions in 2020, and the numbers are expected to rise.
When I think of past ways people would watch television or movies, I envision the characters of I Love Lucygathered around a family room TV, enjoying some conventional 1950s show and laughing along with an artificial track. Or I think of those scenes of young couples going on a date to the movie theatre, and the two would reach for the popcorn at the same time while some rom-com played on a large screen before them.
But the era of movie-going is coming to a pause with theatres closing over COVID-related losses. And as streaming services rise in supremacy over the traditional methods of consuming TV and movies, subscribers to Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire are no longer constrained to prime time hours or weekly-released episodes.
According to Business Wire, 60 percent of consumers cited live sports as the reason for keeping a cable subscription. Just nine months later, only 30 percent of respondents chose to keep the subscription. When ESPN offers live coverage on channels like Disney+ or Hulu, for example, the need for cable becomes obsolete.
What’s your go to streaming service?
“I don’t really have a go to streaming service… I’ll usually hop between Netflix and Hulu, but sometimes my xfinity account comes in clutch.” – Casey Waggatt, 21 (Massachusetts)
“Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix… I think we are subscribed to most of the services!” – Andrea Davis, 56 (New York)
“My go to streaming services are Netflix and HBO, but more recently I’ve only been using HBO.” – Lauren Kelly, 21 (California)
“I am the worst, if we use streaming services it’s usually only Netflix.” – Stacy Wolffe, 36 (New York)
“Lately I’ve been using Hulu and Amazon Prime… Netflix has been slacking lately… I also use HBO and Disney+, they’re making new stuff now.” – Rafael Rodriguez, 21 (Washington, DC)
Just as with cable, however, the nature of streaming service decision-making comes down to the same reasoning: will I get the most content for this deal? In the same report from Business Wire, more than half of respondents said they are ‘unwilling to spend more than $20 per month on streaming subscriptions,’ and five times more likely to prefer ‘free or low-cost streaming with ads.
The other day, I was gathered around the television with friends when we saw that Icarly was put on Netflix. The Nickelodeon series, which originally aired from 2007-2012, can reach audiences once again without the hassle of weekly episode releases or specific time-slots dedicated to re-runs. As we watched, we remembered a specific episode in which Carly’s bedroom gets a makeover. We searched a bit, and found that this was the season four premiere, but Netflix doesn’t stream any of the later seasons. We found the episode through the Roku search function, but it was only available for purchase on Amazon Prime. “It’s only 99 cents! That’s definitely worth the joy I’ll get out of watching!” my friend shouted to us, eager to watch the episode we had been reminiscing upon for the last ten minutes. Streaming is that simple, easy, and accessible.
So, first there’s the choice of what media player to use, be it the Roku, Amazon Fire, or Apple TV. Then comes the daunting task of subscribing to the channels that are streaming, and if I tried to account for all of them here I wouldn’t be able to complete the list as more and more services are created each day. Each service offers niche and general content, a marriage of traditional genres and those that could have only been created within the context of the twenty-first century.
I could re-watch episodes of Survivoron Hulu, or search for where I left off in Netflix’s The Bridgertons.I can rent Teneton Amazon Prime and embrace the fact that the movie went straight to streaming upon release rather than going to the theatre. When it comes to streaming, there will always be new and unwatched content for any profile in use. It’s a case of doom scrolling with no end, only in this case it feels like streaming fatigue and I often can’t keep up with all the new releases.
The age of streaming services has ushered in the need for personable, varied content. With this, users can find movies or shows that fit their moods at any moment. Just as how the United States differs vastly in thought, ideology, demographics, and aspirations, the shows watched cover a wide range, too.
What are you watching? Why did you pick that?
“I’m watching Modern Family right now, I wanted a light hearted, coming of age show.” – Kate Larkin, 21 (New Jersey)
“I am watching the Durrells in Corfu, a friend recommended it to me. I usually watch movies or shows about true stories, a lot of times about the Holocaust.” – Bella Davis, 81 (New York)
“Grey’s Anatomy. I’ve seen it so many times before, so I know every single line and what’s going to happen next. That definitely provides me with some stability in my life right now.” – Casey Waggatt, 21 (Massachusetts)
“We just started watching Yellowstone for the third time because we loved the characters and the story.” – Katie Davis, 58 (Tennessee)
“I’m watching Gilmore Girls right now. Partly because it’s from the same writer as Marvelous Maisel which I loved, but also because I’m kind of dating a boy whose last name is Gilmore so I feel like I’m Gilmore’s Girl.” – Lena Geller, 22 (North Carolina)
“My husband and I are watching Lupin right now. We picked it because it’s good for male and female audiences.” – Wendy Buffone, 56 (New York)
Streaming services have become an effective antidote for grappling with the ongoing pandemic - whether it be the comfort of knowing there will always be something to watch despite there not being anything to do, or the thrill of finally cancelling that cable subscription for better channels and subscription deals
This new way of watching television and movies is not going away. This is not a rampant trend that will pass with time, but rather over time streaming services will make their way into households across the US, providing more content and modes of viewing than ever before.
What Are My Streaming Options?
I've mentioned the endless options of streaming, and the countless ways to find content. But where exactly do I go for my favorite shows, movies, awards, and live coverage? Prices and packages vary across companies, and more streaming options arise as the craze continues. Here are just some of the options and benefits of services. All descriptions are from PCMag.
Netflix's large collection of TV shows and movies, including critically acclaimed originals, make it one of the best video streaming services to date, despite its high cost.
Price: $8.99/month , $17.99 Premium
Hulu is a dependable option for streaming new and classic shows as well as live TV on nearly every platform. It's a top choice among video streaming services.
Price: starts at $5.99
HBO Max offers an impressive on-demand library and its apps support the latest video streaming features, including multiple profiles and offline downloads. It’s pricey, however.
Amazon Prime Video hosts lots of prestige content for streaming and also supports impressive technical capabilities such as 4K HDR streaming and offline downloads.
Price: $12.99/month , $119/year
Peacock presents popular NBC network shows along with a worthwhile collection of movies to stream. Although it lacks some top NBC shows and some expected features, its capable free tier earns it an Editors' Choice distinction.
Price: $4.99/month (Free for basic content)
Today, Philo offers a package of top-rated television channels for just $20. Watch live, save unlimited shows to watch later, or browse a huge library of content available on-demand. Philo is available on all your favorite devices and on the web, wherever you are. (Description from Philo.com)
Price: $20/month (Free for basic content)
YouTube TV offers an excellent variety of channels, top-notch DVR features, and great performance. It's a top choice for cord cutters who want to replicate the cable TV experience, provided you are willing to pay its high monthly costs.
Classics and discoveries from around the world, thematically programmed with special features, on a streaming service brought to you by the Criterion Collection. (Description from criterionchannel.com)
Price: $10.99/month , $99.99/year
Tubi is a free and well-designed video streaming service with a large, frequently changing library of movies and some shows. Its resolution limitations and ads are a small price to pay for all the free content it offers.
Price: FREE :)
Disney+ offers an impressive library of high-quality shows and movies in a featured-filled video streaming package, but it needs to expand its content horizons to become an absolute must-have service.
Price: $8/month , $80/year , ESPN+ and Hulu Bundles start at $14/month
FuboTV is a particularly good streaming service for sports fans, but its many news and entertainment channels should appeal to general audiences, too.
Price: Starts at $64.99/month
Kanopy offers a wealth of independent educational and entertainment content for kids and adults alike, all without ads and for free—all you need is a library card. We could do without the monthly streaming limits, though.
Price: FREE :)