- Hulu and Netflix launched in 2007, but HBO Max and Disney Plus have since joined the fray.
- For a month, I compared each app’s interface, content, and user experience.
- I loved HBO Max and Disney Plus, and it’s clear why as they’re biting into Netflix’s lead.
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Netflix launched in 2007 and quickly became a ubiquitous part of household entertainment.
It’s become a household name and an indelible aspect of popular culture. After all, there’s a reason we say “Netflix-and-chill” and not “Hulu-and-chill.”
And while Netflix – and its 200 million global subscribers – retains its place on the streaming throne, the market has become increasingly crowded. Hulu debuted in 2007, and Disney Plus launched 12 years later in late 2019. HBO Max joined the fray in mid-2020 when platforms saw a surge in new signups thanks to the pandemic.
What once seemed like a one-and-done streaming menu – with Netflix being many viewers’ sole streaming platform – has now become an a-la-carte scenario, where customers can mix and match platforms, depending on the offerings they want most.
Over the course of four weeks, I took a closer look at Netflix, HBO Max, Hulu, and Disney Plus and put them head-to-head. I compared the apps’ user interfaces and their most appealing selections to decide which ones I could live without.
The bottom line: If I was forced to pick two of the four, it would be Disney Plus and HBO Max. It isn’t that I don’t want or value Netflix and Hulu, the oldest of the bunch. But I’ve grown to love their two competitors so much that I wouldn’t want to let them go.
My findings are in line with what data shows is occurring in the streaming world. Netflix may still be the top dog, but its market share is shrinking as Disney Plus and HBO Max keep biting into it.
Each service has unique movies and shows to entice viewers.
For Disney, there will always be an appeal for customers who grew up with classics like “Tarzan” and “Beauty and the Beast.” I still get a rush knowing I have Disney and Pixar’s entire catalog of movies at my fingertips. Disney Plus also has the complete Marvel universe and “Star Wars” franchises.
HBO Max, meanwhile, has its arsenal of licensed programs, like “The Sopranos,” “Sex and the City,” and “Game of Thrones,” though the latter is available on other sites as well.
A beloved trilogy is also available on the service – one that many would arguably dish out the subscription fee solely for: the entire “Lord of the Rings” collection, including the extended editions. It’s the only streaming service that currently offers the three movies, though Netflix has in the past.
Hulu has leaned heavily into licensed programs over the years.
That means that older shows, like the ever-popular “Seinfeld,” are available for viewers to binge without cable. It also has an extensive movie selection, as well as things like “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Little Fires Everywhere,” and “Parasite,” which were all big hits in 2020.
And then there’s Netflix, the platform whose releases manage to bring the world together as it did during the pandemic with “Tiger King,” “The Queen’s Gambit,” and “Bridgerton.” When a popular Netflix show drops, it’s difficult to escape the discourse that takes over social media and watercooler conversations.
Perhaps Netflix has always had FOMO working for it, but its dilemma is that other platforms have started to as well with releases like “Wonder Woman 1984” and “Zack Snyder’s Justice League.”
Netflix and Disney have the best apps for browsing. HBO Max and Hulu’s aren’t so great.
The Netflix experience is smooth, with categories that are appealing and easy to understand, like “Romantic Comedies” and “Movies from the 1990s.” Its “Top 10” program reel is also clean and inviting, and all of its tiles are of similar size, save for its reel promoting Netflix Originals. Netflix also uses a recommendation algorithm to suggest content based on your watching habits, and others like Disney do something similar.
Disney’s is organized and intuitive.
I appreciated how buttons are positioned right at the top to take you to Disney, Pixar, Marvel, or Star Wars’ specific collections. Its categories are also comprehensible, like “Reimagined Classics” featuring the live-action versions of animated oldies (think “Aladdin” and “Mulan.”)
It also has the ever-helpful “Marvel Cinematic Universe in Timeline Order” reel.
HBO Max has some of the best content, but the app layout is wonky and unwelcoming.
The disproportionately sized tiles are irritating, and poorly defined categories like “Underdog Tales” and “Small Town, Dark Secrets” aren’t doing the platform any favors.
HBO Max doesn’t make it easy to find its stellar assortment of movies – you’ve got to hunt for them, but that can be half the fun of opening the app.
Tip: Patiently go through the entire movie collection from A-to-Z and save the ones that even remotely interest you to your watchlist. Then slowly work your way through them over time. Rinse and repeat every now and again.
I’ve rediscovered gems like “Rocky,” “Cold Mountain,” “Independence Day,” “The Mummy,” and Monsterverse movies like “King Kong: Skull Island” and “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” with that method.
Hulu’s interface has gotten better, but its home screen still irks me.
The movie tiles and categories are incongruous and busy. But when you narrow your search and toggle to Movies or TV, the layout is more streamlined and agreeable.
HBO Max has the most refreshingly unexpected film content.
I grew up in a household with a cable package that included HBO, so my Saturdays consisted of sifting through the channels and giving titles like “A League of Their Own,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “Speed,” “13 Going On 30,” and “Practical Magic” a try.
So I’m drawn to HBO Max for what feels like a robust offering of films that I’m familiar with.
Hulu is appealing for a similar reason: it has an entirely different offering of movies that you might have forgotten about, like “No Strings Attached” and “The Wedding Planner.” And like HBO Max and “Lord of the Rings,” Hulu lets me watch one of the all-time greatest classics whenever I want to: Shrek. It’s the only streaming platform that offers the beloved 20-year-old movie and its sequel.
Netflix’s movie selection is not its strongest suit. Instead, the company has emphasized its original TV programming as of late, a feat that it excels at.
Disney’s film selection is stellar, but it’s mostly predictable – subscribers flock to the service because they want Disney, Pixar, and Marvel movies. And thanks to Disney’s 2019 acquisition of 20th Century Studios, there are some good films that I wouldn’t expect to find on the platform, like “Never Been Kissed” and “Ever After.”
I’d give up my Netflix subscription for HBO Max and Disney Plus if I had to.
At the end of the day, looks aren’t everything, which is why HBO Max’s clunky app layout doesn’t bother me in the slightest. It’s what it offers that interests me the most.
And having my entire childhood VHS Disney collection on a digitized platform is too much of a thrill to abandon.
So if I were hypothetically forced to choose two out of the four platforms, I’d choose HBO Max and Disney Plus.
However, I likely won’t be faced with that decision as long as my budget continues to allow. And I’m not alone. The average American household subscribes to four streaming services, according to a January report from the research firm Ampere Analysis.
But the first apps I open in the evening will continue to be either HBO Max or Disney Plus, with Netflix and Hulu acting as supplements.
With so many streaming services to choose from, some may favor others over Netflix – which is why the giant should be worried if viewers ever decide to cut costs in their streaming budgets and narrow their subscriptions.