Fifteen years ago, you saw Blockbuster overpower your local video store (for me it was Video Station and Doorstep Video) for VHS tapes. Five years ago, you might have been asking if you should get your DVDs from Netflix or Blockbuster. Now, as we enter into the “watch TV through Internet” phase, you have a new decision – Netflix, Amazon Prime, or even Hulu Plus. Each offers some great content, but which one should you go with for your streaming video rental needs?
Netflix – The Good
Netflix has been around for many years and is synonymous with TV and the Internet. They have DVD rentals and streaming rentals, so you can choose what works best for you – even choose both. Streaming starts at $7.99 and had thousands of titles. TV series, movies and now original content. Unlimited movies online.
In 2011, Netflix announced they will continue the TV show Arrested Development. They have been trying for other canceled shows like “The Event” and “Terra Nova”, although those deals have fallen through. Netflix also created the original series “Lilyhammer” and is in production of another show “Orange Is The New Black”, a series by Jenji Kohan, the creative genius that brought you “Weeds” on Showtime.
Netflix is available on almost all devices – game systems like Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, and PS3. Over the top television with the Internet like Roku and Boxee. Netflix is also integrated into many in-app TV and Blu-Ray players.
Netflix – The Bad
Netflix had some bad press in the last year. They first split the rentals from the streaming, which doubled the price if you wanted both. Then, they tried to get the DVD rental side ready for sale. The new name – Qwikster – was a failed experiment that was quickly pulled.
Netflix also lost some major players in movies. Sony pulled out last year, so many titles disappeared from the shelves. They used to partner with Starz, in which you could watch the channel live from the website. However, that contract dissolved, and Starz pulled all their content off the site last month.
Netflix now relies on TV series to power their system. The frequency of new movies is minimal. Netflix does add older movies, but most of these are mid-shelf content. Some cult classics like “Office Space” are part of the library, however, the real question is if there is enough content to keep you coming to Netflix to watch something.
The most disappointing part of Netflix is they don’t offer to rent other movies online. I would pay a couple of bucks to watch something newer than what’s in their regular library. It might just give Netflix some new titles to excite the use of this service.
Amazon Prime – The Good
Amazon has started their Prime service a year ago to offer live TV and movies. The prime service gives you more than just renting movies and TV. You can also get free two-day shipping for whatever you order on Amazon.com. Prime users can get special deals on items that others don’t see.
You can also rent movies online. Better yet, if you like the movie, you can choose to buy that movie online. You can watch movies from your TV or when your out and about on the Kindle Fire.
Amazon Prime – The Bad
The biggest problem is interfaces. It can really be tough to search through movies and TV shows. It would really be nice to see a recommendation engine and an organized area of what you have watched before. Amazon also disables the remote control features on some TV shows, so you cannot rewind to watch a part you may have missed.
Amazon Prime is also a yearly membership – $80 a year for the service. While it’s not bad, some people would rather see a monthly subscription model. Even a Quarterly subscription might be more palatable than yearly.
Hulu Plus – The Good
Hulu came on the scene a couple of years ago with their service. Contracts with NBC, ABC, and FOX allowed them to post TV content within 24 hours of airing on the network. Hulu Plus is a monthly service that gives you the opportunity to watch the whole season, instead of only the 2-3 latest episodes.
Hulu Plus has a large library of TV shows, movies, and original content. Their latest TV show – Battleground – actually was based in my hometown of Madison, WI, following the campaign of a state senator.
New movies and TV shows are added daily – Even special events like the Superbowl Adzone are available on Hulu Plus.
Hulu is available for free, but to get it on an over the top TV source – like Roku – you will have to pay the monthly fee.
Hulu Plus – the Bad
In a nutshell – commercials. Whereas Amazon and Netflix have no commercials in their services, Hulu Plus will have up to 8 commercials within a 30-minute episode of a show. Granted, they have the newest content of the three, but viewers are also paying $8 a month for commercials.
Then again, if you pay for cable TV, you also get commercials…
Another downfall is their content viewing conditions. For some reason, you cannot watch The Simpsons on Roku, but if you log in through your computer to Hulu, you can catch up on the longest-running TV cartoon. It’s not that many shows, but it still does sting when I really want to see last Sunday’s episode.
Vudu is Walmart’s service. It is also seen on many TVs and Blu-Ray players. Just a couple of weeks ago, they announced a new service – bring in your DVDs, and for $2 a title, you can digitize your movies to watch anywhere, anytime on their service.
iTunes is also another alternative, although it has some very strict limitations. More to the point – you can only watch your content on Apple OTT devices – there is no Roku or Boxee app.
Android Market is also an up-and-coming service. So far, the same is true with Android that with Apple – besides a PC, you cannot watch those programs on OTT devices.
What About Blockbuster?
Yes, Blockbuster is still a viable option. They do have one advantage (which is quickly disappearing) – you can go to a physical store or Blockbuster Kiosk to get movies and TV shows. Blockbuster is part of Dish Network, so you might have the service if you have satellite TV. They do tout they have movies 30 days sooner than Netflix or Redbox. But to watch Blockbuster on Over the Top TV (OTT), you need to have a TiVo, or certain TV and Blu-Ray devices (along with streaming through PC or Mac).
What’s Coming? Redbox Streaming
A couple of weeks ago, Verizon announced a partnership with Redbox – the in-store Kiosk rental system. The deal is too new to really comment on it, the service will not be available until Q3 of 2012.
There are also a series of independent streaming television services out there. Crackle, for one, is a channel that’s streaming movies for free. You can watch TV shows and movies like Stranger than Fiction, Joe Dirt, Year One, and more.
Other channels offer original content. Channels like uStream, Koldcast, Techpodcasts, Twit, Blubrry, Revision3, and more. All of those come with no monthly fees.
Which Service Should You Get?
As you can see, each service has its own advantages and disadvantages. If you want newer content, then Hulu Plus is the winner. If you don’t want commercials on your TV shows and can wait a year to watch, then Netflix might be your option. If you want more than just streaming TV and movies (buy and watch movies online), and get special discounts, then Amazon Prime is the service to go with.
— Martin Varsavsky (@martinvars) September 18, 2012