Ultimate Streaming Tournament: Round 1 - Which Service is Best in 2022?
March is the perfect time for ranking competitors and letting them duke it out, head-to-head. The Streamable pulled together 16 top subscription video services and we’ll spend the next month finding which service reigns supreme. In Round 1, there are sure to be some lopsided victories, but read on to see if a smaller service can pull an upset over an established streaming giant.
Netflix (1) vs. Crunchyroll (16)
Netflix is $9.99-$19.99, though most users may opt for the $15.49 standard plan to allow for HD video. Crunchyroll is $7.99-$14.99.
Netflix gets its top seed by virtue of its huge global subscriber base of 221 million. With original hits like “Stranger Things,” “The Crown,” “Bridgerton,” “Tiger King,” and “Squid Game,” Netflix moves the needle unlike any other streaming service. You never know what the next hit will be. In 2021, no movie studio won more Academy Awards. In 2022, no movie studio has more Oscar nominations. You’ll find prestige pieces by master filmmakers alongside joyously trashy reality TV. The documentary selection is strong. You’ll also find theatrical hits from other studios, though the availability has dropped as competitors have emerged in recent years. In short, there’s always something to watch on Netflix. There’s a good reason it has the best churn rate in the industry.
Crunchyroll is an anime paradise with 40,000 sub and dub episodes available in 10 languages as well as in 200+ countries and territories. It is absorbing all of the content from its sister service, Funimation. If you love the genre, it’s an indispensable service. If you don’t care for anime, you wouldn’t even consider it.
Head to Head
Will anime fans find value in Netflix? Yes! Netflix has a number of high-quality original anime titles, such as “Little Witch Academia,” “Devilman Crybaby,” “Blood of Zeus,” and “Beastars.” It’s investing heavily in its own animated shows, and you’ll also find some popular non-exclusive anime titles in the library as well. Netflix has “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba,” “Attack on Titan,” and “One Punch Man,” among dozens of others.
If you need a steady stream of anime, Crunchyroll is your jam. But Netflix brings an amazing amount of anime to the party and endless hours of live-action goodness. Netflix soars through to the next round.
Disney+ (2) vs. EPIX NOW (15)
Disney+ is an unbelievable value at $7.99 - about half that of Netflix. There are no ads on any tier. Viewers can add Hulu and ESPN+ for just $6 more, thanks to the Disney Bundle. EPIX NOW is only available in 6-month chunks - $30 for the half-year after a $15 6-month trial - that makes it $5/month in a normal circumstance. You can get it monthly through Amazon Prime Video for $5.99/month.
The power of Disney+ is right in the name: Disney. Subscribers get a vault of some of the most popular entertainment of the last 100 years, including the Disney animated classics, Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel, and The Muppets. For families with young children, the service is a must-have. Its live action series have also proved popular, including “The Mandalorian,” “WandaVision,” and “Loki.” If you love pop culture, Disney+ has an Infinity Gauntlet full of gems.
EPIX NOW offers a grab-bag of content, including “Godfather of Harlem,” “Chapelwaite,” “Berlin Station,” “Billy the Kid,” “Condor,” and “Pennyworth.” You’ll also find a decent selection of Hollywood blockbusters that rotate in and out of the service. It feels more like a supplementary subscription, rather than a must-have option.
Head to Head
EPIX NOW would get the win if you’re an adult looking for edgier fare with sex, violence, or profanity. In those areas, Disney+ doesn’t even try to compete. But for general entertainment value, Disney+ gives overwhelming bang for your buck. The service is also starting to stretch beyond its children-only boundaries, adding more adult-focused content like The Beatles’ documentary “Get Back” and gritty Marvel series like “Daredevil” and “The Punisher.”
Disney+ has been breaking the bank to accumulate properties like Star Wars and the 20th Century Fox library. The investment is paying off for subscribers, making it the clear winner in this round.
HBO Max (3) vs. Curiosity Stream (14)
HBO Max offers an ad-supported tier for $9.99 with an ad-free version at $14.99. Curiosity Stream is $2.99-$9.99.
HBO Max checks all the boxes you could possibly have in a streaming service. With the deep Warner Bros. catalog, you’ll find everything from Charlie Chaplin to “Casablanca” to “The Matrix” and the ultra-dark DC superhero movies. Movie-lovers will find a nearly endless treasure chest to explore. The HBO brand also means you get some of the most influential TV shows ever made: “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “Deadwood,” “Game of Thrones,” “Sex and the City,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Throw in the “South Park” catalog and “Sesame Street,” and it’s an extremely impressive package. The ad-supported version also allows for a less expensive option, which is a solid perk.
Curiosity Stream is a great service for audiences who want something more from their TV. With learning-focused content from luminaries like Stephen Hawking, David Attenborough, and Richard Hammond, you’re sure to walk away with a greater understanding of our world and its place in the universe. You’ll learn about animals, science, history, travel, and human health.
Head to Head
Since Curiosity Stream stays so narrowly focused, we have to explore whether HBO Max has enough learning content to compete on that footing. Most of its brilliant documentaries tackle celebrities or societal subjects, however. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. If you truly crave brain-expanding films and shows, Curiosity Stream will be your choice. But HBO Max is no slouch when it comes to truly thought-provoking content.
Curiosity Stream may be a nice addition for someone who needs more high-minded fare, but HBO Max has far too much firepower across the board. HBO Max moves on.
Prime Video (4) vs. AMC+ (13)
Both Prime Video and AMC+ are $8.99/month.
Amazon Prime Video has a staggering amount of content. You’ll find standouts in every genre. While the vast majority comes from other movie studios, Prime Video has some quality originals: series like “Fleabag,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “The Boys,” and “The Expanse.” The upcoming Lord of the Rings series is sure to make waves. In the movie department, you’ll find Oscar-nominated gems like “Sound of Metal,” “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” and “One Night in Miami.” High quality movies and shows regularly cycle through the service. Starting this fall, Prime Video is the exclusive home of Thursday Night Football.
Prime Video also allows users to tack on additional streaming services that live within the Prime Video. You could add Paramount+, discovery+, and more - and watch it all without leaving the Prime app.
Prime Video does suffer from possibly too much content. Its relatively uncurated catalog includes badly produced religious or political films, along with zero-budget horror movies. Its UI is also lacking. But with a very generous 30-day free trial, that’s a lot of time to see if the service is right for you.
AMC+ has some classic shows like “Mad Men,” “Portlandia,” and “The Walking Dead.” Its original slate is growing with titles like “The North Water,” “Kin” and “Gangs of London.” If you love horror, the AMC+ subscription also gives you the top-notch fear factor of the Shudder library. You’ll also get access to British favorites from BBC America and independent films from Sundance Now and IFC Films Unlimited.
Head to Head
AMC+ doses a few things very well, but it’s difficult to overcome Prime Video in those same categories. While it might seem that Shudder via AMC+ is the superior service for horror, Prime Video actually has a bigger library of scary movies. Prime Video is like the Costco of streaming - your membership will give you tons and tons of content across every genre. Unless AMC+ seriously ramps up production and acquisitions, this competition is lopsided.
Amazon Prime Video
You can make a compelling case that Prime Video is the only streaming subscription you need. There’s simply so much content, you’ll never watch everything. AMC+ wins if you are a fan of a few specific shows, but Prime Video likely offers something in the same genre that’s just as rewarding.
Hulu (5) vs. ESPN+ (12)
Hulu is $6.99/month if you want the ad-supported version, $12.99/month if you want to go ad-free. ESPN+ is $6.99/month. If you want both services, you can save by getting the bundle with Disney+, which provides all three services for just $13.99.
Hulu is one of the most unusual platforms in the game. While it does offer some strong originals like “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Only Murders in the Building,” and “Little Fires Everywhere,” it also provides a deep library of TV shows including many hits from FX, NBC, ABC, and FOX. Hulu also has classic shows like “The Golden Girls,” “Cheers,” “Frasier,” “Desperate Housewives,” and “Lost.”
Hulu is slower to release new original content than other services, but it still has plenty to like. The documentary section is a special treat, with titles like “Summer of Soul,” “The Orange Years: The Nickelodeon Story,” “WeWork: or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn,” and “Too Funny to Fail: The Life & Death of The Dana Carvey Show.”
Hulu is also unique because it is the only SVOD service that allows you to upgrade to a full live TV package. For $69.99/month, you get all of the on-demand catalog as well as live TV channels, including 33 of the top 35 cable channels. That price also gives you Disney+ and ESPN+ at no extra charge. It’s an unbeatable deal. You can also try Hulu for free for 30 days.
ESPN+ is a sports lover’s paradise. It’s an essential service for fans of sports leagues like NHL, PGA, and UFC. With lots of live events and slickly produced sports content, the service is angling to become a must-have part of the streaming ecosystem. The service does not offer as much by way of the NFL, NBA, or MLB, however. If you wanted to bulk up ESPN+, you can bundle it with Hulu and Disney+ for just $13.99/month.
Head to Head
There’s almost no overlap in content here, in part because Disney owns both services and allocates programming accordingly. If you do upgrade Hulu to include live channels, you’ll get plenty of sports that could nullify a bit of the ESPN+ advantage. It is important to remember that live ESPN+ events are not available elsewhere, so the service may be indispensable if you follow a particular sport.
Sports fans will naturally select ESPN+, but if you were looking for just one streaming service to rule them all, it would be insufficient. Hulu provides an excellent variety of entertainment from sitcoms to dramas. It also includes older shows that are frequently missing from competitor services. The ability to add live channels or flex to the Disney bundle makes Hulu something of a unicorn in the streaming space. Considering you can have both Hulu and ESPN+ and Disney+ for less than the cost of Netflix, there’s really no reason to choose, but if you force us to pick a winner, Hulu advances.
Paramount+ (6) vs. STARZ (11)
Paramount+ is $4.99 with ads or $9.99 ad-free. STARZ is $8.99/month.
Paramount+ leans on several pillars of TV content: Movies from the deep Paramount library and shows from BET, CBS, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, and Smithsonian Channel. That means you’re getting some of the best niche content around. Subscribers to the $9.99 plan also get access to their live, local CBS station, which means you can watch March Madness or NFL games. Speaking of sports, Paramount+ is your home for soccer leagues like Serie A, Argentina Liga Profesional de Fútbol, and UEFA Champions League.
The service is spending big to compete in scripted drama, relying on “Yellowstone” creator Taylor Sheridan to create a slate of buzzy adult dramas like “1883,” “Mayor of Kingstown,” and the upcoming “Lioness” with Zoe Saldaña, “Land Man” with Billy Bob Thornton,” “Tulsa King” with Sylvester Stallone, and “Bass Reeves” with David Oyelowo.
Paramount+ will also bring the hotly anticipated live-action “Halo” series this year, which pairs nicely with its library of “Star Trek” programming.
Kids will love “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “PAW Patrol,” and the Nickelodeon catalog, along with family movies like “Clifford the Big Red Dog.”
STARZ keeps its focus squarely on adults with franchises like “Power,” “Outlander,” and “Heels.” It also gets a solid number of Hollywood blockbusters - it will be the first service to stream “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” You’ll see lots of mature content involving sex, violence, and profanity.
Head to Head
For sheer variety, it’s hard to top Paramount+. The STARZ content is very “premium cable,” so it’s going to be edgier and more gritty than what you’ll find on Paramount+. If you’re looking for “adult” fare, you won’t find it on Paramount+, though you could supplement the service with more titillating titles by bundling Showtime. You can pay $11.99/month to get Showtime and ad-supported Paramount+ or enjoy both services ad-free for a total of $14.99/month.
There’s just too much to like about Paramount+ and too much momentum in the right direction. STARZ will have its fans, but ad-free Paramount+ is just $1 more and that dollar unlocks far more to watch. From kids’ shows to classic Westerns to live soccer to sci-fi and more, Paramount+ is a great value that’s only going to get better while STARZ remains relatively stagnant.
Discovery+ (7) vs. Showtime (10)
Discovery+ is $4.99 for the ad-supported version and $6.99 without ads. Showtime is $10.99.
Discovery+ is your hub for unscripted TV galore. You’ll find much-loved shows from A&E, Animal Planet, Discovery, Food Network, HGTV, History, Lifetime, Magnolia Network, OWN, TLC, and Travel Channel. If you love this content, you love this content. It’s popular TV to keep on in the background while you’re scrolling on your phone or doing housework.
Showtime, on the other hand, aims to be “appointment TV.” With series like “Billions” and “Yellowjackets,” the service aims for a viewer who wants to go beyond the boundaries of the content on most services. You’ll also find lots of A-list movies from various studios. If you love movies, Showtime is the clear choice.
Head to Head
This is another difficult comparison. There’s almost no reality TV on Showtime, while discovery+ is almost entirely reality TV. When it comes to films, discovery+ offers a handful of documentaries, but virtually nothing scripted. If you need reality TV with Showtime, the bundle with Paramount+ ($11.99-$14.99) helps scratch that itch.
Perhaps the most difficult call in the first round, we give Showtime the edge because its content feels truly worthy of the subscription. Although discovery+ offers a more attractive price point, there’s appreciably no difference between the first episode of a reality show and the 100th episode. You could easily let the subscription lapse and rejoin during a month when you have more free time. If you don’t fall in love with any of the Showtime shows, you’ll still see lots of great movies rotating through the service, so there should be something worth watching each month. The optional bundle with Paramount+ also offers flexibility that discovery+ can’t match.
Apple TV+ (8) vs. Peacock (9)
Apple TV+ is $4.99/month and Peacock offers some content for free, though you’ll pay $4.99 to access the premium content with ads and $9.99/month to remove the commercials.
Peacock is an interesting service. The free version still provides a lot of value with big theatrical hits and select seasons of sitcoms available with periodic ad breaks. The premium version provides access to shows like “Yellowstone” and new series like “Bel-Air,” “MacGruber,” “Wolf Like Me,” and the “Saved by the Bell” reboot. Peacock doesn’t offer much by way of original movies, however. Peacock is also your home for live WWE events and English Premier League soccer.
Apple TV+ is best known for its breakout hit “Ted Lasso.” The service is moving deliberately with its new content. The shows and movies often get award nominations, and they all look and sound beautiful. You’ll see movies like “The Tragedy of Macbeth” and “Swan Song,” “Finch,” and “Greyhound.” Shows like “Severance” and “For All Mankind” push the envelope of what’s possible with longform narrative storytelling.
Head to Head
Peacock certainly wins on variety. There’s a lot there, from lowbrow to highbrow. No other service offers WWE, so that’s a win for wrestling fans. The back episodes of beloved series like “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” provide some comfort food for cord-cutters. Apple TV+ can’t compete on that footing.
A big question is whether Peacock’s original fare can surpass Apple TV+. So far, the answer is no. Most of Peacock’s originals are simply retreads of existing properties, while Apple TV+ is giving storytellers a chance to try something new. With series like “The Morning Show,” “Home Before Dark,” and “Servant,” Apple TV+ is willing to put their muscle behind the kind of television that is not easily found elsewhere. When Apple TV+ gets behind a series, it won’t get knocked off course by low viewership. It’s a curated collection of passion projects.
This win is all about trajectory. Peacock today doesn’t seem significantly different from Peacock a year ago. Apple TV+ feels like golden-era HBO, when creators were given long leashes and a chance to grow. The Apple TV+ content simply looks and sounds better than almost all other streaming services. Since a significant portion of Peacock is free, you can slide into it whenever you like, but there’s no must-see TV on the service right now unless you count “Yellowstone” - and Peacock doesn’t get those episodes until months after they’ve aired on the Paramount Network. Apple TV+ is innovating, and that’s an exciting service to support.
Round 2 Preview
As expected, Round 1 was a cakewalk for most of these services. Round 2 will be more intense. Netflix battles Apple TV+, Hulu will have its hands full with Prime Video, HBO Max and Paramount+ will provide a tough clash, and Disney+ faces underdog Showtime. Join us next week to see how the competition shakes out. Only one streaming service will reign supreme!