It’s official: kids can never again complain that there’s nothing to watch. A record 559 scripted series aired in 2021 (to say nothing of wildly popular unscripted fare) and, prior to the pandemic, a whopping 792 movies were released theatrically in the U.S. in 2019. So, yes, the claim that “there’s nothing to watch” is now obsolete. But as Hollywood solves one problem of the past, a new issue of the present presents itself.
These swelling content tidal waves eventually wash up on various streaming platforms, with the majority of titles originating there in the first place. But if you were to pay for every single one of the nine premium subscription video on demand (SVOD) services currently available in the U.S.—Apple TV+, Discovery+, Disney+, HBO Max, Hulu, Netflix, Paramount+, Peacock Premium, and Prime Video—you’d be shelling out close to $100 per month. Kind of defeats the purpose of cord cutting, right?
So, to help you spend smarter, let’s figure out which streaming services offer the best bang for your buck by examining three key categories: price, catalog size, and quality.
Above are the monthly costs for ad-free subscriptions to the nine major premium SVOD services in the U.S. Netflix ($15.49), HBO Max ($14.99), and Hulu ($12.99) are the three most expensive streamers while Apple TV+ ($4.99), Discovery+ ($6.99) and Disney+ ($7.99) are the three least expensive. Prime Video ($8.99), Paramount+ ($9.99) and Peacock Premium ($9.99) have set up shop as the mid-tier cost options in the streaming wars.
Now, we don’t want you breaking the bank on entertainment. You worked hard for your money and you deserve to spend it on superhero t-shirts, overpriced sushi, and vacations that leave you sunburnt. (Okay, that’s what I spend my money on. But you can buy whatever floats your boat!) But the equation isn’t as simple as opting for the cheapest services. You want to make sure you’re getting a big enough library of TV shows and movies so that you don’t run out of fresh options and that these libraries aren’t populated by an endless stream of junk.
The old adage “you pay for quality” is true for a reason.
Proud couch potatoes can burn through TV shows and movies at record clips, which is why you want a deep well of content to choose from. Prime Video (8,057 total titles), Netflix (6,233 titles), and HBO Max (3,373 titles) boast the three largest libraries of TV shows and movies among these U.S. streamers while Apple TV+ (125 titles), Disney+ (1,566 titles), and Discovery+ (2,556 titles) have the three smallest. Peacock Premium (3,023 titles), Paramount+ (2,995 titles) and Hulu (2,594 titles) are smack dab in the middle.
Within this lane, it’s worth noting that Netflix leads the pack by releasing 40 to 50 new original titles per month as part of its firehose content strategy. And while original series help to drive subscription growth, Nielsen found that 80% of SVOD viewership is devoted to library programming, which is good news for Amazon.
While size isn’t everything, larger libraries tend to offer a greater array of content options and a longer runway of engagement. (Did you know it would take more than four years to watch everything on Netflix?) HBO Max, Netflix, Prime Video and Hulu tend to offer a depth of variety across its programming ranging from kids’ content, teen fare, and adult-skewing titles that run the gamut of genre, tone, and appeal. Max, for example, offers award winning animation, landmark films from the last 80 years, and a steady stream of critically praised new series all at once. Parents can show their teenagers the original Ben-Hur while kids can show their parents the latest Seth Rogen movie. Everybody wins.
Yet size can also be deceiving. Despite a roster of award-winning series, a quick scroll through Film Twitter will reveal complaints from users about Netflix’s perceived sea of mediocre offerings. Volume for volume’s sake does not mean that the content is always worthwhile, which is why quality is so important.
IMDb classifies a TV show with a 6.5+ rating on at least 300 votes as quality, and an 8.0+ rating on at least 300 votes as high-quality. For movies, it’s a 6.0+ rating on at least 300 votes for quality and 7.5+ on 300+ votes for high-quality.
Divvying up content catalogs this way, we see that HBO Max leads the way for TV with 63% of its series library reaching the quality category and 25% of its series library earning high-quality ratings. Apple TV+ (60% quality, 16% high-quality), Netflix (59% quality, 17% high-quality), and Hulu (58% quality, 18% high-quality) are also closely in the mix as TV leaders. For movies, Apple TV+ is out front in both quality (77% of its film library) and high-quality (32%), though the service has the smallest library of all the streamers by far and only houses original programming. Hot on Apple TV+’s heels in film are HBO Max (63% quality, 20% high-quality), Disney+ (59% quality, 13% high-quality), and Hulu (54% quality, 8% high-quality).
Of course, the larger content catalogs will struggle to post the same hit rates as the smaller catalogs, skewing the percentages in favor of the latter and hurting a service like Prime Video, which offers the greatest selection of all. But that’s why we’re evaluating the SVOD field by three key criteria.
The average U.S. household now subscribes to 4.7 SVOD services, according to data insights company Kantar. So about five streamers per home. For simplicity’s sake, we’re ignoring the added value of some subscriptions such as Prime Video’s two-day shipping and the Apple One bundle. Instead, we’re focusing squarely on the entertainment offerings available. Through that lens, the five or so winners across price, catalog size, and quality become clearer.
While each streaming service offers pros (such as Prime Video’s massive catalog size) and cons (such as expensive price points), any combination of Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV+, Disney+, Amazon, and HBO Max will provide the best overall bang for your buck. This collection offers a mix of premium priced platforms and lower-cost options, libraries both prodigious and puny, and an eclectic selection of carefully curated quality across original and licensed programming. But, if you want to blow all your money on all nine SVOD services instead, you’d have our unending respect.