The addition of the ad-free option has made it a TV and film obsessive’s dream.
If you can only afford a subscription to one streaming service right now, it should be Hulu without ads. It’s the best one going.
Netflix, the long-running champion, has the hype, and Amazon Prime has the massive amounts of cash necessary to mount a challenge to Netflix. But Hulu has what really counts: programming. I subscribe to all three and spend far, far more time watching Hulu than the other two. It’s turned itself into a service for true TV and film obsessives.
Let’s take a look at what I mean.
Hulu’s list of TV series to watch is second to none
Here’s the thing about Netflix’s TV library: It’s not terribly deep. Certainly, the service has the benefit of some of the best shows in TV history, like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and Louie. But if you’ve already seen the shows the service has had on offer — for years now! — then you’re likely scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Where Netflix is struggling is in adding new acquired shows to the list of series it already has. Yes, its partnerships with AMC and The CW have added exciting new programs like Better Call Saul, The Flash, and Jane the Virgin to its library in recent months. But more and more TV programmers seem to be trying to make deals with other services, in order to level the playing field a bit.
FX president John Landgraf even went on the record about this at this summer’s Television Critics Association press tour.
“We had a concerted effort not to only sell to Netflix,” he said. “Ultimately, we sold Justified and The Americans to Amazon, and now we’ve made an output deal with Hulu.” And indeed, FX sold some of its series to Netflix in the past, but it hasn’t since Louie, which debuted in 2010.
For a time, it seemed like this shift would be to Amazon’s benefit. That service scooped up exclusive deals for shows like Orphan Black and Hannibal, in addition to the FX series Landgraf mentioned and a good chunk of HBO’s back catalog. But in recent months, the momentum has swung toward Hulu, which has acquired show after show after show, and every one among the best TV has to offer.
I first noticed this while updating my list of the best 18 shows currently airing on TV every week. Each week, I would go searching for streaming options for these programs, and discover that Hulu had the rights to earlier seasons. Empire. The Last Man on Earth. Brooklyn Nine-Nine. You’re the Worst. Fargo. Manhattan. Essentially anything on Comedy Central and Cartoon Network.
If it’s debuted in the last three years or so, it’s far likelier to have an exclusive deal with Hulu than with Netflix. And if you’re someone who’s reasonably up to date with recent classics (as I am), that makes Hulu a much more attractive option.
But wait, as they say, there’s more.
Hulu still offers something no other streaming service has
If you subscribe to Hulu, you can watch brand new episodes of TV shows from four of the five major broadcast networks the day after they originally air, to say nothing of many cable networks. You can also do this on Amazon, but you have to pay a per-episode fee for the privilege. Because Hulu is owned in a joint venture between ABC, NBC, and Fox, watching the episode is rolled into your subscription fee.
Yes, it’s a huge headache how the various networks handle availability. Fox generally makes all episodes of a current season available, while ABC seems content with only a handful. And CBS, the biggest broadcast network, keeps its own shows segregated into its own streaming service (though its sister networks, The CW and Showtime, both have Hulu deals).
But this is not something Netflix or Amazon offers. Really, the only comparable services are those offered by various cable networks, like HBO Go or FX Now. And both of those feature only that network’s content and are tied directly to your cable subscription. Hulu is limited by what networks and studios will allow it to do, but it’s the closest anybody’s yet come to putting all of last night’s TV in one convenient place.
Hulu’s library of classic and foreign TV is also second to none
Netflix has gotten lots of attention in recent years for its overseas imports, shows like Black Mirror, Peaky Blinders, and Witnesses. And those are all terrific shows, well worth watching if you haven’t yet gotten to them on your Netflix crawl.
But Hulu, thanks to partnerships with other providers like DramaFever, bests Netflix in this arena as well. It has massive amounts of content from overseas, including a bunch of unheralded classics, like Rev., a British sitcom about an inner-city pastor, and Braquo, a dark French cop drama. And that’s to say nothing of the massive amounts of foreign-language dramas DramaFever brings to the site. Honestly, in this regard, Hulu may offer too many options, which could be why it seems to downplay this side of itself.
Finally, Hulu is your best option for classic TV shows, too — and I don’t mean recent classics. I mean classic classics. Sure, there are plenty of shows that are on essentially all of the major streaming services, like Cheers, but thanks to its connection with Shout! Factory, Hulu has some gems that nobody else does, like shows from MTM Productions (Mary Tyler Moore, The Bob Newhart Show, etc.) and Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Netflix still has advantages in a few areas — but the gap is closing