The best way to organize your research is to build a spreadsheet, listing all of the TV shows you and your family members like to watch. All of them. If your secret guilty pleasure is Cake Boss, put it on the list. If you like a particular sport, put it on the list, too. Don't track movies, however. So many services offer movies both new and old, this should not be a deciding factor.
In my spreadsheet, I set up these columns:
- Cost per season
- Cost per episode
Once each show was listed, then came the legwork. Go through all of the major services (Hulu Plus, Amazon, iTunes, and the like) and find out if episodes for that show are available and when.
"When" is very important. Because of various licensing agreements each network and production company sets up with the Internet TV services, you may get to watch a current season's episode of a show the day after it airs on cable/broadcast TV. But sometimes licensing prevents the availability of a show for weeks or months later, such as when the DVD for the whole season is released. This must be taken into account in your research. Waiting a day, or even a week, might be acceptable, but not months.
In our house, there was a bit of a split. My wife and older daughters tended to like current prime-time shows, while our youngest daughter liked kid-oriented shows like those on Nickelodeon and Disney Channel. Viacom and Disney don't run new shows in near real-time, but you can find many archived shows on Netflix. After a discussion with our daughter (for whom we are trying to limit TV viewing anyway), we all agreed that the delay would be acceptable for her.
As you discover which services offer what shows, list the services on the spreadsheet that carry the show. If the show is not available on one of the flat per-month rate services (Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, or Netflix), then make a note of how much the show costs per episode and per season (which is often cheaper) if you buy it ala carte.
Once you have all the shows located and priced, hopefully you will have all the shows you like available on common networks. Sometimes, sadly, you won't. The CBS network, at time of press, has historically stayed away from services like Hulu PLus (though that may be changing), so if you have a favorite show on that network, you will have to wait and watch the show later on Netflix or Amazon Prime when the DVD for that season is released.
My wife's and my one guilty reality-TV pleasure has always been The Amazing Race, so this one would have to be written off.
Once the show information is gathered and your decisions made, now you can start looking at the services and their prices to see which is right for you.
When choosing your services, you must come at the problem with this goal in mind: use as few services as possible. It's the opposite approach to cable, when usually you are looking for as many channels as you can get for the lowest price.
With Internet TV, the more shows and movies you can get on a group of services, the lower your total bill will be. In my case, I was fortunate that Hulu Plus covered pretty much all of the shows my family and I liked to watch, with Netflix carrying nearly all the rest. So, that made the decision pretty simple when it came time to buy a device, since I only needed something with these two channels.