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A cord-cutter’s guide to all the big new streaming services

Adam Epstein
new streaming services

So your brain is exploding trying to understand all the new streaming TV services. You’re not alone.

Making sense of which companies own what content, where that content will be available, how you can access that content, how much everything costs, and whether or not it will be worth your investment are all important questions, and their answers aren’t easy to find in one place. We’re here to help.

We know that four major global media companies are planning to launch streaming services in the near future: WarnerMedia (owner of HBO and Warner Bros.), Disney (owner of Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Pixar), Apple (owner of…phones), and NBCUniversal (owner of The Office and lots of other TV shows and movies). Their goal? Cut into Netflix’s monopoly on streaming, take better advantage of their own libraries and intellectual property, stem the tide of TV cord-cutting, and meet consumers where they are. These four won’t be the last major companies to launch proprietary streaming services, but they are the four worth focusing on for now—they’re the biggest, and the most imminent.

Here is everything we know about HBO Max, Disney+, Apple+, and NBCUniversal’s unnamed streaming service. We will update this story as more information becomes available (and oh boy will it).

HBO Max

hbo max

What is HBO Max?

It’s simple: HBO Max is pretty much the reason AT&T bought Time Warner in the first place.

Not long after the telecommunications giant acquired Time Warner for $85 billion and renamed it WarnerMedia last year, the company announced it was developing a streaming service that would house content from across Warner’s many brands: HBO, TBS, TNT, CNN, and the Warner Bros. film and TV studios, among other assets. Later, it revealed the service would be called HBO Max (even though it includes plenty of non-HBO content), hoping to capitalize on the prestige TV channel’s cherished global brand.

AT&T thinks HBO Max will not only help it compete against Netflix, but that it will also act as something of a buffer for all the DirecTV customers AT&T is losing to cord-cutting. DirecTV, which is owned by AT&T, lost more than a half million subscribers in the first quarter of this year.

What’s included in a subscription?

A lot, actually. WarnerMedia says it will total 10,000 hours of content. These are the main components:

  • Everything from HBO: Game of Thrones, The Leftovers, The Sopranos—you name it. If it aired or will air on the HBO linear TV channel, HBO Max will give you access to it.
  • Ditto for shows from Warner’s suite of cable channels, including TBS, TNT, CNN, truTV, and Cartoon Network.
  • Warner Bros. movies: WarnerMedia owns the streaming rights to many of the countless films produced under the Warner Bros. banner over the years. So most of those films, from A Star Is Born to Batman v Superman, will appear on HBO Max. But the rights to some of them are tied up with other companies. Harry Potter, for instance, will stream exclusively on NBCUniversal until at least 2025—despite it being a Warner Bros. film franchise.
  • Warner Bros. TV shows: The story is the same for shows produced by Warner’s TV unit. WarnerMedia owns the streaming rights to many of them, but not all. Luckily, it’s making things a little easier on us by buying back the rights to many of the shows it licensed out to other services, like Friends. WarnerMedia reclaimed the rights to the beloved 1990s sitcom from Netflix earlier this year.
  • BBC: WarnerMedia recently acquired the streaming rights to several shows produced by BBC, including all 11 seasons of Doctor Who, Luther, and Top Gear.
  • Turner Classic Movies. Thousands of classic films, from Gone With the Wind to Casablanca, air throughout the year on the Turner Classic Movies TV channel, which WarnerMedia owns. At least some of those films will be available to stream on HBO Max.
  • Lots and lots of new stuff: WarnerMedia is developing original programming specifically for HBO Max. These will be called “Max Originals,” according to CNN. Reese Witherspoon and Arrowverse super-producer Greg Berlanti are both producing content for HBO Max. There will be a Dune TV series that serves as a prequel to next year’s feature film. There will also be some kind of sequel series to Gossip Girl.

When does it launch?

A “beta” version of the service will launch later this year, according to the Wall Street Journal. The full version of HBO Max is expected to be available in spring 2020.

How much does it cost?

We don’t know for sure yet, but the Wall Street Journal reported that WarnerMedia is eying a $16-to-$17-per-month price tag, which would be $2 more than a standalone HBO subscription and about $4 more than Netflix.

How do I get it?

If you’re an existing HBO subscriber, then you’ll probably get access to HBO Max automatically. If you don’t pay for HBO, then you’ll have to sign up for the service at its standard price tag.

Why is it called HBO Max?

WarnerMedia is making HBO the centerpiece of the streaming service, which makes a lot of sense, as it’s easily the company’s most lucrative business, with the most famous intellectual property. But it’s also a gamble: The HBO brand has long stood for quality over quantity, so if WarnerMedia suddenly lumps a whole lot of new content under the HBO umbrella (some of which very likely will not live up to the channel’s high standards), then it risks seriously diluting the brand that millions of consumers around the world have come to admire.

How is it different from HBO Go and HBO Now?

HBO Go is the free on-demand streaming component that only HBO cable TV subscribers are given with their subscription. HBO Now is the standalone internet version of HBO that anyone can buy, even without a traditional cable TV subscription. So HBO Max is basically a slightly more expensive HBO Now plus all the other goodies mentioned above.

Do you recommend it?

If you value the HBO brand, then HBO Max would indeed appear to be a very good deal. For just a couple dollars more than a regular HBO subscription, you get all of HBO plus a lot of other cool stuff like Warner Bros. movies and shows produced by the BBC. The price point is steep (relative to Netflix and other options), but we think it’s fair, considering the content it offers.

Disney+

disney plus

What is Disney+?

I mean, you had to know this was coming. The Disney empire knows no bounds. Just as it took over the box office (Quartz member exclusive), Disney now seeks to take over streaming with a robust—and cheaper—Netflix competitor that utilizes its own vast library of content. Disney owns so much stuff that, quite frankly, we’re surprised it took them this long to put it all under one streaming roof.

That roof got much bigger when Disney acquired 20th Century Fox, and all of its film and TV assets, last year. Like AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner (now WarnerMedia), Disney’s Fox buyout was executed specifically with a streaming service in mind.

What’s included in a subscription?

Star Wars, superheroes, and Pixar, oh my. And that’s just the half of it.

  • Star Wars: All past, present, and future films and TV series that take place in Lucasfilm’s Star Wars universe will be available on Disney+. That includes all the oldies like Star Wars: A New Hope, but also new stuff, like the upcoming series The Mandalorian, produced exclusively for the streaming service.
  • Marvel movies: Disney+ will be the streaming home for all future Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films. Meaning every new Marvel movie starting from this point forward will eventually end up streamable on Disney+. The caveat is that not all past Marvel movies will be available on the service—at least not immediately. As with some of Warner Bros.’ content, the streaming rights to some Marvel movies are still tied up with other services. We know that at launch, at least four Marvel movies will be part of Disney+: Captain Marvel, Iron Man, Iron Man 3, and Thor: The Dark World, with Avengers: Endgame following a few months after the service launches. According to CNet, Disney will add a number of other Marvel titles, including Black Panther, to the service over the course of its first year—but we’re not sure exactly when.
  • New Lucasfilm and Marvel exclusives: There will be lots of new Marvel content exclusive to Disney+ as well, like the Marvel TV series Loki, Hawkeye, WandaVision and the aforementioned Star Wars series The Mandalorian.
  • Pixar: Every Pixar movie except Toy Story 4 (which recently came out in theaters) will be available on Disney+ at launch. Toy Story 4 probably won’t be too far behind.
  • All 30 seasons of The Simpsons
  • All the classic animated Disney movies: Disney is ending its longstanding practice of keeping its time-honored classics in a vault, and will allow them all to appear on the Disney+ service. These include The Lion King, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Bambi, etc.
  • Other Disney TV shows, movies, and original content: In total, the service is expected to have about 500 movies and 7,500 episodes of television. CNet has a comprehensive list of every title that’s been announced.

What happens to Disney’s content on Netflix?

Disney has already started pulling many of its shows and movies off the rival streaming service as their licensing agreements run out. Most of it is expected to be gone from Netflix by the end of this year.

When does it launch?

Nov. 12.

How much does it cost?

A standalone Disney+ subscription will cost $7 per month, or $70 for a year. You’ll also be able to sign up for a $13 bundle that includes Disney+ and Disney-owned services Hulu and ESPN+. (Disney bought a controlling stake in Hulu when it finalized its Fox takeover.) Only the ad-supported version of Hulu will be available as part of that bundle. Still, that’s $5 cheaper than if you were to sign up for all three services separately.

How do I get it?

Existing Hulu subscribers will be able to keep that subscription, and then add on Disney+ for an extra fee. Everyone else will have to pay for either the $7-per-month basic Disney+ service or the $13 bundle. Disney also recently announced that Charter’s Spectrum TV customers will be able to sign up for Disney+ directly through their cable plans.

Why is it called Disney+?

Because it’s Disney, you see, except, um, plus. In all seriousness, the “plus” name is all the rage in streaming right now. We don’t hate it—at least it’s consistent.

How is it different from Hulu and ESPN+?

Hulu is a completely different streaming service that just now happens to be owned by Disney as well. The Mouse House currently has a 67% majority stake in the service, with Comcast as a 33% silent partner. Hulu will continue to have much of the same library as it used to, including its many originals, like The Handmaid’s Tale. So that’s not really changing. Disney plans to use Hulu as a “general entertainment” complement to Disney+’s more family-friendly studio offerings. (Read: All R-rated or potentially controversial stuff will stay on Hulu, while Disney+ remains pristine.)

ESPN+ is ESPN’s $5-per-month streaming service (Disney owns ESPN) that includes all kinds of sports programming outside of the main American sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL). So it’s got stuff like boxing, tennis, lacrosse, UFC, golf, cricket, and some MLS coverage.

Do you recommend it?

If you like Disney stuff, then, yes, Disney+ is a must-get. In the near future it will be the only place to stream the vast majority of Marvel, Pixar, and Lucasfilm content as well as Disney’s hundreds of other shows and classic films. The $7 price (or $13 bundle with Hulu and ESPN+) is quite reasonable considering the quality of content the service will offer.

But if you’re just “meh” on Star Wars and superheroes, or couldn’t care less about Bambi, then maybe skip this one. You won’t be missing out on anything you care about.

Apple TV+

Apple plus

What is Apple+?

After pretending for many years that it wasn’t interested in developing original content, Apple finally admitted what we knew to be true: It was developing original content. Now it needs a platform on which to put it all.

Enter Apple TV+, Apple’s answer to Netflix, HBO, and the streaming revolution. The tech company thinks that making its own shows, with big celebrities involved, will diversify its revenue streams, help it take on Netflix, and ultimately enable the company to sell more iPhones and iPads.

What’s included in a subscription?

A number of Apple original series and films. Just how many is unknown. But we think we know a few of the TV shows Apple is developing that are expected to be part of the Apple TV+ launch:

  • The Morning Show: a dramedy about the behind-the-scenes of an American morning TV talk show, starring Reese Witherspoon, Steve Carell, and Jennifer Aniston
  • For All Mankind: an alternate history drama that shows what might have happened if the USSR landed on the Moon before the US and the space race never ended, co-created by Battlestar Galactica producer Ronald D. Moore
  • Mythic Quest: a comedy about a video game development studio, co-created by and starring Rob McElhenney of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
  • Truth Be Told: a legal drama inspired partly by the Serial podcast, starring Octavia Spencer and Aaron Paul

Other shows, like the reimagining of Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi anthology series Amazing Stories, a comedy about Emily Dickinson, and a dystopian drama starring Jason Momoa of Game of Thrones fame should be available soon after launch if they’re not already included at the start. Apple has dozens of original shows, films, and documentaries in the works, including stuff from Oprah Winfrey, JJ Abrams, and Sesame Workshop.

When does it launch?

Fall 2019. Apple aims to have it ready “by November,” Bloomberg reported.

How much will Apple TV+ cost?

Apple hasn’t said, but pretty much anything between about $4 and $15 is possible. Bloomberg reported on Aug. 19 that the service will cost $10 per month (the same as an Apple Music subscription), and likely start with a free trial.

What we do know is that, no matter the price, the service will be ad-free.

How do I get it?

Apple TV+ will reportedly be available in more than 100 countries. It will be part of Apple’s revamped TV app, which Apple is smartly allowing to appear on platforms like Samsung smart TVs, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and more—so you won’t necessarily need an Apple device to download Apple’s TV app and sign up for an Apple TV+ subscription. There have been rumors that Apple could bundle an Apple TV+ subscription with subscriptions for Apple Music and Apple News Plus, but those haven’t been confirmed.

How is it different from Apple TV, the Apple TV app, and Apple TV channels?

Apple has several products with “TV” in their names, and it’s pretty confusing. Here’s a basic rundown:

  • Apple TV: The company’s physical digital media player, similar to Amazon Fire TV and Roku
  • Apple’s “TV” app: Apple’s new version of the Netflix or HBO app. It will be the home for Apple TV+. So if you want to subscribe, you’ll have to download Apple’s TV app on the device of your choice, like you’d do with Netflix, HBO, Amazon Video, Hulu, etc. In addition to containing Apple TV+ content, the TV app will integrate with the iTunes store, so you’ll be able to watch any of the titles in Apple’s iTunes library as part of the app itself. The app comes pre-installed on all iOS and tvOS devices.
  • Apple TV Channels: A completely separate entity from Apple TV+, though both can be accessed through the TV app. Similar to Amazon Prime Video Channels, Apple TV Channels is a way for you to bundle all of your various streaming subscriptions in one place. The early partners that have been announced are HBO, Showtime, Starz, and CBS All Access. Meaning if you subscribe to any of those services, you’ll be able to access them all as part of Apple’s TV Channel service within the TV app. It’s designed to put all your content into one searchable hub. There won’t be any additional charge to take advantage of the Apple TV Channels service apart from what you’re already paying for the third-party subscriptions. In fact, you’ll be able to manage all your viewing and billing for third-party apps through the Apple TV app.

Do you recommend it?

It’s really impossible to say at this point without knowing the price of the service and the quality of the content it will offer. The original content Apple is developing certainly has talented people involved in front of and behind the camera, but we know that doesn’t always translate to success—especially considering Apple, to this point, has been a technology company, and is completely unproven as an entertainment company. Check back for a recommendation later once we have more info.

NBCUniversal

nbcuniversal

What is the service called?

We don’t know yet. Perhaps it’ll hop on the “plus” train and call itself NBCU+. Or maybe it’ll try to be hip and go with something like “Uni” or “NBC All Day” (this is why I’m a journalist and not a branding expert). Whatever they decide, it’ll probably confuse consumers.

What’s included in a subscription?

The Office.

No, really, that’s the main draw right now. The beloved NBC workplace comedy is leaving Netflix next year and will be available on the NBCU streaming service starting in 2021. NBCUniversal has also announced that original series Queer as Folk, One of Us Is Lying, and the third season of A.P. Bio (which NBC is reviving after initially cancelling it) will be exclusive to the streaming service.

The service will have lots of other stuff, of course, but exactly what remains to be seen. The Comcast-owned NBCUniversal has a lot of brands under its umbrella, including a wide variety of cable TV channels (CNBC, MSNBC, Bravo, E!, USA Network, Syfy, etc.) and the Universal Pictures film studio (home to the Fast and Furious and Jurassic World franchises, among others). So it stands to reason that a lot of the shows and movies that are parts of those brands will be included in the NBCUniversal streaming service.

All NBCUniversal has said publicly is that the service “will draw on NBCUniversal’s large content library.” In May, NBCU ad sales chief Linda Yaccarino said that library will be “gigantic.” The company is also expected to develop some new original content for the unnamed service.

When does it launch?

April 2020.

How much does it cost, and how do I get it?

It’s free—with ads—for paying NBC cable-TV subscribers in the US. Cord-cutters will have the option to subscribe to the streaming service separately, but we don’t know how much NBC is going to charge those people yet. Also, Comcast cable and Sky subscribers (Comcast acquired the London-based media conglomerate last year) will have access to the service. There will also be an ad-free version for an extra fee. We don’t know what platforms the service will be available on. Honestly, we hardly know anything about it yet.

How is it different from regular NBC?

NBC is an American TV network, owned by NBCUniversal. But NBCUniversal also owns a lot of other things (as discussed above) which, in addition to NBC shows and content, will be a part of this unnamed streaming service. So NBC content is just one component of it.

Do you recommend it?

Again, we can’t say until we know the exact pricing structure (for non cable-TV subscribers) and the content it will offer. But no matter what’s included, the service will be a no-brainer for existing NBC subscribers, since it’s free. A lot will depend on the price of the ad-free version to recommend whether or not it’s worth upgrading to watch without commercials.

This story was updated on Aug. 20, 2019 (release month and possible monthly price for Apple TV+).

 

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