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Netflix vs Hulu Plus vs Amazon Prime vs ...
March 4, 2014 10:02 AM   Subscribe

Lifehacker: "One of the more annoying things about Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon's television streaming libraries is the vast difference between the selection available. It would be almost impossible to get a thorough idea of who has the better library without searching for hundreds of TV shows on each service and comparing them manually. So we did just that."

The raw data is accessible as a Google document.

In addition, some thought is given to iTunes and Google Play. Comments also mention other services including YouTube and Redbox Instant, and the difficulty of getting shows such as The Big Bang Theory and Game of Thrones.

Speaking of which: the Oatmeal from last year pontificated on obtaining Game of Thrones (NSFW).
posted by Wordshore (105 comments total) 79 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yikes. That's a lot of effort for something that will be out of date in about a week. (That's not a slam on the project, which is really valuable; I just would never be able to get myself to do that much data collection just on current availability when it wasn't stable even in the short term.)
posted by Linda_Holmes at 10:06 AM on March 4 [4 favorites]


I'm glad someone finally did an actual comparison, but as a subscriber to all these services, canistreamit has become my first resource when there's something I want to see.
posted by Big_B at 10:07 AM on March 4 [72 favorites]


Came here to see if this was somehow better than canistreamit, which also has stuff like Vudu, Crackle, Epix etc.

I don't think it is.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:10 AM on March 4


One of the most annoying things about Netflix, et al is how similar their libraries are. I can watch the same couple of shitty movies everywhere.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:16 AM on March 4 [7 favorites]


This is one of the really nice things about the Roku: I can search a ton of different services right from the root menu then go right to where I need to go to buy/play. Granted most things still seem to be available a la carte (and no, Amazon, I am not paying 2.99 to watch a 1990 straight to video, I don't even care that it stars Rutger Hauer!), but still.
posted by selfnoise at 10:16 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]


I always forget about canistreamit, which is foolish of me because I find bouncing between the different services to try and figure out who has what so irritating. Bookmarked again as a reminder.

They produced a nice graphic, but (especially with movies) things change too fast for a single overview to be useful.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:17 AM on March 4


between Netflix (Canada) and Youtube, I can't find everything I'm looking for, but I can find far more than I need. Is this the new prosperity?
posted by philip-random at 10:19 AM on March 4 [5 favorites]


One of the most annoying things about Netflix, et al is how similar their libraries are. I can watch the same couple of shitty movies everywhere.
Hulu Plus has the entire Criterion Collection, so I really don't think that's true.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:22 AM on March 4 [6 favorites]


Philip-random, we've had 400 useless cable channels for about 30 years.
posted by Melismata at 10:22 AM on March 4 [6 favorites]


Amazon Prime's library consists of what's expired from Netflix.
posted by Redfield at 10:23 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]


That's a lot of effort for services that aren't available to the 96% of the world.

I would hope people in other countries are putting together locally-relevant lists of streaming options. This does not invalidate those efforts, and vice versa. There's all kinds of cultural imperialism in the world, and this is not an example of that. (Plus, with VPNs and other solutions, people in other countries are using these services, so the relevance is definitely broader than just the US.)
posted by Dip Flash at 10:23 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Netflix users outside the US can use Hola or similar in order to see the same as a US browser would.
posted by colie at 10:23 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]


Amazon Prime's library consists of what's expired from Netflix.

Plus Justified.
posted by lovecrafty at 10:24 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


My biggest gripe with Netflix.ca isn't content (Though would it kill you to get Friends, Golden Girls, and The Mentalist, Netflix?), it's the interface; my kingdom for just a text page with a list of all the content, not broken up by genre or anything, just columns and columns of titles.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:24 AM on March 4 [12 favorites]


[One comment deleted; if you need to complain about Metafilter and internationalism, there is an open MetaTalk thread for that.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:28 AM on March 4


Instantwatcher is sort of like that Alvy Ampersand. Not sure if it works for .ca though.
posted by Big_B at 10:28 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


re: iTunes

I was discussing movies with my sister recently, and it came up that neither of us like to pay the $5 or $6 for a rental from the iTunes Store when it only lasts 48 hours. We both prefer to use the $8/mo Netflix. It occurred to me that within the last 10 years I used to drop $5 or $6 for a movie for a couple of days regularly from Blockbuster or the neighbourhood video store, but now that I have an enormous selection and don't even have to leave the house it's too expensive.
posted by Hoopo at 10:28 AM on March 4 [10 favorites]


I have all 3, netflix is king for kid's content, hulu is good for this season's current run shows (not counting CBS but who cares), and I have amazon prime anyway so no real big deal.

Honestly if I could just get HBO Go and starz streaming ala carte I'd decouple cable completely because I don't watch that much live sports.
posted by vuron at 10:30 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I am not paying 2.99 to watch a 1990 straight to video

In Canada, for no apparent reason, you could however pay CDN $30 for that same movie on Google Movies... (Google Play?) They must randomly assign prices between .99 and 49.99 or something.
posted by sneebler at 10:31 AM on March 4


Philip-random, we've had 400 useless cable channels for about 30 years.

and yet in less than a minute (+ five seconds waiting until I can skip the rest of the advert), I can find that 1976 ELO live performance of Roll Over Beethoven that I saw half of once way back when, and then, despite all those myriad cable channels, just had to assume was lost forever in some European archive.

Searchability changes everything.
posted by philip-random at 10:35 AM on March 4 [4 favorites]


Oh, man, number one thing that bugs me about Amazon prime? You can't display more than 12 search results at once. (Or at least when I last checked, that was true. I sent an irate customer service email and got a frustrating reply about how providing more than 12 or multiple filters would "take too many computational resources to provide." Like, seriously? You're Amazon. With everything else, I can choose this. Don't bullshit me.)
posted by klangklangston at 10:36 AM on March 4 [4 favorites]


Came here to say how much I need and appreciate this ... but it turns out canistreamit is really what I was looking for!
posted by kanewai at 10:36 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


But would you watch that 1990 straight to video for free...if it had ads?
posted by Therapeutic Amputations at 10:37 AM on March 4


Honestly I'm kinda surprised that Google doesn't just purchase Netflix. Hulu isn't really a realistic purchase and Amazon is a direct competitor in a ton of areas but it seems like they could just shell out for Netflix's current business and commercial deals (especially Disney) and make a fortune because they already have the datacenters to consolidate hosting costs and with their fiber backbone could really reduce overall bandwidth costs.

Between Amazon and Google I can't really see how another company could really compete long term if they really want to dominate the stream and purchase on demand market.
posted by vuron at 10:38 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Amazon Prime's library consists of what's expired from Netflix.

Plus Justified.


UK Netflix has 4 seasons of Justified. Canadian has 2. Scandinavian has 2. I'm in Canada and pay 4.95 a month for a proxy which gives me Canadian, US, UK, several Scandinavian and several South American Netflix. They all have different stuff so I find more then enough to watch.
posted by Jalliah at 10:38 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


They must randomly assign prices between .99 and 49.99 or something.

A/B testing; pricing is just another user affordance that must be questioned and ideally rendered as opaque as possible.

The internet of the future is airline pricing today.
posted by aramaic at 10:39 AM on March 4 [6 favorites]


ALSO: whatever Netflix is using to generate their recommendations is legitimately weird. I occasionally rate my favorite movies and trash ones I don't like with 1 or 2 stars. The recommendations that come up most are for movies I've already rated. You'd think they might want to filter out ones that I already know I'll like?
posted by Hoopo at 10:39 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


My biggest problem with Netflix is it asks you to rate genres and then seems to ignore your ratings.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:39 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]


But would you watch that 1990 straight to video for free...if it had ads?
posted by Therapeutic Amputations at 1:37 PM on March 4 [+][!]


Incidentally I recently watched Blind Fury on Crackle for free so... yeah, I guess. I mean, to be honest it mainly replicated the experience of watching it at 2am on TBS in 1995 so no big deal. I do wish they wouldn't just run the same commercial 19 times.
posted by selfnoise at 10:40 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]


Hahaha Amazon is pretending like an advanced search feature is too computationally difficult? Do they not know that they have a major business sideline in the EC2 offerings that is even scaling up to HPC in the cloud?
posted by vuron at 10:40 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


OP here. btw: internationalism - am not (yet) American but am English and currently sitting in a house in EnglandShire :)

Speaking of which, am finding the options for TV shows in the US as bewildering as the ACA medical package options and buying milk from the supermarket in the US. At least in England it's simpler; socialist NHS medical care vs private, fewer options for TV, and either full fat, semi- or skimmed- milk in my local supermarket.

Pretty much the only stuff I watch, or want to watch, is Girls (HBO), Colbert Report, and any international Cricket matches. The lifehacker study, though interesting, was of limited help in this respect.

(thanks for CanIStreamIt service which looks splendid)
posted by Wordshore at 10:41 AM on March 4


Hoopo and entropicamericana: this explains it pretty well.
posted by nushustu at 10:41 AM on March 4


i have all three services, actually. in my head, sometimes, a little voice tells me that to have all three is incredibly wasteful and i could knock my ~$21/month bill down to $8 or whatever. but then i remember how i used to spend like $75 on cable and i'm like, eh, whatever, an extra $13/mo is worth being able to watch pretty much whatever i want.

i sometimes think it's a holdover of growing up in pre-streaming eras, where you had to actually leave your house go to blockbuster to rent a movie and it was like a whole thing deciding which one to go with, and then you went home and immediately watched it because you had to return it the next day or else a late fee. and then dvds got super cheap and all of a sudden you could find all your favorite old movies in the $5 bin at the walmart so every time you were there to pick up cat food, you also picked up a copy of reality bites because why not?

and now there is this buffet of movies and television shows in front of me 24 hours a day, and all i have to do to watch one is just PRESS THE OK BUTTON and settle back and i didn't even have to put pants on.

paying an extra $13 a month seems to be just a WE LIVE IN AN AGE OF WONDER YAY NO PANTS tax for me, and i'm ok with that for right now.
posted by kerning at 10:49 AM on March 4 [21 favorites]


CanIStream.it is great when you know exactly what you want to watch. I find a lot of my content from instantwatcher.com, though, by browsing new and popular items. There is no instantwatcher for Amazon or Hulu (that I know of), which is a major bummer.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:56 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I've got a few more streaming sites to recommend I use regularly that don't seem to be covered in the op link or CanIStreamIt:

DramaFever: great collection of Asian and Latin tv shows, with English subtitles. One of my absolute favorite sites. Works on Roku

Mubi: rotating collection of select films

MHZ: Rotating collection of international crime and mystery tv shows.

Streaming Nonstop: French dubbed version of tv shows, including HBO. No English subtitles. It appears legitimate, not a pirate site - I haven't had an issue yet.

Asides:
Hulu+ has the Criterion Collection, which makes it worth it for me!
posted by kanewai at 10:59 AM on March 4 [18 favorites]


and yet in less than a minute (+ five seconds waiting until I can skip the rest of the advert),

Install adblockplus and that five seconds waiting is gone too.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:02 AM on March 4


One thing I'll say about the movie rental era vs. streaming today:

I see a lot fewer recent releases now than I used to.

I remember going to the video store in college and never even passing through the shelves full of legacy titles. Just straight to the new releases on the perimeter of the store. I saw just about every movie that was the sort of movie I like. It was rare that I wasn't up on what was currently going on in film.

Nowadays it's actually rare that I think of new releases vs. older media at all. I know normal, even hip people who are making their way through Cheers or The X Files on Netflix, whereas a decade ago nobody but obsessive hobbyists would deliberately make time to watch Nick At Nite.
posted by Sara C. at 11:03 AM on March 4 [7 favorites]


That Oatmeal comic has always struck me as rather hypocritical considering the legal fight the creator was in.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:04 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Amazon Prime has Veronica Mars. Until March 14, that is all that matters to me.
posted by Sequence at 11:04 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]


Not only that, but they have Season 3, which they just added.
posted by klangklangston at 11:05 AM on March 4


"Hahaha Amazon is pretending like an advanced search feature is too computationally difficult? Do they not know that they have a major business sideline in the EC2 offerings that is even scaling up to HPC in the cloud?"

I know, right? I wrote back with something like, 'I know you're just a drone having to say what they give you, but it's pretty transparently bullshit. Come on.'
posted by klangklangston at 11:07 AM on March 4


I take it these are all private trackers?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:08 AM on March 4


Streaming Nonstop: French dubbed version of tv shows, including HBO.

Oh, have to check that out to see if they have The Wire. "Bonjour, Monsieur Bell!" "Bonjour, Monsieur McNulty!"
posted by Wordshore at 11:18 AM on March 4 [4 favorites]


Oh, have to check that out to see if they have The Wire. "Bonjour, Monsieur Bell!" "Bonjour, Monsieur McNulty!"

This makes The Wire sound a lot more like the first song in Disney's Beauty and the Beast than I've been led to believe is the case.

There goes the dealer with his drugs like always
The same old crack and H to sell
Every morning just the same
Since the morning that we came

posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:23 AM on March 4 [40 favorites]


Oh, have to check that out to see if they have The Wire. "Bonjour, Monsieur Bell!" "Bonjour, Monsieur McNulty!"

"Meeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrde!"
posted by srboisvert at 11:26 AM on March 4 [35 favorites]


Hulu Plus has the entire Criterion Collection, so I really don't think that's true.

This is actually not true, despite Hulu's claims to the contrary. A token example: The Sweet Smell of Success is a Criterion release that cannot be streamed.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:28 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


I have a couple of Roku 3 devices in the house, and whenever I want to find a particular movie or tv show, I simply search for them on the main Roku screen, and I'm told where I can view those pieces of entertainment (ie. via free streaming on Amazon Prime or for $2.99 rental on VUDU) . No need to go to a web page, or stumble through the search engines of each service.
posted by newfers at 11:33 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Hannibal's Amazon-only too, which is maddening.
posted by middleclasstool at 11:35 AM on March 4


ohh hannibal is on amazon? I'll need to check that out. I just caught up on season 4 of justified this weekend and need a new show to watch.
posted by vuron at 11:42 AM on March 4


I see a lot fewer recent releases now than I used to.

Movie-wise, you can rent really recent releases (I know Frozen was up last week when I was watching with the kid) on Amazon. We actually prefer to pay 2.99 or 9.99 or whatever at a pop, exactly like in a video store, because when we had Prime, the included offerings were no better than Netflix, so why pay for the subscription? (also, we don't buy/ship online much).

I mean, I remember video/DVD stores. They would not have had enough copies of Frozen and the ones they had would be full of skips thanks to previous renters. This is better.

Of course, our video renting is usually for the kid's benefit, so maybe the adult movie offerings aren't so good?

Classic movie offerings on Netflix are absolute shite, though. You'd think those would be cheap, but apparently Ted Turner or whoever has locked them all up.
posted by emjaybee at 11:46 AM on March 4


I have Amazon Instant Video because I'm already a Prime subscriber, but if I wasn't I wouldn't touch that service as long as they're holding back a perfectly usable Android app to use only on their own Android devices.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:55 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


We just have Amazon Prime, because we buy a ton of stuff from Amazon (like, a few times a week) and the Prime membership is about the same as what we were paying for Netflix. So we went, eh, we trade one streaming service with a spotty selection for another streaming service with a spotty selection that also gives us free 2-day shipping.

I really do not see the appeal of Hulu Plus. I mean, if they cut out the commercials on paid accounts, sure. But why on earth would I pay a streaming service to show me commercials? I ditched cable to get away from that crappy business model.
posted by xedrik at 11:58 AM on March 4 [4 favorites]


emjaybee, it's not that the rental offerings aren't any good. It's that there's just so much older stuff out there to watch either free or bundled into services I already pay for. So there's no reason to spend that $3 on a new release rental when I could just watch Fargo or The Breakfast Club or Ghostbusters or Amelie as part of a monthly subscription I already pay for.
posted by Sara C. at 11:59 AM on March 4


Apologies, I did not read through the whole thread to see if anyone mentioned this other service: http://watchlegit.com/
posted by gloturtle at 12:03 PM on March 4


I have all three and I use them somewhat differently.

Hulu Plus, I use generally as my DVR (I don't own one), and watch most of the network shows that I was unable to catch live (most of them), such as Community. However, since Hulu Plus did the BBC deal, they also have tons more classic Doctor Who and also Inspector Morse, which my wife and I have been slowly devouring after being fans of Lewis via PBS.

Amazon Instant Video is one more perk of Prime, so it should be viewed as part of a package, though perhaps, a significant part of the package. But, Amazon also has content not found elsewhere, like the Nickelodeon holdings, particularly, all of the Avatar series, Last Airbender and Legend of Korra (only season 1). (Note: Hulu has the last six or so episodes of Season 2 or did). Also of interest, Justified, Veronica Mars, entire Stargate series, etc... Probably the worse thing about Amazon is its interface.

Netflix is turning into the place to grab Disney content (CLONE WARS THIS FRIDAY PEOPLE), and it also picks up documentaries and enough new movie releases to enjoy. Additionally, I tend to watch more classic stuff, such as Cheers.

In short, this is basically a Venn diagram of streaming entertainment and convenience. This is fine by me.

Finally, a shout out to the Roku 3 (and later generations), they do have a most excellent search feature.
posted by Atreides at 12:04 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


In Canada, your choices are greatly simplified. So, when we dumped cable and went netflix/itunes, we also made another choice: Stop being selfish (childish?) in the "I want", and start exercising your real power, choice. If we can't rent/stream the material for a decent price and quickly, we don't generally rip it off either, we just watch something else. And if there isn't anything compelling, we do something else. Play a game. Read a book. Make out. Go for a walk. Work on a hobby. Cook something. There are a lot of wonderful things to do in life, and watching TV and Movies are only a small slice.

Screw the media companies, I won't be their dancing monkey.
posted by Bovine Love at 12:08 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


Hannibal's Amazon-only too, which is maddening.

Let me caution others about getting really excited about the show after reading the Metafilter thread, and then binge-watching all the episodes in two days.

I'm really kind of fucked up right now. Like, mentally. I also am hungry, which worries me.
posted by bibliowench at 12:10 PM on March 4 [5 favorites]


Atreides, I bought Season 2 of Korra on Amazon, the whole thing. Maybe they yanked it? I bought it while it was airing.

We are using an old Wii as our interface, and will be upgrading (?) (when they boy saves up his allowance) to an old Xbox 360. I guess if it wasn't for those, we'd have gotten...something else?

Actually, that's what I'd like to know; what is everyone using to access their Amazon/Netflix/etc. streams? Our old roomate had an incredibly confusing setup involving a Mac Mini and speakers and three different remotes, but we've found that being able to just plug in and access via the gaming system is kind of nice.

This video streaming world is still occasionally confusing to those of us raised on the comforting ca-chunk of VCRs.
posted by emjaybee at 12:10 PM on March 4


I would seriously be the media companies' dancing monkey if they would just, for the love of god, release everything the way Netflix is doing, and just move to on-demand service everywhere. Everything, all the time. If I want to have a Golden Girls binge, I want to just click a button and there they are. If I'm eagerly awaiting the next season of Walking Dead, I want to sit down and watch them all in a row.

Whatever, you get the point.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:13 PM on March 4


Actually, that's what I'd like to know; what is everyone using to access their Amazon/Netflix/etc. streams?

I use a Wii a lot of the time because it defaults to SD quality, which helps with bandwidth caps, but I've been increasingly using the Chromecast, which is really getting great with the release of the SDK and new apps trickling in. I've been using YouTube more than ever after getting the Chromecast - actually, it's probably slightly edging out my Netflix viewing these days.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:14 PM on March 4


Holy mackerel, I'd never heard of canistreamit. It's great!
posted by jquinby at 12:14 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


This reminds me that I ordered a chromecast, delivery of which seems to have gone awry in the Great Endampening Of Los Angeles. I have GOT to call Amazon.
posted by Sara C. at 12:18 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Atreides, I bought Season 2 of Korra on Amazon, the whole thing. Maybe they yanked it? I bought it while it was airing.

Nah, I was being unclear. I was referring to everything you get as part of the subscription price, not what you can actually purchase. I actually also purchased Book 2 of Korra, too!
posted by Atreides at 12:19 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


So the Chromecast is a little whatsit you plug into your TV that talks to your wifi, and then you go to your laptop/phone/tablet and order up whatever from whatever service/youtube/internet? Interesting.
posted by emjaybee at 12:26 PM on March 4


Fan TV (formerly Fanhattan) is another good site for finding where movies and TV shows are available.

If you have node.js installed, I wrote a script that will add any movies on your Fan TV watch list that are available for streaming on Netflix to your Netflix My List.
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 12:29 PM on March 4


emjaybee: "So the Chromecast is a little whatsit you plug into your TV that talks to your wifi, and then you go to your laptop/phone/tablet and order up whatever from whatever service/youtube/internet? Interesting."

Yeah, except the number of services started out pretty small and isn't nearly as comprehensive as boxes like Roku. Amazon Instant Video is notably missing, and even with the "browser tab projection" thing, you can't do Amazon because it uses the Silverlight browser plugin. I bought Chromecast because I liked the potential, but now it's just another box I have to use in addition to my WD TV Live (which also doesn't do Amazon.) If Amazon doesn't become Chromecast compatible, I'll probably break down and get a Roku.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:31 PM on March 4


There have recently been a few apps released for streaming local content to a Chromecast, which is the thing I've always wanted - the Videostream extension for Chrome is a delight. No .mkv yet, but the .mp4 streaming blows the tab casting approach out of the water. You can do Plex if you're on Plex's paid service that gets all the goodies before their free service, too, but I haven't tried that.
posted by jason_steakums at 12:38 PM on March 4


Amazon Prime's library consists of what's expired from Netflix.

With the caveat we have Amazon Prime so it doesn't cost anything, while that may be true, it's not a bad thing. When our daughter was born in November I started taping pretty much anything even semi-interesting to account for the fact I might find myself needing a couple of hours of distraction at 3am. I wound up catching a film noir review on TCM that led me to wanting to see a bunch of old movies. I wasn't so interested I would pay for any of them because there were dozens on the list. Netflix had none of the movies available via stream but Prime had 4 or 5. If you've got Amazon Prime and like crime movies/ tone poems/ 70s films/ looking at Boston how it used to be, I can highly recommend Friends of Eddie Coyle. Plus if you're old enough, it's basically two hours of going, "Oh, remember That Guy!?"
posted by yerfatma at 12:40 PM on March 4


We are using an old Wii as our interface, and will be upgrading (?) (when they boy saves up his allowance) to an old Xbox 360. I guess if it wasn't for those, we'd have gotten...something else?

The downside to the Xbox is that you have to pay $40+/year for a Xbox Live Gold membership on top of any other streaming services. It's probably better to just get a Roku, which works for all of the major streaming services.
posted by zsazsa at 12:43 PM on March 4


If you get a last-gen console system, might make more sense to get a PS3 since streaming on that platform is free and it has a blu-ray drive. That said perhaps you have 360 only games you want to play.

I have a PS3 but use the Roku instead since the interface is better and it draws a lot less power.
posted by selfnoise at 12:48 PM on March 4


PS3 is nice, except that it constantly seems to update, and the updates are slow. Sit down to watch a movie and nope, Sony's got to update some inscrutable aspect of something that nobody uses.
posted by sonic meat machine at 12:50 PM on March 4


Oh, hey! Is this the thread where people are complaining about Netflix? MY TIME HAS COME.

I recently signed up to Netflix because we cut most of our cable. (We had the largest package HURR HURR, but only ever watched about ten channels, so we cut back to the bare minimum free set of channels that still come with our broadband service.) I could write an entire rant about the shittiness of the Netflix interface (why, no, I don't want to see an actual list of titles; just show me ALL RIBBONS, ALL THE TIME), but my most epic levels of hate are reserved for its recommendation algorithm.

For all the money and effort they claim to have poured into their system, their recommendations are actually worse than just putting a bunch of DVDs into a box and having me draw one out at random. I've rated just over four hundred movies and TV shows on Netflix, and still its "Top Picks" for me are an even mix of:
Meanwhile, a site like Criticker is scarily accurate after about the same number of ratings. I've lost count of the number of times I've gone to rate a movie, thought something like "I'll give it around an 8 out of 10", and seen an 8 in the predicted rating field. If they ever started a streaming service to go with their recommendations, they'd be able to buy themselves solid gold bathtubs. (Is that a thing rich people buy? I have no perspective.) In the mean time, though, I'm stuck with finding movies I'll like on one site and actually watching them on one of several others.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:03 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Since people are dropping in their recommendations for how to watch streaming services and I haven't seen it mentioned yet, XBMC is pretty great. I got a cheap quiet desktop and put Ubuntu and XBMC on it. It's not quite a fire-and-forget, give it to your aged parents thing -- it took a weekend of tinkering to find all the plugins I wanted for streaming and get them configured, but the vast majority of that was mostly browsing around, seeing what was out there, and picking the one I wanted rather than tons of setup. (A note for anyone thinking of doing this: Pipelight will get you Silverlight on Linux for Amazon and Netflix streaming.)

Adding in a tiny wireless keyboard/touchpad combo that's not really much bigger than a normal TV remote gives me a single handheld way of browsing local and streaming media from one consistent interface. So far I haven't seen any plugins that will search Amazon, Netflix, Youtube, Hulu, et al. all at once, so I still have to go search or browse separate services. But having them all in one interface and not having to use the various websites is a major improvement (and gets me Netflix in a list format rather than ribbons, something people seem to want here).

I should probably write up a blog post or something about this at some point. It's a pretty nice system.
posted by fader at 1:17 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


My PS3 is pretty much a full time media streaming box now. Since the AAA game publishers seem to want to release maybe 2 games that interest me per year I don't use it much for games but in terms of a relatively high quality streambox it's pretty decent plus it's also a blueray player for all the stuff that you can't get streaming (why oh why are the Studio Ghibli films not available on Amazon Disney?)

Eventually I'll get a PS4 to do the same functionality because there might eventually be some PS4 games that aren't bro-gamer targeted and the blue ray on the PS3 is getting tempermental.

I really can't see ever going back to buying tons of dvds and bluerays though streaming is too convenient even though Amazon doesn't seem to want to stream to non-Amazon branded android devices.
posted by vuron at 1:23 PM on March 4


We bought a PS3 basically so Mr. E could play GTA 5, but it's also a pretty good Netflix/Amazon streaming box. (We were using the Wii for Netflix before that, which was not too bad.)
posted by epersonae at 1:30 PM on March 4


I think the Netflix recommendations get stronger the longer you've been a user, and the more stuff you've watched. My guess is that their algorithm weights actual viewing habits a lot more strongly than ratings, and probably gives no weight at all to "not interested", since lots of people will claim they're not interested in something one day and then end up watching it at some point down the road.

I signed up for Netflix a decade ago, and have used them as my main way of watching movies for almost as long. When I first joined, I spent lots of time rating movies I'd already seen, but to be honest that set of self-reported data is now dwarfed by the information they have on my actual viewing habits.

To be honest, I find Netflix to be fucking uncanny in terms of the accuracy of their recommendations. Because after ten years, they probably know me better than I know myself.
posted by Sara C. at 1:42 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


Is any of these "streaming" services better than good old piratebay?
Didn't think so...
posted by signal at 1:46 PM on March 4


I don't buy videos from Amazon instant video because I can't download them. At least if I buy a show on iTunes I can save it to a drive - if you buy a video from amazon you have to be online to view it.

I say this in the hopes that someone knows how to do it for Amazon and I'm just stupid for not knowing how.
posted by winna at 1:47 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


The big problem with Netflix's recommendation algorithms is that it all goes to hell if you only have a streaming subscription. It used to be great for me when I paid for DVDs and streaming, but when I cut the DVDs out the recommendations became increasingly awful, as they not only don't recommend anything they only offer on DVD, but don't even seem to take into account things you've rated on DVD. It's a mess.
posted by asperity at 1:52 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


We have Amazon Prime, HBO (but not HBOGo) and Netflix. Because we live out in the boonies, cable TV is a must so we generally see most shows when they're broadcast on network and cable but plenty slip through the cracks. Between the network's websites, Amazon, and Netflix we can get most everything we need for TV shows, American and British. Though Amazon needs to get subtitles for everything and NOW.

Movies are my pet peeve. My wife streams Netflix every day but she's happy with watching horror movies that barely get two stars. I despise most horror and thrillers so I find Netflix streaming movie selection an unthinkable abyss of shit I never want to see. Amazon Prime is somewhat better. At least we can get the newer films there. Otherwise I wait for it to show up on HBO or buy the DVD.

Speaking of movies, I just got the new Thor movie. It offered a digital download with it. I've downloaded a few movies onto my laptop with new releases and in most cases it works pretty slick. But this one went through some site called DigitalCopyPlus and they fucked up most severely, giving me a code for the download that neither Amazon or iTunes would recognize. I emailed them and mentioned in my rant that incompetence like this is yet another reason why people pirate. It'll probably get me on someone's watch list but damn, why can't Big Media just get their shit together. This most definitely is not rocket science.
posted by Ber at 2:00 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Got Amazon Prime for the shipping. Got Netflix specifically for Arrested Development S4. Have used both for streaming video sporadically since then. Sometimes via the Wii (I'm an SD holdout), sometimes on a laptop, and, starting just this past weekend, on my phone.

I used to wonder why anyone would want to watch TV- or movie-length video on a 4.3" screen...until I had a several-hours-long airport delay this past weekend. I had been meaning to go back and watch the first two seasons of American Horror Story for a while—I got into it in S3, after reading an article describing how each season was an independent story—and the airport delay seemed a good time to start on the backlog.

I hadn't even explored what was possible as far as streaming video on my phone until then: boo to Amazon for not offering video on non-Amazon Android phones. But Netflix is available, and AHS S1/2 are on both Netflix and Amazon streaming, so Netflix it was for that. If Amazon unbundled video from Amazon Prime I'm not sure I would pay separately for it.

The size of the screen turned out not to be as much of an issue as I expected; it's still not my first choice, but it's certainly acceptable for long-form viewing.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:04 PM on March 4


Is any of these "streaming" services better than good old piratebay?

I assume this is trolling, but just in case, this is why streaming services are better than piratebay:

- You get the actual show you want to watch. No mislabeled files here.

- You get what you want to watch in a format that will automagically work on whatever device you're using, AFAIK, no other downloads necessary.

- Zero risk of malware coming with the download

- Zero chance of being arrested for piracy

- All the content creators get paid per their contracts

- File always available, not subject to the caprice of anonymous seeders

I think that covers the major reasons why, yes, streaming is rather better than piratebay.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:13 PM on March 4


Is any of these "streaming" services better than good old piratebay?

Yes, because I don't have to download a thing and find a place for it to live on my hard drive.

I can see wanting to own a few films in this way (films I'd actually be happy to pay for and don't need to pirate), but no, I don't need the complete Star Trek franchise sitting on my hard drive on the off chance that I want to watch that one episode of TNG where Q plays trumpet in a mariachi band.
posted by Sara C. at 2:18 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


As Sara C. said, Netflix while accounting for what you rate an item, takes more consideration into what you actually watch, and even, HOW MUCH you watch of it. If you start Big Trouble in Little China and stop ten minutes in, it may think you hated it, but surely, short of an emergency, you wouldn't stop that early or stop at all, right? RIGHT?
posted by Atreides at 2:20 PM on March 4


- File always available, not subject to the caprice of anonymous seeders

Scratch this one from your list, says the person who had Malcolm in the Middle pulled when he was only partway through the second season, not that I'm bitter or anything.

I'm in agreement with you on not pirating generally, but continued availability is not a valid argument in favor of legitimate streaming services.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:28 PM on March 4 [5 favorites]


The TV has a Netflix app, which is quite handy. It also has a YouTube app, which I make good use of as well. It used to have a Blockbuster app... but that was taken away in an update.

The TV does not have an Amazon app so if I want to watch something from them I hook my computer to the TV with an HDMI cable and am stuck with the TV speakers (rather than using the receiver and external speakers). Same system when streaming from NBC or ABC or whatever. It's good enough and not a problem when I have something I really want to watch. But Netflix is always the default because it is right there.


Also I rather like this chart and really like the looks of this canistreamit bit.
posted by mountmccabe at 2:45 PM on March 4


I think the Netflix recommendations get stronger the longer you've been a user, and the more stuff you've watched.

My viewing preferences break their recommendations system entirely. I now get a category titled "Random Picks" as my top advice for what to watch. As advertised, it lists items randomly chosen from their database. Children's television, Asylum schlock, Oscar winners, obscure documentaries... It works for me.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:49 PM on March 4


I don't buy videos from Amazon instant video because I can't download them.

I'm looking at my Season 3 of Scandal right now and on Safari (macos) just under the big green Watch Now button there's a link that says "Download licenses (2 available)" which takes me to yet another page that says I can download on the Kindle Fire, iPad/iPhone (which has the download link right there on the line below the play icon), Tivo, or Windows if you install the Amazon Unbox Video Player. MacOS and Linux not supported. So you're out of luck if you're one of those.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:54 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Atreides, I've often suspected that they used to keep a database of DVD return times as well. Kept both discs of Krystof Kieslowski's Ten Commandments for three months? Admit it, you never got around to watching that. Capote was moved directly to the top of your DVD queue and returned within the week? Probably wants to see other Oscar nominees.

Also, the Random Picks line is where it is AT. I find the best stuff in there, often things I didn't know were available on streaming, but which I never would have thought to look for. I find that Netflix's other more nuanced recommendations are usually pretty spot on, but sometimes you don't want to watch another female-led period drama, you know? Sometimes you want to watch this Zack Galliafinakis standup special you didn't know existed until 30 seconds ago.
posted by Sara C. at 2:56 PM on March 4


I finally ditched most of my $140/month or so "cable" bill (IPTV, but whatever).

In its place I have:
Crunchyroll
Netflix
Hulu Plus
Amazon

Amazon is basically just because I use Prime heavily, I don't actually use their video thing very often. Crunchyroll / Netflix / Hulu accounts for almost all of my video.

But for now I'm paying wayyy too much for HBO Go (basic cable subscription + HBO, but I was able to cut out "DVR" and "HD" and most channels so basically I get SD local networks + SD HBO.... BUT I can watch HBO in HD on HBO Go....). I'll probably just let that go eventually but since I had most of these services before I'm still saving a lot of money and only losing easy access to a few CBS shows I can live without.
posted by wildcrdj at 3:00 PM on March 4


I used to wonder why anyone would want to watch TV- or movie-length video on a 4.3" screen

I started watching Netflix (mostly TV shows & documentaries) on my phone with my headphones on while I work. A day of coding with Columbo on in the background? Yes please!
posted by epersonae at 4:11 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Pssssst...getiplayer and a proxy.
posted by srboisvert at 4:18 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I assume this is trolling, but just in case, this is why streaming services are better than piratebay:

Not trolling, snarking maybe. I actually pay for Netflix but have used it maybe 3 or 4 times. The interface is bleh, the selection meh, and the recommendations are just terrible.
They don't have Girls, Looking or True Detective, at least not in Chile. They don't carry any of the movies my Film Studies PhD wife watches.
I could connect a proxy and see if they have them in the US or Europe, but I just downloaded the latest Girls episode from PB in the time it took me to write this, and I can't really be bothered.
posted by signal at 5:30 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I just wish the legitimate streaming services had an alphabetical list of all the available content somewhere on the site as an alternative to the picture grids.
posted by Small Dollar at 6:52 PM on March 4 [3 favorites]


"MacOS and Linux not supported. So you're out of luck if you're one of those."

Amazon also randomly decides that you can't watch some streaming stuff if you're not on a desktop PC or enabled device — mostly HD stuff. My macbook is apparently not secure enough for their tastes, but it's the only computer I've got that will run the Silverlight bullshit they need for streaming.
posted by klangklangston at 7:06 PM on March 4


To be honest, I find Netflix to be fucking uncanny in terms of the accuracy of their recommendations. Because after ten years, they probably know me better than I know myself

Count yourself lucky. For me it has gotten steadily worse, measured by the percentage of children's shows that it recommends. I don't have a kid, I don't want a kid, and I'm never going to be letting the neighborhood kids use my netflix subscription. I've told it I'm not interested in that genre, don't watch the shit, and never will. And even so, over time there's been a noticeable uptick in the number of kids shows in the various recommendation lists. Something is strange in their algorithms.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:10 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


If they are going by what people with similar tastes to yours like, maybe the people with similar tastes to yours are playing kids shows in their Netflix more these days? (Either because they've had kids, or because they're watching My Little Pony or whatever - maybe you can guess by which shows they're suggesting.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:12 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Hulu Plus's time-wasting search function can be avoided for Criterion movies by using the alphabetical list on the Criterion Collection website: criterion.com/hulu.

If you know the name of the movie you can simply press the "Watch on Hulu Plus" button.
posted by Blito at 10:07 PM on March 4


My biggest problem with Netflix is it asks you to rate genres and then seems to ignore your ratings.

My biggest problem with netflix is that they took away genres as categories you could browse.

Seriously, the dumbing down of their interface ESPECIALLY on the smart tv/roku/ps3/whatever apps is so terrible that i'm questioning whether i would even pay for the service if i wasn't getting it for free by sharing it with the rest of my family.

The fact that all you can see anymore is "because you watched bla bla bla" is even worse.

I'm still bitter about them walling off their site and killing the APIs and therefor killing instantwatcher

Count yourself lucky. For me it has gotten steadily worse,

Yep, my usage model of netflix is basically "scroll until i find the search button, type something in, realize it was expired, close app". Every single thing it recommends is garbage. And to top it off the "recently watched" is even somewhat unreliable. No, i don't want to watch some b-list 1990s cartoon. I want to watch farscape, and i just watched 2 episodes yesterday. Why do i have to use the search to find it again? where's the scifi category anyways?

Is any of these "streaming" services better than good old piratebay?

This may blow your mind, but there are also pirate streaming services. And some of them work very well. None of my friends actually download things anymore, but simply use a combination of the legal/paid streaming services and those various websites.

The coolest part is if you have a smart TV that's fairly recent, the browser and CPU in it will be beefy enough to actually play the streams from these sites simply by browsing to them and clicking play.

I've actually found content this way that i couldn't legally stream or even buy a file of, or even find an extralegal file of. Yea, this was usually weird late 80s-mid 90s TV shows or terrible direct to vhs or dvd movies i wanted to watch on a lark, but still.

I guess overall though, i'm just annoyed with the current landscape of services. It feels like the late 90s-early 2000s all over again in a lot of ways. Where's the nuclear blastwave of the next itunes that has, for the most part, essentially everything? I don't want to pay for 3 or 4 streaming services that have massively overlapping content just to get a few shows or other things that aren't available on the other ones, especially when stuff is CONSTANTLY getting pulled and shuffled around from month to month. I'm incredibly tired of stuff like watching most of ghost in the shell: SAC and then taking a break and coming back to it being gone.(or inversely, tracking down a download of a show and wasting space on my media server when it gets posted a week later... and then taken down again a few months later).

I really thought netflix was going to be the one to get big enough to, itunes style, go "fuck you, this is how it is. like it or don't play the game". But i think the studios had learned from their experiences with that, and completely full on assaulted netflix both on the comcast/other ISP side and on content licensing right when it was teetering on critical mass and vulnerable.

ugh.
posted by emptythought at 12:48 AM on March 5 [3 favorites]


I want to watch farscape, and i just watched 2 episodes yesterday. Why do i have to use the search to find it again? where's the scifi category anyways?

On all my Netflix apps/devices, there's a "Recently Viewed" category right at the top where everything I've just watched or am watching is listed.

They don't have Girls, Looking or True Detective, at least not in Chile.

That's HBO content and it shan't ever find its way to Netflix. The only streaming service where you don't have to pay to watch a series/episode is HBOGo, that I'm aware of. Anywhere else, you have to buy the series or episode.
posted by Atreides at 8:07 AM on March 5


I want to watch farscape, and i just watched 2 episodes yesterday. Why do i have to use the search to find it again? where's the scifi category anyways?

You should start using the queue function. I think for streaming it's called a "watchlist" or bookmarks or something? I've been steadily adding things I stumble upon, or watch a few episodes of and enjoy, or things I see in recommendations but can't watch right now, to my streaming queue. It makes things much easier to find. Especially great for TV series you'll revisit over and over.

Re the constant recommendations for family/children's films. In addition to wanting to recommend things the algorithm thinks you'll enjoy, Netflix also wants to promote things they've sunk considerable investment in, or want it to be known that they're a resource for. I rarely watch children's films, but there's always a line of those recommendations on my page. I assume it's because Netflix has spent a lot of money currying a relationship with Disney and wants everybody to know about that whether they watch that stuff or not.

If nothing else it helps quell the accusation that "they never have the good movies". I might not want to watch Lilo & Stitch, but the fact that Netflix offers a bunch of Disney movies implies that they do, in fact, make an effort to stream well-known quality films that ordinary people might feel like watching.
posted by Sara C. at 9:20 AM on March 5


Also re HBO, the smart thing would be to license some of the older legacy series to Netflix. Imagine if you could watch The Sopranos, Sex And The City, old standup specials, etc. on Netflix? It would be free advertising for an HBO subscription. I'd even be open to them doing it and adding a short promo for the new season of Game Of Thrones or the like. It would be a subtle nudge, "Hey, you like this 15 year old show we made? We make awesome shows. You should get a subscription..."

This is basically the deal they have with Disney, anyway. They get the older titles that aren't really in demand, which then creates a demand for people to see more Disney stuff in theaters, on broadcast TV, DVD, etc. It's a great way for Disney to leverage parts of their back catalog that otherwise aren't making money for them.
posted by Sara C. at 9:23 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


On all my Netflix apps/devices, there's a "Recently Viewed" category right at the top where everything I've just watched or am watching is listed.

Yea, it has that. It's just really janky and doesn't update itself like half the time. I'll try out the queue/watchlist thing... but it's very tedious to add items to that since you have to go several layers deep of clicking through menus to even get the option to do that on any tv/game system app.

I'm mostly just irritated that they took a perfectly good interface with the categories and all that, and what used to be a very reliable recommendations/recently viewed set of menus and just pooped all over it. "How do i go to the categories thing?" is something my parents and partner ask me all the time, and i've had to tell them several times now that it doesn't exist anymore. it's completely fully moronic.

Also re HBO, the smart thing would be to license some of the older legacy series to Netflix.

The weird thing is, go on canistream.it, a lot of those shows ARE on there. Yea, sopranos and six feet under aren't but you can watch the first couple seasons of boardwalk empire and a few other HBO shows.

They just gate what they will and wont allow you to stream on netflix in really odd ways.

This is also a good place to point out that HBO go is blocked on samsung smart TVs if you have comcast. It works on xboxes, and a few other devices... but the list of what is and isn't allowed is literally per device depending on your cable provider as well.

How is this not completely batshit insane?
posted by emptythought at 6:24 PM on March 5 [3 favorites]


The Android app actually has a search function as well as random categories but I don't think I've done anything other than scroll through My List, in part because I don't often feel the need to stream something on my bus ride home. I seem to remember the Windows 8 app having fewer options, though it also allowed access to My List. I don't think the Netflix app on my TV shows anything other than the My List.

All of those apps are weak and I would be frustrated if they were my only interface... which is why I really only search and do any real My List management via the main website in a browser. I have what I want in My List and can access it easily via the apps.

Though I also don't burn through content all that quickly. I would be less satisfied if I watched all the time. (Though, really, I like playlist management; see also Spotify).
posted by mountmccabe at 7:55 AM on March 6


Comcast Still Blocking HBO Go On Roku (And Now Playstation 3), Incapable Of Explaining Why
posted by homunculus at 12:16 PM on March 7


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