June 06, 2013

Netflix vs. Hulu vs. Amazon- A Streaming Showdown

Remember when you were limited to watching what was live on television? And the most you could record was on your VCR? Forget on-demand; you had to be home at a certain time if you wanted to catch a favorite show. Renting movies meant driving to your local Blockbuster or Hollywood Video, and even then, they didn’t always have what you were looking for.

Enter, Netflix: the first on the block to revolutionize the movie rental industry, followed years later by the likes of Hulu and Amazon Instant Video. These services have changed the game in both the movie and television industries, and watching their brands as they grow and evolve continues to be an interesting study in brand strategy.

Let’s take a closer look at each service, from its brand to the nitty-gritty details.


Netflix was established in 1997 and started its subscription-based digital distribution service in 1999. By February 2007, Netflix announced its billionth DVD delivery and, as of April 2013, has 36.3 million subscribers worldwide, including 29.2 million U.S. subscribers. Subscriptions start at $7.99/month.

Netflix has built a strong brand history, with one infamous exception of Qwikster. In 2011, Netflix announced it was basically splitting in two: the new brand, Qwikster, would be the DVD-by-mail service, and the Netflix brand would be dedicated to streaming services only. Two brands, two bills, two websites = big headache. And the reaction from Netflix subscribers was acute. A few months later, they abandoned the Qwikster plan.

But, Netflix learned from its mistake and has spent the past two years growing its business for customers around the world, including the introduction of original programming.

Amazon Instant Video

This service started in 2006 as Amazon Unbox, became Amazon Video on Demand in 2008, and has since evolved into Amazon Instant Video with an estimated 10 million subscribers. What’s unique about this service is, it’s a perk of an Amazon Prime membership. For $79/year, customers get free two-day shipping on Amazon.com orders, access to Amazon Instant Video and a free Kindle book to borrow each month from a lending library.

There is an obvious amount of equity in the Amazon name, and it seems like Amazon’s strategy is to continue to build on its master brand.

Hulu Plus
Hulu was founded in 2007 as a subscription service offering TV shows, movies, webisodes and other new media from NBC, Fox, ABC, TBS and other networks and studios. As of April 2013, Hulu has an estimated 4 million users and subscriptions are $7.99/month.

The name and brand are very intentional, as Jason Kilar, Hulu’s CEO explains:

“In Mandarin, Hulu has two interesting meanings, each highly relevant to our mission. The primary meaning interested us because it is used in an ancient Chinese proverb that describes the Hulu as the holder of precious things. It literally translates to “gourd,” and in ancient times, the Hulu was hollowed out and used to hold precious things. The secondary meaning is “interactive recording.” We saw both definitions as appropriate bookends and highly relevant to the mission of Hulu.”

So, Who Wins?
There’s no short answer to this as each offers something a little different from the other.

Netflix wins for its massive library of movies and TV. But, it also wins for original content. House of Cards, featuring Kevin Spacey, and the return of Arrested Development have pushed Netflix ahead in this space.

Hulu wins from a TV perspective offering the most recent episodes of shows the fastest.

And Amazon wins for price and perks. It’s the least expensive of the three and who doesn’t love two-day shipping?

But who wins from a branding perspective? Netflix. Hands down. While we commend Hulu’s efforts, it’s got a long way to go, and Amazon Instant Video feels more like a perk of Prime than a stand-alone service.

That said, consumers ultimately win because all three offer a wide variety of viewing options and each service’s extensive device support satisfies our need for on-the-go options. Happy viewing!


“5 of the Best Streaming Media Services Compared,” Mashable.com, Christina Warren, http://goo.gl/FU4pp

“By The Numbers: Netflix subscribers,” Yahoo! News, AP, http://goo.gl/UV2EY

“Hulu Says Number of Paid Subscribers Has Doubled,” NewYorkTimes.com, Brian Stelter, http://goo.gl/YJJJF

“Amazon Has An Estimated 10 Million Members For Its Surprisingly Profitable Prime Club,” BusinessInsider.com, Owen Thomas, http://goo.gl/dXRNM

“What’s in a name?,” Hulu.com, Jason Kilar, http://goo.gl/g0phQ


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