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Disney+, Apple TV+ and More: How to Watch TV in This Confusing Age


Disney+, Apple TV+ and More: How to Watch TV in This Confusing Age

Five gajillion hours of entertainment for the whole family—even your pet guinea pig!

Enjoy Stream++++ Mega-Max… for just $5 a month!*

*We’ll definitely increase this price 100-fold within three years.

OK, I made that one up, but what’s one more streaming service these days?


TV+ just launched. Disney+ arrives on Tuesday. NBCUniversal’s Peacock? April 2020. HBO Max? May 2020. And that doesn’t even take into account


Hulu, Amazon Prime and CBS All Access, or all of those cable-cutting services like Sling TV and YouTube TV.

Yes, yes, the so-called Streaming Wars have begun and, you, dear consumer, are right in the middle. If you’re just tuning in, the big media and tech companies have caught on to Netflix’s successful equation: original shows and movies + big libraries of classics = $$$.

It means loads of new things to watch. (“The Mandalorian,” a new Star Wars series, on


+! The “Game of Thrones” prequel on HBO Max! Oh, and on Apple TV+, a show about a future where everyone…is blind?)

It also means all-out confusion—more time hunting for stuff to watch, more figuring out if your devices let you watch it, more money going where, exactly? Americans are willing to spend $44 monthly on streaming, on average, for 3.6 services, according to a Wall Street Journal-Harris Poll survey of more than 2,000 people. According to a study by Deloitte, 47% of U.S. consumers are frustrated by the growing number of subscriptions and services required.

What 100% of us need? To be able to just relax when we finally get some couch time—not spend an hour trying to figure out the most cost-effective way to binge watch season 1 of “ALF.” With that, I present Joanna’s 5+ Rules for the Streaming Age.

(Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal, has a commercial agreement to supply news through Apple services.)

#1 Understand the Services

I don’t want you to memorize service names as if they were in the periodic table of elements, but you should be familiar with these three types of service:

Cable Killers: These offer live and on-demand TV programming with access to traditional cable channels such as ESPN and TNT, along with local broadcast networks. Services like Sling TV, FuboTV and YouTube TV replace cable, and can cost upward of $50 a month. I’m not going to get into these in this column.


Which streaming services do you plan to subscribe to? Will you drop any to make room? And what devices do you plan to use to watch them? Join the conversation below.

TV Everywhere: These apps have been a source of some confusion, so I’ll mention them, too: They’re individual services tied to particular networks such as CNN or MTV, and they require a traditional pay-TV subscription. They run on your phone, tablet, computer and streaming-media box, but they typically don’t offer shows you can’t just get from your cable or satellite box. (Yes, recently, some of these networks—most notably HBO and Showtime—have begun offering a la carte apps so you don’t need a cable subscription, but that’s not the norm.)

Solo Streamers: These are the stars right now. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video set the stage, and now these newcomers are vying for the spotlight. All have original content, and most—except for Apple TV+—have catalogs of older stuff that could be otherwise hard to find. These might be your main entertainment, but they’re more likely an add-on. You typically don’t get the sports, news and live events that a cable plan—or a cable killer—would offer.

#2 Know the Content

The biggest annoyance of this new streaming shake-up? Your favorite shows will move from one service to another. Come next year, all 236 episodes of “Friends” will be uprooted from Netflix and moved to HBO Max. “The Office” will make a similar move to Peacock in 2021.

That’s not always bad. And in many cases, content that was previously available only for rent or purchase as a digital download will be added to a subscription service. For instance, this year I bought the first two “Toy Story” movies for $40 on iTunes. For the same price, I could’ve gotten more than five months of a $6.99 Disney+ subscription, which would bring me Buzz and Woody to infinity and beyond, not to mention all the other Disney titles my toddler (and I) would enjoy. You’ve got a friend in me, Disney+.

A Stream of Choices

Several new video services are launching to challenge Netflix. How they compare:

Source: the companies

#3 Master the Search

Finding the perfect thing to watch is now like figuring out who has the best peaches at the farmers market. You can perfect the App-to-App Search Dance or you can try your TV platform’s universal search function. On many, the search isn’t great, and slow—even when they have voice control.

Worse, the search engines aren’t always optimized. Sometimes services that have their own stores will offer to sell you a show you already have free access to elsewhere.

If you want the true Switzerland of search, I recommend Reelgood (available on iOS and the web) or JustWatch (available on iOS, Android and the web). Both services have sucked in the giant databases of all the streaming services, including Disney+. You input your subscription services, then search what you want to watch. They tell you where you can stream it—with active subscriptions appearing first.

#4 Get the Right Hardware

Not all streaming TV hardware—especially smart TV—will have all the top services, as you’ll see in the chart below.

Streaming service is compatible with device

Streaming service is compatible with device

Streaming service is compatible with device

Streaming service is compatible

with device

If you find that your TV won’t support the latest apps, choose one of the media streamers with the most market share and most active app support (not to mention, the best interfaces): Roku or Amazon. Those will likely be the first places new services appear.

Streaming services tend to support the major phone, tablet and web browsers (although there’s no Apple TV+ for Android). Just note that if you want to binge on a flight or train, you’ll want to check the video apps’ download options. Netflix now lets you download Netflix-branded shows and movies, plus some content it licenses from others. Disney+ will allow unlimited downloads on as many as 10 devices.


Dan Matutina


You can count on Amazon’s Fire TV for fast performance, great voice search and a handy Alexa-enabled remote—but Amazon won’t let you forget that you’re here first and foremost to spend money on its own platform.

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SERVICES: Apple TV+, Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, CBS All Access


Dan Matutina


Found in select TVs from


Sharp and others, Android TV has the Google voice assistant, a good selection of streaming services and built-in Chromecast so you can fling content from your phone. What doesn’t it have? An elegant interface.

SERVICES: Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, CBS All Access


Dan Matutina


Apple’s TV box has a simple interface and all the major streaming services. That said, its poorly designed, easily lost remote and $150 starting price make it a tough sell—even for those living deep in the Apple ecosystem.

SERVICES: Apple TV+, Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, CBS All Access


Dan Matutina


LG is a bit behind Samsungand others when it comes to apps. It lacks some of the streaming services—and all bets are off if you have an older model. Translation: If you buy an LG TV, it should be for the picture quality.

SERVICES: Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video


Dan Matutina


If you’ve already got a Sony PlayStation or Microsoft Xbox in the living room for playing games, you also have support for many—but not all—of the most popular streaming services. The interfaces just might not be as flashy as others.

SERVICES: Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, CBS All Access


Dan Matutina


Whether you’ve got a set-top box, HDMI stick, soundbar or TV with Roku’s software, you’ll find the remote and interface to be dead simple, the universal search to be thorough and the homescreen ads to be… annoying.

SERVICES: Apple TV+, Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, CBS All Access


Dan Matutina


With a Samsung smart TV, there’s no need for extra gear to access your favorite services, but the built-in apps often lack features (like multiple profiles). Also be careful: New apps might only be available on the latest models.

SERVICES: Apple TV+, Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, CBS All Access


Dan Matutina


A smartphone phone or tablet is great for taking your shows or movies on the road—just make sure the streaming service supports downloads before traveling. iOS has all of the latest. No surprise: Android lacks Apple TV+.

SERVICES: Apple TV+, Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, CBS All Access


Dan Matutina


Sometimes you just find yourself at work needing to finish that last 30 minutes of last night’s show—open up a browser and log into the service’s website. You just may not get that sweet 4K, HDR quality.

SERVICES: Apple TV+, Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, CBS All Access

#5 Watch Those Subscriptions

If you leave this column with one piece of advice, let it be this: Only subscribe to a service you’re confident you’ll watch. You should even be wary of so-called free trials. (Example: Apple TV+’s free trial becomes a paid subscription after a week—though if you bought a new Apple device, you can get it free for a year.) And if you subscribe to watch just one show—surely millions will subscribe to Disney+ only for “The World According to Jeff Goldblum”—don’t forget to cancel when you’re done.

Take my subscription advice, and set a calendar reminder to cancel your trials. Also, keep an eye on prices. Many services have low starting prices so companies have room to raise them later. Just look at Netflix’s price-increase history.

And here’s my +: Mind Your Time

Industry experts told me a top metric for measuring a service’s success is the time you spend watching it. Remember, Netflix CEO

Reed Hastings

has said one of his service’s biggest competitors is sleep.

You’re bound to find lots of great stuff to watch on these new services. They’re going to make you want to sit on your couch more. I can’t wait to watch “Cars” on Disney+ with my son and niece over Thanksgiving week. But when we finish, the flashy interface will be there recommending, based on what we’ve already watched, even more stuff to watch.

The algorithms feed on our habits, and shape their offerings on whatever’s likeliest to keep us watching. Remember this when you get sucked in. Set limits for yourself and your family. Because you know Stream++++ Mega-Max won’t do it for you. It didn’t earn FOUR plus signs for nothing.

—For more WSJ Technology analysis, reviews, advice and headlines, sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Write to Joanna Stern at

Copyright ©2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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