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ByDanika Miller Internet & Entertainment Writer

Danika is currently covering the internet and entertainment beat. Her previous work lives in random corners of the internet and fiction anthologies hidden in university libraries.

Guide to Movie Streaming Services

Gone are the days when you could bundle a Blockbuster rental with a box of popcorn. Now, the world of home video is all about streaming, as physical formats for watching movies are on the decline. Movie streaming services today offer a digital catalog of movies — both old and new — available to watch anytime (for a monthly fee). There are a lot of choices out there (and we reviewed them here), but we’ll help walk you through choosing the best movie streaming services for you.

The Market is Making It Harder to Stream the Movies You Want

The video streaming market will likely get worse for consumers before it gets better. There are a ton of options to choose from, and networks are increasingly splitting off from platforms like Netflix to create their own service.

Sam Cook, a cord-cutting expert at Flixed.io, explains it well, “consumers are increasingly finding that exclusivity in the market among content providers means a growing number of movies are locked behind paywalls to an increasing number of TV services. Whereas Netflix used to be the sole provider, now movie fans might need to turn to half a dozen services to find all of the content they want.”

It’ll be pretty impossible for consumers to subscribe to every service out there, and not every platform will survive the market shift. Eventually, it’s possible that some content providers will be forced back to licensing their content on other services. There’s also a lot of theorizing about a shift to streaming bundle options from cable companies. The takeaway — subscribe to services knowing that nothing is permanent right now.

Survey Your Movie Interests

As you begin searching for the right streaming service for you, it’s best to know what you’re looking for. Consider your favorite genres, shows, and networks — the content you’d consider need-to-watch.

Greg Diefenbach, a co-founder of MagellanTV, advised us that “the first order of business for most consumers is to gain access to the ‘must-have’ programming that is the topic of conversation amongst their peers. Nobody wants to feel like they are left out of the conversation.”

Forbes reported that the average American subscribes to 3.4 streaming services. That leaves room to catch the “Stranger Things” wave on Netflix, see what all the “Game of Thrones” hype is about on HBO Now, and witness the charm of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” on Amazon Prime.

Once you’ve gauged the programming that connects you to modern culture, you could examine more niche interests. There are smaller streaming services that offer specialty content for your more specific viewing tastes, whether that’s a catalog of anime from Crunchyroll or an indie film collection from Sundance Now.

Take Advantage of Free Trials

Perhaps you’re debating between two services, or aren’t totally sure if you’d use a particularly niche catalog — that's where free trials can help. Most every streaming service will offer a trial period, usually between one to four weeks, during which you can explore the full extent of the service’s features. Maybe you’ll discover there are only a few movies you’re actually interested in viewing, or the interface is too dense to find new content, or you build a to-watch list so long you couldn’t possibly binge it all before the trial is up. Either way, at the end of the trial you should know whether the service will fulfill your entertainment needs.

Don’t Be Afraid to Cancel and Try a Short-Term Strategy

Years stuck in cable contracts have conditioned consumers to fear the dreaded canceling of a service. But fear no longer — streaming services have no cancellation fees. There’s no bargaining for your patronage or pressure to stay. So if you’ve exhausted your viewing options or are no longer excited by new releases on a service, you can easily just cancel the subscription. And if that platform releases a new series or movie your social circles are raving about, you can just resubscribe for the month it’d take to binge-watch.

This plays to some advice Damien Mason, Expert Reviewer at ProPrivacy, gave us — “No longer do users have to sit there, mindlessly scrolling through libraries of previously seen or uninteresting content in order to justify the price they’re paying. Instead, they can simply unsubscribe and allocate that part of the budget to another streaming service that will better fulfill their needs for the month.” Mason suggests consumers shift their perspective to view these entertainment options as short-term subscriptions, rather than long-term commitments.

Sometimes, You Should Probably Buy

There is still merit in simply purchasing the movies you know you’ll love. As tumultuous as the streaming market is right now, there’s no guarantee you’ll get to watch your favorites for very long. Cook told us that “No streaming service is forever, and licensed content models, in particular, mean you never know when the licensing company will take back its content (as Disney is doing), or when the licensee (like Netflix) will either lose the license or decide it doesn’t want to pay for it anymore.” Building out a digital or physical DVD collection for your favorite films is a great way to ensure you can view them at your leisure, share the content your friends, and never worry about the strength of your internet connection.

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