YouTube defined how to stream videos on the internet, and also taught young people that they could choose when to watch it. And then Netflix allowed us to watch movies and TV series everywhere in every device available.
YouTube, made popular by music videos, funny videos and even old TV and movies. Netflix was available in almost every phone, console, cable box and TV, faster than everyone else. It introduced binge watching without disc swapping and knew discovery was an important part of the experience.
YouTube and Netflix are two services that everyone knows. They are not compared together often but have three things in common that make them the best services in their specialty.
I still have DVDs and Blu-ray at home. I still think that Blu-ray offers the best quality at home. But I am converting them as fast as I can to a virtual locker like the one promised by Ultraviolet and Amazon Instant Video.
Streaming films and TV shows are not perfect. There are lots of problems in the delivery methods, dubious practices in throttling by Comcast and AT&T. Not every movie or TV show is widely is available. And not all services are equal. But to me the convenience and accessibility are above any other problems I have found.
Now why is it that I think Netflix (and YouTube) offers the best service in streaming?
I have used most of the services: Crackle, Mubi, Hulu, Redflix, Amazon instant video and Ultraviolet (Vudu, Sony, Flixster, Mgo, Target, etc.). And Netflix offers the three things that I appreciate the most of all services. Reliability, usability and discovery.
It baffles me that the other services have not catch up to Netflix in these three points. For example Ultraviolet reliable and stable platform. But the only thing easy to find on their service are recent releases. Searching is a pain in the ass and you have to know the correct spelling of actors, movie titles, etc. Hulu offers a good catalogue, but is buggy in many devices. It also has a large catalogue of videos with subtitles, like Netflix, but the quality of the image is not the best, the commercials are annoying (at least they are not present in the Criterion Collection) and you also need to know what you’re looking for. They lack discoverability, something that Netflix and YouTube (at least in the video side of things, the movie options are not that good). Recommendations make sense, even if they are in strange categories, but if you go into this services there is a good chance of finding something interesting. The closest might be Crackle in that regard, you can find interesting series and movies in there, of course most of them are old movies, but that is the same case of Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime.
Other thing I find annoying in most of the services is the unavailability of closed captions or subtitles, I have found that 2 of every 3 movies doesn’t provide subtitles in Vudu, in Amazon it seems only TV shows have them, Hulu has them on most of the shows, but they are buggy(1 or 2 seconds delay). For someone that likes to watch movies late at night without disturbing my wife or my newborn baby, subtitles are my best friend. In this regard I have to praise the Roku 3 and PS4 that offer sound directly to a headphone from the controller (talk about simple and cool ideas).
And what about HBO and Showtime and Amazon Prime. Well in my opinion HBO Go and Showtime Anywhere have good quality, although I have found Showtime to be a little buggy, and is not as available as HBOgo. They have great old shows from their own catalogue, and that is the only reason to get them. The selection of movies is not worth it and are only available for a couple of months. Amazon Instant Video offers a good package, you can watch free episodes and movies (with prime subscription), and you can also rent and buy movies. But the user interface is one of the worst I have tried, not only on the web but also on other devices. You also need to know what you are looking for, and there are not suggestions for users.
Mubi is great for old classics, foreign movies and critically acclaimed films in general, it’s a good price, but I’m not sure about the quality. I like the community it has built around film lovers, and that makes the discovery part of the service feel more human and less automated. Something that happens in YouTube and Netflix. Mubi also offers something like the Criterion Collection in countries in Europe and Latin America (Hulu is region locked to the US).
In general I like that there is competition in the streaming business. It makes everyone try to be better. But it frustrate me that it takes so long for the competition to improve their services. Reliability, a better user experience and discoverability and accessibility, shouldn't be that hard. For example Amazon has made good dealings to have exclusive access to Justified, The Americans and what I think is the best series of 2013, Hannibal. But they're interface is so confusing and slow that I find it unappealing to watch them on their service. Hulu Plus probably has the best quality catalogue, but lacks accessibility to find the criterion collection and filter the movies in most devices (not that is any better on the web).
Let's hope they improve over time. I will keep using them and I will update the article in the future. As any new industry, it will be evolving fast. I hope.
Note: While YouTube is one of the most reliable services available, buying movies in their service is not easy. And it lacks the discovery and suggestions factor that is so good in Netflix and YouTube video channel.
Netflix, mubi, youtube, crackle, ultraviolet, Hannibal, The Americans, Justified, amazon, and other names used are trademarks held by their respective owners.