What Are the Differences Between Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video?

Binge-watching TV and movies has become a cultural phenomenon thanks to services like Netflix (NFLX), Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video (AMZN). As new consumption habits continue to emerge, so have the traditional means of employing them.

Sporting events, live concerts, and the news remain the backbone of television networks, which many video services such as Netflix have generally not replicated. Other services such as Hulu and YouTubeTV have begun to offer live TV streaming services in conjunction with their video services. The convenience of viewing your favorite program at your own leisure on any device makes these video streaming services a mainstay for modern consumers.

Key Takeaways

  • Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video all offer a large library of television programs and movies.
  • Each streaming video service has different foundations, financials, and business models.
  • Net neutrality is an important concept to all streaming services.

Video services such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video offer a large library of television programs and movies that have already aired or premiered in theaters, allowing consumers to view programs they had previously missed.

Contractual agreements with major networks let these services distribute past and current seasons of popular television programs. Similarly, major networks have formed their own platforms for reaching consumers through digital technology.

Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video operate in the same industry with extensive libraries that often overlap. However, the foundation, financials, and business models differentiate these three popular services.

Understanding the Differences Between Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video

Hulu

While Netflix initially began as a DVD rental service, Hulu’s business model was established as a video streaming service founded by The Walt Disney Company (DIS), Comcast (CMCSA), and Twenty-First Century Fox (FOX) to satiate consumer demand for web-based content.

Hulu currently offers a basic service for $5.99/month for the first year, a premium service without commercials for $11.99/month, a service that includes live TV with ads for $54.99 per month, and a service that includes live TV without commercials for $60.99 per month.

Unlike Netflix, Hulu is structured to source revenue from monthly subscribers and on-screen advertisements. In an attempt to replicate the cable industry, Hulu distributes videos from major networks. With over 30 million subscribers, Hulu’s current business model, in contrast to that of Netflix, supplements cable television rather than replaces it.

Netflix

Since its founding in 1997, Netflix has been widely recognized as the premium distribution-to-consumer channel for video services. However, Netflix did not launch its streaming service until 2007 and instead operated in direct competition with Blockbuster’s rental services. Netflix’s initial business model challenged brick-and-mortar Blockbuster stores by offering online movie rentals for a low monthly subscription price.

As technology and video services evolved through the early 2000s, Netflix recognized an opportunity to tap an undiscovered market. By 2007, Netflix doubled as a DVD rental and video streaming service. Netflix customers can now access video streaming services through major game consoles, internet-enabled TVs, mobile devices, Apple TV (AAPL), Roku, Chromecast, and many other products that support Netflix apps.

Failing to adapt to the evolving landscape of digital technology, Blockbuster was unable to remain an industry leader and closed all but one brick-and-mortar locations in the U.S. Netflix continues its industry supremacy with 167 million subscribers as of early 2020, and annual revenue exceeding $20.15 billion.

The continued growth of Netflix can be attributed to its ability to adapt to the changing environment of both the video streaming and cable industries. As new competitors entered the video streaming space, Netflix differentiated its service by offering access to original Netflix programs. Award-winning series, including "Stranger Things," “House of Cards,” and “Ozark” further Netflix's efforts to differentiate and innovate from traditional video streaming. 

Amazon Prime Video

The largest e-commerce company in the United States, Amazon’s entry into video streaming is no surprise. The company rebranded its video services as Prime Video in 2018, and Amazon Prime members have access to a large library of movies and TV shows. Closely replicating Netflix, Prime Video offers instant streaming on Amazon products, major game consoles, set-top boxes, and devices supporting the Amazon app.

Users of Amazon’s video service can download video content to watch when internet connections are unavailable. Amazon expanded its library with content from HBO. Prime members can view recent shows like “Game of Thrones” and “Sharp Objects,” or watch classics such as “The Sopranos.” They have also started producing their own original content including the award-winning "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," "Bosch," and "Homecoming."

Net Neutrality

While each company attempts to differentiate its services, internet service providers have demanded additional fees in lieu of slowing content delivery to consumers. In particular, Netflix has pioneered the movement for net neutrality. Net neutrality is the concept that data on the internet should be treated equally.

Some political groups insist that internet users should bear the costs for data-heavy videos provided by Netflix and other video streaming services. In addition to internet and video service subscriptions, users would be subject to possible increased fees from internet service providers.