With online media services becoming entrenched, they are changing the way many of us consume media. These subscription-based services can be a boon to consumers, particularly those voracious users who can absolutely find value in the all-you-can-eat entertainment model.
But how to do get the best deal, or find the right services for you? Here’s a quick look at several of the players in video, music and reading spaces. One thing to keep in mind: most of these services offer a free trial to get you hooked.
This is probably the best-known place to use streaming, due to the popularity of Netflix. There are changes coming here, as Netflix increases its price and Crave TV expands to become available to all Canadians in January.
Cost: Free month-long trial. Basic plan (one stream and no HD content) is $8.99 a month. Premium plan (four streams and HD content) is $11.99 a month.
Need to know: With more than 69 million subscribers in over 40 countries, this is the company that popularized streaming video. It has a solid library of TV and movies, and is on a roll with original content, including series like House of Cards, Daredevil and Master of None.
Deal maker: Some deride the company’s Canadian library (which differs from what’s available in the U.S.). With a virtual private network or a proxy server that masks location, users can access content in different Netflix versions from around the world, greatly increasing the content available.
Deal breaker: The library is constantly changing, with some series or movies unexpectedly dropping off the service. The increasing number of competitors may make the library even worse over time.
Rating: 4 stars
Cost: $8.99 a month.
Need to know: This Canadian-born streaming service is the child of Rogers and Shaw, and the service has made exclusive deals with some broadcasters. There are also robust curated collections and kids content.
Deal maker: Library additions come every week. If you are a Rogers customer, they might give you a deal for signing up. It is available for all Canadians. It also might work through your cable box, where household data caps aren’t affected.
Deal breaker: Once you see what the other guys have, the library doesn’t look impressive.
Rating: 3 stars
Cost: Unknown. Despite a scheduled public launch in January 2016, Bell Media has yet to confirm a price for the service. Expect something in the $6.99 to $9.99 range.
Need to know: Bell Media’s service launched for the company’s customers earlier this year, but becomes available to all Canadians in January.
Deal maker: Of the Canadian offerings, this is the strongest, particularly thanks to the back catalogue of HBO’s completed series, Seinfeld and some other classic series. It is also offering some sports content, such as CFL documentaries produced by TSN.
Deal breaker: Still not quite as good as Netflix. It also lacks enough kids’ content.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Need to know: This is Sony’s free, ad-supported streaming service, and while it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the other guys, but it does have Sony content and hidden gems.
Deal maker: It has The Tick live-action series, and Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Having Coffee. Did we say it was free?
Deal breaker: There are ads — and not a lot of them, so you’ll see the same ones again and again. Also, some content is only available in standard definition.
Rating: 2.5 stars
While video services compete by offering different content, the problem with music services is that they are similar, with giant libraries of content and nearly identical prices.
Cost: Free version that allows shuffle play. Premium costs $9.99 a month.
Need to know: The leader in the music clubhouse right now, with 75 millions users — 25 million paid — the company has more than 30 million tracks, and is innovating and adding features like with automatically optimized running playlists.
Deal maker: Excellent library, available on many devices, and is quick to add new music. Working on adding deals and partners, like Sony PlayStation consoles. Offers Discover Weekly, a personalized music suggestion service.
Deal breaker: You have to go premium to understand why it’s good. And there are video functionality and other features, like a Family pricing plan, that aren’t available in Canada.
Rating: 4 Stars
Cost: $9.99 a month for single users. Family plan is $14.99 a month, allowing up to six people to share the plan.
Need to know: Working through iTunes, Apple Music’s library is good, and it features human-curated playlists and Beats 1, the company’s Internet radio station. If you’ve bought a lot of music through iTunes, this is a seamless way to access your existing collection along with all the songs you can stream.
Deal maker: Solid recommendations and playlists, and Beats 1 is very good, with several well-known artists (Pharrell Williams, Dr. Dre) hosting shows.
Deal breaker: Still a work in progress, with clunky interface issues and complaints about how it re-organizes iTunes libraries on computers. One to watch, as it will hopefully improve over time.
Rating: 3 stars
Cost: 30-day free trial. $9.99 standard plan. $19.99 premium plan that allows access to high-definition audio files.
Need to know: Jay-Z’s streaming service has had a troubled launch, but it has many artists supporting it. One point of differentiation: it uses hi-res audio files to entice audiophiles.
Deal maker: If you can’t stand MP3 compression, the high-resolution audio is the big reason to sign up. It is also starting to use its artists’ connections to offer exclusive concerts and provide early access to tickets, like in the case of Rihanna’s next tour.
Deal breaker: Since its launch, there have been plenty of stories of behind-the-scenes turmoil. It might be one service that eventually follows Rdio into oblivion.
Rating 2.5 stars
Google Play Music
Cost: Free version offers curated playlists. Premium is $9.99 a month.
Need to know: The search-engine giant’s streaming service features more than 30 million songs. It also offers an online music locker that lets you store and access up to 50,000 songs from your own private collection.
Deal maker: The digital locker is really the point of differentiation, although the service seems to be improving and adding features over time.
Deal breaker: While not yet available in Canada, Google’s subsidiary, YouTube, has also launched two services, YouTube Music Key and YouTube Red. Those add a massive amount of video and music content, so it might be worth waiting until they arrive to see how they compare.
Ratings 3 stars
These services are little under the radar, likely because there is no shortage of things to read online, but for specific types of content, they are growing.
Cost: Two-week free trial, $8.99 a month.
Need to know: This online service started as online document-storage service — and still has access to many of those files — but now features all-you-can-read books, audiobooks and comics. It is often called the Netflix for books, and if you love to read, the selection is amazing, with more than 1 million titles from some of the biggest publishers in the world.
Deal maker: It keeps getting better, adding audiobooks and beefing up its comics selection, including several independent publishers. Well organized, with suggestions based on what you have previously read there.
Deal breaker: You won’t find the latest bestseller here, as it takes a little time to make it onto the service.
Rating: 4 stars
Cost: $10 a month for monthly issues, $15 to include weekly publications.
Need to know: This started as Next Issue, but after a recent update, it’s now Texture. Brought to Canada by Rogers, this service features more than 100 magazines from some of the biggest publishers in North America. The update even provides more interactivity, such as suggested articles.
Deal maker: Good archives, and some publications have slick tablet editions you can access. For magazine junkies, it’s worth it. Doing the math, if you subscribe to the New Yorker and perhaps one to two publications, Texture is a better deal.
Deal breaker: Like with all things, there are likely a few important publications — The Atlantic is one — that you won’t find here.
Rating: 4 Stars
Cost: $29.99 a month
Need to know: This service features newspapers and magazines and has digital access to more than 200 publications from around the world. It is a very papery experience, basically featuring PDFs of the publications.
Deal maker: Incredible selection that easily makes it the newspaper fan’s dream.
Deal breaker: At $29.95 a month, it’s a deal for what you get, but far more expensive than other services.
Rating: 3 Stars
Cost: $9.99 a month. Annual plan costs $69.99.
Need to know: The comics giant has its own all-you-can-read service, with varying price plans for monthly, yearly and premium access. The reading experience is good, with a panel-by-panel option that works great on smart phones.
Deal maker: All Marvel, all the time. Great access to archives and good layout.
Deal breaker: There is a still a six-month delay until new print issues arrive here.
Ratings: 3.5 stars