So you’re stuck at home for the foreseeable future because of the coronavirus pandemic and your streaming services have so far been limited to Netflix and the occasional Apple TV rental? To help expand your options to an almost dizzying degree, The Globe and Mail’s Barry Hertz breaks down the current Canadian streaming landscape. Prepare to drown in content – for a price (sometimes).
Who is it for? Everyone. Netflix’s executives have said time and again that they want to appeal to as vast an audience as possible. (Its CEO once famously remarked the streamer’s only competition is sleep.) Which means that you have loads of children’s entertainment, documentaries on serial killers, low-brow comedies, Mexican narco thrillers, high-prestige dramas, big-screen-ready action spectacles and on and on and on. Netflix is also the current leader of producing original material (rather than relying on other studios’ back catalogues), but the results have been mixed.
How much does it cost? Plans for Canadian subscribers start at $9.99 a month and go up to $16.99 a month (the latter including Ultra HD and the ability to watch four different programs on four different screens at the same time).
Who is it for? Anyone who tried to find something on Netflix and failed. Typically, the newer-release Hollywood movies will end up either on Netflix or Crave, although the latter seems to have a slight edge on bigger blockbuster fare lately. The Canadian-owned streaming service also offers packages that include access to HBO programming and its back catalogue of shows (The Sopranos, Sex and the City), which makes it a noteworthy competitor to Netflix’s stable of originally produced dramas. Crave has also gone out of its way to highlight Canadian content, which is admirable ... although also probably due to regulation, given the service is owned by Bell.
How much does it cost? Plans start at $9.99 a month for access to movies, Crave “originals” (not nearly as many as Netflix boasts), and Showtime content. Plans then get a $9.99 top-up if you want HBO, $5.99 extra if you want Starz, and another $9.99 if you want Québécois content and everything in French.
Amazon Prime Video
Who is it for? Anyone who wants free shipping with Amazon and might have time to watch movies, too. The streaming service is mostly intended to drive customers to shop through Amazon – it’s just basically a neat little treat for e-commerce. But some solid movies can be found on the app, along with some decent original programming, such as the trashy-but-good superhero series The Boys and earlier critical hits such as Transparent.
How much does it cost? It’s included with an annual $79 Prime membership. Think of all the free shipping you can access while binging episodes of The Good Fight!
Who is it for? Families. Especially families who might currently be embarking on a weeks-long experiment in having the children home for the entire day and require Frozen 2 every hour on the hour. In that regard, Disney+ is like an ultrareliable babysitter – there’s guaranteed to be nothing on the service that might be objectionable viewing. Just keep the younger kids away from some of the more intense Marvel and Star Wars movies.
How much does it cost? Disney offers a competitive pricing edge in Canada, with membership just $8.99 a month, or $89.99 for a year.
Who is it for? Anyone with an Apple product who does not mind throwing a few bucks away each month for the promise of engaging television series. And maybe the odd movie. And who also does not mind an absolutely empty back catalogue of titles.
How much is it? $5.99 a month gets you everything on offer.
Who is it for? Aiming for a slightly more upper-tier audience than mass-market streamers such as Netflix, Kanopy offers what it calls “thoughtful entertainment” that includes “enriching films.” Which translates to more art-house hits and undiscovered indie gems, plus a lot of documentaries.
How much does it cost? Ah, that’s the best part: It’s free. So long as you have a membership to a library that’s partnered with Kanopy – such as the Toronto Public Library system – you get free access to a half-dozen films each month. Free access is also granted to university students and faculty.
Who is it for? Any fan of the national public broadcaster. Or those who usually avoid television but would not mind watching a Canadian series, documentary or movie now and then. You will often find titles licensed from abroad, too, which creates an odd sensation of international confusion when scrolling through the app.
How much does it cost? If you do not mind watching ads, CBC Gem is free. For a premium viewing experience, it will be $4.99 a month – but that also gets you live access to CBC News Network.
The Criterion Channel
Who is it for? Devoted cinephiles who have already stocked their shelves with those beautiful Criterion DVDs and Blu-rays. And basically anyone who wants to stream a film made before 1983.
How much does it cost? Less than a Criterion DVD, that’s for sure: Just more than $14 a month for Canadians, or $133 for year-long access.
Who is it for? Anyone who likes being scared out of their wits, even in these COVID-19 times. Shudder specializes mostly in horror-centric entertainment, with frequent dips into less-frightening but equally icky genre exercises.
How much does it cost? Ready to scream – out of joy? It’s only $5.99 a month, or $56.99 for a year.
Who is it for? A Canadian idea, the upstart streaming service specializes in finding underappreciated titles from the film-festival circuit and cradling them with loving, polite care. That means a lot of projects that look completely unfamiliar, but also cult-favourites such as What We Do in the Shadows and well-crafted original acquisitions such as the new Canadian drama Luba.
How much does it cost? It’s cheaper than a film festival, at $7 a month or $70 a year.
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