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According to a recent CNBC All-American Economic Survey, 57% of Americans use some form of streaming TV service. It’s easy to see why – the list of options for TV fans is always growing and the competition for TV service loyalty is definitely at an all-time high.
For most Americans, the debate has shifted away from “cable vs. satellite” to Hulu vs Netflix or Sling TV vs Amazon Prime. Many people cut cable completely (and free up massive room in their budgets), while others choose to supplement their options with a streaming service or two.
At FinanceSuperhero, we believe you should make these kind of financial decisions based on what matters most to you.
In this post, we’re breaking down all of the key factors in the Hulu vs. Netflix debate and offering an unbiased, side-by-side comparison to help you choose the best service for you.
If you can only afford one service in your budget, we’re confident the information below will help make that choice an easy one.
Hulu vs Netflix: Are They Really Different?
Netflix started out as a mail-order DVD rental service back in 1997. They put rival movie rental stores out of business in only a matter of years by offering competitive rates and no late fees on an initial offering of 925 movies for rent. They took a major leap of faith in 2007 and revamped their business to focus on streaming video content, and today, it is the sole focus of their company.
On the other hand, Hulu launched as a relative latecomer in 2008. They focused on streaming network content and made a name for themselves by offering streaming access to shows that had aired on mainstream TV only days earlier.
Netflix focused on providing a wide variety of movies early in its existence, while Hulu zeroed in on providing access to network TV shows. However, over time, Netflix expanded its lineup to include a wide variety of network TV shows, independent documentaries, and exclusive Netflix-produced content.
Not to be outdone, Hulu also began producing its own original exclusive content and also sought to expand its movie offerings.
Despite some obvious overlap, there are significant basic differences between Hulu and Netflix:
|Offers approximately 1,650 TV shows and 2,500+ movies
|Offers over 100,000 movies and TV shows
|New content is available in a matter of days, on average
|New content typically becomes available several months after initial release
|New movies are slow to be released
|New movies are slow to be released
|Streaming is available in 1080p and 1080i
|Streaming is available in 4K Ultra HD
|Major networks featured: NBC, E!, ABC, Fox, SyFy, Oxygen
|Major networks featured: Netflix has very few noticeable restrictions on networks
|Offers original content: nearly 50 shows available
|Offers original content: hundreds of shows available
|Offers Live TV streaming options
|Live content is not available
As of spring 2018, Netflix has over 130 million members in 190 countries worldwide. From a strict numbers perspective, they’re the undisputed world leader in streaming internet entertainment.
And they’re not done growing.
According to their Investor Kit, Netflix expects to spend nearly $2 billion on marketing in 2018. They’re also investing heavily in diversifying their content offerings even more in an effort to reach new audiences. Currently, Netflix is aiming to reach 60-90 million members in the United States.
Hulu has approximately 32 million subscribers as of spring 2018. This obviously puts them well behind Netflix, but it’s worth noting that they also trail competitor Amazon by roughly 60 million subscribers.
By the end of 2018, Hulu’s subscriber total is projected to approach 40 million.
Our take: We don’t recommend choosing a streaming provider based on popularity along. But in the Hulu vs. Netflix matchup, there’s really no argument to be made.
Netflix wins this round.
Streaming Video Quality
When it comes to streaming video content providers, video quality is one of the most important factors for any would-be subscriber to consider.
Both Hulu and Netflix offer a variety of picture quality levels which are dependent on other factors such as device capability, plan selection, and your home internet speed.
Hulu offers video resolutions based upon the method a member selects. When watching on-demand from the Hulu Streaming Library, the following resolutions are available:
- Standard Definition (SD): 1.5 Mbps (mega-bits per second)
- 720p High Definition (HD): 3 Mbps
- 1080p HD: 6 Mbps
When watching Hulu Live TV, members can watch over 50 live and on-demand channels in up to 720p HD.
Netflix, on the other hand, claims to offer many titles in HD. According to their website, if a title is available in HD, it will play automatically in HD if a member’s plan and internet speed support it.*
*The Netflix Basic plan includes Standard Definition (SD) streaming only.
What exactly does Netflix mean by HD?
The Netflix website states that devices should support a minimum of 720p in order to display HD resolutions. It also states that UltraHD 4K is available with certain titles on the Netflix Premium plan.
Our take: We’re tempted to give Netflix the nod here, but we can’t for one reason: UltraHD 4K just isn’t that popular or widespread yet. In fact, a recent U.S. Consumer Technology Sales and Forecasts report from January 2018 indicated that only half of US households will be 4K ready by 2019.
We’re calling this a tie.
Overall Content Availability and Selection
We asked several streaming content lovers about their number one factor in choosing a service. And across the board, they listed content selection as the most important factor in the Hulu vs Netflix debate.
Back in the late 1990s, Netflix was focused on building up its movie selection, but it’s a different story in 2018. The number of TV shows rose to 1,569 and the number of movies reached 4,010 as of February 2018, according to Business Insider.
Compare those totals to the 530 TV shows and 6,755 movies Netflix had back in 2010, and it’s easy to see a very intentional strategic shift.
Hulu, by comparison, is far less-balanced then even Netflix. Their content numbers are a little fuzzy, as it seems like Hulu loses back seasons of popular shows and adds and deletes movies on a frequent basis.
To be fair, it’s clear that Hulu’s focus is providing live TV and next-day viewing options for current shows.
Our take: It’s a tie.
If you’re looking for a vast selection of shows and movies to get you through many marathon binge-watching sessions, Netflix is a must. If next-day viewing or live content is your thing, Hulu is the clear winner.
Original Programming Comparison
Hulu began producing its own original content in 2011 with a web series The Morning After. Currently, they offer 44 original programs with more than 25 additional programs on order or in development.
Full disclosure: I’m a Hulu user, and other than a handful of Hulu originals that I’ve watched and loved, I couldn’t tell you about any of the other 44 current series.
Netflix jumped into the world of original content in 2013 with its hit show House of Cards. Their original programming total seems to grow by the month, leading many media outlets to speculate that Netflix may exceed a total of 700 original series by the end of 2018.
Our take: We’re holding back our fandom of Netflix shows like Ozark, Stranger Things, 13 Reasons Why, Fuller House, Making a Murderer, Last Chance U, The Keepers, Evil Genius and Black Mirror before dropping our honest opinion.
Netflix has superior original programming, and they offer more of it.
Add-Ons and Upgrades
We’ll cut right to our take here: Hulu is the runaway winner when it comes to add-ons and upgrades.
Netflix offers one potential upgrade to speak of for US members: its DVD service.
Hulu, on the other hand, offers several potential upgrades:
- No commercial streaming
- Enhanced Cloud DVR which includes 200 hours of storage
- Regional and national sports channels
- Access to premium movie channels, including HBO, Showtime and Cinemax
If you’re looking for premium, live and new content, Hulu is the easy choice.
Mobile App Comparison
As of September 2018, the Hulu app has a mediocare 2.3 star rating out of 5 stars in the App Store. More than 26,000 iPhone and iPad users contributed to this average score.
By comparison, the Netflix app has a rating of 3.9 based on over 70,000 ratings in the App Store.
Based on our research, the chief differences between these ratings are easy to see:
- Users prefer the easy to use “My List” feature in Netflix compared to the clunky Watchlist within the Hulu app.
- Despite regular updates, users report Hulu is clunky and unresponsive, particularly when fast forwarding
- During commercial in streaming content, the Hulu app occasionally jumps backward to the starting point before the previous commercial break
Our take: The Netflix app provides a much better user experience.
Plans and Options
When comparing Hulu vs. Netflix, the variety of plans and options on both streaming platforms really stood out to us. In this section, we’ll take a close look at the individual membership plans available along with the pros and cons of each plan.
Netflix Membership Plan Options
Netflix has definitely grown up since its early days of offering its DVD delivery plan. Today, they offer three streaming membership plans to suit members needs.
- Basic Plan: Standard Definition (SD), watch on one device at a time
- Standard Plan: High Definition (HD), watch on two devices at the same time
- Premium Plan: HD and Ultra High Definition 4K (UHD 4K), watch on up to 4 devices at the same time
In the US, Netflix also currently offers a DVD only-plan, which streaming customers may also choose to add to their plan.
All Netflix plans are free for one month for new customers. Plans may be changed or cancelled at anytime via the Account page on the web or Netflix app.
Hulu Membership Plan Options
Compared to Netflix, Hulu membership plans feature much greater differences from one plan to the next. Hulu currently offers five different plans to meet the specific viewing needs of subscribers:
- Hulu Streaming Library: Unlimited access to the Hulu Streaming Library with limited commercial interruptions. Limit of 6 user profiles per account.
- Hulu Streaming Library – No Commercials: Unlimited access to the Hulu Streaming Library without commericals.
- Hulu With Live TV: Watch live shows, sports, news, and more. Includes full unlimited access to the Hulu Streaming Library. 50 hours of Cloud DVR storage included at no extra cost. Limit of 6 user profiles per account. Users may watch on up to 2 devices at the same time. This option includes commercial breaks.
- Hulu With Live TV – Enhanced Cloud DVR : Includes all features of the Hulu With Live TV plan plus 200 hours of Cloud DVR storage capacity. Users also have the ability to fast forward through recorded content.
- Hulu With Live TV – Unlimited Screens: Includes all features of the Hulu With TV plan plus streaming on an unlimited number of screens while in-home and 3 screens while on the go.
Other Hulu add-ons include access to regional sports networks (based upon a user’s zip code), local TV channel access, access to top national sports channels, and premium movie channels.
A word of caution is necessary before we dive into the breakdown of costs for Hulu and Netflix plans: we are definitely comparing apples and oranges in most cases. For example, there is a huge difference in the two most different plans, the Netflix Basic plan and the Hulu With Live TV Plan With Unlimited Screens and Enhanced Cloud DVR.
For the purposes of comparison, we will compare similarly-priced plans across each platform and share our findings.
Netflix Basic vs. Hulu Streaming Library
The Netflix Basic plan and the Hulu Streaming Library plan are neck-and-neck based solely on price (both are $7.99 per month).
Our take: As we will explore in greater depth below, the Netflix Basic Plan far outperforms the Hulu Streaming Library plan on a number of levels. If you only have $7.99 available in your monthly budget, we recommend Netflix Basic.
Netflix Standard vs. Hulu Streaming Library – No Commercials
A comparison is hard to make between the Netflix Standard Plan and the Hulu Streaming Library – No Commercials plan. Other than similar pricing – $10.99 for Netflix and $11.99 for Hulu – we do not see many overlapping features.
Our take: On one hand, it’s tough to swallow Hulu charging an additional $4 to provide a feature (no commercials) that is available on even the most basic Netflix plans. But it’s important to remember that Hulu is required to play commercials for many of its shows due to network regulations. We think it’s fair to consider this additional cost to be the price of bringing nearly-new content to subscribers.
That said, as we’ll see below in greater detail, Netflix Standard offers much wider access to a variety of shows, movies, and original content than does Hulu Streaming – No Commercials. Unless you’re particularly in love with strands of Hulu original content, we recommend Netflix Standard for anyone looking to spend around $10 to 12 per month.
Netflix Premium vs. Hulu With Live TV (With Or Without Enhanced Cloud DVR/Unlimited Screens)
Right off the bat, we’ll admit it feels a bit shady to compare these two wildly different plans. Their respective pricing – $13.99 per month for Netflix and $39.99 for Hulu – aren’t in the same ball park, and neither are their primary features.
But here goes nothing.
Our take: In the head-to-head matchup between Netflix Premium and Hulu With Live TV, we’re taking Hulu for a few reasons:
- Ultra4K isn’t a useful future unless you own a 4K-supported device (currently that’s less than half of US households)
- No screen limits can be a big benefit, especially for bigger families
- The ability watch local news, regional teams and national sports is a significant factor that tips the scales, in our opinion.
Final Recommendation – How to Choose Between Hulu vs Netflix
We’ve tried to remain as open and objective as possible throughout this review, but here’s the bottom line: deciding between Hulu vs Netflix ultimately comes down to personal opinion.
Would-be members of either service will perceive value very differently depending upon what they’re looking for in a streaming service provider.
In our opinion, Netflix will remain the king of streaming content for the foreseeable future for many reasons:
- Live TV has lots much of its allure in a culture that favors binge-watching
- Hulu has a long ways to go to catch up to the large Netflix library
- Other than offering live TV content, Netflix beats Hulu at its own game while remaining at a similar price point
Unless you have a strong preference for live content or can’t live without staying current on today’s newest shows and sports, Netflix provides superior overall value.
If live TV, new series and watching sports is your thing, you need Hulu.
Good news: Until 1/3/2019, you can get discounted access to Hulu for only $5.99 per month. If Hulu is your jam, act now to lock in 12 months at this special discount rate for FinanceSuperhero readers.
What other factors are important in the Hulu vs. Netflix debate? Let us know in the comments below.