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The best cheap streaming service might not be the one you expect

Trying to find the best cheap streaming service often comes down to taking a series of risks. But when Netflix’s Standard plan ($15.49 / £10.99 / AU$16.99 per month) just took another price hike, we can’t argue with anyone looking for a more affordable way to stream great movies and shows at home.

You might think that one of the best free streaming services is the way to go, but none of these options really stand up to even the most affordable entries on our list of best streaming services. Which is why I thought it was a good time to speak poetically about one of the most underrated (and affordable) streaming services out there.

Of course, your mileage on this may vary – which is why I’ll also mention the other cheap streaming services available to take a look. But for my money, Apple TV Plus is the best cheap streaming service. And yes, I’m a little shocked to say that.

Apple TV Plus didn’t start out as the best cheap streaming service

When Apple TV Plus ($4.99 / £4.99 / AU$7.99 per month (opens in a new tab)) came out for the first time, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Its first batch of shows had two winners among critics in the form of For All Mankind and Dickinson, while See and The Morning Show were more controversial.

And after that point, many would-be viewers kind of took a breather when it came to even considering Apple TV Plus. I certainly found it interesting that Apple wouldn’t let me pay for Apple TV Plus because it extended its free trials for months and months. That didn’t seem like a strong sign for the service, but it did indicate that Apple knew internally that there was something better coming around the pike.

Jason Sudeikis in Ted Lasso

(Image credit: Apple)

Those better days for Apple TV Plus came at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, just when everyone needed more to watch, which makes us more and more okay with spending more on streaming services. I would say Ted Lasso, Beastie Boys Story, and Mythic Quest are some of the strongest early tracks in Apple’s lineup. Schmidadon! also aroused interest.

Mythic Quest Season 2 improved from the first season, and then Ted Lasso Season 2 arrived on mostly positive notes. And while it may not have been as popular as the first season, it was strong enough to make us want Ted Lasso Season 3.

But then Apple TV Plus became a great value

Emilia Jones and Marlee Matlin in CODA

(Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

The second half of 2021 and the start of 2022 is when Apple TV Plus took the lead. It all started with CODA, the eventual Best Picture winner which dropped on August 13, 2021. It’s a beautiful drama about being a child of deaf adults (literally what CODA stands for) that doesn’t wasn’t my cup of tea and I put off watching until the hype around it forced my hand. And I loved the movie.

Next, Apple became the exclusive online home of the A24 movie The Tragedy of Macbeth (January 14, 2022). The Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand-led version of The Scottish Play written and directed by Joel Coen might not be for everyone, but it’s a huge plus for Apple. A brilliant film with strong performances from its protagonists and a great minimalist look, The Tragedy of Macbeth is a sleeper on Apple TV Plus (which I was lucky enough to see in IMAX).

Denzel Washington in The Tragedy of Macbeth

(Image credit: Apple TV+)

Some of Apple’s best TV shows came soon after, starting with The Afterparty – a comedic murder mystery where each episode is told in a different style. It all works because the show revolves around interrogations led by the charismatic Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish) and each of the potential suspects is so charismatic, weird, or unique.

The Afterparty features a strong cast including Sam Richardson (I Think You Should Leave), Zoë Chao (Strangers), Ike Barinholtz (The Mindy Project, Blockers), Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation, Sonic), Ilana Glazer (Broad City ) and Dave Franco (21 Jump Street). The Afterparty is so good, in fact, that The Afterparty Season 2 is already in the works.

Tiffany Haddish as Detective Danner and John Early as Detective Culp in The Afterparty

(Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

Of course, however, I couldn’t go any further without mentioning Severance. The Adam Scott-led drama smacks of the Black Mirror from the outside and quickly became this new show. You know how Ted Lasso’s antics were the thing on everyone’s lips? How Showtime’s Yellowjackets took over the conversation?

Severance’s super weird story of a company that pioneered a disturbing approach to work/life balance that sends a part of you to work essentially forever is the show that made many reconsider at how highly they rate Apple TV Plus.

Adam Scott, Zach Cherry, John Turturro and Britt Lower in Severance

(Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

And then, following Severance, Apple TV Plus dropped a whole lot more. The ever-changing Shining Girls sees Elizabeth Moss star in a trauma mystery series, Gary Oldman drove Slow Horses to rave reviews, and the prestigious Pachinko adapted a 98%-scoring bestselling novel Rotten Tomatoes (a second series is on its way). confirmed).

Oh, and dinosaur fans rush to Prehistoric Planet, the new series that features incredible visual effects and narration by David Attenborough.

Other cheap streaming services offer what Apple lacks

Admittedly, all of the above focuses strictly on original and exclusive programming. That’s what Apple TV Plus does (besides also showing MLB games on Fridays, as the service dabbles in live sports).

And so I must note that Apple TV Plus does not have a library of licensed movies and TV shows like Peacock Premium ($4.99/£9.99 per month (opens in a new tab)) and Paramount Plus ($4.99 / £6.99 / AU$8.99 per month (opens in a new tab)) do.

Rebecca Romijn as Number One, Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike, and Ethan Peck as Science Officer Spock in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

(Image credit: Paramount via StarTrek.com)

Then again, none of these services killed it on the originals like Apple did. They’re not particularly bad, but their wins aren’t that many if you ask me. Peacock has a handful of attractions (Rutherford Falls, Girls5Eva, We Are Lady Parts, Vigil and Hitmen included), while Paramount Plus rocks 1883, Evil, South Park specials, The Good Fight, new Star Trek shows and RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars.

These services are, however, stronger for global catalogs of content, which are mostly based on things they didn’t create, based on research by ReelGood. The service has measured how many movies and shows you get for your money (opens in a new tab)and so let’s look at how these services stack up (as of April 2022).

Service Total number of movies Total number of shows
Apple TV Plus 44 81
Peacock Bounty 2,051 972
Paramount More 2,257 738

So if you judge a service by the size of its library, I can understand why we disagree. ReelGood aggregates originals and licensed programming with its numbers, and says that when it comes to content with IMDb ratings of 8.0 and above, Paramount Plus (90 movies and 59 shows) and Peacock Premium (104 movies and 77 shows) also beat out Apple TV Plus (14 movies and 13 shows).

But I would say that original programming is the real measuring stick of a good streaming service. And if you’re not earning on original programming, you’re a streaming service earning through a rented library — and those contracts are sold out. It’s rare that we see a service like Disney Plus win Netflix’s Defenders Saga Marvel shows, but it does happen.

Peacock and Paramount Plus also offer live sports and news, which Apple only started to dive into with Friday Night Baseball.

At the end of the line

It’s also worth noting that you can get Apple TV Plus for even less, though that requires you to be immersed in the Apple ecosystem. Because I use Apple Music and the 2TB iCloud plan for my photos and videos, I would already be paying $19.98 per month. By upgrading to the Apple One Premier package ($29.95 / £29.95 / AU$39.95), I get Apple TV Plus (the service I use the most after the two above), Apple Arcade, Apple News Plus and Apple Fitness Plus for $10 more. So if you’re like me and use Apple’s services, consider this a way to save even more by bundling.

Oh, and you know how Paramount Plus and Peacock charge $5 to get rid of ads? Apple doesn’t have commercial breaks on its shows – a nice perk that’s practically designed to go unnoticed.

I admit that Apple TV Plus’ emphasis on originals isn’t everything for everyone. But the amount of quality original programming you can get for $5 a month is excellent. I’m not saying you should get Apple TV Plus now and keep it forever. At the very least, it’s a great short-term investment.