A New York Times writer has assembled three discrete monthly streaming “packages” for dedicated movie watchers to consider.
As someone old enough to remember the “Stop Pay TV!” campaigns that movie theaters and affiliated parties mounted in the late 1960s — “Don’t let Pay TV be the monster in your living room,” blared one such ad — I am occasionally amused that paying for televised entertainment is now pretty much a fact of life. As multidevice streaming rapidly evolves into something like the norm, the concept of cord-cutting has started becoming a reality for some viewers. It’s difficult to find reliable data on how many households have given up cable TV and now get all their television via a streaming add-on like Roku, Amazon Fire or Google Chromecast.
I know two couples who have done this. One of them had a viewing party on election night last November and hoo, boy, things got interesting when a Wi-Fi glitch occurred around 10 p.m. Eastern time. (One thing you should make sure you have before any kind of cable cord-cutting is reliable high-speed internet, without which there’s no streaming.) In any event, it appears that the situation for many consumers involves keeping cable and shuffling various streaming services.
So in addition to all the other monthly bills, we are also, in this scenario, forced to keep up with individual fees for streaming services. Bundling is part of why people opt for cable in the first place, and it’s becoming a feature of certain streaming services; Amazon Instant Video is one of several that lets you piggyback various other services, usually at a slightly reduced fee. “Watching TV is more complicated than ever,” a pitchman on a broadcast ad for TV Guide announced in the 1980s. Wherever that fellow is now, I bet he’s terribly confused.
With all this in mind, I’ve assembled three discrete monthly streaming “packages” for dedicated movie watchers to consider. It’s worth remembering that almost all of the services come with one-month free trials. And with some notable exceptions, almost all the services offer more than just movies.
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Package 1: ‘The Mainstreamer’
Its foundational pillars are Amazon Instant Video ($8.99) and Netflix ($9.99). (For the sake of coherence, I’m going to stick to monthly rates, before taxes; note that Amazon’s video service comes with Amazon Prime’s $99 annual fee.) Hulu carries more television shows than movies, but it’s not light on movies, particularly popular ones. Unless you like to watch commercials, in which case your Hulu will run $7.99, the desirable option will be commercial-free version at $11.99. Add HBO Now ($14.99), Starz ($8.99) and Showtime ($10.99). That’s $65.94 worth of monthly streaming. (Explorers of Amazon Instant Video/Amazon Prime will point out that there’s a good deal of HBO programming already free through the service; this doesn’t include movies currently on HBO, or the most recent original programming, including made-for-the-channel movies. This is worth considering when determining whether or not to add HBO Now.) But if you want to rent or purchase a film on demand, either a classic or something recently released in theaters, there are also movies available à la carte, from $2.99 to $14.99, available on Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, iTunes and more. Let’s postulate that each month you spend $2.99, $4.99 and $14.99 on a single movie from one of these — that’s $22.97. So the services and a few potentially spur-of-the-moment purchases, you’re looking at $88.91. Not exactly cheap, but were I to pitch it to you with the proviso “Less Than $100 a Month,” you might think, “Not bad.”
Package 2 ‘The Buff’
These are movie-only or movie-heavy sites that offer cinema of a more artistic, esoteric, possibly obscure bent, and reject American cultural hegemony by, in most cases, going around the world for their fare. I’d say the foundation would be FilmStruck with the Criterion Channel option at $10.99 a month. It’s $6.99 a month without Criterion, but you’ll want Criterion, for its smartly chosen array of largely foreign cinematic milestones. Warner Archive ($9.99) is the odds and ends of a great American studio, not a very global concern but still full of enticing options. Then there’s the limited-run streaming art house Mubi ($4.99), which does offer one of the most enticing yearly subscription discounts, at $34.99. Fandor, an eclectic and often exciting service with thousands of movies ranging from martial arts romps such as “Master of the Flying Guillotine” to expansive, obscure French brainteasers like “Out 1,” is $10 a month. And the solid indie provider Sundance Now, which also offers original series, is $6.99. That’s about $43 a month (less than $41 if you take the Mubi yearly subscription.)
Package 3 ‘The Fringe’
If you like genre movies above all, or like digging for cinematic thrills in obscure but not necessarily arty corners, this might be a good option. You’ll need Warner Archive ($9.99); the blaxploitation service Brown Sugar ($3.99); and Shudder, a horror service ($4.99), which recently made waves by offering the controversial Ken Russell nuns-gone-wild film “The Devils”; finicky horror lovers almost immediately protested on social media that it was not the uncut version. (In fairness to Shudder, the actual provenance of an uncut version of this movie is highly obscure.) Amazon’s video service is rife with noir titles in various states of disrepair or restoration. A lot of genre stuff in the public domain (until a copyright owner can effectively yell “Foul!”) is on YouTube, which is free; for the sake of argument, we’ll add YouTubeRed ($9.99) to this bill of fare. Crunchyroll has an anime-only membership for $6.95. And the Urban Movie Channel ($4.99) is not as blaxploitation-heavy as Brown Sugar, but it doesn’t exactly lack, either, especially when it comes to latter-day genre variants like the Southern sins-of-the-fathers 2009 thriller “In the Electric Mist” or the bayou-psychic tale “The Sickle” (2015). Total: a little over $45; with Amazon added as a digging option, a little under $55.
All this of course can be supplemented by free services other than YouTube, like Vimeo. If only there was a service that would allow one to buy leisure time, we’d be all set.