The streaming scene has changed rapidly in Australia over the last five years, developing from a fledgling market with the now-defunct local outfit Quickflix, which started out as a mail out DVD service then adding its TV and movie streaming service. However, it was quickly outflanked by US giant Netflix, which entered Australia in 2015, albeit with a smaller catalogue than its US offering, and people started to tune into the possibilities of streaming.
Back then, Australian platform Stan, owned by Fairfax and the Nine Network, had recently launched to get the jump on Netflix. And the now defunct Presto, a joint venture between Foxtel and the Seven Network, had also sprung to life and very quickly the race was on to claim the title of the best streaming site. Very quickly there were a bunch of streaming services in Australia, repeating a similar pattern from the US, and it signalled the start of the so called ‘streaming wars’. And let’s not forget Amazon Prime Video launched by the online retail behemoth that packaged books, music and free delivery in its plan.
Fast forward to 2019 and Quickflix and Presto are no more, but there are other platforms like Foxtel Now as well as Acorn TV and the newly launched AppleTV+ and Disney+ giving Australian viewers plenty to consider when looking for TV and movies to stream.
Apple TV+ has launched with its new series The Morning Show, a fictional behind-the-scene drama about a breakfast TV show, featuring Reece Witherspoon, Jennifer Anniston and Steve Carell. It will also feature history drama For All Mankind, comedy Dickinson and there’s a slew of other new series are in the pipeline. Disney+ will open the vault on its extensive library with shows from Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars the vast collection of classic Disney films and the much-anticipated Star Wars TV series The Mandalorian.
These streaming wars pit one streaming website against another streaming website to capture eyeballs, although given the low cost of streaming plans and the flexibility to come and go without a contract, having a couple of subscriptions on the go concurrently is an option. When it comes to defining the best streaming sites, for the most part it comes down to the catalogue of movies and TV shows.
Here’s a rundown of the streaming services available in Australia, the US and the UK so you can watch movies online.
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Streaming sites available in Australia
- Foxtel Now
- YouTube Premium
- Google Play Movies & TV
- Disney Plus+ launching in November
- Apple TV+ launching 1st November
- Acorn TV
Streaming sites available in the US
- HBO Now, HBO Go
- YouTube Premium
- Google Play Movies & TV
- Disney Plus+
- Apple TV+
- Acorn TV
Streaming sites available in the UK
- YouTube Premium
- Google Play Movies & TV
- Disney Plus+
- Apple TV+
Best streaming sites
There’s no shortage of comparisons of streaming sites dotted across the internet. In a previous job, I wrote the first complete round-up of streaming platforms as they were in Australia at the time; giving a brief overview of the content catalogue and comparing the technical aspects such as video resolution and sound quality along with adaptive compression technology, which matches the streaming to your internet connection to keep the video going and avoid the dreaded buffering.
When it comes to your internet, you want an absolute minimum speed of 3 Megabits per second (Mbps) as the base level for streaming in standard definition (SD). If you’re going to be streaming in high definition (HD) and have more than one stream (hello kids and parents), then you need 5Mbps and up. To stream shows in high-quality 4K resolution, then aim for an internet speed of 25Mbps and above. If it’s a shared internet connection that will need to cover several streamings at the same time, along with other high-demand usage such as gaming, virtual work involving large files, teleconferencing and so on, you might need to top out at 50Mbps.
If you’re moving to the NBN and think now’s the time to try streaming, choose a plan based on the information above with enough speed, but remember you can always increase speed or data allowance if you find you’re using more than you expected.
If you don’t have a newer, smart TV that connects to the internet, you’ll need an add-on streaming device to watch shows through these services. Streaming devices include the Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast and the Roku TV.
Generally speaking, a fixed, wired internet connection, which takes a network cable from your internet router house into the TV or computer provides a more reliable, consistent speed for most of the time. In this case, the streaming site runs through a smart TV which connects to the internet. If not, a streaming device like Google’s Chromecast or Apple TV will be connected to the TV and stream content being connected to the wireless network in your home from your router. The other option is watching shows on a tablet, laptop or smartphone over the Wi-Fi network through the streaming site’s app. Wi-Fi has improved so much with each new wireless protocol that it’s suitable for even high-definition steaming now.
The other consideration is your data allowance, and these have certainly expanded as streaming has grown in popularity with more and more viewers in the last five years. If you’re new to streaming, keep an eye on your data usage over the first month or two and considering upgrading to a more generous plan if it’s not enough to go around.
Now that the technical stuff is covered, it’s on to breaking down the best streaming sites according to different criteria such as TV, movies, sport, documentaries and so on.
Best streaming sites for movies
When it comes to the best movie streaming sites, there’s plenty to choose between from Netflix to Prime and new ones on the horizon. Your preference depends on how much you’re willing to pay and what movies you like to watch. As the ‘streaming wars’ play out, we’re witnessing the changing shape of content offerings and specialisation as studios like Disney decide to launch their own services and platforms doing deals directly with creators like Amazon Prime’s newly inked deal with Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller Bridge and Netflix teeing up with Vince Gilligan for his recent Breaking Bad movie sequel El Camino.
Netflix has one of the best algorithms for suggesting movies based on your likes and viewing history. It has its owned funded movies, Netflix Originals, a good collection of critically acclaimed movies that have won awards and interesting indie films, although it’s a bit light on for new release and blockbuster films that come to streaming after their cinema run.
If you’re a film buff and are prepared to stump up some dollars just for films, consider Mubi, which has a selection of cult, classic and award-winning films which change every month.
Prime Video has a wide selection of new release mainstream movies and an extensive back catalogue, although you need to pay for many individual new release films in addition to the monthly subscription cost.
Stan is heavy on the Australian movie content and a lot of older mainstream American films with a smattering of English productions and not much in the way of world cinema. A good place to find blockbuster films for the kids, especially if they’re into the Avengers or Iron Man franchise.
The streaming platform belonging to the Foxtel pay TV network, Foxtel Now has a lot of movies from arthouse to mainstream blockbusters, classics and cult, but as the priciest of all the streaming services, you’ll pay to be spoilt for choice.
Best streaming sites for TV shows
With TV streaming sites, again there’s a lot to choose between from new series like The Crown and Orange is the New Black on Netflix and Better Call Saul and Ru Paul’s Drag Race on Stan to Good Omens and Fleabag on Prime. So where to start if you’re new to streaming or just looking for something different to watch?
The cheapest way is to go for a free trial on a streaming site you want to try because just perusing the front page won’t really give you the complete picture of what TV shows are available. If you’re a diehard fan of series like Seinfeld, Friends, Parks & Recreation or South Park, then do your research and find out if they’re on a streaming platform. Series like these have been given a second life on streaming platforms that have been able to make the entire series available long-term. Bad luck if you bought the entire DVD collection before the rise of streaming, but at least you can watch a show anytime you’ve got an internet collection.
Netflix consistently rates as the best streaming site in comparison articles and that’s because it does such a good job of consistently having a wide-range of TV shows at any time, including its own Netflix Originals like The Good Place, Russian Doll and The Crown, along with popular series The Big Bang Theory and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, interesting documentaries across all genres and plenty of shows for kids.
Prime is a good place to find TV series including Prime Originals like The Marvellous Mrs Maisel, Jack Ryan, The Man in the High Castle and Transparent, acclaimed series such as English series Fleabag and The Americans, although its catalogue isn’t as extensive as Netflix there’s plenty to keep you entertained for months.
Stan, like the other platforms, produces its own TV series including Wentworth, No Activity and Wolf Creek along with acclaimed series like Breaking Bad and Californication which have found a home on the site. Popular series from the US such as Veronica Mars, Younger and All American stream at the same time as the US, meaning the days on staggering release windows and disadvantaging Australian viewers is over.
HayU is the place to get your Kardashian fix and find a host of other reality TV if that’s your bag.
You may also not realise that YouTube Premium is a paid, ad-free subscription service where you can stream and download movies, TV shows and music. And the site also has series and single episodes of many shows as pay-per-episode.
Best streaming sites for sports
The best streaming sites for sports number only a few, in Australia at least. If you shell out for a Foxtel Now streaming subscription, you can add the sport package but it’ll cost around $54 a month because you need the basic and the sport package. Unless you’re a hard core sports fan, it makes watching the football or netball a pricey past time.
The other option is to go for a Kayo streaming subscription, which is basically Foxtel’s sport-only streaming platform so it has all the sport you’ll find on the pay TV or Foxtel Now streaming basic plus sport packages.
In Australia, there are a few other options such as Optus Sport, which comes with prepaid plans or a monthly subscription if you’re not already an Optus customer. Ove Play is another sports streaming service backed by Optus reseller Ovo, but you need to be an Ovo customer to access the free, included service. beIN Sports Connect is a sports subscription service with just three sports, tennis, rugby and football.
In the US, ESPN+ is the streaming platform for the popular cable sports channel and fuboTV is another rival sports streaming service that primarily focuses on the NFL, NBA and football. A few other include DAZN and WWENetwork, which focus mostly on boxing, SlingTV has an add-on sports package, and some of the sports codes such as NBA and NFL that have their own streaming sites.
In the UK, sports can be found via subscription services BT Sport and SkySports along with NowTV and AmazonPrime among a few others.
Best free streaming sites
Is it even possible to find free movies online? Ignoring the sites that host copyright movies which are best avoided, it is possible to enjoy some free movie streaming. The best streaming sites that are free can be found showing classic, retro, cult and some out-of-copyright films on a bunch of places online. Here’s a brief rundown of places to watch online for free. You can find public domain movies unfree websites as well as library and university-supported sites such as Kanopy and HooplaDigital. Library sites usually only provide free access to content as long as you have a library card, and review site IMDB has IMDbTV. Also streaming in the US is PopcornFlix, Vudu and PlutoTV.
YouTube is the biggest and most well-known site and movies, TV shows, music clips, instructional videos, how tos, unboxing videos number into the hundreds of millions.
Tubi is an ad-supported site which has partnered with some large Hollywood studies and has a good collection of movies and TV shows to watch without handing over your credit card.
Crackle is owned by Sony Pictures so naturally it has a substantial collection of shows from the studio and you’ll be able to watch high-quality movies with ads for free.
CrunchyRoll is the place to go if you’re an anime fan and it has free ad-supported videos and it also has a premium ad-free paid platform.
CometTV is the place to go if you’re a sci-fi movie fan.
The Internet Archive
The Internet Archive has its film section Internet Archive Movie Archive which has a substantial collection of films in its digital catalogue.
Big Five Glories
If you’re a fan of cinema from Hollywood’s golden age, Big Five Glories is the place to go for free classic movie.
Dragnet, Abbott & Costello, Lucille Ball, Dragnet. These and plenty of other retro movies and TV can be found on RetroVision.
Best streaming sites with no sign up
The best streaming sites with no sign up, are much like the free sites, which many times have ads to support the running costs of the site. See the list above for best streaming sites that are free to get started. Most of the subscription sites require a sign up, even while offering a free trial.
They’re not going to give away their premium TV shows and movies, even for two weeks or a month, without grabbing some of your contact details for trying to coax you into a subscription after the trial period ends. Do be aware that many of the sites with free trials will also ask for financial details and will automatically sign you over to a paid subscription when the free trial period ends. Put a note in your diary to cancel the subscription a day before the free trial period ends if you’ve had to hand over your credit card details for the free trial.
Best streaming sites for TV shows 2019
As mentioned above, the year will close with the launch of two new streaming services – Apple TV+ and Disney+ and it’s fair to say the market will keep changing as all these sites compete for viewers. The flagship series on Apple TV+ will be The Morning Show, a fictional behind-the-scene drama about a breakfast TV show, featuring Reece Witherspoon, Jennifer Anniston and Steve Carell. It will also feature history drama For All Mankind, comedy Dickinson and a slew of other new series are in the pipeline. Disney+ will open the vault on its extensive library with shows from Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, the vast collection of classic Disney films and the much-anticipated Star Wars TV series The Mandalorian.
In Australia, Foxtel Now provides the widest array of TV and films, but old habits of the pay TV network die hard. It’s also the most expensive and requires a base subscription and then premium TV and movie subscriptions on top. Time will tell if it’s forced once and for all to do away with the tiered model favoured by pay TV and embrace the all-you-can-watch subscription model at a more affordable price pioneered by Netflix.
Naturally the line-up of TV shows available on streaming sites changes from year to year, depending on content rights for existing shows and the release schedules for new series throughout the year. The best streaming sites for TV shows in 2019 may not necessarily be the same next year in 2020. An updated article with the rundown of the best streaming sites will be available in 2020.
If you’re short of time and don’t want to spend ages trawling for movies online and want some regular suggestions, sign up to the weekly Some Notes From A Broad newsletter. You’ll get a regular round-up of new and interesting movies and TV series to watch straight to your inbox.