We ranked all 20 of New Zealand's TV streaming services
Welcome to 2023's most controversial newsletter (probably). Plus, Sweet Tooth returns, and why you should be watching Prime Video's Dead Ringers reboot.
Kia ora and welcome to Rec Room! When Netflix arrived in 2015, things were simple. With few options, the choice was easy: you watched broadcast TV, Sky, Netflix or Lightbox. Now, things are so much more complicated. When I set out to rank and review all of the streaming services available to us here in 2023, I had no idea just how many there would be. Let’s just say it was more work than I anticipated. But here it is, the list. I changed my mind on my number one at the last minute – more below...
-Chris Schulz, senior writer
Only one TV streaming service can rule them all - but which one?
We’re aggressive, ruthless and relentless. We’re savvy switching like there’s no tomorrow: signing up, bingeing everything we can, then quitting after a month. We’re pursuing content like Wile E. Coyote chases the Road Runner. We will not stop until we find what we want, on the service we want to watch it on. When we’re done, we’re not-so-quietly quitting to go find something else and start the process again.
Honestly, sitting down and enjoying some TV for the evening has become a second job these days. You want drama? Forget about the Roys’ battle for supremacy on Succession and try working out how to binge your favourite shows. You need Excel spreadsheets and password managers to keep track of where you can watch what, and when you can do so. The searching and scrolling can drive you insane.
Until I sat down to research this piece, I didn’t even know how many streaming services were available to Aotearoa audiences. When you tally them up, both the free and paid models, there's (at least) 20 of them. Twenty! No one needs that many streaming services.
It’s complicated, it’s confusing, it’s a Carrie-from-Homeland wall map of chaos. Yet, in 2023, this is where we’re at. It’s rough out there for telly addicts, and trying to grasp the TV zeitgeist is harder than ever. To make sense of it all, the only sane thing to do seems to be attempting the impossible.
So, without further ado, here’s every streaming service, ranked in order of how essential they are. Happy savvy switching, everybody.
(We couldn’t fit reviews for all 20 streaming services into this newsletter so we’ve condensed them down to the top five. You can read the full list here.)
It’s huge, a titan that touches all quadrants, a behemoth. It’s also nervous, unhinged, and a little desperate. Netflix has had a rough ride over the past year, losing millions of subscribers and watching its share price slump while struggling to land the kinds of huge shows it’s known for. Making things worse are big hits The Crown and Stranger Things ending soon. But Netflix remains the dominant streaming service, one with such a vice-like grip on Aotearoa that not only is it the most popular paid streamer, bootleg versions of the US service – accessed through an American credit card and VPN blocker – also beat some of its main competitors. While Netflix’s fifth placement might seem shocking, even scandalous, it’s there because it’s among the most expensive services, has very few local shows and throws so much shit at the wall it’s impossible to tell what sticks. Worse: Beef aside, it’s had very few hits this year. (Also, they wouldn’t send me season two of Sweet Tooth in advance. Sniff.) (Netflix, $12.99-$24.99/month)
4.Sky Sport Now
Do you watch sport? Do you need sport? Do you love sport? Then there’s really only one option available to you – and it’s going to cost you the big bucks. Whether you support the All Blacks or the Silver Ferns, if you’re in love with Manchester City or Arsenal in the Premier League, or run the gauntlet supporting either the Warriors or the Wellington Phoenix, there’s only one service showing up every week and delivering sporting thrills and spills on the regular. Yes, Sky Sport Now is expensive (a monthly sub just rose to $44.99), clumsy to use and its search engine sucks. But it has most of the main sporting codes covered, the highlight packages are perfect bite-sized snacks and it gets the basics – streaming live sport straight to the eyeballs of sports fans – exactly right. You may not like it – many don’t – but it’s the only real option we have. (Sky Sport Now, $44.99/month)
3. Apple TV+
It’s quiet, won’t shout at you and doesn’t pester you with emails, notifications and updates. Apple TV+’s interface is easy and intuitive, especially if you’re using the excellent Apple TV box. Plus, if you’re already an Apple Music subscriber, you can get it at a bit of a discount. If you just bought an iPhone, you probably have it for free. Are you using it? You absolutely should be. Apple TV+ has been in stealth mode for the past couple of years, quietly releasing quality shows and building up its content library. Suddenly, it’s emerged as a dominant force in the streaming wars. Ted Lasso and Bad Sisters were huge hits, but have you also seen Severance, Slow Horses and For All Mankind? How about Prehistoric Planet, The Mosquito Coast and Shining Girls? Apple TV+ appears to have a solid, long-term plan. You’d be an idiot to bet against it now. (Apple TV+, $14.99/ month)
Up until Anzac Day, I was sure TVNZ+ was going to take out the top spot. It may seem strange to have an ad-supported local freebie so high, but look at the facts: TVNZ+ only costs you your email address, and during all of the year’s weather events its news shows have been essential services. Then there are the shows. It has so many, from local heroes Shortland Street, Taskmaster NZ, Educators and Duckrockers to acclaimed recent imports like Poker Face, Rogue Heroes, Rabbit Hole and Lucky Hank. This year, TVNZ+ has stepped up, it’s putting in effort to acquire content (The North Water and Stath Lets Flats are two excellent recent additions, as well as the entirety of The Office and Parks & Recreation) and it shows. It was all set to claim the trophy. Then came Tuesday. While trying to watch Lego Masters NZ with my kids, the TVNZ+ app glitched during the ads. Then it glitched again. When I asked around my office, many complained about the glitches. So are people on Twitter. Fix those glitches, TVNZ, and you’d be top dog. (TVNZ+, free)
It’s on the pricey side, loaded predominantly with content from one major supplier, and with Warners Bros. Disovery’s new global service Max due to arrive next year, it may not be in it for the long haul. But, as of right now, Neon remains the only streaming service offering the kind of prestige TV drama everyone froths over. Where were you when Tanya fell off a boat in The White Lotus? What were you doing when Logan collapsed on a plane in Succession? How about when Ellie nuzzled a giraffe in The Last of Us? You were almost certainly right there, on Neon, eyes wide, loving every second. Add in a suite of major film titles, a solid line-up of local content, a huge library (including all-timers like Six Feet Under, The Sopranos and The Wire) and the ability to rent new releases, and Neon deserves to be No. 1. Let's see how long it can stay there. (Neon, $17.99/month)
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Here’s all the new stuff you can watch, right now…
Rachel Weisz pulls double duty in Dead Ringers (Prime Video), the reboot of David Cronenberg's creepy 1988 film into a six-part series that is scoring rave reviews. Critics say Weisz, who replaces Jeremy Irons’ roles to play ethically dubious twin gynaecologist, Elliot and Beverly Mantle, is incredible. “A genuinely unsettling tour de force,” declared Decider’s critic, who says Weisz is “operating at the top of her game”.
This week’s other big release is the second season of Sweet Tooth (Netflix), the New Zealand-shot, family-friendly comic book caper that was a massive hit in our house. The kids are counting down the days until they can see this (it’s out today!) and while episodes weren’t provided to critics, it seems unlikely they’re going to stuff up this delightfully cute apocalyptic yarn now.
Elsewhere, there’s plenty to sink your teeth into, from David E. Kelley’s dark HBO suburban murder mini-series Love & Death (Neon), to the second season of the star-studded murder mystery show The Afterparty (Apple TV+) and Lizzy Caplan’s reboot of Fatal Attraction (TVNZ+, from April 30). Critics say you’re best to skip the Drake-produced “dead-girl” show Saint X (Disney+) – “Aims high, lands low,” quipped The Guardian.
There’s little landing in theatres to get excited about this week, but there’s a large slate of at-home films to work your way through. The Russo brothers attempt a streaming spy caper with Citadel (Prime Video), Clock (Disney+) looks like a companion piece to Dead Ringers, a body horror about a woman trying to fix her biological clock, and you can rent the Thandiwe Newton thriller God’s Country on Neon. If you’re after a rom-com – who isn’t? – A Tourist’s Guide to Love apparently features lovely scenic shots of Vietnam for you to drool over.
On The Spinoff now: The Real Pod takes on The Traitors
Controversial reality show The Traitors is coming to Aotearoa for a version hosted by Paul Henry. Will it be any good? On The Real Pod, Alex Casey, Duncan Greive and Jane Yee try to answer that question. Plus, Harry Warner is coming back to Ferndale with a new face and the Briscoes Lady isn't going anywhere. All that, plus encounters with fleas, wizards and ex Married at First Sight contestants blowing up our phones.
Everything you need to know…
It’s great to see Taika Waititi going back to his roots with Next Goal Wins, a charming, extreme take on Ted Lasso set in the Pacific Islands. I laughed several times at this excellent first trailer.
A man named Demetrious Polychron is suing Amazon, claiming it stole elements of his Lord of the Rings fan fiction for the new show Rings of Power. Kotaku has more.
Give me a creepy show about a freaky religious cult and I will binge the crap out of it. The Clearing looks the goods. Here’s the first trailer.
Wondering who has to organise all that Lego in between the big builds on Lego Masters NZ? Tara Ward meets the hard-working team behind the scenes.
There’s a White Men Can’t Jump reboot coming with Jack Harlow. Here’s the hate-it-or-love-it trailer.
Bryan Tyree Henry is on a roll and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop with Class of ‘09, a drama about how AI affects crime fighting. Here’s the first trailer.
How does a New Zealand film get made? First, it needs funding. Matthew McAuley finds out how that works.
That’s it for Rec Room for this week. If you liked what you read, why not share Rec Room with your friends and whānau.