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Ultimate Streaming Tournament: Round 3 - Which Service is Best in 2022?

Ben Bowman

In the search for one streaming champion in 2022, we’ve narrowed the field from 16 down to a Final Four. Only one service will be left standing when the dust settles, and we have four very worthy competitors remaining. As we get closer to the end, we’ll scrutinize the services even more to find the best value for your dollar. Let the games begin!

Netflix (1) vs. Prime Video (4)

Price Comparison

Netflix is $9.99-$19.99, though most users may opt for the $15.49 standard plan to allow for HD video. There is no free trial. Prime Video is $8.99/month with a generous 30-day free trial.

Strengths

Each of these services has a deep, excellent catalog. Each creates incredible originals. Each borrows content from other movie studios. Either one could occupy you for many months before you got tired of it.

We’ll also give Netflix and Prime Video credit for pushing the envelope. Netflix has its daring international originals like “Squid Game” and “Money Heist.” Its docu-series and reality series often dominate the cultural conversation.

Prime Video has shown patience and support of female titles like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” and LGBTQ titles like “Transparent.” Prime Video is also home to the dark, twisted superhero tales “The Boys” and “Invincible.”

Both services are willing to spend big to attract talent and win intellectual property rights. Netflix is crushing the awards circuit with prestige pieces like “The Power of the Dog,” “Roma,” “Mank,” and “The Irishman.” Prime Video poured tons of cash into “The Wheel of Time” and the upcoming Lord of the Rings series.

With either service, there is always something to watch. And if the new shows and movies don’t move the needle for you, the back catalogs are impressive. Each of these services could easily be considered a “must-have” streamer.

Prime Video also gets major points for live sports like Thursday Night Football and special concert events like Metallica’s 40th anniversary special. Amazon is pushing the envelope with what is expected of streaming services. It’s a broad strategy, but one that offers surprising value to subscribers.

Another unique feature of Prime Video is the ability to add smaller streaming subscriptions that are accessible within the Prime Video interface. Services like Paramount+, AMC+, Shudder, and Britbox are available as add-ons.

Prime’s 30-day free trial provides more than enough time to see if the service is right for you.

Weaknesses

If Netflix has a major drawback, it’s that it doesn’t own much well-known IP. The hits and the misses come from left field. The firehose of content means you’ll encounter unexpected hits and a lot of chaff. Netflix does have a lot of data on what works for its subscribers. Sometimes that pays off. In other cases, Netflix whiffs badly with duds like “Jupiter’s Legacy” and “Cowboy Bebop.” Netflix’s ever-increasing price doesn’t automatically correlate to ever-better content.

Netflix also nixed its free trial, so you’re on the hook for a full month whether you like the service or not.

Prime Video can sometimes feel more like a vanity project than a proper streaming service. For every great show like “The Underground Railroad,” you have 10,000 low-budget titles that wouldn’t justify a spot in the Walmart dollar bin. It’s a true “junk drawer” of content, including trash like the Paris Hilton vehicle “The Hottie & The Nottie,” and ultra-garbage like “Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus,” “Noah’s Shark,” and “Sharks of the Corn.”

There’s essentially no curation with Prime Video. You’re on your own to separate the good content from the bad.

Future Prospects

Netflix seems to have settled on its method: investing in creators and original stories, trusting that subscribers will remember hits like “Bridgerton” and “Inventing Anna,” while forgiving the misfires. Netflix is spending big on content and placing bets that it knows its subscribers better than any other streaming service. By avoiding live events and investing most heavily in originals, Netflix seems more focused than Amazon.

With live sports and concerts and its mix of brilliant originals with low-effort video, it’s almost impossible to predict where Prime Video will go next. Since the company has such deep pockets, almost anything is possible. But streaming video is ultimately a side-project for Amazon, whereas it’s the entire ballgame for Netflix. Can Prime Video win when the company has so many other priorities?

Head to Head

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 wins for:

  • Action
  • Adventure
  • Biography
  • Comedy
  • Crime
  • Documentary
  • Drama
  • Family
  • Fantasy
  • Game-Show
  • Horror
  • Music
  • Mystery
  • News
  • Reality-TV
  • Romance
  • Sci-Fi
  • Short
  • Sport
  • Talk-Show
  • War
  • Western

Prime Video wins for:

  • Animation
  • Film-Noir
  • History
  • Musical
  • Thriller

Prime Video also gets points for including 4K on some titles (while Netflix requires an upcharge for UHD titles). And those live sports are a key differentiator.

Winner

Netflix

Ultimately, the way to choose between the two is to decide which service you would keep if you could only have one. While Prime Video has a lot going for it, it’s simply a mile wide and an inch deep. Netflix builds for its audience, while Prime Video is still trying to figure out what it’s aiming for. Netflix is looking to create building blocks for an empire, while we could see Amazon farming out their content to another service if Prime Video fails to generate enough value in the long run. Netflix is also looking to serve every demographic, while Prime Video’s library seems too scattershot to matter. Netflix is experiencing growing pains, but its successes simply overshadow the field.

Disney+ (2) vs. HBO Max (3)

Price Comparison

Disney+ is an great value at $7.99 There are no ads on any tier. Viewers can add Hulu and ESPN+ for just $6 more, thanks to the Disney Bundle. 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

Disney+ has assembled some of the world’s greatest entertainment under one umbrella. Younger kids will love the Disney animated classics, Pixar, and Muppets content, while older kids can join the adventures of Star Wars and Marvel. You’ll find imagination on full display with the comforting notion that good always triumphs over evil.

The service has also offered some of the biggest streaming hits of the last few years with “The Mandalorian,” “WandaVision,” and “Loki.” These efforts don’t feel like TV - they have the budgets and effects to match almost any blockbuster.

With exclusives like the musical landmark “Hamilton” and The Beatles documentary “Get Back,” Disney+ is also broadening its brand to include other forms of one-of-a-kind entertainment.

The ability to add on Hulu and ESPN+ is also a unique value for Disney+ subscribers. The combined cost is lower than Netflix. If you have even the slightest interest in sports, the bundle makes overwhelming sense.

You might consider HBO Max the adult version of Disney+. You can’t write the history of movies or TV without including some of the all-star gems in their library. Shows like “Game of Thrones,” “Six Feet Under,” “The Sopranos,” “Succession,” “The Wire,” “Deadwood,” “Sex and the City,” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” have changed entertainment forever.

The miniseries and documentaries on HBO Max also provide sublime storytelling. “Chernobyl,” “Band of Brothers,” “True Detective,” “From the Earth to the Moon,” and “Watchmen” are just some of the stellar options.

The HBO Max movie catalog is second to none, with standouts like Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “The Matrix,” Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, and the Mad Max movies.

You’ll also find unmatched classics like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Casablanca,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “North by Northwest,” “Unforgiven,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “The Searchers.”

HBO Max also delivers international classics like “Seven Samurai,” “Spirited Away,” and “Princess Mononoke.”

What other streaming service would include Georges Méliès’ “A Trip to the Moon” from 1902? HBO Max is made by movie lovers for movie lovers.

You’ll also find much-loved TV series like “Friends,” “South Park,” “ER,” “The West Wing,” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

For children, “Looney Tunes,” “Tom and Jerry,” “Scooby-Doo” and “Sesame Street” will hit the spot, alongside the brilliant “Batman: The Animated Series” for older kids.

In fact, this battle pits Marvel (Disney+) against DC (HBO Max). Either way, you’re getting solid superhero action.

Weaknesses

These services could not be more different in their intended audiences. Most Disney+ watchers will be children or families. Most HBO Max watchers will be adults. We’ll go so far as to say each of these services is the best at targeting those respective audiences. The counterpoint is that they each leave much to be desired on the other side.

Disney+ is reluctant to add anything verging on sex, violence, or challenging subject matter to their service. HBO Max is trying valiantly to shore up its children’s catalog, but it’s hard to compete with the big guns of Disney.

Adults are likely to become bored with Disney+. Children are likely to revolt against HBO Max unless they love the very specific content available.

Ad-free HBO Max is almost twice the cost of the always ad-free Disney+. That alone could be a dealbreaker.

Future Prospects

Each of these services is in for some major changes in the years to come.

Overseas, Disney+ funnels its adult-skewing content to the Star tab - Hulu does not exist. We feel near-certain that Disney+ will simply absorb Hulu when NBCUniversal’s 33% share can be eliminated in 2024. That would make Disney+ a far more complete streaming option.

For now, Disney CEO Bob Chapek seems keen on juicing Disney+ with slightly edgier content previously unwelcome on the service. Movies like “Free Guy” or “West Side Story” appeal to an audience older than Disney’s key demo. It seems unlikely we’d ever see a horror movie or a sexually charged thriller on the service without much stronger childproofing. Some company leaders would still be skittish to see such content adjacent to the Disney logo, no matter what safeguards may be in place.

HBO Max will soon be bundled and then merged with discovery+. Already at a premium price point, it’s hard to imagine the new combined service could charge even more, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. The benefit to HBO Max subscribers seems relatively mild, since there’s a huge gap between a season of “The Wire” and an episode of “Dr. Pimple Popper.” One is prestige television, the other is what you put on in the background while you scroll your phone. If anything, the discovery+ catalog may dilute the value for subscribers.

Head to Head

Although the catalogs have changed dramatically since last year’s study, this is how the catalogs fared when cross-referenced against IMDB’s ratings.

Disney+ wins for:

  • Musical
  • Romance
  • Sci-Fi

But HBO Max had higher rankings for:

  • Action
  • Adventure
  • Animation
  • Biography
  • Comedy
  • Crime
  • Documentary
  • Drama
  • Family
  • Fantasy
  • Film-Noir
  • Game-Show
  • History
  • Horror
  • Music
  • Mystery
  • News
  • Reality-TV
  • Short
  • Sport
  • Talk-Show

That is not scientific, however.

Since Disney+ has completely abandoned adults, there’s no point in comparing those catalogs. We just need to compare if HBO Max has enough for kids. It does offer Cartoon Network gems like “Powerpuff Girls,” “Teen Titans Go!” and “Ben 10.” Throw in movies like “The Lego Movie,” “March of the Penguins,” “Dolphin Tale,” and “Rango,” and there’s plenty to keep the kids occupied.

Another potential tiebreaker: HBO Max allows the option to save with the ad-supported tier. Disney+ doesn’t currently offer something like that, though its price is low enough, it may not be needed.

Winner

HBO Max

While both services offer iconic lineups of movies and TV, the adult superiority of HBO Max makes it impossible to pass up. Families and children may still choose Disney+, but they’ll find great value in HBO Max as well. For adults, the content gap is simply too great to ignore — HBO Max reigns supreme, packed with shows and movies that can be watched and rewatched to reveal even greater depth. Even if you include the Disney bundle and Hulu, HBO Max’s movie catalog is second to none.

Final Round Preview

Top-seeded Netflix has been soaring through the competition, easily swatting away Crunchyroll (16), and Apple TV+ (8) before facing its first real test in Amazon Prime Video (4). As the 3-seed, HBO Max had a rougher road once it danced past Curiosity Stream (14). A surging Paramount+ (6) brought its deep movie vault and a stellar TV lineup and nearly pulled off the upset. This battle against Disney+ could not have been more ferocious.

So does Netflix remain the king of the video jungle? Or is the upstart HBO Max a force to powerful to deny? These services charge a premium, but they’ve earned it. Join us next week to see which service is our pick for the Best of 2022.