Netflix versus Hulu

| Senior Cadenza Editor

Since the dawn of time, or maybe since the dawn of 2007, Netflix and Hulu have warred over your time on the Internet. Netflix leans on its subscription model, stellar catalogue and great recommendation engine, while Hulu is (soon to be “was”) free, has a smaller library and is great for watching recent TV episodes. Who emerges as the victor in this battle for viewing time? Read on.

Movies

Hulu’s movie selection leaves much to be desired. I’m sure that somewhere, someone reading this online or in lecture just exclaimed, “What? I didn’t know that Hulu had movies!” Yes, yes they do, and I do not blame you for your ignorance or your incessant lack of an inner monologue. To borrow a phrase from a TV show that Hulu no longer carries, “The facts are these”: Hulu carries about 900 feature films. Sure, it sounds like a lot when you first hear it (I mean, think about how many shelves a collection like that would take up, but we’re talking about the Internet’s shelves here, and they probably can’t get filled up). Why aren’t there more, Hulu? Why is one of your featured films a Lifetime movie?

To expand, if Hulu were personified as some guy on your freshman floor, he’d be the one weirdo who was always trying to sell you on his obscure, sexual taste in movies.

“Check out ‘Strictly Sexual,’” he’d snort, dangling the DVD over your head while frothing at the mouth. “Or maybe you’re more of a ‘Love Sick: Secrets of a Sex Addict’ kind of person. It’s a Lifetime Original Movie, you know.”

Sheesh. Please, let’s move on to Netflix. While Netflix made a name for itself by renting out physical DVDs, its “Watch Instantly” section is not too shabby. How many movies can you watch? I’ll tell you one thing: I could count all of the movies on Hulu, but I couldn’t even begin to count all of the movies Netflix makes available. There are simply too many.

Perhaps a better measure of library size is the search button. Look for a movie on Netflix, and you’re going to find it, if not streaming online, then available to be shipped straight to your door. Look for a movie on Hulu, and your search will turn up either something random, something involving breasts or something starring Kieran Culkin. That’s all Hulu is. It’s Kieran Culkin all the way down.

Television

Hulu took a beating in the last round, but we all know that Hulu is really all about the TV, and movies are just a strange, perverted hobby for the guy. So Hulu is going to wipe the floor with Netflix when it comes to TV-viewing, am I right?

Well, yes and no. Yes, Hulu feels like the most important website in the world when you’re trying to catch up with your favorite shows. I can’t tell you how many Monday nights I’ve checked the time, seen it’s 9:02 p.m. and realized that I’ve missed “24” again, sending me into the beginning stages of a frenzied panic attack. Then I remember that Hulu posts the episodes on Tuesday, and things feel good again. We’re college students; we’re allowed to miss shows, and Hulu makes the anxiety go away.

And yes, Hulu is surprisingly good if you’re looking for lesser-known, nostalgia-laden shows, like “Newsradio” and “Jackie Chan Adventures.” But Hulu often has this maddening habit of only presenting five episodes at a time. Hulu’s hands are tied by the distributor, but if I want to have a “Firefly” marathon, I can’t do that on Hulu. I have to wait at least eight weeks for all of the episodes to be posted. That’s not watching a marathon! That’s a summer season of “The Bachelor”!

You know where I can have a “Firefly” marathon? Netflix, because it always has the whole series available. Hulu is best if you want to watch the most recent episodes of current shows. If you want anything else, go to Netflix. For example, Hulu carries the six most recent episodes of “The Office,” but Netflix has the first five seasons! Unfortunately, Netflix’s problems are a mirror image of Hulu’s, as you can almost never find more current episodes on Netflix.

As a state-certified Television Fanatic, I endorse both services. Use Hulu to stay on top of things, and use Netflix to learn your history.

Price and service

All right, so Hulu didn’t sweep the TV category like we all expected it to, but this round has got to be a sure thing for Hulu because Hulu is free and Netflix costs $9 a month and up. No way Hulu loses this section, right? Again, the answer is “sort of.”

Truth, Netflix costs $9 a month, and truth, Hulu is currently free. But it won’t be free for much longer. According to the Los Angeles Times, Hulu will launch Hulu Plus within the next month. The new service will clock in at a Netflix-esque $9.95 monthly subscription fee, and it will provide adopters access to a comprehensive backlog of television shows, while keeping the five most recent episodes free.

Sounds a lot like Netflix, if you ask me. It’s great news that Hulu is finally getting serious about expanding its TV selection, but it’s not enough. If Hulu is going to cost more than Netflix, it has to beef up its movie collection, too. Plus, don’t forget that your $9 Netflix subscription also lets you rent DVDs for as long as you want. Netflix makes Hulu Plus look overpriced and underwhelming.

As for services, Hulu has a great set of discussion forums tied to complete series and to individual episodes. Netflix doesn’t have message boards, but it does have a robust recommendation system that borders on “so accurate it’s freaky” levels. On the “neat-o” side of things, you can also beam Netflix to your Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii for free. TV just looks better when it’s shown on TV.

Conclusions

Looking back at this article, it looks like I’ve bashed Hulu into oblivion, and I don’t want the reader to walk away with that impression. Netflix is superior when it comes to watching movies and old episodes of TV shows, but Hulu’s greatest asset is nearly its trump card. I can’t emphasize enough how much Hulu has changed the way I watch television. Visiting Hulu is like having TiVo at any computer in the world. It takes the hassle out of television watching.

To wrap things up, there’s no clear winner. If you like movies and older episodes of current television shows, use Netflix. If you want to stay hip to current TV, use Hulu.

  • http://dhdeans.blogspot.com David H. Deans

    Percy, Cisco’s Pankaj Gupta has a related commentary about the success of Netflix, and how its service has changed consumer behavior. The Netflix “recommendation engine” exposes their full online content catalog, and so people are now attracted more to best-fit good content, rather than the latest new releases. Here’s the post http://bit.ly/dp0U2V