Saturday, September 15, 2012

Movie Streaming Subscriptions: Netflix, Amazon Prime & Hulu Plus Compared

While searching the web for comparisons of the popular online subscription services I was repeatedly disappointing by the overly simplistic approach to the variety and quality of titles available for streaming. Most articles will simply quote an obscure estimate of the total number of movies and TV shows on each service. While working on my website,, I decided I have enough resources for a more data-centric comparison.

I decided to focus on three paramaters:
  1. Price
  2. Availability of popular titles
  3. Availability of quality titles
First, I'll explain what I mean by popular and quality titles and why I believe they are relevant factors.  Popular does not necessarily mean new titles, it should be considered as a measure of which movies people would most likely want to watch. I started thinking on how best to gauge the popularity of a movie and decided that the US box office numbers are a reasonable indicator of popularity. I chose US and not world wide numbers because the services are mostly limited to the USA. I used the top 100 movies from IMDB's US Box Office list.

So why not compare the popular movies and be done with it?

Well, I believe that a good subscription service should not only offer me movies that I know I want to watch, it should also expose me to new and different cinematic experiences that I would have missed otherwise. Speaking from personal experience, there were numerous  times when I watched a movie based on recommendation, ignoring my personal taste and was pleasantly surprised.

There are plenty of lists that presume to rate movies based on their quality - IMDB Top 250, Rotten Tomatoes Top 100 and many more. Many will argue that the movies on these lists are hardly the "Best" movies of all time, but I believe most will agree that the majority of movies on those lists are above average quality and probably worth a watch. I decided to go with the top 100 movies from the IMDB, mostly because I have data on each service from my IMDB Top 250 Availability page.

The results are arranged in this tidy chart:

Hulu Plus and Netflix are priced the same. Amazon Prime is almost 20% cheaper, but the subscription is yearly and not monthly like the others. It's worth noting that an Amazon Prime subscription includes other benefits (like free shipping on Amazon items).

Netflix outperforms Amazon and Hulu on both quality and popularity of titles, but the chart clearly shows that all three services are severely lacking, with Netflix, the forerunner, barely scratching 10% of the titles tested. At their current state, I won't be surprised if most people heavily supplement these services with online movie rentals from Amazon Instant Video, iTunes or Vudu.

I also wanted to look at the data from a different angle. Instead of comparing the services and picking out the best choice, I wanted to see how the services complement one another. The following Venn diagram shows the overlap of movies between the services:

As you can see from the diagram, All the titles in Amazon Prime are available on Netflix. So if you plan to subscribe to two of the three services then Netflix and Hulu Plus looks like the best choice.

You probably noticed that a major factor is missing from this comparison - availability of TV shows. I feel that the subject of TV deserves a blog post of its own, so you should consider this comparison as part I, with part II to follow soon.


There are some interesting discussions of my post on Reddit and Hacker News.


  1. Hulu Plus has a large number (though not all) of the excellent Criterion Collection of notable films, some of which are, figuratively speaking, the best films ever made.

    Here's a quick 2.5 minute run-through of ones that you'll want to watch:

    If you are at all interested in these films, the Hulu Plus subscription then far outweighs Netflix and Amazon.

  2. Which one allows you to serve to the most devices? This was a major flaw in this article.

    Others.. .Which one allows you to stream the most at the same time without releasing much personal information (hulu and netflix) Which one has the best Interface? Which ones have the most ads? (Amazon on the page or hulu on the screen)

  3. Agreed. I have 2 Roku devices, Google TV, 2 Apple TVs, a Sony Networked Media Player, and a few others. Amazon has limited support but getting better. Also, Amazon Prime offers other features which should be taken into account.

    There are many shows on HULU that are "Web Only" - in fact 80% of the shows I watch on HULU fall into this category. Huge draw back to those that want to plug a device into a TV to cut the cord.

  4. What about Dish, and Blockbuster @ Home? I had Hulu and Netflix before, but my BB @ Home is the best yet. I can get titles in the mail, at a BB store or streaming live, and love that there are over 100,000 movies, games and TV shows to choose from. My boss at Dish convinced me to try it, and I love that there is always something new for each member of my family. I'm NEVER going back to Netflix.

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