Video streaming services compared
The best services for watching what you want, when you want.
The best services for watching what you want, when you want.
It seems every month a new video streaming service is being launched, offering more and more niche and exclusive content. We’ve rated the main ones available here and compared what they do and don’t offer.
There are four main types of video-on-demand services: subscription (SVOD), transactional (TVOD) also known as pay-per-view (PPV), free TV-on-demand, and sports streaming.
SVOD is the service most people know about. You pay a monthly fee to access a library of content that’s regularly updated. These services usually offer both movies and television shows.
PPV is more like an online video store. There’s no monthly fee and you rent, and in some cases buy, movies to watch on-demand. There are a few PPV services around – we’ve assessed the main local services.
Free TV-on-demand services are available from the main TV broadcasters, but also combined into Freeview. The content is usually only available for a limited time (a few weeks in most cases) and depends on the deal the broadcaster has with the content distributor. These services play advertisements (though fewer than terrestrial broadcasts). We don’t cover this as part of our trial.
Sports streaming services offer live and on-demand sports either as league-specific, such the services offered by the NBA and NFL, or across a range of sports and leagues. Most major sports can be found on a streaming service.
There are video streaming services that don’t fall neatly into our categories, such as YouTube Premium. It removes all the ads from YouTube and has original shows and movies, but its original content is poor, with mostly reality-style offerings and movies that are vehicles for YouTube celebrities.
There’s also Twitch, the popular platform for watching live streams of video games.
Nearly all SVOD services offer free trials – we recommend trying them before choosing one (or more) and signing up.
Remember you’re not locked into a long-term deal. If you don’t want the service after a couple of months, you can just stop your subscription and sign up to another one. This system means you can “pause” your subscription (your account remains active, but you can’t access content), and restart it again at another time. This is good if you only want to watch a single series on one service. Once it’s over, you can pause your subscription until new episodes arrive.
We graded services on a six-point scale (A-F). Grades are relative not absolute, so an “F” doesn’t mean “fail”, just that it isn’t as good as a “C” in the same category. Grades were calculated using a points system, where points were awarded for:
For high-resolution content (HD and 4K), the best any service can do is “where possible”. This is because they can’t offer content filmed at a low resolution, in a higher one. This is especially true when the service offers TVs shows that were formatted for old TV screen sizes.
It’s not surprising giant international streaming companies have bigger libraries and are available on more platforms than their smaller New Zealand-based counterparts.
Local services hold their own better than you might expect, with local-market exclusives, alongside a smattering of New Zealand content.
Prices for video streaming services average about $13 a month. Spark offers Lightbox free on certain mobile and broadband plans, which means it has a large subscription base.
We asked consumers subscribing to a streaming service to rate their provider. (Note: Lightbox has been purchased by Sky and will be replaced in 2020.)
$17/month (standard plan)
Netflix is available on almost every device and it’s one of the first to offer ultra-high definition (UHD/4K) and high dynamic range (HDR) content where possible. In part this is due to the large amount of exclusive content Netflix releases under its “Originals” banner.
Some shows released as Netflix Originals in New Zealand are rebranded programmes from the US. This includes Star Trek: Discovery and The Good Place. These shows are released weekly, rather than all at once like other Netflix shows.
Netflix offers subtitles on every piece of content and audio descriptions on many. It also allows for some content to be downloaded for offline viewing.
Netflix offers three plans. Its premium package is the only that allows for UHD/HDR streaming, and four screens at the same time. Its basic package only offers SD content.
$9/month (price converted to NZ$ from US$)
Amazon has a massive content library. This includes its Amazon Originals content such as The Grand Tour and American Gods. Prime Video is available on more devices than any service except Netflix. The biggest omission is Chromecast. You can download titles to a device for offline viewing.
The price is what pushes Prime Video to the top over similar services. It’s the cheapest service, but you pay in US$ so it varies with currency fluctuations. Prime Video offers the first six months at a lower rate.
The biggest downside is ease of use. The app is clunky to use, and the website is confusing.
If you own an Amazon Echo device with a screen, you can use it to watch Amazon Prime videos. Using the verbal commands “show me my video library” or “show me my watch list”, you can browse or watch while you do chores, or procrastinate about doing chores.
$10/month (standard plan)
The media powerhouse has entered the streaming market with a very strong service, which has content from Disney along with Marvel, Fox, Star Wars, National Geographic, and Pixar.
While it has lots of exclusive content and the back catalogue is deep, there are gaps. For example, it lacks several Marvel films. It’s assumed this content will be eventually added to Disney+ as the rights leave other services and return to Disney. This is the biggest weakness for Disney+. Otherwise, it feels like a service that would appeal mostly to those with children.
Streaming quality is excellent on every device, though it can be a little slow if you’re using a VPN, as this seems to interfere with the communication to the server. There is a dedicated section of content available in 4K and a lot of content is also available offline.
There are captions available on every piece of content for the hearing impaired.
Neon is Sky TV’s separate streaming service. While you don’t need a Sky subscription to get Neon, it has a lot of the same content.
Neon’s offering includes HBO shows, such as Watchmen, alongside exclusives. It has a good selection though with less content than other services. It does includes a small amount of New Zealand content.
Neon was overhauled in 2020 when it merged with Lightbox and is now available on more devices (including Apple TV) and with more content. It now has closed-captioning but on very few pieces of content. Neon is also available on the new Vodafone TV device. The revamp included the introduction of a 14-day trial period.
Acorn is a specialist service that only offers British TV content. Because of this is has a lower score for content. However, it’s also the least expensive service. This low price makes it attractive as an extra on top of another service, for those who want to add more British content into their viewing diet.
Acorn mostly offers TV shows, but it also has some movies. It offers captions on every piece of content. It isn’t available as a smart TV app, but can be cast through other services.
Apple TV+ is a streaming service that can, confusingly, be found inside the Apple TV app (not to be confused with the physical device, which is also called Apple TV). The app is available on nearly all Apple devices and some smart TVs.
It features a handful of high-production, original content. Right now, it’s probably not enough to justify the monthly subscription price, especially as it’s only available on a few platforms. On the flipside, if you bought a newly released Apple device, you get a free year of Apple TV+, so it’s worth checking out.
Our top two PPV services are from the same company: Google Play Movies and YouTube Movies. They are similar in what they offer, they just do it through different apps.
As the price of movies varies considerably depending on the title, we have given a rough average for a newly released movie. In New Zealand there is no service that allows you to purchase or rent TV shows.
When renting you usually need to watch the content within 30 days, but once you start watching you only have 48 hours.
Google, YouTube and Apple TV are the only platforms that allow you to purchase content, but this process isn’t the same as owning a physical disc. While you can get special features (similar to what you would expect on a Blu-ray), if the service loses the streaming rights then your “bought” movie will disappear from your online library. If this happens to you, contact the service immediately for a refund or compensation.
Linked to your Google account, the Play store has a huge library of content. On your phone or tablet, it’s the same app you use to get apps. If you purchase content in Google Play it will also show up in YouTube and vice versa. This is an easy workaround to get Google Play Movies on an Apple TV, as you can just use the YouTube app.
It’s available on some TVs, but it can also be cast through Chromecasts and Apple AirPlay. You can even use it on your iPhone.
Being owned by the same company means YouTube Movies works the exact same way as Google Play. Both link to your Google account so if you buy content on one service, it’ll appear in the other.
The biggest difference seems to be the recommended movies, as your viewing habits in YouTube seems to affect the suggestions.
While Apple has a large library, it’s severely limited in how you can use it. It is currently only available on Apple devices (including the Apple TV box) as well as certain Samsung, LG and Sony smart TVs. It is not available in browser.
Apple is the only service that offers extra features with movie purchases (such as behind the scenes features or commentary tracks).
The two main players for streaming sport in New Zealand are Spark and Sky. They compete over the rights of various sports leagues and try to offer as much as they can. This is both terrible and great for sports fans.
For example, Spark Sport has domestic cricket including internationals played in New Zealand, while Sky Sport Now has all the cricket the Blackcaps play overseas. This is bad for cricket fans as they have to either choose which games they want to watch or subscribe to both services. However, it’s good for those fans that can’t afford the full package from one service.
Our satisfaction survey found that 62% of users were very satisfied with Sky Sport Now, compared to 53% of Spark Sport users. (Note: Fan Pass has been replaced by Sky Sport Now.)
Spark Sport has a good selection of sports from Premier League football, NFL, and Formula 1 racing to field hockey and swimming. It will also show cricket matches played in New Zealand from 2020.
The service is available on a wide range of devices and platforms. The interface is clunky, and it can be difficult to find what you’re looking for. It can be especially difficult to find when live games are on.
Sky Sport Now is essentially Sky Sport’s television service online. This means it has all the sports Sky does, as well as news and analysis shows and extra PPV events.
At $50 per month it’s expensive. Sky does offer weekly passes for $20 and a yearly pass billed at $40 per month, but you’ll be locked-in for 12 months. The weekly pass is a good option if you just want to watch a single game or weekend tournament.
The user interface is focusses on the content that is being broadcast live rather than on-demand. This can make previously played games hard to find. In general though, it isn’t too difficult to use.
There are separate options for those after a single sports league, especially American sports. The NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA all have their own streaming services that offer live and on-demand content. We have not surveyed these services.
Accessing overseas services, such as Hulu, HBO Now, and BBC iPlayer is simple:
Note: This is how to access legal streaming services, not pirate services. Websites or set-top boxes that offer free access to paid content are illegal and Consumer NZ does not condone their use.