Netflix, Amazon, Sky, MUBI, iTunes and beyond – the best on-demand services compared
New to on-demand or just confused by the options? Read our quick guide to the best TV services for film-lovers
From Netflix to Amazon, Sky to MUBI, we round up some of the best on-demand TV services available now. Many offer free trials, allowing you to experience the service before you commit to using your credit card, so read our guide and shop around to find the best service to suit you.
£7.99/month (more for HD)
Best for: Original content
Why subscribe? To “Netflix” is fast becoming a universal verb for online TV, much like we “google” something or do the “hoovering”. Among the first to commit to online, Netflix boasts both a large catalogue and smart recommendation software. The more you watch, the better it knows you. Now it has moved onto making its own programmes and films. Acclaimed series like The Crown, Narcos and Stranger Things prove that brilliant television is no longer confined to the TV schedules. The service also nabs certain films before Sky Movies and Freeview, including La La Land, as well as hosting original films such as Annihilation. You can also download selected content to watch offline.
Prime subscription: £7.99/month; £79/year; Instant Video: Around £2 per episode or £20 per TV series;
Rent new movies for £3.49 in SD or £4.49 in HD
Best for: Binge-watching TV
Why subscribe? Amazon’s first attempt at on demand – the unloved LoveFilm – was replaced by Amazon Instant Video. As well as buying programmes and films individually, it offers a Netflix-style subscription called Amazon Prime Instant Video (quite a mouthful) with thousands of titles included – many of which are available to download to watch off-line. It can be confusing, as some series are included in the Prime package but require you to purchase later episodes. Yet with next-day delivery from the Amazon store bundled in, original shows like The Man in the High Castle plus more movies than you could ever get through, Amazon gets ever more tempting.
BBC iPlayer / All4 / ITV Hub / My5
Best for: Classic British gems
Why watch? Most people’s experience with on demand television started with BBC iPlayer: watching what you wanted to see, when you wanted to see it, freed you from having to rely on the schedules for your viewing. Many films are also available on catch-up for up to a month after transmission. If you want to buy and keep BBC content, head to BBC Store.
Of the other big channel catch-up services, Channel 4 has a vast amount of its archive online for free on its All4 service. The ITV Hub allows access to the ITV Player, which, like My5 (serving Channel 5), offer viewers the chance to catch up with content for a week after broadcast. You'll have to put up with the adverts, though, although ITV Hub+ allows you to remove these for a fee.
Around £2.50 per TV episode, around £25 per series;
Rent new movies for £3.49 in SD or £4.49 in HD
Best for: Ubiquity
Why use it? Having trouble finding a particular box set or new movie release? Relax, you’ll probably be able to find it on iTunes. You don’t subscribe to this service, instead you buy or rent shows or films. It’s expensive, but because you download and keep the files rather than stream them, you don’t need a web connection. If you use an iPhone or other Apple gadget, iTunes is unavoidable.
Sky On Demand/Sky Go: Free with Sky Subscription
Now TV: Entertainment £6.99/month; Movies £9.99/month
Best for: HBO shows and movies
Why subscribe? Now TV is Sky for people without Sky. Instead of a long contract you buy month-long access to content from channels, including Sky Atlantic. If you’re a Sky customer, Sky On Demand has a changing selection of box sets on your TV, while Sky Go extends your package to your PC, tablet or phone. All three services have an impressive line-up of American shows, while movies typically arrive on the platform six months after they debut on DVD.
Best for: Cult, old classics, indie and foreign movies
Why subscribe? Unlike many of the services out there, the programmers of MUBI actually appear to care about their content. Some might be put off by the lack of familiar titles, but the inclusion of trailers and previews may convince you to try something outside your comfort zone. There are 30 films to view at any time, with one added and one removed every day on a rolling basis, so you know exactly how long you have to watch them before they disappear. The interface is attractive and easy to use and you can download all content to watch offline.
Best for: Modern movie favourites
Why subscribe? One for customers of digital TV provider TalkTalk only, this service is a similar proposition to MUBI, but with a more familiar line-up of titles, PictureBox offers 60 films at any one time, and the roster is regularly updated every Friday with eight or so titles added and the same amount taken away. Don’t expect the newest releases, but, much like Sky’s On-demand service, you’ll never be short of reliable popcorn entertainment along the lines of the Back to the Future trilogy, the Bourne films plus the odd film that has yet to appear on Sky Movies or Freeview.
£10 for cinema releases; £4.50 for new-to-DVD titles, older titles cheaper
Discounts for Curzon members
Best for: New indie cinema releases
Why use it? If Hollywood's latest superhero epic doesn't float your boat, and you don't have an independent picture house on your doorstep, then Curzon Home Cinema may well be the answer to your prayers. Curzon is one of the UK's largest independent-cinema groups, and the big draw for their service is the ability to rent new films on the day of their cinema release. Those films then become cheaper to view when they arrive on DVD, before being reduced again further down the line.
£4.99/month or £49.99/year
Best for: Horror
Why subscribe? Essentially a Netflix for horror lovers, Shudder offers a range of old and new movies, many of which are unavailable elsewhere. Featuring premieres fresh from Frightfest as well as curated collections from those in the know, this is the place to go to get your scares on.
Free archive; up to £4.50 for individual titles; £4.99/month for BFI Player+
Discounts for BFI members
Best for: Curated collections and curiosities
Why subscribe: The British Film Institute's streaming service is an Aladdin's cave of delights. You can lose yourself exploring newsreel and community films from bygone days for free. For a DVD-rental premium, you can check out the latest art-house releases and old classics linked to current and past BFI seasons. And finally there's BFI Player+, a monthly subscriber service that gives you access to a portion of the entire BFI collection, including a weekly choice from film critic Mark Kermode.