Amazon recently announced a new deal with HBO that will give its Prime members access to a large selection of the network’s classic content, making Amazon’s Instant Video catalogue a whole lot more attractive to potential subscribers.
This new deal — plus the company’s recent influx of original content — are making Amazon a realistic contender in the TV and movie streaming service wars. So, it’s time for a throwdown: Which streaming service should rule your screen, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, or Hulu Plus?
Let’s dive into some of the details:
Netflix subscriptions currently cost $US7.99 per month, but that price will rise by $US1 or $US2 for new members later this quarter. Existing members will keep their current price for a “generous” period of time. Assuming the $US2 increase, Netflix will soon cost $US119.88 per year.
Amazon Prime membership costs $US99 per year (or about $US8.25 per month), but also includes unlimited, free two-day shipping on many items. You also get access to the company’s growing selection of streaming TV shows and movies.
Hulu Plus costs $US7.99 per month or $US95.88 per year. We haven’t heard of any upcoming price increases and don’t expect to since Hulu can keep prices low by showing advertisements along with its programming. Netflix and Amazon don’t show you ads.
Cheapest option: Hulu Prime is the cheapest streaming service, though only by a smidge.
We decided to compare the desktop interface of each of these services, even though they each have a their respective apps for phones, tablets, smart TVs, streaming boxes, etc.
One of the best parts about Netflix’s desktop UI is how visual and personalised it is. One of the first categories you see is “Top Picks” for you, which makes it easy to find new content. Plus, Netflix lets you create different profiles, so if you share your service with a roommate or family member, you can make sure that your recommendations are true to what you actually watch. Although you can only sort by genre from the menu, scrolling through your home-page will reveal some of Netflix’s signature quirkily-specific recommendation categories, like “Romantic movies featuring a strong female lead.”
Amazon’s Prime Instant Video interface isn’t the best for quick, easy discovery. On the one-hand, you have more way more ways to filter your content options: You can search by genre, mood (like bleak, touching, or offbeat), theme (like tough guys, or obsession), actor, or director. If you have a specific idea or what you’re looking for, you’ll have no trouble. But, on the desktop version at least, there’s no personalised recommendations (though we did get them on the iPad app), so it’s harder to find something new quickly when you don’t know what you want. Plus, you don’t get as much info about each individual show when you hover over it as you do on Netflix.
Finally, because Amazon’s catalogue includes tons of titles that aren’t included for free with Prime, you need to remember to check the “Prime” box when you’re searching, or you could be disappointed when you find something that you don’t actually have access to.
Once you sign into your Hulu Plus account, you’ll be quickly directed to a list of the shows that you usually watch, so diving into your addiction to Modern Family couldn’t be easier. Hulu Plus, like Netflix, has a list of top recommendations for you based on other shows that you’ve shown interest in, though it also puts more of a focus on content that is popular on the site at any given time. The site also lets you sort by network, which is helpful if you know that you really like Comedy Central or CW shows, for example.
Although each of the user interface’s had their perks, Netflix wins out because of its ability to support multiple profiles, the amount of info you get about a show just by hovering over it on the home-page, and the ultra-specific recommendation categories.
LifeHacker did a really interesting analysis of which streaming service offers the best selection back in March. The site looked at the top 250 TV shows as ranked by IMDB, and checked which service offered which shows. It also highlighted the top 25 most popular shows (none of the top 25 changed in light of Amazon’s new HBO deal). Head over to LifeHacker to see their infographic, but here’s the gist:
Netflix has more than twice the streaming selection of Amazon Instant Video when it comes to the 250 hottest TV shows. Although Hulu Plus streams more current-running episodes, it has fewer of the hottest shows than Netflix or Amazon overall. Netflix has the most exlusive content.
House of Cards/Netflix
Here are the original TV shows that you need to sign-up to watch. Although each service also has several “exclusive” shows, these ones are strictly pegged “original.”
Netflix: “Orange is the New Black,” “House of Cards,” “Hemlock Grove,” “Lilyhammer,” “Bad Samaritans,” “The Ropes,” and “Arrested Development” (season four only)
Amazon Prime: “Alpha House,” “Betas,” “Mozart in the Jungle,” “Wishenpoof!” “The After,” “Bosch,” “Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street,” and “Transparent”
Hulu Plus: “Quick Draw,” “The Awesomes,” “Deadbeat,” “The Wrong Mans,” “Behind the Mask,” “Up to Speed,” “Spoilers with Kevin Smith,” “Battleground,” “A Day in the Life”
Best original shows: At this point, there is much, much more hype around “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black” than any of the other shows on this list. However, several of Amazon and Hulu’s shows are just getting started (or haven’t even aired yet), so there’s still time for one of them to come out with a huge hit.
Where are the crowds:
Want to know what all your friends are watching? Here are the numbers for each service.
35.67 million subscribers
Amazon Prime: “At least” 20 million people use Prime, but we have no real indication on how many use Prime Instant Video, other than that the company said in its Q1 earnings call that video streams nearly tripled in the last year
Hulu Plus: 5 million subscribers, as of December.
Most popular: Netflix is the most popular service
Comparing these services only on the above criteria wouldn’t cover the whole story. Each service has something extra on its side.
It needs to be noted that Netflix is really trumping the competition when it comes to original programming. “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black” both attracted huge audiences. Not to mention, that the creator of the popular show Arrested Development just signed on to do another new Netflix show.
Amazon Prime membership offers tons of great content, but its biggest draw could still be the free, two-day shipping that it offers for lots of products. If you’re a big Amazon shopper, it’s almost a no-brainer to sign-up for Prime, because you’re cancelling out a lot of the shipping costs that could otherwise add up fast. Although the HBO content that Amazon will be getting on May 21 isn’t as “hot” as other shows on Netflix or Hulu Plus, there are lots of extremely high-quality, well-reviewed series like “The Wire” and “Flight of the Concords” for viewers to dive into. If you buy a lot of stuff on Amazon, Prime is worth it. And you can’t complain about getting a bunch of free stuff to watch to boot.
If you want to watch the latest episodes of your favourite popular shows, Hulu Plus is the place to go. Although you can binge-watch entire seasons of shows, Netflix and Amazon generally have to wait several months before they can stream the latest seasons. For example, on Netflix you can watch all of season two of “New Girl,” but you have to wait until the whole third season is released a month or so after it ends, while you can watch the five latest episodes of “New Girl” on Hulu Plus right now. Still, you have to deal with commercials just like you do with regular TV.
Even with all the facts in front of us, it’s hard to make an over-arching statement on which streaming service is best for everyone. Hulu Plus is the top choice for getting the newest episodes, but Netflix has the most entertaining original series and greatest selection of hot shows. Netflix has the best user and recommendation experience overall. If you’re just looking for TV and movies, we’re leaning towards Netflix as the best choice.
However, because Amazon Instant Video is just one aspect of Amazon Prime, and Netflix, and Hulu Plus are still relatively inexpensive, it doesn’t have to be a case of either/or. If you spend a lot of money on Amazon and you want to diversify your TV selection, Prime is worth the money.
One other thing is for certain, too: If you still pay-full price for cable, then you may need to consider cutting the cord.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.