With Apple TV and Disney+ launching in November, we have more viewing options than ever before. Tara Ward takes a closer look at the myriad of TV streaming services available.
We’re spoiled for TV choice these days, and with Apple TV and Disney+ launching in New Zealand next month, our viewing horizons just got a little bit broader. With two more streaming services in the mix, should you choose Apple over Amazon? Does your heart belong to Stranger Things or Better Things? And where can you binge every episode of Naked Attraction?
To help your voyage through the murky waters of our streaming world, we’ve gathered together a list of all of New Zealand’s on-demand services, how much they cost, and what their big pulls are. We might not have Hulu or HBO Max (due to launch in the US in May 2020), but who needs an extra 10,000 hours of television to choose from? Just kidding, we all do. Better living, everyone.
The big guns
What is it: The motherlode of content.
Big hitters: The Crown, Stranger Things, Unbelievable, Russian Doll, Homecoming: a film by Beyonce, Orange is the New Black, When They See Us, Glow, The Letdown, End of the F***ing World, Narcos, Bodyguard, The Good Place, Terrace House, Bojack Horseman, Queer Eye, The Spy, Mindhunter, Sex Education, Umbrella Academy, etc. There’s also a bajillion movies, comedies, docos, kids shows, and every glorious season of Kath and Kim.
Quirky feature: It personalises your viewing experience, which is fine until your preschooler goes batshit with the remote and then you only get recommended shows about blonde people in polygamous marriages who live in caves.
Who’s it for: Everyone. If you can’t find something you like here, then what is life?
Accessibility features: closed captioning.
Cost: Plans range from $11.49 to $21.99 per month, plus a 30-day free trial.
What is it: NEON is home to HBO’s newest dramas and blockbuster movies. A monthly subscription gives you access to both TV and movies, which is especially good if you like both those things, and even better, you don’t have to be a Sky customer to subscribe.
Big hitters: These are the shows that win the Emmys. Chernobyl, Succession, Big Little Lies, Veep, The Deuce, Game of Thrones, Watchmen, Pose, Atlanta, Patrick Melrose, Catastrophe, Catherine the Great, Sharp Objects, Westworld, all three million seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, plus a great selection of recent movies for kids and adults.
Quirky feature: You can binge-watch every episode of Naked Attraction. Again, no judgement here.
Who’s it for: Fans who love watching the latest big-budget dramas and those who never got round to watching Sex in the City the first time.
Cost: $13.95 per month, with a free 14-day trial.
What is it: A heaving beast of award-winning original content, documentaries and movie classics from the ‘90s and ‘00s. Worth getting just for Fleabag.
Big hitters: Fleabag, Marvelous Mrs Maisel, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Good Omens, The Man in the High Castle, Carnival Row, Goliath, Homecoming and The Good Fight.
Who’s it for: Anyone who loves classic American movies and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in a jumpsuit.
Quirky feature: Watch on Playstation, pause a show and the actors’ names pop up on the screen. Science, we salute you.
Accessibility features: closed captioning where possible.
Cost: US$2.99 per month for the first six months, then US$5.99 (about NZ$9 a month), plus a 30-day free trial.
What is it: Spark’s streaming service has a solid collection of home-grown and international dramas. It also offers new release movie rentals which you don’t need to be a subscriber to purchase.
Big hitters: The Handmaid’s Tale, Castle Rock, Outlander, Vikings, The Good Doctor, Harlots, Mr Robot, Mum, Better Things, plus the internationally acclaimed Get It to Te Papa.
Who’s it for: People who watch a variety of TV shows but can’t be arsed wading through an ocean of content to find them. Or maybe they just like the cut of Jamie Fraser’s jib.
Quirky feature: More Wiggles content than in your wild wiggly dreams.
Accessibility features: closed captioning on selected TV series, with the plan to caption new series where possible.
Cost: Plans begin at $12.99 per month, but Spark customers on selected plans can subscribe for free. Includes a 30-day free trial.
What is it? Sky’s on demand and live streaming platform that allows you to watch and download selected sports, TV shows and movies.
Quirky feature: it’s available for Sky customers only.
Accessibility: closed captioning where possible.
Cost: included in your monthly Sky subscription (cost varies depending on your plan).
What is it: An on-demand catalogue of shows and movies from TVNZ1, TVNZ2 and Duke, with a delightfully comprehensive range of local and international documentaries, dramas, comedies, movies and current affairs. There’s a great balance between fresh, exclusive content and classic box sets. Best of all, it’s free. FREE!
Big hitters: Killing Eve, RuPaul’s Drag Race UK, The Capture, Wellington Paranormal, Prodigal Son, Queen Sugar, Batwoman, My Brilliant Friend, The Walking Dead, Educators, Grey’s Anatomy, Taskmaster, Mrs Wilson, Catch-22, Shortland Street, Friends.
Quirky feature: Yes, there are ads, but some of them will speak directly to you.
Who’s it for: The thinking New Zealander who likes a bit of quality drama mixed in with their current affairs and short docos, or the rest of us who can’t decide what to watch so they just watch Season five of Friends again.
Accessibility features: closed captioning where possible. A full list of captioned shows is here.
Cost: So free it doesn’t even want a whiff of your debit card.
What is it? The Holy Grail of free-to-air TV. Freeview On Demand pulls together all the on-demand TV and movies from Māori TV, THREE Now and TVNZ OnDemand and puts it into one place, making it easier and quicker to access your favourite shows.
How to watch: It’s available on all Freeview-approved Smart TVs, as well as via an Android-powered Freeview Recorder (with Lightbox and Spark Sport loaded) and a Freeview streaming device (with Lightbox, Spark Sport and Netflix built in).
Quirky feature: Freeview On Demand is all about the content, rather than the channel, so your genre searches will bring you a variety of viewing choices from different sources.
Cost: free (though there is a cost for hardware like the Freeview Recorder).
Accessibility features: closed captions where possible.
Apple TV (launches November 2)
What is it: Apple’s new streaming service launches on Saturday and promises big things, but so far there are few details about what Kiwi subscribers will get.
Big hitters: There’s some worthy Apple Originals dropping on launch, like news drama The Morning Show starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carrell; See with Jason Momoa playing a father of twins born with a mystical power; Hailee Steinfeld as rebellious poet Emily Dickinson in Dickinson; and Oprah’s Book Club, “a book club for today’s world”. Oprah! We’ve missed you.
Who’s it for: People who love book clubs and Jason Momoa, or book clubs about Jason Momoa.
How to watch: Download the new Apple TV app. If you have an iPhone, iPad, Mac or Apple TV, then you already have the Apple TV app. It’ll also be available on selected Samsung Smart TVs.
Accessibility features: Apple say “audiences worldwide can enjoy Apple TV+ originals subtitled and/or dubbed in nearly 40 languages, including Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (SDH) or closed captions. Apple TV+ series and movies will also be available with audio descriptions in eight languages.”
Cost: $8.99 per month, plus a free seven-day trial.
Disney+ (launches November 19)
What is it: Every parent’s dream/nightmare come true. Disney+ includes nearly every series and movie ever made by Disney, plus Pixar films and National Geographic docos. If New Zealand gets all the shows mentioned in this recent 300-long Twitter thread, Disney+ should land with one heck of a bang.
Big hitters: As well as original content like The Mandalorian, Disney+ has everything from Moana to Toy Story, The Simpsons to Captain Marvel, Sister Act to Three Men and a Baby. Gather round, kids, looks like we’re watching TV for the next 30 years.
Who’s it for: Anyone who knows that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true.
How to watch: Available on selected smart TVs, phones, laptops, tablets and gaming consoles (including Xbox One and Playstation 4).
Accessibility features: Disney indicated they’ll offer support for closed captioning and descriptive audio, plus audio navigation assistance.
Cost: $9.99 per month, or $99.99 for a year’s subscription (aka money well spent for your own parental sanity).
The niche streams
What is it: A small, niche catalogue of reliably good British dramas, with a smattering of Australian content.
Big hitters: There’s little exclusive content, but plenty of beloved dramas like Victoria, Grantchester, Agatha Raisin, Home Fires, Broadchurch and your Mum’s fave, Doc Martin. Sure, other services might have these shows, but Acorn TV has them all in one place.
Quirky feature: There’s a lot of David Tennant.
Who’s it for: People who love nostalgic period dramas and brooding police procedurals. Buy it for your parents, then log in to secretly binge The Palace. No judgement here.
Accessibility features: closed captioning.
Cost: $7.99 per month, plus a free seven-day trial.
What is it? A dedicated anime film on-demand platform streaming hits and simulcasts direct from Japan, featuring over 400 shows in a variety of genres.
Big hitters: Naruto Shippenden, Fairy Tail, Dragon Ball Super, Attack on Titan.
Quirky feature: It’s available only in New Zealand and Australia.
Accessibility features: closed captioning.
Cost: Free (with ads), though you can upgrade to an ad-free premium plan ($7.95 per month).
What is it? An Australian-based documentary streaming service with a catalogue of over 130 of the world’s best documentaries and docu-dramas.
Big Hitters: There’s a good range of genres and interests, including Louis Theroux: My Scientology Movie, Hannah Gadsby’s Oz, plus Kiwi offerings like Richie McCaw: Chasing Great, Spookers, andMy Year with Helen.
Cost: $6.95 a month or $69.95 a year, with a free 30 day trial.
What is it? A small showcase of independent films from the New Zealand International Film Festival circuit, giving those outside the main cities the opportunity to enjoy some of the best films and documentaries available.
Big Hitters: How Far is Heaven, Marti: the Passionate Eye, Crossing Rachmaninoff.
Cost: $4.99-$6.99 per film rental.
What is it? A cinema lover’s dream of 30 hand-picked cult, classic and independent films from around the globe.
Quirky feature: a new film is added each day and another removed, so you have one month to watch each film.
Cost: $9.99 per month (or $83.88 per year), with a free 7 day trial.
What is it: Spark’s live streaming and on-demand sports service.
Big hitters: Rugby World Cup 2019, selected international cricket, rugby and football competitions, and formula car racing.
Quirky feature: It’s great when it works.
Who’s it for: People who like balls.
Cost: Free seven-day trial, $19.99 per month thereafter.
The free streams
What is it? An international platform that reaches over 4,000 university campuses and libraries worldwide. It’s a handpicked catalogue of documentaries, arthouse and educational films, made available for “the power of film to bridge cultural boundaries and bring people together”. Kanopy has a great depth of content, including New Zealand film classics, and is available to anyone with a library card.
Quirky feature: you can watch up to 6 films per month, with unlimited watching on Kanopy Kids (another fantastic resource for kids).
Who’s it for? Everyone with a library card, and those are free from your local library too.
Accessibility features: closed captioning.
What is it: Māori TV’s impressive on-demand catalogue hosts a thoughtful mix of content celebrating the people, places and cultures of Aotearoa. You can watch on the Māori Television Connect app or via the Māori TV website.
Big hitters: The Negotiators, Aroha Bridge, Ahikāroa, Find Me a Māori Bride, Game of Bros, Artefact.
Who’s it for: Bloody everyone, get amongst it.
What is it? HEIHEI fits under the TVNZ OnDemand umbrella, but it’s worth including as it’s a quality source of kid’s television. It’s aimed at tamariki aged 4 and up, has a distinct Kiwi vibe, and is a child-friendly, ad-free space.
Big hitters: Fanimals, The Feijoa Club, Darwin and Newts, Barefoot Bandits, Kitchen Science, Young Ocean Explorers, Kea Kids News
Quirky feature: also has music, stories and games for kids.
Accessibility: closed captions where possible, and HEIHEI is “exploring the delivery of audio descriptions”.
What is it? An online historical showcase of New Zealand television, film, music video and web series. There are over 4,000 titles to choose from, including vintage news clips, interviews, profiles of well-known identities, and specially curated TV collections. If you’re looking to travel back in TV time, NZ On Screen is the place to come.
Big hitters: take a trip down memory lane with shows like Hudson and Halls, Shortland Street and Gloss, enjoy the old commercials from the 70s and 80s, or dive into recent shows like the extended Funny As interviews.
Quirky feature: where else can you watch Radiradirah followed by Pioneer House and an 1982 episode of Radio with Pictures?
What is it? Three’s on-demand platform features shows from Three, Bravo and Three Life. Heavy on reality and lifestyle content.
Big hitters: Love Island UK & Australia, The Gulf, Westside, New Zealand Today, Golden Boy, Mean Mums.
Who’s it for: Anyone who loves binging both The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Big Angry Fish, and doesn’t mind ads.