Netflix’s subscription prices are going up, and Hulu’s main plan (with ads) is getting more affordable. So with new costs to consider, it’s worth revisiting the strengths of each service and contrasting the two. I know there are plenty of people out there with both Hulu and Netflix factored into their recurring monthly subscriptions, but maybe you’re trying to cut down and consider if either is really worth it if you’re already paying for Amazon Prime or HBO or something else.
Now, it’s important to remember that Hulu is only available in the United States. So if you don’t reside in the US, I suppose Netflix just takes this whole thing by forfeit. But for everyone else, let’s go over the plusses and minuses:
Best experience and features: Netflix
Netflix streams in 4K. Netflix supports HDR video. You can download Netflix content to watch offline on a mobile device when you’re traveling or for your daily commute on the bus / train.
Hulu offers none of those things. I’ve asked the company about all of them regularly over the last few years and still have no clear idea of when 4K and offline downloads might arrive. At this point, it’s getting inexcusable that even Hulu’s original programs like The Handmaid’s Tale don’t stream in 4K when that’s now become status quo on Netflix.
The main thing Hulu has that Netflix can’t give you is live television: Hulu with Live TV (now $44.99 monthly) pairs the video-on-demand service with a bundle of live cable and broadcast networks that you can stream from anywhere whenever you want. But if live TV is what you’re after, you’ll have to move up to a completely different pricing tier.
I realize that 4K requires Netflix’s most expensive plan, but offline playback — available across all of its plans — is important enough for the easy win here. Oh, and there are no ads.
Now $5.99 per month, Hulu’s traditional ad-supported plan is significantly less expensive than a Netflix subscription. The question you’ll have to answer is whether you can tolerate Hulu’s commercials. Many of us find them easy enough to ignore, but some of you really seem to loathe when your shows are interrupted. If you can’t deal, Hulu’s $11.99 “No Commercials” plan (a few shows still stream with ads) will eliminate the vast majority of breaks.
Netflix just announced another price hike, raising its subscription costs to $12.99 for the standard plan, $15.99 for premium (required if you want 4K), and $8.99 for basic. The latter is limited to standard definition streaming, so I doubt many people reading this are going to bother.
Most flexible: Netflix
Netflix’s premium plan allows for four simultaneous streams, which is a number that Hulu doesn’t currently match. The “standard” plan, which is Netflix’s most popular option, offers two, with “basic” only allowing for one stream at a time.
Hulu’s base plan — the affordable, appealing one — is limited to one stream at a time, so it’s not very practical for sharing with friends or a partner unless you maintain very different schedules. Same goes for the more expensive no-ads plan. If you step up to Hulu with Live TV, you get two concurrent streams. To get more than that, you can pay $10 (on top of your live TV package) for one additional use-anywhere stream and “unlimited” access for devices in your home.
Best device support: Draw
These are two of the most prominent streaming apps in existence today. No matter what device you’re using, odds are you won’t have much trouble watching either of them. Hulu is currently available on the Nintendo Switch, which is certainly an advantage. But again, a lack of offline downloads is at odds with the Switch’s portability.
Best content: Netflix for today
Hulu for yesterday
Everything will be different tomorrow
Netflix and Hulu are often looped together in today’s streaming ecosystem, but the two services are more different than they are alike. Knowing what each service offers is key to figuring out which one you want to spend around $10 a month on — or which one should be your preferred choice.
Some of Hulu’s best: 30 Rock, American Dad!, Bob’s Burgers, Casual, ER, Family Guy, Family Matters, Full House, Futurama, The Handmaid’s Tale, Seinfeld, The Simpsons, South Park, Will & Grace
Some of Netflix’s best: Bird Box, Black Mirror, BoJack Horseman, Friends, Glow, Grace and Frankie, House of Cards, Narcos, The Office, Orange Is the New Black, Ozark, Sex Education, Stranger Things, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo
One of the key differences between Netflix and Hulu is “comfort television.” These are shows that are off the air, but people often want to revisit. Hulu has leaned heavily into this type of licensed programming. The streaming service is co-owned by some of the biggest networks and studios, including Disney, NBCUniversal (Comcast), and Warner Bros. (AT&T). Hulu essentially licenses those networks’ series and distributes them to its subscriber base. Although Hulu is also working on its own original series — including the award-winning The Handmaid’s Tale — Hulu’s biggest draw is its extensive library of licensed programming. The Simpsons, 30 Rock, Futurama, ER, and Seinfeld are just a few examples of shows streaming on Hulu that Netflix subscribers don’t have. That’s why Hulu has become one of the best streaming services for licensed television.
Netflix offers plenty of licensed shows, but it puts a much bigger emphasis on its own original programming. The company has an ever-growing selection of original shows, documentaries, comedy specials, and movies, and it seems like something is always trending on social media. Right now, that’s Bird Box and Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, but next month it’ll be something else like Jake Gyllenhaal’s creepy Velvet Buzzsaw. Netflix is also willing to experiment with format a bit more, as shown with the recent Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.
Streaming is about to get much more segmented as Disney, AT&T, and Comcast go off and build their own subscription services. But Hulu and Netflix remain at the center of it, and they will for some time. While it’s easy to group them together, they’re vastly different. Hulu is comfort binging; Netflix stans keep up with all the latest trending movies and TV shows. Both have their pros and cons. It’s just a matter of figuring out what matters most to you.