We have now gone a couple of months with no cable, and for the most part we’ve been fine. During the week Little Bit was ill, however, we started feeling constrained by our video streaming options on Netflix and Amazon Prime. I finally bit the bullet and decided maybe we should try Hulu.
We’ve had our week’s trial, and I think that’s enough time for an evaluation of the service. I don’t think we actually need three streaming services, but it is a good time to reevaluate our video streaming options (and yours) for a couple of reasons.
- Amazon now has a month to month option. While we paid $99 for a year’s worth of Amazon Prime in January, I’m not sure that it’s the best choice for everyone. Still, $10.99 a month gets you a full Amazon Prime membership, and you can now buy a Prime Video only option for $8.99 a month.
- Because we were grandfathered in to Netflix at $7.99 a month, we’ve been paying a lower rate than new subscribers. That rate is expiring. We’re now facing a price hike to $9.99 to be able to use two devices at a time (and we use two devices regularly). Considering that Hulu is $7.99 a month (at least for ad-supported content) it’s a good time to reexamine whether our Netflix subscription is still a good value.
There’s a lot of overlap and shared content between Amazon, Netflix and Hulu, but there seem to be some clear advantages and disadvantages to each one that make them better or worse fits for your given situation. Each creates unique content and has exclusive deals that give them their own particular niche, and here are some of the ways they stack up against each other.
If you are willing to go with the yearly plan and stick to the basics, Amazon Prime is a good value. $99 a year translates to $8.25 a month, and comes with free shipping, streaming music, digital storage and free ebooks. The 8.99 a month video only subscription is ad-free and $1 more than the cost of Hulu’s ad-supported content.
Amazon’s exclusive content is pretty good: older HBO shows and Doctor Who! They get some decent newer movies from their deal with EPIX (which are also on Hulu) and have a large selection of PBS programming. There’s a lot of pulpy older movies too.
Be aware, though, that Amazon Prime’s selection is not as wide as the others. They have a lot of content that isn’t part of Prime, and sometimes that can be problematic, particularly when your kid wants to know why they can’t watch every episode of Team Umi Zumi or Dora the Explorer they run across. When Amazon gives you recommendations based on a Prime movie, they’ll show you non-Prime stuff as well. If you have impulse-control issues with your video watching, your costs can quickly add up as you start picking up extras.
Amazon also has add-on subscriptions that raise the price of that $8.25 a month yearly price. If you love British TV, you might be tempted by the Acorn subscription (I am), but there’s also Starz, Showtime, and a bunch of other “channels” that add specialty content to your subscription.
The kid’s content on Prime outside of PBS shows is not as strong as I’d like. There’s a few non-theatrical release movies and some seriously dated stuff. Otherwise, there’s a lot of stuff that is also available on Netflix and Hulu. My daughter only wants to go on Prime to watch Shaun the Sheep or digital copies of the movies we’ve bought. Otherwise, she goes straight to Netflix.
The Amazon interface is not the best for browsing, even on a Kindle. Fortunately, the search feature is decent. If you know what you want to watch, you can find it pretty easily. If you aren’t so sure, it can be frustrating to look through Amazon’s interface, especially since they don’t combine all of the seasons of a single show into one result.
One of the best Amazon Prime features, though, is the one no one ever seems to mention: a lot of the Prime videos can be downloaded to your phone, tablet or laptop for viewing. That means you can watch without a Wi-Fi connection, which is terrific for keeping you (or more importantly, your kid) occupied on long Wi-Fi-less trips.
Best Fit for Amazon Prime: People who love their other included services, Doctor Who Fans, people who don’t watch streaming video as much, people who are willing to supplement their selection with paid options, people who travel without access to Wi-Fi.
Worst Fit for Amazon Prime: People with impulse spending issues, people who want the best selection of streaming content for one monthly price.
Hulu has two basic plans: $7.99 a month with ads and $11.99 a month for no ads. We went with the ad-supported version, and I’m realizing how much I’m spoiled without ads on Netflix and Amazon. What do you mean it takes a whole hour to watch an episode of Project Runway? Can’t you fast forward? Is this the 80’s again?
There’s also a Showtime add on, which at $8.99 a month is the same cost as Amazon’s Showtime add on.
Hulu has a great selection of TV shows, especially if you love watching newer shows. While you might wait a year or three to get some shows on Netflix or Amazon, Hulu has a lot of very current content. You may be a little behind on water cooler TV talk, but you won’t be completely out of this season’s conversation like you might be if you rely on Amazon or Netflix.
There’s a lot of international content, including ITV, BBC and BBC America shows. There’s a ton of reality TV too, if your tastes run more to Real Housewives and Dancing with the Stars. For a grownup TV fan, Hulu has the best selection by far.
For a kid, not so much. There’s some Disney Junior content (but not Disney Channel). There’s Nickelodeon (but not Nick Junior). There’s a bunch of old 60s and 70s Saturday morning cartoons (although they may be more for nostalgic adults) and some PBS Kids content. We had trouble, though, finding stuff we wanted to watch with Little Bit that wasn’t on Netflix.
The Hulu interface is a little better than Amazon for browsing, but not as good for search on my streaming player and tablet. Some of my frustration came because I found interesting things on the Hulu website that aren’t available except on the website and with a qualifying TV provider (which I’d just gotten rid of!) It was the only service that puts TV and movie options together when you browse genres, which some may like and some may not.
Best Fit for Hulu: Adults who like TV shows, people who want the cheapest streaming option, people who want to keep up with current TV, art film and reality TV enthusiasts,people who don’t mind ads with their TV.
Worst Fit for Hulu: Families who want to use streaming video to entertain their kids with a wide variety of content
We’ve had Netflix since before Little Bit came along, back when you could get the disc and streaming options for one low price. We’ve watched as Netflix has shed terrific movie deals that gave access to recent releases, like the ones that gave them access to EPIX and Starz content. We still have our plan, though we currently have streaming video only.
Netflix charges $7.99 for 1 screen at SD quality, $9.99 for 2 screens at HD quality, and $11.99 for 4 screens at HD quality. You can also add DVD by mail plans starting at $4.99 a month, which give you access to much more current and diverse collection of titles than the streaming options. The DVD option is probably the single best add-on package available from any service, as it gives access to almost any DVD you might want.
Netflix is still a streaming option I think we’ll keep, because hands down Netflix has the best options for kid viewing. I may not love watching every episode of the 50 million versions of Power Rangers or tons of made for Disney TV movies, but my daughter does. Netflix’s Disney deal alone would make it the standout choice for folks with kids, but they also have My Little Pony, Monster High, and a bunch of other series. It also has a number of decently current kid’s movies, as well as a lot of the same shows and straight to video movie options you can find on the other two services.
The adult TV options* are solid, if not as numerous and current as Hulu’s. Netflix also has the widest selection of movies of the three services, but it’s rare to see any newish blockbusters and the margins on movie selection are narrowing. “New arrivals” on Netflix often include movies that are over a decade old, like The Replacements and Bring It On, and Amazon and Hulu are broadening their movie options while Netflix reduces theirs.
*Adult TV options in this content means not appropriate for little eyes and ears and minds, not necessarily X-rated or even PG-13. For instance, I love Top Chef, but the language is a little salty even if bleeped, the behavior of the chefs can be regrettable, and some of the conversations would raise questions that I don’t want to answer yet. I consider it adult viewing in our house, as are Buffy the Vampire Slayer (nightmares), X-Files (ditto), and the nightly news. We don’t even want her to watch The Simpsons yet.
Netflix has been the most aggressive of the services about producing in-house content, and has branched into movies as well as TV. While this has created great buzzworthy shows like House of Cards, Jessica Jones, and Orange is the New Black, the other services have great in-house content as well. Netflix’s selection of video streaming options for adults is good, but it’s no longer the clear winner as it is for kids or as it was 2 or 3 years ago.
Netflix also has by far the best interface for browsing and finding movies, no matter what platform you use to access the site. Want to find just tear-jerking sports movies or British TV dramedies? You can do that easily. Want solid recommendations for viewing? Netflix gives them to you (even if mine are generated more by my daughter’s viewing habits than mine.) The search feature is good and the genre pages are excellent. Netflix is definitely the most user-friendly service.
Best Fit for Netflix: Families with younger kids, folks who get frustrated by bad browsing interfaces, people who want a combined streaming/DVD service, people who love Netflix exclusives, people who don’t want to pay $11.99 a month for a good selection of ad-free viewing.
Worst Fit for Netflix: People who want to stream newer movies and current TV
Our Video Streaming Options
We’re still experimenting with reducing our TV menu, and a week stuck at home with a sick child is probably not the best test of how well entertained we are by our existing video streaming options (I’m not sure anything would have entertained us by mid-day Friday). I do feel there’s too much overlap between the big streaming services to justify 3 subscriptions, so our family has a choice to make about what works for us.
We are a family with a small child, and I think Netflix is still the best of the video streaming options for us. There are a lot of terrific content for Little Bit and a solid selection for Jon and me. We can generally find something we want to watch, even if we may miss the good old days when Netflix was spending more on newer studio movie rights.
We’ll also probably continue to supplement our viewing with Amazon Prime, but Amazon’s value to us is in the total package of benefits rather than as a stand-alone streaming service: $99 a year for free expedited shipping, free e-books each month, the music service and the cloud storage combined with the videos. Considering what we would probably pay for the other services, the cost of the video streaming is a lot less than the $8.25 a month. Plus, that download feature is really nice and not available on the other two services.
If Little Bit wasn’t part of the calculation or was old enough to watch more mature shows, though, I think I might be exchanging my Netflix subscription for Hulu. Since we pared down to basic cable, our range of TV shows has really shrunk, and I’m missing some of our previous options. There are also lot of shows I’d like to watch that haven’t been practical for us to watch on a regular basis. Hulu has most of them, plus some options I didn’t know existed.
Hulu is still $8 a month for something I’m not sure our family would be able to get $8 of value for. (Or $12 a month. I really don’t like going back to ads.) Hulu doesn’t fit us as well right now. No matter how attractive being able to binge-watch Top Chef and The Thick of It sound, I’ll be cancelling when the free trial is over.
Streaming video plans are a good way to stay entertained without paying an expensive monthly cable bill, but not every plan works well for every situation. Make sure you pick the right plan for your viewing habits, and keep an eye on the changing online entertainment landscape.
This article contains affiliate links!
Are there any other factors playing a role in the video streaming options you have chosen? Which ones do you use and why?