In Round 1 of The Streamable’s Ultimate Streaming Bracket, most battles were lopsided. While niche services have their strengths, the big services are just too powerful to overcome. The lone upset was Showtime (10) over discovery+ (7).
In Round 2, the competition becomes tighter. Any of these Elite 8 services would provide at least a month’s worth of entertainment. But which is worth a long-term subscription? And if you were on a desert island, which might be your best companion? Let’s dig in.
Netflix (1) vs. Apple TV+ (8)
Apple TV+ is one-third of the price of Netflix’s most popular tier. The service provides beautifully shot, thoughtful drama and sci-fi series with the lovable “Ted Lasso” as the crown jewel. It’s hard to say anything bad about Apple TV+ unless you consider the extremely light catalog. It’s a newer service and Apple is very selective about what it serves up. Apple TV+ will also begin airing Friday night MLB games, which is a rare advantage.
Netflix flexes its muscle with at least one pop culture landmark every year. One year ago, no one could have predicted that a Korean series called “Squid Game” would thrill the world. Netflix is THE platform that can catapult unknowns into stars and unify our cultural conversation. With international hits like “La Casa de Papel/Money Heist” and “Lupin,” Americans get exposure to some of the brightest talents from other countries.
Of course, Netflix is also pushing out dazzling English entertainment as well. With mega-hits like “Bridgerton,” “Stranger Things,” “The Crown” and “The Witcher,” Netflix is hitting the sweet spot for many subscribers. The service earned a record 37 Academy Award nominations last year. Movies like “Red Notice,” “Don’t Look Up,” and “Extraction” have become wildly popular. Netflix doesn’t always score with its audience, but it has an industry-best churn rate because it delivers.
Head to Head
If Apple TV+ excels with the quality of its filmmaking, can Netflix match it? Yes. Those Academy Award nominations prove that. “The Power of the Dog” has a chance to become Netflix’s first Best Picture winner after films like “Roma,” “The Irishman,” “Mank,” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” garnered critical love last year.
Netflix does not offer live sports, however. If you’re a baseball fan, those Friday night games might be too tempting to pass up.
Prime Video (4) vs. Hulu (5)
Prime Video is $8.99/month. Hulu is $6.99/month if you want the ad-supported version, $12.99/month if you want to go ad-free. You can save by getting the bundle with Disney+ and ESPN+, providing all three services for just $13.99.
Prime Video has the biggest streaming library in the game. It’s a bottomless pit of movies and TV. You’ll find beloved classics, buzzy originals, and variety galore. Prime Video doesn’t pump out quite as many originals as some services, but with high profile titles like “The Wheel of Time,” “Reacher,” “The Underground Railroad,” “The Boys,” and the upcoming Lord of the Rings series, the investment is paying off. The service also has exclusive movies like “The Tomorrow War,” “Being the Ricardos,” and “Sound of Metal.” Starting this fall, Prime Video will be the exclusive home for Thursday Night Football. It may not be at the top of your mind for streaming, but it’s a very strong service.
Hulu is an older player in the game, getting a little momentum after some bumpy years. A show like “The Handmaid’s Tale” appears near its end, so it’s encouraging to see Hulu getting titles like “Only Murders in the Building,” “Nine Perfect Strangers,” “Dopesick,” “The Dropout,” and “Pam & Tommy.”
Both Prime Video and Hulu allow you to supplement the service with various add-ons. In the case of Prime Video, you can add dozens of inexpensive subscriptions, from Paramount+, Showtime, and STARZ to niche players like Acorn TV, UP Faith and Family, Screambox, and Tastemade+. Each Prime Video add-on is reasonably priced.
With Hulu, that Disney bundle is your best bet – providing the live sports of ESPN+ with the incredible Disney+ library.
Hulu also allows you to watch a full array of live channels and record shows with your DVR, which is an amazing feature for people who want to watch live TV. That option doesn’t come cheap at $69.99, but that option does automatically give you Hulu on demand, Disney+, and ESPN+
Head to Head
This is an incredibly difficult comparison. Each service offers some of the best entertainment created during the streaming era. Each has a deep library of older content as well. Perhaps the answer is to switch from service to service, riding Hulu when it’s releasing a hot new title, then reverting to Prime Video if the new Hulu offering doesn’t excite you.
Each service has compelling drama, outstanding comedy, spine-tingling thrillers, and thought-provoking documentaries. You can’t go wrong with either, but we have to choose one winner.
HBO Max (3) vs. Paramount+ (6)
Here we have another knock-down, drag-out battle between two evenly matched competitors.
HBO Max has become an indispensable service for its users. The HBO brand has been behind some of the most important TV in the last 30 years, from “The Sopranos” to “Succession,” “The Wire,” “Deadwood,” “Game of Thrones,” “Sex and the City,” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
The miniseries on HBO Max are also works of art: “Mare of Easttown,” “Chernobyl,” “Station Eleven,” and “Watchmen” were some of the best TV in the last few years.
The movie catalog on HBO Max will also please any movie fan. From new releases like “West Side Story,” “The King’s Man,” and “The Suicide Squad” to the unquestioned classics like “Citizen Kane,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and “M,” this library stands toe-to-toe with any streamer on the planet.
You’ll also find groundbreaking sitcoms like “Insecure,” “The Big Bang Theory,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” and “Veep.”
Young children will enjoy “Sesame Street,” while older kids will get a kick out of the DC superhero content of Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman.
HBO Max will also have some live sports. It will be the home for U.S. Women’s and Men’s National Team soccer matches.
Paramount+ is no slouch either. The TV side has something for everyone, including shows from BET, CBS, Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon, and Smithsonian Channel. For movies, you’ll get “A Quiet Place,” “Mean Girls,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “World War Z,” and the adventures of Indiana Jones. You’ll also get movies from the Mission: Impossible and Star Trek franchises.
The sitcom bench is deep with “Cheers,” “I Love Lucy,” “The Odd Couple,” “Taxi,” and “Frasier.” And you’ll find beloved shows like “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “PAW Patrol” for kids.
Paramount is spending big to compete on the streaming-exclusive side, turning to “Yellowstone” creator Taylor Sheridan to spin up 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.
With the Paramount+ $9.99 plan, you’ll be able to watch your live, local CBS station, including March Madness and NFL games. Paramount+ is a soccer lover’s dream with Serie A, Argentina Liga Profesional de Fútbol, and UEFA Champions League.
Head to Head
Prestige dramas, a deep vault, sci-fi classics, content for kids, live soccer, and beloved sitcoms? This is a tough one. The services are very closely matched.
Paramount+ gets the edge for live sports and kids’ content – the Nickelodeon library is hard to beat. HBO Max simply has an all-star drama and comedy catalog. HBO Max also gets the bonus of masterworks from Studio Ghibli and Akira Kurosawa.
These services are extremely evenly matched, and you’re likely to enjoy both.
Disney+ (2) vs. Showtime (10)
Disney+ is an excellent 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. Showtime clocks in at $10.99. That alone probably ends the conversation. Disney+ has far more content at a lower price point. But let’s dig further.
Disney+ does what it does better than any streaming service. It caters to fans of some of the best pop culture of the last 100 years. You’ll get Disney animated classics, Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel, and The Muppets. Throw in some National Geographic content as well. The service is also starting to branch out into a little edgier content, like the Ryan Reynolds action-comedy “Free Guy.”
Parents will love Disney+ because it’s an instant, reliable video babysitter for toddlers to teens. These are movies and shows that have been beloved for generations. You know the songs by heart, you love the characters, and your kids probably own the toys.
Where Disney+ falls short, however is Showtime’s greatest strength: adult programming. If you’re an empty nester or if you never had children, Showtime’s grittier adult shows and films are a better fit for you. Series like “Billions” and “Yellowjackets” have their fans, and you’ll also get a rotating slate of Hollywood blockbusters. It’s a familiar formula for grown-ups.
Head to Head
Given the narrow nature of each service’s content, they each allow for bundle packages to even things out. Disney+ shores up its weak adult slate by offering discounted Hulu and ESPN+. Showtime aims to appeal to the whole family by virtue of a discounted bundle with Paramount+. If you bundled everything together, the Disney offering still offers a wider range of titles.
Showtime and Disney+ serve entirely different demographics. You’ll know which one suits you, but Showtime’s price point seems inappropriately high, considering their limited library.
Round 3 Preview
Although Paramount+ nearly edged out HBO Max, our bracket here is all chalk: the top 4 seeds advance. But here’s where things are going to get very tough. Netflix has had it easy until now, but Round 3 means a battle against Prime Video’s lower price and deeper library. On the other side of the bracket, how will we decide between HBO Max and Disney+? Only one service can get that One Shining Moment at the end of our tournament.