Five years ago, if you had asked me where to watch TV shows and movies on the Internet, I would have said Netflix and, maybe, Hulu. Now, the list of streaming services is endless. As soon as I think I have covered all my bases, a new streaming service is announced and released. Given the increased competition, prices of the services are rising, and there are fewer shows and movies on each as they are split up among the growing crowd of streaming options. This article can help you decide which services make the most sense for you as a viewer. While these are not all the services in existence, I will focus on comparing Netflix, Hulu, HBO Max and Disney+, which are my favorites.
Variety of Content
Content is probably the single most important factor in deciding whether a streaming service is worth the price. I have found that different services excel in different areas of content. Netflix, for instance, has the widest variety of movies, with a balanced mix of award-winning films and classics, as well as fun but not technically “good” movies.
When I first got HBO Max (which Amherst students can get for free through xfinityoncampus!), I was impressed with the number of movies it had that I had been wanting to watch. However, most of the movies I was excited about have been removed and transferred to other services.
Disney+, for obvious reasons, has the widest variety of children’s content, featuring classic Walt Disney films, action-packed TV shows from the Marvel and Star Wars franchise, as well as some old-school Disney Channel favorites. To my surprise, I also found movies for more mature audiences on Disney+ such as “Hidden Figures” and “You Again.”
Hulu and HBO Max, on the other hand, have a broader selection of adult TV shows. Hulu has an immense variety of dramas, including medical dramas (“The Good Doctor,” “The Resident,” etc.), detective dramas (“Law and Order: SVU,” “Chicago PD,” etc.) and award-winning dramas (“This Is Us,” “Killing Eve,” etc.). Hulu also has many reality TV shows, comedies and older, throwback shows. Hulu also has an option to include live TV in the subscription plan, which greatly increases the available content for both TV and movies. Originally, I subscribed to HBO Max because “Friends,” one of my favorite shows, was moved there from Netflix. Along with “Friends,” HBO Max has many other popular comedies, such as “The Big Bang Theory” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” Because HBO Max is an HBO company, all HBO content is available. This adds a very large selection of popular TV, such as “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Euphoria” and “Big Little Lies.”
One of the biggest upsides to Hulu is that it releases weekly TV episodes the day after they air. Unlike on Netflix, you don’t have to wait until the end of the season and then longer for new episodes of your favorite TV shows.
Many streaming services also create their own original content. Netflix seems to release an absurd amount of “Netflix Originals,” with only a select few, such as “The End of the F***ing World” and “Someone Great” gaining actual popularity. Hulu, on the other hand, has more popular and high quality originals, including “Little Fires Everywhere,” “The Act” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.” HBO Max has started making some originals, but they have many fewer originals than Netflix and Hulu. “Love Life” and “The Flight Attendant” are both Max originals that have been relatively popular.
Another incredibly important feature of streaming services is cost. While most services have multiple pricing options, the differences between these levels vary greatly among the platforms. Netflix has three price points that range from $8.99 to $17.99 a month, with the only difference among the levels being how many screens you can use at the same time. It remains the only streaming platform with zero advertisements throughout all levels of subscription.
Hulu has four prices, and while the lowest is only $5.99 per month, it has ads. Hulu is $11.99 with no ads and also has $64.99 and $70.99 per month options that include live TV. When I’m looking for where to watch a certain movie, I often Google “where to watch…” and usually find it available on Hulu. However, actual access to those films is often limited to those who have Hulu’s expensive live TV.
HBO Max only has one plan, $14.99 per month, which is the most expensive base price of all the services but is also cheaper than the premium subscriptions of other services. Disney+ is $7.99 a month but also has an option for a bundle that includes Hulu with ads and ESPN+ for $13.99 a month.
I’m not someone who cares too much about the general design of a website or how easy it is to use, but even I have noticed significant differences in the setup of various streaming platforms. As long-standing giants in the streaming industry, Netflix and Hulu have, unsurprisingly, the best video quality. I was extremely excited when I first got HBO Max, but was immediately let down because I had so many problems streaming their TV shows and movies. Whenever I tried to watch an HBO show, the video would lag or pause randomly, which eventually became so annoying that I stopped trying to watch certain shows altogether.
When looking for new shows or movies, Netflix has many features that make it easy to find something you’ll like. If you hover over a thumbnail on Netflix, a clip or trailer of the show or movie will automatically play, giving you a preview before choosing whether you want to watch it. Additionally, Netflix has a “Top 10” list and a “Trending Now” section that can help guide viewers in making decisions regarding what to watch.
Both Netflix and Hulu allow viewers to remove shows from their watch lists, so profiles can be personalized and curated to the viewers updated liking. Additionally, Netflix, Hulu and Disney+ all have developed group streaming options (Teleparty, Hulu Watch Party and GroupWatch respectively). During the pandemic, this has allowed subscribers to stay in touch and maintain connections by participating in activities (watching TV or movies together and talking about them) that would normally be done in person, but in a Covid-safe, virtual manner. One downside to Hulu, however, is its video playback. If you leave a video open in a tab you are not using, close your laptop and then reopen it, the video will start playing even if you don’t go back to the Hulu tab.
Each streaming service has its own strengths and drawbacks, but ultimately, it depends on what you prefer to watch when deciding which makes the most sense to subscribe to. TV lovers will probably have different preferences than movie buffs. Additionally, if you are willing to sit through ads, many platforms become much more affordable. If you are looking for a simple, user-friendly interface, the “classic” services (i.e. Netflix and Hulu) may make the most sense. As soon as you read this article, however, a new streaming service will probably pop up and completely change the game. There is definitely not one best platform, because each viewer values various aspects differently. Still, as more services vye for your attention, it’s essential to take inventory of your streaming values and spend your money accordingly.