Best streaming services 2021: From Disney+ to Netflix, here’s how to find TV and movies on demand

Watch classic Simpsons episodes and the latest Marvel blockbusters with our pick of the best online streaming platforms around

Steve Hogarty
Monday 26 April 2021 16:37
<p>There’s more to streaming than Netflix</p>

There’s more to streaming than Netflix

While new rivals are surging in popularity, the best streaming service in the UK right now is still Netflix. The dominant platform boasts the greatest selection of shows and movies to watch, and while the cost of admission has been creeping ever upwards, less established streaming services struggle to match Netflix for its sheer breadth of content.

But those Netflix alternatives are still worth considering, and each has its own advantages. Amazon Prime Video is in its ascendency, consistently adding exclusive original TV shows to its library.

Many platforms are also luring in viewers with better value plans, higher quality video streams and the option to view shows offline.

Disney+ has the backing of the world’s biggest entertainment franchises (and their fanbases) and while cinemas are closed it’s been something of a proving ground for launching new releases directly into the living room.

Flexible streaming services like Now let you build your own subscription by picking and choosing from a selection of plans to suit viewers who want to watch movies, TV shows or live sports events.

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And free streaming platforms like All 4 and BBC iPlayer have grown their catalogues of films and classic TV box sets so much since launch that they’re now a serious alternative to paying a monthly subscription to stream.

Whatever you’re in the mood to watch, we’ve rounded up a selection of the best streaming services to suit a range of tastes, taking into consideration their cost, ease of use, and their best exclusives.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Netflix

The king of the streaming services is still the best all-round solution to watching TV shows and movies on demand, though as it approaches the 10th anniversary of its UK debut, it’s becoming one of the more expensive streaming options in our list. Still, a near-psychic recommendation algorithm, unbeatable exclusive shows and a constantly refreshing library of new and classic content ensures you’re never short of something to watch.

With the platform’s push into original programming, Netflix is also now the only place to watch some critically acclaimed TV shows, including animated comedy BoJack Horseman, 80s horror hit Stranger Things, and high-concept comedy-drama Russian Doll. You have to sift to find the real gold however — a recent spate of Netflix Original turkeys might make you hesitate before hitting that subscribe button.

How much does Netflix cost?

There are three tiers. The basic plan costs £5.99 per month and allows unlimited viewing in standard definition and on one screen. The standard plan costs £9.99 per month and allows you to watch in HD in two rooms at the same time. The premium plan costs £13.99 per month and lets you use four screens and watch in 4K.

Is there a Netflix free trial?

Netflix no longer offers a free trial.

Watch Netflix now

Disney+

Launched to deafening fanfare in the UK last year, Disney’s streaming service is currently rocketing in popularity thanks in large part to The Mandalorian and WandaVision, two series which were among the most talked about television in recent months. The voracious media empire’s catalogue includes almost every entertainment franchise going, from The Simpsons and animated Disney films both classic and modern, to box office blockbusters from the Marvel and Star Wars universes.

Such a broad selection of favourites, from Frozen to Captain America, makes Disney+ the best streaming service for families. There are some holes in the content library — not everything under the Disney umbrella is on here — but you or someone in your home is undoubtedly already a huge fan of something Disney has to offer.

How much does Disney+ cost?

Disney+ costs £7.99 per month, or £79.90 per year.

Is there a Disney+ free trial?

Yes. After creating an account you can cancel anytime in the first seven days and you won’t be charged.

Watch Disney+ now

Amazon’s own streaming service crept in through the back door, as anyone who was paying for an Amazon Prime subscription for its one-day shipping option also unlocked full access to Prime Video and Amazon Music. Since launch, Amazon Prime Video has grown to become the second biggest streaming platform in the UK, expanding its streaming catalogue to include a bunch of highly rated original programming, such as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, The Expanse, and The Boys.

Much of the content on the platform can only be rented or bought for an extra charge, which is frustrating when searching for something to stream for free. The Amazon Prime Video interface is tricky to navigate and persistently highlights paid content ahead of free streams, but learn to negotiate its menus and your reward is a streaming service excellent enough to topple Netflix.

How much does Amazon Prime Video cost?

Amazon Prime membership (which includes premium delivery on Amazon, as well as Amazon Music and Prime Video) costs £7.99 per month, or £79 per year. If you only want Prime Video, it’s £5.99 per month.

Is there an Amazon Prime Video free trial?

Yes. You can try Amazon Prime membership free for 30 days.

Watch Amazon Prime Video now

BBC iPlayer

While sometimes overshadowed by flashier premium services, the humble BBC iPlayer remains one of the best streaming services in the world thanks to its expanding collection of world-class titles from British telly and beyond — and it’s free for anyone who pays for a TV licence. It’s the only place to catch up on some of the best shows on telly right now, including the entire boxset of British cop drama Line of Duty.

BBC iPlayer is also home to internationally acclaimed shows like Normal People, Killing Eve and the multi-award winning Fleabag. The platform has top movies available to stream (though usually only briefly) and offers on demand access to most CBeebies content — a lockdown lifeline for many.

How much does BBC iPlayer cost?

BBC iPlayer is free, and funded by the TV licence which costs £159 per year.

Is there a BBC iPlayer free trial?

Nope. Shows on BBC iPlayer are free to watch for everyone in the UK with a TV licence.

Watch BBC iPlayer now

Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman, available on Now

Now (formerly called Now TV) is a streaming service operated by Sky, and whose catalogue of shows most notably includes big hitters from HBO and Showtime. The service soared in popularity at the height of Game of Thrones mania, when it became the only place in the UK for non-Sky customers to watch the show live (it became so popular in fact, that the streaming platform infamously crashed during the season finale). Since then the streaming service has improved immensely, and it’s been home to brilliant shows like the unmissable docu-drama Chernobyl and science-fiction horror Dark.

Now uses “memberships” to give viewers access to different sections of Sky’s enormous library of movies and TV shows, as well as live entertainment and sport, so you can mix and match to create a streaming service that suits your tastes, and all without locking into an annual Sky contract. Now is a flexible streaming platform with a selection of reliably exceptional shows.

How much does Now cost?

Now offers a variety of memberships so you can build your own subscription. The Entertainment Membership costs £9.99 per month. The Cinema Membership costs £11.99 per month. The Sports Membership is £9.99 for a single day of access, or £33.99 for a month. Hayu Membership (showing US reality TV shows) is £4.99 per month. Kids Membership costs £3.99. You can also “boost” your resolution into HD and add more screens with an additional £3 payment.

Is there a Now free trial?

Most Now memberships offer a seven day free trial.

Watch Now now

All 4

We blame All 4 for the invention of the word “bingeable”. Channel 4’s ad-supported, free streaming service is the place to catch up with the absolute finest reality television the UK has yet created, including Made In Chelsea, Naked Attraction, Gogglebox and The Great British Bake Off.

All 4 isn’t just a catch-up service. There’s an eclectic selection of brilliant shows to be found in the archives — including complete box sets of classics like ER, The West Wing and Buffy the Vampire Slayer — as well countless episodes of world-class comedies like Derry Girls, Peep Show and Taskmaster. The app is available on most devices, and allows certain shows to be downloaded and viewed offline.

How much does All 4 cost?

All 4 is free with advertising breaks. You can remove ads by upgrading to All 4+ for £3.99 per month or £39.99 per year.

Is there an All 4+ free trial?

Yes. There’s a 14 day free trial of All 4+ when you subscribe, which can be cancelled at any time.

Watch All 4 now

National Theatre at Home

Like every other live venue across the country, lockdown has left the National Theatre facing an existential threat. With theatre audiences unlikely to return to crowded auditoriums any time soon, the theatre company turned to novel ways to fund itself and continue paying actors and staff. National Theatre at Home is a new streaming platform allowing viewers to watch beautifully produced live recordings of a selection of stand-out plays from a handful of associated London theatres.

There’s the option to rent a single show or subscribe to unlock the full catalogue, which changes from month to month, and currently includes a breathtaking performance from Andrew Garfield in the epic Angels in America, and enduring stage classics like Amadeus. National Theatre at Home might not be the ideal way to watch theatre, but it’s the perfect stopgap for those who can’t wait to wedge themselves back into those teeny seats.

How much does National Theatre at Home cost?

National Theatre at Home costs £9.99 per month or £99.99 per year. Single plays can be rented for three days for £7.99.

Is there a National Theatre at Home free trial?

There’s no free trial, but the National Theatre regularly streams plays for free on its YouTube channel.

Watch National Theatre at Home now

Apple TV+

Apple doesn’t make it easy to understand the difference between Apple TV and Apple TV Plus, so let’s try to clear up that confusion. There’s the Apple TV product, a physical set-top box you plug into your TV. There’s the Apple TV app, which comes installed on iOS devices and pulls together content from other streaming services into one place. And then there’s Apple TV Plus, a stand-alone, Netflix-style streaming service where you can watch Apple’s own original programming.

The choice of shows to watch on Apple TV Plus is relatively anaemic, as the streaming service only hosts its own, self-made, big-budget originals, though there are rumours Apple is planning to license older shows to bolster its catalogue. If you’ve bought an Apple device recently, you’ve likely been given a year’s free access to Apple TV Plus, so it’s worth checking out some of the better rated shows in the library, such as the Jason Sudeikis fronted comedy Ted Lasso, and the star-saturated The Morning Show, with Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell.

How much does Apple TV Plus cost?

Apple TV Plus costs £4.99 per month.

Is there an Apple TV Plus free trial?

One year of free Apple TV Plus is included with the purchase of any new Apple device. There’s a free seven day trial with your first monthly subscription to Apple TV Plus.

Watch Apple TV Plus now

Britbox

A streaming service created by the BBC and ITV, Britbox offers around 290 box sets of classic British TV shows like Doctor Who and ‘Allo Allo, as well as over 60 films including such classics as Attack The Block and, who could resist, the entire set of Carry On films.

Though much of what’s available here can be found for free on iPlayer, ITV Hub and All 4, you can’t fault the service’s laser sharp focus on British entertainment — and unlike those rival platforms, Britbox can be streamed abroad in the US and Canada. For UK viewers however, there’s perhaps not quite enough original content here yet to justify the subscription.

How much does Britbox cost?

Britbox costs £5.99 per month or £59.99 per year.

Is there a Britbox free trial?

Yes. After creating an account you can cancel anytime in the first seven days and you won’t be charged.

Watch Britbox now

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