I decided to focus on three paramaters:
- Availability of popular titles
- Availability of quality titles
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.