Netflix vs. HBO Max vs. Disney Plus vs. Paramount Plus vs. Discovery Plus: How the streamers compare

Netflix vs. HBO Max vs. Disney Plus vs. Paramount Plus vs. Discovery Plus: How the streamers compare

As the coronavirus continues to keep people at home watching more TV than ever, a growing list of streaming services are vying for American eyeballs. It’s been a busy year for streaming: Disney Plus has hit roughly 95 million subscribers in just over a year, HBO Max now has over 17 million accounts and is adding major theatrical releases nearly every month, while Peacock has added The Office and signed a new deal to stream the WWE. Quibi quickly came and went but new choices just keep coming, including Discovery Plus and now Paramount Plus, which launches on March 4 after a series of splashy Super Bowl ads. And don’t forget Apple TV PlusAmazon Prime VideoHulu, Showtime, and, of course, Netflix.

Yes, that’s a big list, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. In this article we’ll help you stop, take a deep breath and navigate the crowded streaming landscape. Here’s a breakdown of where a few of the major new services stand right now and how it all compares.

The players 

There are a lot of streaming services competing for your time and money in 2021 and we’re not going to cover them all here. In an effort to keep this list more manageable we’re going to focus on three of the biggest streamers — Netflix, Disney Plus and HBO Max — as well as two of the new entrants, Discovery Plus and Paramount Plus. 

Here’s a little on each. 

Angela Lang/CNET

When you think of streaming you probably think of Netflix. The service that inspired this list remains the most dominant player on the field with over 200 million subscribers, a wide and ever-growing catalog of films and TV shows and integration on nearly every major connected TV or smart device. At $14 per month for its most popular Standard plan (its cheapest option is $9), it isn’t the most affordable on this list but it is the bar all other services compare to. 

Read our Netflix review.

Angela Lang/CNET

Disney has an insane amount of popular characters and franchises and is flexing all of its muscles on Disney Plus. The home for Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, National Geographic and all the classic Disney films and shows, at $7 per month it’s not hard to see why people have been flocking to the streamer. Those looking to add Hulu and ESPN Plus can grab a bundle for $13 per month. 

Note: In March the price will go up to $8 per month for Disney Plus or $14 per month for the bundle. 

Read our Disney Plus review.

Angela Lang/CNET

The successor to HBO, WarnerMedia’s HBO Max builds on the popular cable channel by adding in more original series and films as well as a greater library of other properties including reruns of Friends and The Big Bang Theory, Sesame Street and DC Comics fare including the upcoming Zack Snyder cut of Justice League. At a regular rate of $15 per month it is among the priciest options, but for 2021 it does mean you’ll be able to watch all Warner Bros. theatrical releases from home instead of going to a theater. 

Read our HBO Max review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Whereas HBO Max is among the most expensive options, Peacock is alone on this list with a tier that’s actually free. NBCUniversal’s streaming offering has a growing library that consists of reruns of past NBC hits like The Office, 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation, new originals including a Saved By The Bell revival and films like Kick-Ass, Apollo 13 and The Big Lebowski. Live news and sports are also available, and the WWE joins the fun on March 18. While some of this is available for free, the full experience requires either a $5 per month subscription to watch with ads or $10 per month to go ad-free. 

Read our Peacock review.

ViacomCBS

The new name for CBS All Access launching Mar. 4, Paramount Plus will take that experience and add programming from MTV, BET, Comedy Central, CBS and other ViacomCBS channels and brands, plus films from the Paramount Pictures studio and add in some originals. Like CBS All Access, the new offering will also let you stream your local CBS station, including live sports and local news, in most markets. The starting price for the current service is $6 per month for an ad-supported subscription, with ad-free streaming available for $10 per month. 

Read more about Paramount Plus.

Discovery Plus

Discovery joined the streaming wars in January with a new service aptly named Discovery Plus. Running $5 per month with ads or $7 per month without, the new service brings together content from its variety of networks including the Discovery Channel, Food Network, TLC, Animal Planet and HGTV. It also offers content from A&E, The History Channel and Lifetime. 

Read more about Discovery Plus.

How they stack up

Streaming compared

Netflix Disney Plus HBO Max Peacock Paramount Plus (currently CBS All Access) Discovery Plus
Monthly price Starts at $9 $7 $15 Basic is free with ads, Premium access with ads is $5 Starts at $6 Starts at $5
Ads No No No Yes Yes Yes
Availability Now Now Now Now Now (as CBS All Access) Now
Top titles Stranger Things, The Queen’s Gambit, Bridgerton, The Irishman The Mandalorian, WandaVision, Toy Story, The Simpsons Game of Thrones, Friends, Big Bang Theory, Rick and Morty, Sesame Street The Office, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, early access to Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon Yellowstone, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, SpongeBob SquarePants 90 Day Fiancé, Pawn Stars, House Hunters, Cake Wars
Mobile downloads Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
4K HDR available Yes (on Premium plan) Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Number of streams: 1 (2 for Standard, 4 on Premium) 4 3 3 2 4

Part of the reason why Netflix remains the champ isn’t just the massive catalog and first-mover status (though both help). It also is frequently the best at rolling out new features. It offers mobile downloads and has been releasing its originals in 4K HDR for years (though you need its priciest Premium plan to watch in the higher-quality). Netflix also benefits from having its app available on nearly every smart TV and streaming platform you could think of. 

Disney Plus, however, is right on the tail of the current streaming king. The Mouse House’s streamer has mobile downloads, a wide collection of 4K HDR content, allows for more people to watch and does so for a $7 per month price that is cheaper than even Netflix’s most affordable non-HD plan. While its content library remains more family-friendly in the US, those looking for anything Disney/Marvel/Lucasfilm/Pixar (a not small net) will be very happy with Disney Plus. 

wandavision-ep-6-1

Marvel Studios’ WandaVision is a Disney Plus exclusive. 


Marvel Studios

HBO Max got off to a rocky start, lacking features like 4K HDR, mobile downloads or even apps for Roku or Amazon Fire TV, but with time it has begun to find its footing. Major releases like the 2021 Warner Bros. theatrical slate and the upcoming Zack Snyder’s Justice League will stream in 4K HDR, the mobile app allows for downloads and apps are finally available for all major TV platforms. It has yet to release a “Max Original” to match the success of recent hits like Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit or Disney’s The Mandalorian, but HBO Max does have a strong library offering everything from Friends and Game of Thrones to Sesame Street and Looney Tunes. 

Like HBO Max, Peacock got off to a slow start but has improved in recent months. Although it still lacks an app for Amazon Fire TV, it is on most other major platforms and even has 4K HDR on some titles. Mobile downloads are also present and the additions of The Office, Modern Family and the WWE Network are sure to be welcome boosts for its otherwise still lacking library. The upcoming Olympics should also add more content and it also gets points for being the only service with a free offering. 

Paramount Plus, the soon-to-be new name for CBS All Access, is among the oldest in this group and parent ViacomCBS is hoping the March 4 rebrand will give it fresh life to compete with the others. It already has apps on all the major services and offers mobile downloads plus 4K HDR for some titles. The home for Star Trek, SpongeBob and Yellowstone — plus local CBS streams — makes it an interesting option, but it will need more to rival the others. 

Discovery Plus is the other major new player. It has apps on most platforms, but not all, and some 4K HDR content. It does not, however, have mobile downloads and its content library lacks the mainstream hits offered by all the others. That said, if you’re a fan of Pawn Stars, House Hunters or Cake Wars it is the option for you. 

Device support

Netflix Disney HBO Max Peacock Paramount Plus Discovery Plus
Android app Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
iOS app Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Roku Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Amazon Fire TV Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Apple TV Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Android TV Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Chromecast Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Xbox Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
PlayStation Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
006-so-much-streaming-apps-on-apple-tv

HBO Max, Netflix and Disney Plus are among the biggest names in the “streaming wars.” 


Sarah Tew/CNET

What about free trials? 

In the early days of streaming free trials were plentiful. Now, well, not so much. 

All three of the major streaming heavyweights — Netflix, Disney Plus and HBO Max — offered free trial periods in their early days and all have since abandoned the option. CBS All Access has a seven-day free trial, as does Discovery Plus. In addition to its free tier, Peacock has a seven-day trial for both of its Premium plans. 

Thankfully, however, regardless of which service or services you sign up for you can still cancel your subscription at any time. 

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