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Ultimate Streaming Tournament: Final Round - Which Service is Best in 2022?

Ben Bowman

If you had to choose just one streaming service, which would it be? We’ve spent the month of March whittling down a field of 16 great streamers to discover the top two: Netflix and HBO Max. Now, which one will reign supreme? It’s time to dig in to find the best value for your money.

Netflix (1) vs. HBO Max (3)

Price Comparison

Netflix is $9.99-$19.99, though most users may opt for the $15.49 standard plan to allow for HD video. HBO Max offers an ad-supported tier for $9.99 with an ad-free version at $14.99. Neither service offers a free trial.

Strengths

We start with Netflix - the world’s most popular video streaming service. As the innovator it is, Netflix has been building a solid content library for years. From prestige dramas and Oscar-winning films to buzzy reality TV to gripping documentaries and true-crime series, there’s something here for everyone. The children’s library is solid as well. It’s an exceedingly well-rounded service.

Netflix’s film library grows by the year with hits like “Extraction,” “Red Notice,” “Don’t Look Up,” “Bird Box,” and “The Adam Project.”

TV hits include “Bridgerton,” “Stranger Things,” “Squid Game,” “Money Heist,” “The Witcher,” “Inventing Anna,” “You,” “The Crown,” and “The Queen’s Gambit.”

We also give Netflix credit for a strong holiday library, with movies like “Klaus,” “Jingle Jangle,” and “The Christmas Chronicles.”

Kids love “CoComelon,” “PJ Masks,” “Action Pack,” and “Octonauts.” The colorful animation can keep them riveted for hours.

Netflix is also home to some great standup comedy from luminaries like Dave Chappelle, Bill Burr, and Jerry Seinfeld.

In terms of prestige, Netflix has been growing steadily with Academy Award winners and nominees like “The Power of the Dog,” “Roma,” “Marriage Story,” “Mank,” “Da 5 Bloods,” “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” and “Icarus.” These are all Netflix originals, meaning the only way to watch them is with a subscription.

There’s something for everyone on Netflix, and the service’s user interface makes it easy to find something new to watch every time you log on.

HBO Max is a newer player to streaming, but it comes with guns blazing. Subscribers will find a treasure trove of great content, including the huge Warner Bros. film library, decades of HBO original hits, a rotating film catalog of new releases, and some old TV favorites.

On the film front, you’ll get a staggering 26 Best Picture Academy Award Winners from 1932’s “Grand Hotel” all the way up to 2013’s “12 Years a Slave.”

The HBO Max library includes masterpieces like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, “The Matrix,” “Unforgiven,” “Hoop Dreams,” “Network,” Martin Scorsese films like “Goodfellas” and “The Departed,” Stanley Kubrick classics like “A Clockwork Orange” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and “The Shining,” and Akira Kurosawa’s genius films like “Ikiru,” and “Seven Samurai.”

No one else offers such great classics like “Casablanca,” “Citizen Kane,” “Gone With The Wind,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “King Kong,” and several Charlie Chaplin films.

You’ll also get groundbreaking TV series such as “Succession,” “Insecure,” “Game of Thrones,” The Wire,” “True Detective,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Veep,” “Barry,” “Sex and the City,” “Six Feet Under,” “Deadwood,” “Peacemaker,” and “The Sopranos.”

Looking for some “comfort food TV”? Check out “Friends,” “The West Wing,” “ER,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “The Big Bang Theory,” or “Key & Peele.”

The miniseries game is also incredibly strong with titles like “Band of Brothers,” “Chernobyl,” “Station Eleven,” and “Watchmen.”

The adult animation category is packed with HBO Max titles like “Rick and Morty,” “South Park,” and the landmark Studio Ghibli films from Hayao Miyazaki.

Children will discover classics like “Sesame Street,” “Tom & Jerry,” and “Looney Tunes.”

HBO Max also brings the world of DC superheroes, so it’s home to the big and small-screen adventures of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and more.

Weaknesses

For all its investment in content, Netflix doesn’t always connect. It still hasn’t had a huge cultural breakout in the film department, though it has consistent success on the TV side. You get the sense that Netflix is fishing for an identity. Movies like “Mank” and “Roma” are geared to win awards, but they won’t get much repeat viewing.

It’s also a fair criticism that Netflix movies too often resemble “look-alike” low-budget varieties of other successful films. Action thrillers, zombie films, and rom-coms on Netflix aren’t all that different from what Hollywood already produces. Even an expensive movie like “The Irishman” feels like reheated Scorsese leftovers.

Netflix has shows more originality in its TV series, so we hope we’ll see that spill over to the movie side soon.

On the children’s side, the Netflix library doesn’t hold a candle to Disney+ or Paramount+. It’s fine if you want to throw on an animated series for a few episodes, but the content isn’t especially educational or memorable.

HBO Max does struggle on the user experience side. Navigation can be clunky, especially if you need to switch profiles. Discovery of marquee content should be better.

While HBO Max has a deep library, it’s not cranking out content nearly as quickly as Netflix. Some shows may go on a ridiculously long hiatus between seasons. The HBO Max library appears largely static from month to month.

HBO Max also has a lot of work to do in the children’s department. There’s been very little innovation here. A combination of educational content and flashy feel-good content could be helpful.

Future Prospects

For Netflix, the future appears to be more of the same. With no hint of live sports or an ad-supported tier, we should get more hit-or-miss originals at a rapid pace. Netflix is expanding into mobile gaming and it includes some fun interactive content, but it may be years before that blooms to become something more valuable.

Netflix will get some help from Sony over the next few years as future Venom and Spider-Man adventures will land on the platform.

HBO Max has some major changes coming up. The service will be bundled with discovery+ in the next few months, then merge into a single service. That could change the value proposition tremendously. (Good for fans of reality TV, bad for cinema purists who don’t want “Dr. Pimple Popper” next to the Stanley Kubrick library.) If discovery+ becomes a mandatory addition, the price could also fly beyond its already premium level.

It’s also possible another Warner property like CNN+ may somehow get bundled into the streaming package.

The HBO Max film library is due to get skinnier as well. Peacock is pulling back Universal films, and 20th Century Fox films will live on Disney+ or Hulu. That’s a long-term headwind.

Head to Head

HBO Max does offer that ad-supported tier at a lower price. Netflix does not.

HBO Max offers included 4K on a small number of movies. Users must pay extra for 4K on Netflix.

Although a bit dated, we can look at this study that cross-references each genre against each service’s catalog and the IMDB ratings of the titles available.

Netflix leads with the following genres:

  • Game-Show
  • Romance
  • Talk-Show

HBO Max wins for:

  • Musical
  • Sci-Fi
  • Action
  • Adventure
  • Animation
  • Biography
  • Comedy
  • Crime
  • Documentary
  • Drama
  • Family
  • Fantasy
  • Film-Noir
  • History
  • Horror
  • Music
  • Mystery
  • News
  • Reality-TV
  • Short
  • Sport

The Streamable also weighed each service’s library and declared HBO Max Best for Documentaries, Best for Comedy Movies, Best for Action Movies, and Best for Families.

While Netflix brings money and unmatched enthusiasm to the streaming game, HBO Max is far more deliberate in its release strategy. That’s a holdover from the old days of HBO, when the channel would release a small handful of new shows each year.

While Netflix is very hit-or-miss with its releases, you can be pretty sure that every HBO Max show is going to be of a high production caliber, even if you don’t love it.

One problem with Netflix’s release velocity is that some great content ends up getting buried by a flood of new titles. A miniseries like “Unbelievable” feels like HBO Max quality, but it didn’t have a chance to breathe.

Winner

HBO Max

If we could pick just one streaming service in 2022, we would choose HBO Max. The library is a cinephile’s dream, the superhero content is popular, the documentaries are compelling, and every genre is represented well. If you look at any list of the best TV series of the last 30 years, HBO Max has a staggering amount. Again, Netflix is making headway, but it’s difficult to compete with HBO in the prestige TV race. For every Netflix highlight, HBO Max offers something even better. HBO has been the pinnacle of TV for decades and Netflix isn’t quite there yet. HBO Max wins this tournament as our choice for Best Streaming Service of 2022! Give it a shot today and we’re sure you’ll agree.

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