Streaming TV just got expensive but we’ve got the answer!

November 29, 2023
6 mins read

With the cost of television streaming services soaring GARY STEEL names the best low-cost and no-cost alternatives.

I remember the day I got up the courage to pull the plug on the wallet-gouging satellite Sky TV service. It took a bit of courage because I loved having a plethora of content to peruse, but really, Sky was taking the mickey, and if you happened to like movies and the arts and music and documentaries and sport, you’d end up paying close to a hundred bucks a month when you included the $15 charge for the HD decoder/recorder thingy.

When streaming TV got underway in New Zealand it held the promise of ad-free TV with programmes you could watch when you wanted, but was way too glitch-prone in the pre-fibre internet environment.


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But I’ve always hated “appointment” TV and for decades have taped the programmes I wanted to see, so eventually I acquiesced and subscribed to one streaming service, which led to another, and then another, and another, as the various services became available. Ridiculous, really, because I could never hope to watch all the interesting shows on even one of the services I subscribe to. It’s just that, while Netflix has a huge inventory and many different categories and genres, it doesn’t specialize in the specific areas I love, like cult and b-movies, classic movies and television, documentaries and foreign/art films.

Accordingly, I’ve ended up subscribing to just about everything that’s legally available to NZ audiences. At last count, I was flipping through Netflix, Neon, Apple+, Disney+, Prime Video, DocPlay, Mubi, Shudder, Acorn and even paying YouTube for the privilege of not having to watch their horribly intrusive ads, which often cut even a music video right in half!

When the subscription streaming services first became available, I noted the feeling of liberation from the old way of doing things and how relatively cheap they were. Back then, they were all under $10. But when I did the sums last week I was in for a shock: my monthly expenditure on streaming TV services is nearly $70! This brings back bad memories of that Sky gouging.

The problem is that as more services have become available, the prime shows have been divided up between them. And now, inflation is driving up prices. In fact, just six months ago Apple+ was still only $8.99, then $12.99, and now it’s gone up to $14.99. Disney+ has gone up to $14.99. Netflix varies a lot depending on which plan and level of picture quality you want, but technically, I’m getting mine for $10 through my internet service provider (I wonder how long that will last?) Art/foreign movie service Mubi has gone from $12.99 to $14.99 too. I had been paying a “premium” sub of only $6.99 to YouTube but last month they informed me they were canning this service, and in future would have to pay an eye-watering $17.99 for the same service, which slaps on their music streaming service as an unwanted extra. Gah!

The misery for parents with kids is that there’s an expectation you’ll have many of these services. I rarely watch Disney+, for instance, and find their offerings rather pallid, for the most part, but I think the wee monsters would start looking for a new Dad if I pulled the plug on it.

But really, who can afford that much in-home entertainment each and every month? The good news is that, if you’re willing to forego the hyped-up programmes on the main streamer services, there are alternatives that are either cheap as chips or completely free.

Amazingly, Amazon’s Prime Video is still only $8.99 per month, despite its huge inventory. Sure, their quality control isn’t up to that of Netflix or Neon, which carries a lot of quality HBO and Showtime content. But there are still plenty of good new TV shows and films to watch on Prime Video, and the bonus is that you can have fun searching for what the other main streamers don’t have: really old films and TV shows and even some z-grade “exploitation” shockers from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Watching Prime Video is a lot more like going into an old-fashioned video store in terms of the selection available, mixing brand-new titles with a ragtag selection that’s sometimes excellent, sometimes jaw-droppingly awful (in a good way).

Then there’s the documentary channel, DocPlay, an Australian screener that provides a nicely curated selection of primo documentaries from around the world. I would happily live almost exclusively on this channel. All for just $7.99 per month.

But what’s completely free? There’s Tubi, and just added a few weeks back, Brollie. Now, don’t ask me how these streaming services make their money, because I’ve not seen a single ad on any of their programmes or films. Both of these services are flying below the radar but it’s really easy to download their respective apps and get cracking.

Tubi has been around for a while, and it’s got a huge range of content to watch, including exclusive new shows and films and a seemingly endless gallery of old crap! Now, I mean that in the best possible way, because old crap can be much more entertaining than new crap. The thing is, if you want to find a horror film shot with one camera by a bunch of students and featuring idiotic not-special effects and beyond-wooden acting, you’ll find it on Tubi. But you’ll also find great music documentaries like the ones I’ve just watched on Harry Nilsson and Sun Ra. There’s an array of 1950s b-movies, hilarious softcore porn films, loads of Bollywood movies and much, much, much more.

The brand new Brollie, meanwhile, seems to be specifically devised to find an audience for award-winning and ‘unusual’ films as well as classic old TV shows and the like. This Aussie streamer features a curated selection of non-mainstream Australian films as well as a dedicated First Nations (Aboriginal) section, along with my favourite, a Cult Movie selection. Obviously designed especially for the likes of me, there are critically lauded festival-type films along with despicable horrors and classic TV shows like Skippy (the bush kangaroo).

The screen interface or functioning of the apps for these services is less sophisticated than Netflix, but what do you expect for a grand total of NOTHING?

I’ve heard people complaining that they can’t find anything to watch on Netflix or other streaming services, but I’m not one of those. I don’t need to watch every film or TV show in my favourite genres, I just want to be entertained without forking out cash that I don’t actually have.

I’ve also found that I’m frequently heading back to television services I thought I had properly left behind forever, like TVNZ and Television 3. I would neither watch either in real-time and the ads still annoy, but the TVNZ+ app works seamlessly and there’s actually a profusion of good material available to watch: top dramas, excellent kids shows, current affairs. The same applies to Three now that they’ve finally (just last week) updated their crummy old app, which looked like a hangover from the early 2000s and would never “keep your place” if you had to exit a programme you wanted to watch the rest of later on. The new app is excellent, looks sharp and is fully functional. My only gripe is that, on my Apple TV 4K doo-dad, I have to press “Yes” twice to get out of the app and watch something else! And as with TVNZ+, there’s more good drama and current affairs than you would expect, if you’re willing to put up with a few ads. (Personally, I prefer Three because they’re less popular for some reason than TVNZ and therefore, there are fewer ads to suck up).

The world of TV streaming has pretty much ended up being just as annoying as those days when Sky was asking us to fork out all that cash for not very much, really. There’s a lot more ad-free content available, you can watch it when you want and it looks much better, but what kills it is that there’s not one central service that lets you see all shows together, rather than paying lots of individual subscriptions.

Still, even paying $70 per month for a bunch of streamers is less than taking the family to the movies (when you include popcorn and ice-creams), so if I had a decent job with a decent wage I wouldn’t mind spending it. But like so many, I don’t! Consequently, I’m close to choosing just one or two “paid” streamers, with a mind to spend a lot more time perusing the vast libraries of services like Tubi and Brollie.

PS, Yes, I know that many have been tempted back into the evils of illegal downloading, but really, if everyone did that then there would be no money to make any programmes, would there?

PPS, In reality, I think I’m too addicted to kill off many of my subscriptions. I really love Neon, because it has more quality new dramas than the others and a selection of recently exhibited motion pictures. You can’t really not have Netflix. And Mubi is like having a film festival in your home. Oh woe is me, what to do?






Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here


  1. hi gary – looks like caps on only in reply. congrats on the new clean look site. we now ‘stream-roll’ – adios prime until later in the year when some favourites return. now, for the ‘worst’ film on prime (if not ever), i’d like to nominate robowoman. browsing came across it – interesting pic attached but noticed 20% notation. I must have missed it … maybe there was minus sign in front of it.

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