With so many new TV and film streaming options available to New Zealanders we thought it was high time for a complete A to Z guide that looks at all the important stuff like what’s on offer as well as cost and ease of use.
Have you heard the news? Appointment viewing is a thing of the past. There’s no reason to waste your precious time waiting for something to come on the telly when you can watch it when and where you like.
In Witchdoctor’s essential guide to streaming television, we look at the pros and cons of the major subscription streaming players but also the amazing variety of niche streaming platforms.
In this essential guide, we look only at channels that aren’t geoblocked. (And in a future guide, we’ll look at what else is out there for people who can be bothered setting up a VPN!)
Pay per view
Academy Cinemas is an art cinema theatre complex based underneath the central Auckland Public Library. Academy Cinemas OnDemand makes available to screen a selection of films that the cinema has either shown or is showing. Includes selections as recommended by their staff. Many of the titles are available for $4.99 so prices are reasonable. But bear in mind that a subscription service like Mubi has a vast selection of art movies available for an all-you-can-eat $9.99 per month; ditto DocPlay for the documentaries.
East of use – No app so you stream via the website. The quality of the film changes depending on your internet, so if you’ve got fibre you’ll get HD.
Subscription – $7.99 per month (free month offer)
Acorn is an American-based channel that focuses on English TV shows, many from the BBC. With some original series’ and many well-known classics like Midsomer Murders, Doc Martin and A Place To Call Home, it’s not exactly bulging with new content but will appeal to expat poms and those with a nostalgic yearning for the mother country. And it’s really cheap.
Ease of use – Acorn can be viewed on the usual range of devices, including media players like the Apple TV. Closed caption-enabled. Simple interface and quirk-free, although maximum resolution is 720p, you can’t download shows and it doesn’t allow individual profiles.
Free or Premium $7.99AU per month (free month offer)
One of two places to go for dedicated anime fans (the other being the flashier, bigger Crunchyroll), Animelab is run by Aussie film and DVD/Blu-ray company Madman, and features shows and episodes fast-tracked from Japan.
Ease of use – The free version tortures its viewers with ads and standard definition, while the paid version is HD and has more content. The paid version also offers English dubs in addition to subtitles.
$8.99 per month or free for a year with a new Apple device (free week offer)
A relatively new major player in the race to be top dog in the streaming film and TV category, Apple’s offering hit our screens in November 2019. At this early stage best described as a boutique selection of content, the big plus (ha-ha) up its sleeves is a raft of exclusive original content that’s produced to very slick standards, as well as a price that’s less than half of the seemingly unstoppable streaming giant, Netflix. Poor uptake combined with the Covid-19 pandemic holding up new productions has led to the acquiring of older TV shows outside of the Apple sphere.
Ease of use – Available in HD and 4K with all mod cons for Apple users, Apple+ doesn’t have an Android app but can be viewed on a non-Apple browser. The service offers downloads and subtitles.
Free (with some library memberships) or $5.99 per month
This Australian service echoes the similarly wonderful American Kanopy, in that they’re education/knowledge-oriented and are available free from those libraries that subscribe. If you live in the regions it’s likely that your local library won’t offer Beamafilm, but luckily you can subscribe for $5.99 per month. This is pretty incredible if you love documentaries and the more intelligent end of contemporary and classic movies, and happily, they also have some Criterion Collection films, which are famed for having been carefully restored. Beware, however, that many of the newest/best films are not free, and are instead pay-per-view. In our opinion, this makes DocPlays a better option.
Ease of use – Movies available up to HD but you can’t set the resolution (it’s automatically adjusted by measuring the speed of your internet). You also can’t download movies to watch on a different device.
Described as an entertainment and lifestyle channel, Choice started out independent but has now become part of the huge Discovery stable. All about travel, history, food and other consumer stuff, like most free-to-air channels there are regular advertising interruptions.
Ease of use – No app, so watch or mirror from your browser.
Free or Premium $US7.99 per month
The biggest streaming platform for Anime and Manga. Based in the US, it’s got a huge selection of anime feeding through from Japan.
Ease of use – Available via app and works on most devices but the free version is hampered by limited choice, standard definition and lots of ads. The premium version is in HD and has all the bells and whistles.
$US2.99 per month or $US19.99 annually
American documentary streaming service from the founders of the Discovery Channel that tends to go for nature, science-based and historical shows. Don’t expect the quirky intelligence of UK docos but it does look good.
Ease of use – Offers up to 4K quality and can be streamed via an app or from computer browser. Loads of shows but even subscribers have to put up with ads before a show starts (mercifully, not during).
$9.99 per month
Touted as a serious challenge to Netflix’s dominance when it launched last November, Disney+ can keep kids happy forever with its lineup of classic Disney shows and films as well as National Geographic documentaries, Fox shows like The Simpsons, the Marvel franchise, Star Wars and Pixar animated movies. Much of it is back catalogue, however, and don’t expect anything at all X-rated or challenging. One benefit of the Covid-19 pandemic is that some films have released either straight to Disney+ or appeared much earlier than intended. We think it a little mean that no free trial is offered, but at least the monthly sub is reasonable.
Ease of use: There were some teething problems but it’s now running as smoothly as a dream. Available up to 4K, from all devices and multiple devices simultaneously.
$6.95 per month (free 1-month trial)
DocPlay is an Australian-originated documentary streaming service from Madman (distributors of specialist films) and contains a wonderful array of provocative and insightful documentaries about all walks of life, from music and art through to social and political issues and history. These include whole series and many unique documentary films that have only really made it previously to festivals. We love it.
Ease of use – Available via app and browser in hi-definition. There’s a glitch when viewing via the Apple TV media device where a show you’re watching won’t open again, but viewing via phone and Chromecast is seamless.
Pay per view
The rather pious, anti-gay marriage, pro-“family” pay per view streaming service of the hopefully dwindling Family First pressure group. Contains a small selection of family movies and shows guaranteed not to offend, many of them available to “own” or rent. Pass.
Freeview OnDemand bundles together free-to-air services TVNZ, 3Now and Maori TV along with their online-only content. Available via all smart TVs and media gadgets like the Dish brand, it’s a one-stop browsing shop that saves having to go to the individual apps.
Ease of use – This convenient interface avoids having to deal with and learn how to use (and sign into!) the individual services it brings together.
American channel especially for children, “GoNoodle gets kids up and moving to fun, engaging content and games. Every dance party, yoga session, mindfulness activity and game session is an opportunity for kids to wake up their bodies, engage their minds, and be their best.”
Ease of use – Download the app to various gadgets, or watch on television via their YouTube channel.
Pay per view films
Google Play offers a selection of movies to rent. Part of the overall Google Play service which also offers games and apps.
Ease of use – App widely available and features on some smart TVs. Like most Google services, it works. Shop around for best pay per view price for a movie, though.
From the same stable (and conjoined website) as Choice On Demand is this home improvement channel, and like Choice it’s owned by the huge documentary conglomerate Discovery. You’ll have to put up with ads.
Ease of use – No app so get it from your browser and mirror it to your TV.
A brilliant service from San Francisco that offers a decent selection of movies free to watch for members of some public libraries and university students. Describing its service as “quality, thoughtful entertainment”, its selection is oriented towards arthouse, educational films and documentaries. Sadly, many libraries in NZ don’t subscribe. Start putting the pressure on yours now!
Ease of use – Accessible via app or browser as well as on several media devices, to watch free movies you’ll need your library card details.
$US9.99 per month (14-day trial)
For those who want only “clean” content, this Christian-oriented streaming service offers about 5000 G-rated films and TV shows.
Available either through Freeview or as a standalone on-demand service, Maori Television is the best place to experience mostly Aotearoa-based content and includes films, NZ TV series’ and movies.
East of use – The interface is nothing flash but it works.
Pay per view
Previously an Xbox-only service (Xbox Video), Microsoft Films & TV is geared towards Microsoft (hence Windows and Xbox) users. This platform allows either renting or buying a huge selection of movies in hi-def and 4K. Films are stored in the cloud so you can watch them on any device anywhere.
Ease of use – Once you’ve jumped through the usual Microsoft hoops (you’ll need an MS account but there’s no sign-in to the service) this is a very usable platform.
$9.99 per month (7-day free trial)
Fans of film festival fare can absolutely pig-out on this wonderful, intelligently curated collection of arthouse films. Covering the whole range from silent classics to director specials and the latest festival offerings, Mubi offers a nice twist by adding a new title every day, each of which remains available for 30 days. And for those accessing via browser (rather than app or media device) they’ve just “opened” their extensive “library” feature. Who needs to sit in dank theatres in the middle of winter when you can experience the same thing at home? There’s also an excellent selection of essays on its website.
East of use – Accessible via app, browser or media centre, Mubi is simple to use and navigate and never misses a beat. Movies are HD when they’re made that way, and are downloadable to devices.
$13.95 (14-day free trial)
Run by Sky and as of July 7, 2020, incorporating the content of Spark’s now deceased Lightbox, Neon provides a New Zealand-based service competing with the big operators like Netflix. Neon holds several major aces up its sleeve including exclusive feeds from HBO (the home of quality American drama), and some great films. Its absorption of Lightbox avails it of classics like Breaking Bad and more recent phenomenons like The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s also been showing some recent cinema crackers such as JoJo Rabbit and Terminator Dark Fate.
Ease of use – Neon’s old app was notoriously buggy and a major reason for the Lightbox acquisition has to be its much slicker interface. The new-look Neon is, we can happily report, an altogether happier experience and runs like a dream.
$11.99 to $21.99 per month
The behemoth of streaming TV, Netflix currently seems unbeatable, even given its over-the-top price increases. The secret ingredient here is a huge array of programmes, many of which are exclusives. And despite some dodgy reality TV and routine horror shows and movies, you just need to look at Amazon’s rather dog-tailed Prime Video selection to see how well Netflix curates its content. With a stellar lineup of documentaries, some of the best TV drama around and a genuinely international array of content, what’s not to like? Our only bugbear is the way your viewing selections determine what shows up in your feed (including ‘new releases) next, making it very hard to get a genuine glance at the totality of what’s available.
Ease of use – With three different pricing tiers ($11.99 for standard def, $16.99 for HD and $21.99 for 4K) Netflix accessible to most, although only the top tier will avail you of multi-screen viewing/downloading. The app is slick and generally works great, although there are a few idiosyncracies. For instance, if you’re watching a series it will occasionally forget your place.
Pay per view
Run by the New Zealand Film Commission, NZ Film On Demand is the place to go when you want to soak up our own film culture. With a wide variety of both recent and classic Kiwi movies available at very reasonable prices to either view (for 7 days) or own, all viewable in HD, it’s a real treasure chest.
This is a government-run portal where anyone (anywhere) can view an array of New Zealand-made television and film as well as interviews and profiles.
Ease of use – Best used as a website and viewed on a computer screen.
Stuff launched Play Stuff in August 2019, which it billed as “offering free online access to thousands of news and entertainment videos”. This modest offering contains lots of short news videos, but of more interest is the selection of rather good documentaries.
East of use – Watch via your browser. Includes ads.
A small but useful selection of shows from Sky’s free-to-air broadcast TV channel Prime available to stream. Worth a look. At the moment, for instance, you can see the rather astonishing documentary The Chills: The Triumph & Tragedy Of Martin Phillipps.
Ease of use – View on your browser. Programmes available for a limited time. Includes ads.
$US5.99 per month (first six months at $US2.99)
The streaming TV service of giant US mailorder company Amazon is a real hodgepodge of content, but for those willing to navigate their way through its huge range of shows seemingly chosen at random, there are choice niblets to be found. And although the price is (annoyingly) in US dollars, unless the Kiwi dollar tanks it’s still much cheaper than comparable offerings. Like its rival Netflix, PrimeVideo features its own exclusive content, but the strike rate is lower.
Ease of use – It’s all a bit baffling to begin with and it’s not as easy as Netflix to find brand new stuff, but there’s so much there (reputedly 8,000-plus movies and 500 TV shows, for starters) that it’s great for people who enjoy wormholes. All subscribers get access to HD and 4K content and it’s viewable and downloadable from multiple screens/devices.
Contains programming on sports, music, lifestyle/culture, and active pursuits generally. Free but branded.
Ease of use – Available via app and browser with subtitles where required, but geared towards mobile phones.
$US8.99 per month (free for 14 days)
For those who, inexplicably, want to watch mostly South African TV series’ and movies.
Ease of use – Available across all the usual devices up to HD.
Pay per view
With its name inspired by the Monty Python spam sketch, Spamflix is a new movie streaming service dedicated to cult and genre films, so it’s like the oddest titles you might see in a film festival that screen once and can never find again. Movies are rented for $7 over a 72-hour period, or you can buy a multi-pack for a reduced per-film price. Cool.
Ease of use – Watch via the app or online. Pretty good interface.
Free or premium $US3.99 per month
For those hankering for obscure and ancient films that don’t seem to hit any of the conventional streaming services, The Film Detective it the jackpot. Many of its films are in the public domain (and that’s why they can make them available free of charge). While some of the prints are ragged, this American outfit do their best to clean them up. It was founded by a renowned film archivist, so its heart is in the right place. And yes, if you want to check out really bad ‘50s monster movies, this is the place!
Ease of use – Available via app or web browser and easy-peasy to use. Sadly, films don’t pause once started or remember where you left off. The free version has ads but in our experience the intrusion is minimal.
Just what the doctor ordered: a free collection of insightful documentaries. Or as they say in the blurb: “A library of films to provoke, inspire and inform radical social and political change.” They say it’s a “100 per cent automonous, not-for-profit, self-directed project that exists to inspire action on a whole bunch of issues surrounding modern society.” Heavy.
Ease of use – None of that multi-platform stuff. It’s online, okay?
ThreeNow is a rather rudimentary on demand service for the Mediaworks broadcast television channel, 3. Generally it makes available programmes for around 28 days after broadcast. If you’re a fan of Big Brother, The Real Housewives Of Beverley Hills or the Kelly Clarkson Show, then go for it.
Ease of use – Basic but functional, ThreeNow’s app is available across most devices. Features ads.
Free or $US4.99 monthly
Educational children (of all ages) videos and games. The free version has minimal advertising.
Ease of use – Available across many devices including smart TVs.
Tubi is kind of the new face of broadcast TV. It’s a Fox-owned streaming service that’s completely free and has a load of content from major, previously broadcast television corporations. There’s some really good stuff on it. But it does have ads.
Ease of use – It’s a slick interface and is available on all the appropriate gadgets and you get to set whether you want it in standard definition or HD.
The streaming version of NZ’s lumbering broadcast television network, which is state-owned but has always acted as a commercial entity. Actually, along with the silly reality shows there’s a lot of great content, including foreign programmes and Norwegian noir dramas. And of course, that overrated colonial bodice-ripper, The Luminaries. Downside – it contains ads.
Ease of use – It’s amazing how quickly this interface has improved. Two years ago it was hopelessly clunky and the picture would freeze and programmes would lose their place. Now it’s pretty good, though nowhere near as slick as the overseas counterparts.
Like a more high quality, curated version of YouTube with fewer amateur attempts at filming, Vimeo is a portal for mostly short films (from documentaries to music clips), many of them in 4K. It makes its money from subscribing film-makers and therefore has a reputation as a portal for professionals.
Ease of use – Vimeo is available through the usual apps and devices but is initially quite confusing to navigate as it’s so gear towards producers/uploaders.
Essentially NZME’s version of Play Stuff, this is a compile of videos produced by the various media outlets associated with the NZ Herald. Unless your views jive with Mike Hosking and Heather du Plessis-Allen, this might be one to avoid, although we’re sure there’s good stuff here if you’re willing to wade through the punditry. Comes in three parts: Sport, News and Entertainment. Just like life, really.
Ease of use – Geared for watching on your browser or phone.
Who doesn’t know about or use this free video phenomenon? It’s the de-facto place to go for music clips and free documentaries and increasingly, an excellent source of original TV and film content, some of it in the public domain but some of it brand new. There is, of course, loads of shit on this Google-owned behemoth, and it’s increasingly full of irritating and repetitive ads, but hey… (YouTube does have a premium music service and a service where they sell digital movies, but that’s hardly its main course).
Ease of use – There’s such a wealth of material on YouTube that just navigating around it all can be confusing, so it’s best to have time on your hands to enjoy browsing. It’s available on all apps/devices. Resolution varies but HD and 4K videos can be found.
Promoted as ‘New Zealand’s New Media Network’, Ziln looks rather homemade. It’s essentially a composite of wannabe NZ channels with shows about pets, fishing, drones, a channel called Ponsonby TV and another about Cool Science. It’s all a bit odd but for those wanting a touch of homegrown local, it might fit the bill.
Ease of use – You’d want to be watching this via your browser, you wowser.
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* Note – The above is a complete list of legit streaming services available in NZ. Of course, there are many more that are geo-blocked. In a future piece, we’ll explain how you can overcome this by using a VPN.