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Funny Money: The Highs, Lows, Hustles and Flows of Video Streaming Websites

Streaming video services like Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand, Hulu Plus and others provide a ton of content for a small monthly fee; which one is best?What a magical time this is for movie fans. Now, for the first time in history, the technology exists to let us hunt down any movie we desire on video streaming websites, drop a few invisible credit card bucks, then sit back and relax to watch images on our LCD screens apologize for “buffering.” Then we get to watch movies, then more buffering.

It’s been a long, winding road to approach this technological utopia. Movie studios have always been clever at raking money from film lovers and have never quite gotten over their anger over the invention of the TV. Their first gambit was to charge $90 for VHS tapes, serving up a picture quality that matched the perspective of a drunken, one-eyed newt who interpreted rectangular images as squares with rounded-off edges. Laserdisc and Betamax offered better pictures, but only idiots wasted their money on those.

Next came DVDs, which were so addictive to buy that they convinced people to accept letterboxed versions of movies that used about 40 percent of the space on Stone Age, pre-HD TVs. People collected them like they were Garbage Pail Kids cards, not only trashing their VHS collections to re-buy everything they owned before, but buying way, way more DVDs than they would ever possibly be able to watch, or even store comfortably in their homes.

The introduction of Blu-ray caused the snobbiest of movie lovers to throw out their DVDs and re-buy HD versions of all the movies they owned, lest they be forced to endure the philistine existence of watching Adam Sandler tackle Bob Barker in “Happy Gilmore” in standard-def.

Now here we are in the video streaming age. Discs are all but irrelevant, relegated to sad little Redbox machines hocking their wares outside grocery stores, and movie studios have convinced us to buy licenses to movies instead. But there’s no simple, uniform way to watch these movies. Instead, we are thrown to the tundra-like terrain, left exposed to video streaming service wolves, which hunt us as we struggle to survive long enough for “The Hangover: Part III” to be viewable on our TVs, phones, tablets, computers and, someday, thanks to Google, eyewear.

That said, let’s meet some of the top wolves and talk about what’s annoying and what’s great about each.

Amazon Prime

The $79-a-year service also gives you free two-day shipping on products, which is good because its library of movies and TV shows seems to be somewhat lacking, restricted primarily to 1980s movies starring former Charles in Charge cast members and Thor. Just about every streaming service seems to have Thor, who really likes to get around. The fact that Amazon is all proud it has Thor and brags about it in ads is telling about its library.

Amazon is making some headway, though, scoring exclusives such as Downton Abbey come next month. It’s in the realm of new releases that Amazon smokes the competition. The zombie romance Warm Bodies is already available on Amazon, but won’t even be rentable as a disc on Netflix until June 4.

Hulu Plus

The go-to place for reasonably recent TV shows, Hulu Plus has positioned itself as the most viable option for those who want to get rid of cable and satellite. For $8 a month you can watch anything NBC, CBS, Fox and ABC pumps out for free. Plus, you get the added bonus of getting to enjoy commercials. The money-grubbing is actually a good thing, though, according to Hulu Plus, which explains it puts ads in there to make the subscription fee lower for you. It’s so nice of them to be looking out for its viewers, being willing to go the extra mile by charging for something it gives away for free to some customers in order to make other customers pay less.

Netflix

The pioneer of streaming movies — at first tossing in streaming as a free bonus for its disc-renting customers before yanking it away and charging everyone close to double to get both discs and streaming. For $8 a month you get an impressive selection that is constantly in flux, making impressive additions while suffering devastating losses. “Oh, great!” you think. “I can get sell off my entire DVD collection because just about all the movies I own are on this thing.” And then, as if waiting for you to do that, Netflix goes and gets rid of 1,800 movies. Redbox is getting in on a similar model, charging the same monthly amount for a considerably poorer selection. Like, it doesn’t even have Thor.

Flixster/Vudu/Ultraviolet

The head-scratcher of the lot eschews subscriptions for a-la-carte rentals and purchases. In the manner of iTunes, Vudu lets you rent movies for $2 apiece for two nights. It boasts an incredible selection of HD movies and tends to get them in a timely manner. The problem is, it gets way too confusing to tell which movies you own, on which devices you can watch them and through which services. Example: If you buy a Blu-ray with an Ultraviolet digital copy, you go to the Flixster site to redeem it, which allows you to watch it on your PlayStation 3 on the Vudu app or the Xbox 360 via the Flixter app. It would take A Beautiful Mind-style crazy wall to explain how each service relates to the other and which movies are playable on which apps and on which device, and for what reason.

 Do you use any of these services? What do you think of them?

About Phil Villarreal

Phil Villarreal writes Funny Money weekly for Money Under 30. He lives in Tucson and works for the Arizona Daily Star. He's also an author, blogger and Twitterer.

Comments

  1. I’ve written off Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus, sticking with Netflix for most of my entertainment and iTunes when I want to see a new release.

    The streaming market is such an interesting beast. Unlike the VHS vs Betamax and Bluray vs. HD-DVD, I feel like these services will continue to fragment and most likely remain that way. The forward expenses of starting up your own streaming business is so low that productions co’s aren’t forced to dedicate themselves to one service or format. In fact, Warner Bro’s has even started its own streaming service, http://instant.warnerarchive.com/, in a move that is likely to upset fans of Netflix streaming.

    Another point worth mentioning is although DVD rentals like ” the sad little Redbox machines,” are based on an antiquated technology, it’s still the best option for the over 100 million Americans without access to broadband internet – http://arstechnica.com/business/2012/08/119-million-americans-lack-broadband-internet-fcc-reports/.

    And, when push comes to shove, a $2 rental from Redbox is cheaper than “renting” a newly released movie from iTunes streaming or your cable service’s on-demand interface.

  2. We use Netflix and Hulu to stream movies and TV shows. Netflix is better for movies while Hulu is better for keeping up with current TV shows.

    I do have one beef with your reviews, specifically regarding Hulu Plus. First – why should anyone pay for shows that are already free? Especially when you’re still getting ads! (NBC, CBS, Fox, and ABC are all over-the-air… cable not necessary.)

    We have the free version of Hulu and are able to watch nearly all of our favorite shows a day or two after they air. Anything that isn’t there is usually available for free on another site. (For example, “How I Met Your Mother” is available on cbs.com and “Conan” is available on teamcoco.com.)

    The only good reason I can see for paying for Hulu Plus is if you want to watch your shows on a tablet… but even that seems like a money grab.

  3. I’m really excited to be getting rid of Comcast, however, I just purchased an older home that was recently remodeled and it does not have cable outlets! I need to find a way to get internet as I plan to continue with my Amazon Prime, while adding Hulu Plus and Netflix. The reason people pay for Hulu Plus is so they don’t have to watch on the computer. Hulu (Free) does not work on any other devices. I have a Roku box, therefore I could get Hulu Plus it on my television. AT&T U-verse and OMGFAST are not available in my immediate area although both are in my city….only Comcast….this company yet again attempts to regain their monopoly.

    I’ve watched less ans less tv over the years, but I enjoy being able to watch what I want when I want to watch it…not when it’s on TV. I can’t remember the last time I’ve sat and waited for something to start, then watch the commercials as it aired…with the exception of just one.

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