Best streaming service for affordable, ad-free premium content
Streaming services have made big shifts during the past three years alone, leaving you to choose subscriptions based on library size and variety, price and the content preferences for anyone who lives in your household. 60% of American households use four or more streaming services, with most homes having at least one. But you don’t need all of them, even if you have favorites.
With our extensive best list, which includes Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus and Max, we can help you select which platforms are right for you. You may also want to read our lineup of the best live TV streaming services.
Some platforms offer cheaper options, while others come essentially free as part of a bundle (like ESPN Plus in the Disney Bundle). Kid-friendly Disney Plus has an $8 ad-supported plan, but Disney raised the price of the ad-free version. Meanwhile, Netflix with ads is $7 a month and grants you two streams. Max now charges more for 4K content, and Starz, Peacock and Paramount Plus have all raised their prices.
We’ve reviewed each of these streaming services individually and assigned numeric ratings based on catalogs, app design and features, and overall value. Certainly, some personal preferences regarding content mix influence our decisions, so note that if you love a specific show or style of show, you may have a different favorite.
With that in mind, here’s our list.
What is the best overall streaming service?
Out of the streaming services we tested, we landed on Netflix as our top pick. Why? It has a reliable, user-friendly interface, a range of features and a diverse, ever-changing catalog. Netflix consistently drops new originals from around the world and you even have the ability to find titles using secret codes. The addition of an ad-based tier makes it more affordable compared to rivals Disney Plus and Max.
There are other high quality streaming services available, so even though Netflix is currently our first choice, it may not align with your budget or preferences.
Best streaming services of 2023
There’s a reason why Netflix has become shorthand for streaming in general. The former movie rental service evolved into the top-tier streaming app that’s a must-have in 2023, even if you’re paying extra to share your password. When big originals like The Witcher or Stranger Things drop, they grab the attention of millions of viewers along with critical praise and awards, giving us the closest thing we have to water cooler conversations these days.
Disney Plus is one of Netflix’s closest competitors — for good reason. It’s the only place where you can stream the vast majority of the Disney and Pixar libraries, along with every Star Wars movie, Marvel films and new original TV shows, National Geographic content and 30-plus seasons of The Simpsons. Shows like The Mandalorian, Loki, Andor and She-Hulk, have drawn millions of viewers, while features such as Turning Red and Encanto won rave reviews. Plus, there’s lots more Star Wars and Marvel original programming coming in the next few years.
Max/Warner Bros. Discovery/James Martin
A rebrand has turned HBO Max into Max, an updated app full of popular TV shows and movies. It has HBO’s entire library, DC Universe titles, along with favorites such as Friends, the Lord of the Rings movies and almost every Studio Ghibli film. And it’s the primary destination for new Warner Bros.-owned feature films. It’s not Disney Plus, but Max has a solid streaming collection for kids too, with the ability to control ratings on kids’ profiles better than most other services.
For $8 a month (with ads), Hulu is a perfect complement and counterpoint to Netflix. Its channel lineup has a huge variety of familiar shows from networks like ABC, Fox and FX that you can watch soon after they air (unlike on Netflix), as well as a growing catalog of its own critically acclaimed original series like The Handmaid’s Tale and Only Murders in the Building. If you have $8 a month to spare and don’t mind trading a few ads for a wealth of TV options, Hulu is a no-brainer. You’ve also got the option to upgrade to a no-ads plan for $15 a month, or add on live TV streaming for $70 a month for a full cable replacement.
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Amazon’s Prime Video features lots of ad-free, quality original shows and movies, an impressive back catalog of older favorites (and B-movies you haven’t heard of) and NFL on Thursday nights.
Priced below Netflix at $10 a month withoutads, Starz provides a unique but expanding library of films and original shows. With more than 800 movies in its bank that range from ’80s classics to Westerns to the hottest new Sony releases, the streamer houses every genre in its catalog. But Starz has been inching its way into the prestige TV market with a quality lineup of original programming.
ESPN Plus is a great streaming service for the tried-and-true sports fans, especially those who follow the NHL, MLS and UFC. This is because ESPN Plus is the new home of all out-of-market National Hockey League games, while also offering out-of-market MLS soccer matches, along with those from other soccer leagues around the world. It hosts exclusive UFC matches and pay-per-view events, such as UFC Fight Night and championship bouts (for additional fees).
NBCUniversal’s streaming service Peacock offers a premium ad-supported option for $6 a month, granting you access to more than 80,000 hours’ worth of content. Upgrade to Premium Plus to watch without commercials. The service no longer offers its free, ad-supported tier to new subscribers, but existing Peacock customers can downgrade their accounts to watch about 10,000 hours of shows, movies, news and live sports. Fan favorites on the platform include the TV series The Office, and viewers can also watch Premier League soccer matches, WWE events and originals like Poker Face. Keep in mind you need a premium account to watch full seasons of most shows.
Paramount Plus brings together live news and sports with on-demand shows and movies, including originals, leaning on parent company Paramount’s brands like CBS, MTV, BET, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and Paramount Network, plus its Paramount Pictures movie studio. Now that Showtime series and movies have merged into the Paramount Plus app, you can upgrade to a premium subscription to watch content from both services in one place.
Despite the price jump to $7 a month, Apple TV Plus stands as the lowest-priced premium, ad-free streaming service available, with high-end features like 4K resolution, HDR and mobile downloads. However, it’s also the only service on this list that includes only original content, and no back catalog of shows or movies to explore. While it now has more than 50 exclusive, big-budget original programming shows and movies, only a few have captured widespread attention, such as Ted Lasso and Severance, while CODA won 2022’s Oscar for Best Picture. Though the service is branching out with additions like live MLB baseball on Fridays, its library is far smaller than any of the others on this list.
Comparing the offerings
Below is a summarized look at each service’s price, simultaneous streams and availability of ad-based plans to help you decide which platforms are a good fit for you.
Streaming services compared
Number of streams
Starts at $7
(2 for Standard, 4 on Premium)
Starts at $8
Starts at $10
2 (4 for Ultimate)
Starts at $8
Starts at $6
Starts at $6
Apple TV Plus
How we test streaming services
Chances are you’re already pretty familiar with most of the names on this list, but it’s by no means comprehensive. There are plenty of other ways to stream and hundreds of other choices out there. As we evaluated these particular streaming options, we kept certain things in mind.
This list is ordered based on the numerical value I assigned to each streaming service in their individual review, which I determined by design (i.e. ease of use across different TV and mobile platforms), features (like 4K HDR, mobile downloads, recommendations, watch lists and number of streams), content (number of shows and quality of originals and back catalogs) and value (price compared to these other factors). Click through to the full reviews for more details.
Streaming services FAQ
Are there any tips for internet speed or the best hardware?
To watch any of the services on this list you’ll need a solid internet connection, a compatible device (like a Roku, Amazon Fire TV or Apple TV, a smart TV, phone, tablet or computer) and a valid username and password. CNET offers tips on how to optimize your internet speed for streaming Netflix and these other services.
Which streaming service is the most cost effective?
Ultimately, you can choose any streaming service you want based on price, content and who watches what in your household. But if you’re looking to pare down costs, opt for free platforms or ones that offer the most value for $10 or less. CNET offers tips on how to trim your streaming budget, and we keep up with the latest streaming service deals and discounts. You can always have multiple subscriptions and cancel a service whenever content feels dry.
What about live TV streaming and niche services?
This list includes major on-demand streaming services only. It does not include live TV streaming services for cord-cutters (think Sling TV, YouTube TV, which offer live channels intended to replace cable), free streaming services like Tubi or Crackle or smaller, niche services like Crunchyroll or PBS Kids or regional sports networks. You can check out our other best lists for streaming services that cater to anime, kids and more.