Streaming Wars... The Punishment Due
Which service offers you the biggest bang for your buck? And which do I prefer?
Nostalgia is a funny thing. Many get nostalgic for different things, but there is some overlap on what people yearn for. There’s a lot of interest in 80’s and 90’s culture, including for many who weren’t even alive during those decades. I think it’s fair to assume that most people wish for a period when you could go to the movies, or a concert, or maybe just walk outside without potentially dying. A far too significant percentage of people wish to go back to about 100 years or so ago.
Me personally, I’ve been thinking about the time when streaming service options were much thinner. Back about 5 or so years ago, when mostly all we had were Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. The excitement of finding different kinds of movies to explore, many in sharper definition than you’d find on TV at the time, and a wealth of television shows to binge through.
But capitalism does funny things. Major studios like Disney and Warner saw the money Netflix was raking, and decided to make their own streaming services, and now it should cost as much to have cable as it would to have most of the major services. For plenty, Netflix may be good enough, but if you’re as consumed with media as I am, and like to follow the zeitgeist, that’s not entirely true.
So today, we’re going to look at six different streaming services, and see which ones offer the best quality content for your payments, and I’ll add some objectivity of my own to boot, cause fuck it. We will be looking at:
Netflix- Still the biggest name of the streaming services… at least until Disney+ and chill becomes a thing
Hulu- The stalwart that’s confidently changed from being the best place to catch a show the day after it airs to a worthy rival for Netflix’s supposed throne
Amazon Prime- Jeff Bezo’s monopoly on our shopping habits expands into how we view content
CBS All Access- Soon to be dead name for Paramount+, what started as the longstanding network’s rival towards Hulu has slowly been morphing into their parent company’s home for their expansive library
Disney+- Arguably the mouse’s biggest plea for total domination of the entertainment industry. You could hypothetically call this the house Grogu built, except that’s a terrible name no one will use
HBO Max- Part HBO, part TCM, part Cartoon Network/[adult swim], part multiple other things
I’ve decided to leave Peacock and Apple TV off for now, since they seem like pretenders as far as I’m concerned. At least for now- if I do this again next year, who knows if they’ll show up. I have heard good things about Ted Lasso…
Well anyway, here is how I think the streaming services rank in terms of most to least essential
Netflix- I’m honestly somewhat loath to admit it, but this is still Netflix’s world, and it’s not really close either. While their preference of quantity over quality does bug me, it does seem to be working, as there really is something for everyone on here. If you’re hankering for something to fill the Game of Thrones-sized hole in your heart, or just want to wash the bile from the last couple of seasons out of your mouth, there’s The Witcher. If you miss derpy rom coms and want something you can turn your mind off to enjoy, they’ve been loading up on exactly the kind of mid to low budget movies that would fill cable afternoons for ages to come (many like The Kissing Booth films, but I’d say that Always Be My Maybe is more worth your time). If you’d prefer something more prestigious and sharp, I’m sure The Queen’s Gambit is already on your radar. Do you like anime? They’ve been filling up on that, too. Have kids you need to entertain? There’s plenty to offer there, as well. And then there’s the massive successes of Stranger Things, Tiger King, Orange is the New Black, etc, along with award-winning films such as Roma and Marriage Story. It’s not HBO, but the audience is there for a reason.
And beyond their originals, their licensed programs still have some command. Being on Netflix has helped numerous series raise in popularity during their runs, such as Breaking Bad and Parks and Recreation, to older favorites who have continued to find a new audience, like Twin Peaks and The West Wing. While Netflix has been focusing more on their original content, but even today, the handful of licensed series they do acquire still tend to be “discovered”, as you can see with Community and Avatar: The Last Airbender.
Tie- Hulu/Disney+- If these were combined together beyond their bundle, then I think they’d be giving Netflix a serious run for their money. Maybe still not #1, but a much closer second. As it stands, I have a hard time deciding between the two to pick a runner. While Netflix has been increasingly losing their licensed content in favor of focusing on their originals, Hulu continues to be have a great mixture of both, enough so that I’d argue that they have the best TV library of all the services. Meanwhile, Disney+ has really blown up in the past year as it’s debuted, thanks to an A-list premiere of The Mandalorian. Very little of its content released in the year past has compared, Hamilton aside. You could argue that D+ is coasting on the loyalty to Disney’s brand, but I think it’ll only rise in popularity within the year, with numerous more series and films planned to be released on the service, with WandaVision scheduled in a couple of weeks. Even if you’re not a big fan of the Disney library, the service still has plenty to offer, with plenty of National Geographic content, and The Simpsons, which he, wouldn’t you know who’s talking about that.
Tie- Prime/HBO Max- I think in the next year, Max will likely jump up a spot, especially if they want their movie releasing plan to succeed. But despite having such a wealth of content, it definitely has to lose points for not being available on the biggest media players for most of the year, Roku or Firestick. They literally just gained access to Roku days before Wonder Woman 1984’s release, and Firestick about a month prior. It’s also still too confusing to find out if you even have access to the damn thing- maybe this’ll help? I’m tying it with Prime not because they fit together, but because despite Prime itself having a terrific library- I’d argue that it offers more in terms of films from all eras than Hulu or certainly Netflix do- and some killer originals of its own, it does come off as slightly superfluous. If you don’t already subscribe for their delivery services, I don’t see the need to sign just for their streaming. You’ll see my personal preference between the two soon, but I can’t rightfully put one over the other in terms of being objective.
CBS All Access- They’re really trying to offer their own claim to the throne, and I give them credit. Focusing on Star Trek is a smart move, and it is bringing some subscribers over to it. Adding more from Viacom’s library, like Nickelodeon and MTV, has also been helping. But I’d still suggest that unless you really care for much of the core network’s lineup, this isn’t very essential.
But how do I really feel about the services? My answers may surprise you, maybe:
Hulu- This and my second place choices were neck and neck, and then I saw that I had a Hulu tab open for me to watch more Castle Rock later. I like that Disney is still using this for the edgier (re: Fox) side of their library, since they’re responsible for a lot of series I do quite like, including my recent serotonin-filling fallbacks, King of the Hill and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Their original content has also been fairly consistent with original content. I’m not far enough in Castle Rock to recommend it, unless you’re also a Stephen King fan, who should already be coming to their conclusions, but I do have a couple of recommendations. For one, check out The Great if you enjoyed Tony McNamara’s irreverent take on history in The Favourite, and/or you enjoy terrific actors giving their all to absurd dialogue. PEN15 is another strong recommendation if you like raunchy humor and can transport to middle school age for cringe-worthy humor that makes The Office seem tame. And if you loved Animaniacs as a kid, the new show should be a no-brainer. Or hell, go back and check out the original, as it’s also on there and still holds up. It also has some strong original films, and a few recent must-sees like Parasite and Portrait of a Lady on Fire, although its licensed film library isn’t as strong. But with its massive TV library, I come back to it the most.
HBO Max- What can I say, I like most of the service’s collections. HBO, full of some of the best series ever made, and a rotating inventory of strong films. DC, while I’m more of a Marvel guy, I like plenty of their content as well. TCM, the best channel on cable, bar none. If you don’t agree, watch a so-called classic or two and tell me otherwise. Cartoon Network and [adult swim], full of love and strong memories for both, which trinkles down to the Looney Tunes and Hanna-Barbera content. And there’s plenty to enjoy with Ghibli, Crunchy Roll, Comedy Central, BBC, and if you’re not afraid to admit it, Sesame Street. The new Looney Tunes Cartoons are highly enjoyable, but their other originals aren’t as much to write home about yet. I do think the next year should offer more exciting new things for the service, especially if Warner is focusing their energy onto the service. It’ll probably be #1 next year when Ed, Edd n’ Eddy streams on the first, though.
Netflix- I often see a lot of shills out there for Netflix, who get offended if you call out that most of their originals aren’t worthwhile. Well, they’re not, but there’s plenty of good out there. Few series can compete with the emotional rollercoaster of BoJack Horseman, or the empathy of the first couple of seasons of Orange is the New Black, or the laughs I received from One Day at a Time and Santa Clarita Diet. I do miss discovering series from other networks on the service, like Mad Men and Breaking Bad, as well as having access to a surplus of great films, but their originals are living up to it. They’re just not my first choice… although I’m getting the hype for The Queen’s Gambit.
Disney+- As you can probably tell from the Disney Days series I’m hoping to add more to, I am a pretty big fan of the corporation… ‘s products. I do like a lot of the films and series that Disney has made over the years, and am a big fan of the parks. Disney as a company, well, they’re bitches. That’s not why D+ is so low on here. I just don’t use it much since I already own most of the movies I’m interested in watching. When I want to see, say, The Jungle Book, I’d rather find my Blu-Ray and pop it in than start up D+. There are some series I’d like to watch favorite episodes of again, or some I’d like to see for the first time, but are still MIA on the service. And that’s not even counting much of Walt’s old show, which only has a few random episodes available. This ranking might change when more exclusive content starts to unload. Although I still need to see Soul, first.
Prime- Partly, I don’t want to rank it higher because fuck Jeff Bezos, but also I think it’s missing one or two more killer apps to step up. Still, as mentioned earlier, they do have a terrific film library, even if you take out the movies you have to pay to rent. Their licensed television isn’t as strong, especially as they’re losing the HBO series, but they do have the one FX series Hulu is missing, which also happens to be their best, full stop- The Americans. There are some good originals on here too, with Fleabag being among the best, most singular programs I’ve ever seen, and a lot of things on my radar. It just needs that extra bamf (to paraphrase Nightcrawler) to push it over the edge.
CBS All Access- I still give them credit for trying, and adding more and more to their Nickelodeon section is doing wonders for me personally. My 90’s baby ass loves watching All That at 4am when I’m losing control of my life (I know it’s a Rugrats reference- shut up). But the only original that’s truly won me over is The Good Fight. Their Star Trek series have mostly been leaving me cold, and I find the new Twilight Zone similarly underwhelming. At least they earn a seat at the table, unlike Universal and Apple, but Paramount does need to step up their game.
Well, those are my rankings. What are yours? How do you feel about the streaming wars? Do y’all just want cable back?