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How to Sample Each of the Premium Streaming Services for Free

Overwhelmed? (Who isn't.) Luckily, you can try before you buy.
  • From Apple TV+ and Disney+ to Amazon, Netflix and beyond, each of the major streaming platforms offer a free trial.
    From Apple TV+ and Disney+ to Amazon, Netflix and beyond, each of the major streaming platforms offer a free trial.

    It wasn't that long ago that we all wished we could break free of the bundled programming model offered by cable and satellite providers, under the assumption that we could save money by only subscribing to the specific networks we wanted. In a great irony, the migration from linear broadcasting to individual streaming services may wind up costing us even more. Realistically, how many subscriptions can the average viewer afford to juggle at once?

    With so many streaming services vying for our attention, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. Deciding which platforms have content worth watching, much less paying for, is difficult. Fortunately, most offer a free trial, which can go a long way in helping us pick and choose which services are keepers

    To that end, we've prepared the following guide to the premium streaming platforms, how much they cost, and how you can sample them for free.

    Because the streaming landscape is already inundated with literally hundreds of competing services and is expanding rapidly, this list has been winnowed down to focus only on the major players that offer exclusive scripted TV series. That rules out any platform without original scripted content. It also excludes the streaming branches of cable TV networks such as HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc. because their programming is not exclusive to streaming.


    Sadie Sink, Noah Schnapp, Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Caleb McLaughlin in Stranger Things (Netflix)

    What It Offers: A true behemoth in the video streaming space, Netflix has an ever-rotating selection of licensed content and almost too many original movies and TV series of its own to count. These span every genre from dramas to sitcoms to reality programs and game shows.

    Three Key Exclusive Series: Stranger Things, Orange Is the New Black, The Crown.

    How Much It Costs: Netflix has three pricing tiers. The Basic plan is $8.99/month for standard definition streaming on one screen, Standard is $12.99/month for high definition on two screens, and Premium is $15.99/month for 4K Ultra HD on four screens.

    How to Sample It for Free: Netflix offers a 30-day free trial if you sign up with an email address and a credit or debit card. If you cancel before the end of the trial period, you pay nothing. If you're patient and wait several months, Netflix may even send you an email offering another free 30-day trial to lure you back.

    Amazon Prime

    Rachel Brosnahan in The Marvelous Mrs Maisel (Amazon)

    What It Offers: Video streaming is just one portion of an Amazon Prime membership, which also includes music streaming plans, eBooks and magazines, free shipping on goods purchased from the retailer, and discounts on many products.

    Three Key Exclusive Series: The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, Fleabag.

    How Much It Costs: An Amazon Prime membership costs $12.99/month or $119/year.

    How to Sample It for Free: Like Netflix, Amazon offers a 30-day free trial. If you cancel your membership, you can get another 30-day free trial once every 12 months.


    Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu)

    What It Offers: One of the top outlets for TV streaming online, Hulu carries thousands of television series and offers live streaming of more than 60 broadcast and cable channels.

    Three Key Exclusive Series: The Handmaid's Tale, Castle Rock, Casual.

    How Much It Costs: Hulu has four plan tiers, starting with the ad-supported Basic package at $5.99/month or the ad-free Premium package at $11.99/month. Adding Live TV to either of these will entail big jumps in price. Effective December 18, 2019, the Hulu + Live TV packages will cost $54.99/month (with ads) and $60.99/month (no ads), up from $44.99/month and $50.99/month, respectively.

    Further add-on options such as premium channels and an Enhanced Cloud DVR can add even more to the cost.

    A bundle package that includes Hulu (Basic only, unfortunately), Disney+, and ESPN+ is available for $12.99/month.

    How to Sample It for Free: Both the Basic and Premium plans offer 30-day free trials if you sign up with a payment card. However, the trial periods for the Live TV packages or add-ons like HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, and Starz are shorter at only 7-days free.


    A promotional image for The Mandalorian (Disney+)

    What It Offers: The new kid on the block, Disney+ launched with hundreds of movies and thousands of TV episodes from across the company's most popular brands. Going forward, once all the old licensing contracts with other services expire, Disney+ will be the exclusive streaming home for all Marvel, Star Wars, Disney Animation, and Pixar content.

    Three Key Exclusive Series: Star Wars: The Mandalorian, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, Encore!.

    How Much It Costs: Disney+ goes for $6.99/month or $69.99/year. As mentioned above, a bundle package with Hulu (Basic) and ESPN+ is priced at $12.99/month.

    How to Sample It for Free: The Disney+ standard free trial period is only 7 days. 

    Apple TV+

    Jennifer Aniston and Steve Carell in The Morning Show (Apple TV+)

    What It Offers: For its entry into the streaming wars, the Cupertino tech giant lined up some impressive A-List talent (Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Ron Howard, and Alfonso Cuarón, among others) to produce original content.

    Three Key Exclusive Series: The Morning Show, For All Mankind, Dickinson.

    How Much It Costs: Apple TV+ is very competitively priced at only $4.99/month.

    How to Sample It for Free: Apple TV+ offers a 7-day free trial to most users, but anyone who has purchased a new iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac, or iPod since September 10, 2019 can get one year of Apple TV+ for free. The subscription must be activated within three months of buying the product.

    CBS All Access

    A promotional image for Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access)

    What It Offers: As the name implies, CBS All Access provides access to the huge library of CBS-owned properties, from classic TV like I Love Lucy to the latest installments of the venerable Star Trek franchise.

    Three Key Exclusive Series: Star Trek: Discovery, The Good Fight, Why Women Kill.

    How Much It Costs: If you don't mind limited commercials, CBS All Access will run you $5.99/month. That price goes up to $9.99/month for the commercial-free package. Subscribing to an annual plan will get you a 15% discount off either version.

    How to Sample It for Free: Both tiers of CBS All Access offer 7-day free trials. Periodically, the service will extend its free trial length to one month.

    DC Universe

    A promotional image for Titans. (DC Universe)

    What It Offers: Aimed at superhero fans, a DC Universe membership features numerous cartoons, animated movies, digital comics, and a few exclusive series (of both the live-action and animated varieties). Unfortunately, feature films from the DCEU (Wonder Woman, Aquaman, etc.) and the various Arrowverse TV shows from the CW network are not included.

    Three Key Exclusive Series: Titans, Doom Patrol, Young Justice: Outsiders.

    How Much It Costs: Exploring the DC Universe will cost you $7.99/month or $74.99/year.

    How to Sample It for Free: DC Universe currently offers a 7-day free trial.


    A promotional image for Creepshow. (DC Universe)

    What It Offers: The horror-themed branch of the AMC Networks focuses on all things scary, gory, or supernatural. (Ironically, it doesn't carry AMC's own The Walking Dead, which streams on AMC Premiere instead.)

    Three Key Exclusive Series: Creepshow, Deadwax, The Last Drive-in with Joe Bob Briggs.

    How Much It Costs: $5.99/month or $56.99/year.

    How to Sample It for Free: Shudder has a standard 7-day free trial.

    YouTube Premium

    William Zabka and Ralph Macchio in Cobra Kai. (YouTube Premium)

    What It Offers: Formerly known as YouTube Red, the paid subscription upgrade provides ad-free streaming of regular YouTube content, music streaming from YouTube Music Premium and Google Play Music, exclusive content from certain popular YouTubers, and some original scripted series.

    Three Key Exclusive Series: Cobra Kai, Impulse, Weird City.

    How Much It Costs: An $11.99/month subscription to YouTube Premium automatically comes bundled with a subscription to Google Play Music as well. Eligible students may qualify for a discount at $6.99/month. YouTube also offers a Family plan at $17.99/month for up to five family members aged 13 or above.

    How to Sample It for Free: YouTube is pretty generous with a one-month free trial period before payments are required.

    In the market for more free-streaming options? Check out our guide to 12 free (or nearly free) streaming services.

    Josh Zyber has written about TV, movies, and home theater for the past two decades. Most recently, he spent more than nine years managing a daily blog at High-Def Digest.

    TOPICS: Netflix, Apple TV+, CBS All Access, DC Universe, Disney+, Hulu, Prime Video, Shudder, YouTube Premium