8 fantastic streaming services you may not have heard of
Find out where to stream everything from Downton Abbey to award-winning Canadian films and more
I've always watched a ton of TV and movies but staying home over for the past few months has meant I'm bingeing more than ever before. I'm basically streaming my way through this pandemic — and I'm not the only one.
Netflix recently surpassed 200 million subscribers worldwide, adding 37 million new users in 2020 alone. Disney+ quickly surpassed its initial growth projections, and new titles appear on Amazon Prime Canada and Crave each month.
And yet, after turning to screens for entertainment for the past year, it can sometimes feel like we're out of options, stuck in an algorithm of the same suggestions. If that sounds familiar, it may be time to add a new streaming service into the mix.
Beyond Canada's big-name services there are tons of great — and often free — streaming options that you may not know about.
Here are some to check out:
Price: Free with a participating library or university card
Why it's great: This streaming site, which hosts more than 30,000 movies, documentaries and educational videos, partners with universities and local libraries to provide free, ad-free access to users. With everything from award-winning titles to indie gems, as well as partnerships with the History Channel and A&E, Kanopy truly has something for everyone.
Viewing suggestion: The Russian film Beanpole had critics buzzing in 2020. Set in post-WWII Leningrad, Beanpole follows two women as they attempt to rebuild their lives in a city and society that have been demolished. Though it's a bleak scene, Variety noted that Kantemir Balagov's film is "crafted with such care that it's also deeply compelling."
Price: $8.99/ month or $89.99/year
Why it's great: BritBox is a one-stop shop for fans of British television. In addition to big-name shows, like 26 seasons of Doctor Who and the entire Downton Abbey series, BritBox also offers several original shows like the BAFTA-award winning There She Goes.
Viewing suggestion: After bingeing Shetland and Broadchurch, I'm newly obsessed with British mystery shows and BritBox has no shortage of options — like the crime drama series McDonald and Dodds. The two-part series follows a mismatched detective duo as they solve crimes in Bath. After its first season in 2020, the show earned rave reviews from critics and has already been renewed for a second season.
Why it's great: The National Film Board's digital content hub gives users access to more than 3,000 titles ranging from documentaries to experimental films and Canadian classics, with titles in French and English. For anyone looking to expand their knowledge of Canadian cinema, this is a great place to start.
Viewing suggestions: John Ware Reclaimed. In this innovative documentary, filmmaker Cheryl Foggo digs into the complex — and often, misrepresented — history of John Ware, a Black cowboy and rancher in Alberta. The 2020 film won the Audience Choice Award at the Calgary International Film Festival.
Why it's great: Need some mindless entertainment? Look no further. This platform, owned by NBCUniversal, specializes in all things reality TV, with more than 300 shows including Real Housewives franchises from Vancouver to Johannesburg, Keeping Up With the Kardashian, Love & Hip Hop and more.
Viewing suggestion: Below Deck, a reality series about the crews that run superyachts for the uber rich, has been my not-so-secret obsession for years. As I like to say, it's basically the reality TV version of Downton Abbey on the high seas. And thankfully, hayu Canada has every season of this gloriously gratuitous show, and its multiple spinoffs, with new episodes dropping every Tuesday.
Price: Free (with ads)
Why it's great: Of course, CBC Gem offers all of CBC's news and original programming (hello, Kim's Convenience and Schitt's Creek). But in addition, this streaming platform also has an incredible array of Canadian and international critically-acclaimed shows, documentaries and movies — many of which aren't available on other Canadian services. Plus, all of these shows and movies are completely free to watch for Canadians, as long as you're OK with a few ads.
Viewing suggestion: If you're looking for a compelling new show to binge, check out Baghdad Central. Set in U.S.-occupied Iraq in 2003, this series follows a former Iraqi police officer as he searches for his missing daughter. Baghdad Central is particularly great because it centres the stories and experiences of Iraqi characters and has been called a game-changer for Arab representation on TV.
Why it's great: APTN lumi offers a selection of Indigenous shows, films, documentaries and recordings from live events, like APTN's Indigenous Day Live Winter Solstice. What makes it even more unique is that this streaming platform provides content in more than 20 Indigenous languages, as well as English and French.
Viewing suggestion: After 40 years in the industry, legendary actor Tantoo Cardinal finally gets her chance to shine in a lead role in Darlene Naponse's Falls Around Her. The powerful film follows a successful Anishinaabe musician who gives up her career to return to her reserve in Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation in northern Ontario. Falls Around Her won the Audience Choice Award at the 2018 ImagineNATIVE festival.
Price: Free (with ads)
Why it's great: This platform was launched in 2016 when creator Damian Pelliccione noticed the lack of streaming services made specifically for the LGBTQ+ community. Revry offers users free, ad-supported access to music, shows, podcasts, movies and live content. As per its website, this global network aims to represent "all the colors of the rainbow: gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, gender-fluid, queer, questioning, and allied."
Viewing suggestion: Her Story was originally developed as a web series by actress Jen Richards, but in 2016 it became the first indie web series to ever be nominated for an Emmy Award. The 6-episode series takes viewers on the dating adventures, and misadventures, of trans and queer women in Los Angeles.
Price: Free (with ads)
Why it's great: American streaming service Tubi, owned by Fox, only recently came to Canada. Browsing its offering of TV and movies feels reminiscent of exploring someone's DVD collection, with titles like Rush Hour, Deep Impact and Gladiator. But don't be fooled, this collection has some hidden gems, including black-and-white classics, Bollywood films and indie movies. Like CBC Gem and Revry, Tubi is ad-supported so watching for free will include the occasional commercial break.
Viewing suggestion: Man on Wire, the documentary about French daredevil Philippe Petit walking on a wire between the Twin Towers, is guaranteed to have you on the edge of your seat. The 2008 film was a huge hit and won multiple awards, including the Oscar for Best Documentary.
Ishani Nath is a freelance entertainment and lifestyle journalist. She has appeared as a pop culture expert on CBC, CTV and Global Radio and has bylines in Maclean's, FLARE, Chatelaine and more. Follow her @ishaninath.