Internet streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have gradually turned into the future of how consumers watch their favorite TV shows, but which one is leading the pack in 2015?
While there are still millions upon millions of people who watch television live on a regular basis, many TV junkies are moving to Internet subscription services to watch shows from NBC's The Blacklist to AMC's Mad Men.
For the past few years, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have been the primary Internet streaming services in competition with each other. With thousands of TV shows in their databases, it would be seemingly impossible to run out of shows to watch. Now, all three have expanded to include original shows produced exclusively on their sites.
But which streaming service will ultimately come out on top in the next couple years?
For many TV consumers, Netflix is the go-to Internet streaming service. Over 50 million people around the world have subscribed to Netflix and with its overwhelming amount of content, it's easy to see why.
There's no better evidence of Netflix's impact on television proper than in the ratings for the final season of AMC's Breaking Bad. Industry insiders believe that the addictive drama's presence on Netflix was what caused such a huge explosion of ratings for the final season. Averaging around 2 million viewers in the first few seasons, the final episode scored a huge 10 million viewers, with some believing this was because of how many people caught up on the show through Netflix.
The site also has an ever-expanding collection of original shows. While their first show, Lilyhammer, struggled to find a wide audience when it premiered in 2012, it was really House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black in 2013 that made Netflix a major player in the TV world. Netflix is now racking up major Emmy nominations and wins. They are currently expanding with even more potentially high-profile shows, like Marvel's Daredevil, Bloodline starring Kyle Chandler and Grace and Frankie starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.
However, one thing that still remains a problem with Netflix is the delay from live TV to actually appearing on the site. New episodes of TV shows airing on television proper usually don't show up on Netflix for a full year, usually around the same time as the new seasons of those shows are about to air. Also, the site's price tag has gone up over the years, with users now having to pay $8.99 per month.
Hulu doesn't have a problem streaming fresh episodes soon acter they air on TV. The site has deals with several networks that allow it to stream new episodes of current shows the day after they air. This allows consumers to stay "in the conversation" of what's going on in buzzy water cooler shows like Fox's Empire and ABC's Scandal.
Over the years, Hulu has become the primary site for TV consumers who may have missed an episode of their favorite show the night before. Unlike Netflix, Hulu is very much concentrated on not just newer television, but television in general. Users can also use the site for free unlike Netflix, though their Hulu Plus service ($7.99 per month) allows for an even greater depth of content, as well as quicker acces to recently aired episodes in a series.
One drawback that many Hulu Plus subscribers complain about is the inclusion of commercials. Some feel that since they are already paying for a subscription, they should not have to sit through commercials in between episodes of TV. Ultimately, though, the average commercial break on Hulu is around 90 seconds, which is actually half of the average commercial break length on live television.
Another bigger drawback for Hulu is the lack of buzz-worthy original shows. Hulu has around the same amount of original TV shows as Netflix but they are severely lacking in critical or commercial success. Among Hulu's original shows are The Awesomes, created by Seth Meyers and Mike Shoemaker, Deadbeat, a supernatural comedy series and East Los High, a Latino teen drama series. While these shows have certainly found audiences, they are not anywhere near the same acclaim as Orange Is the New Black or even some of Amazon's shows.
Amazon is the most recent streaming service to get in the game. With Amazon Instant Video, the website is streaming many TV shows past and present in addition to their own original programming now. While the site is primarily used for shopping, it has steadily grown its online TV subscription service.
The site's buzziest show thus far is Transparent, a "dramedy" starring Jeffrey Tambor as the patriarch of a dysfunctional family who decides to transition into a woman. The show won two Golden Globes this year and has received much critical acclaim. Other shows that have been modest hits for the site are Alpha House starring John Goodman, Mozart in the Jungle and the new series Bosch. Amazon has a unique "Pilot Season" process that allows users to watch the pilot of a show and then vote on if they want to see it become a full series.
Amazon also carries many hit shows like BBC America's Orphan Black, PBS's Downton Abbey and a wide selection of HBO shows like The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire and The Wire. Users can also buy episodes of current seasons of shows for $1.99 a piece.
However, some believe that the business model for Amazon is not as appealing as the ones for Netflix or Hulu. Members must pay an all-at-once fee of $99 for a year of access as an Amazon Prime user, a price that may sound a little too high for some users. Additionally, the overall interface for Amazon is a bit all over the place compared to the cleaner Netflix and Hulu Plus, as Digital Trends observes.
Netflix, Hulu and Amazon all have individual features that make them unique leaders in the streaming wars. For those looking for a wide range of content and the shiniest interface, Netflix is the way to go. Those who want current TV shows the day after they air will find Hulu to be the one. Meanwhile, Amazon falls somewhere in between with a relatively large amount of TV shows in addition to some up to date content.
As far as which streaming service is on top, Netflix is definitely the top dog in terms of popularity, but with Hulu and Amazon gradually improving their sites and overall content, it will likely be a tighter competition over the next few years.