Which streaming service is right for your family?

By Jeff Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Oct. 17 2013 10:30 p.m. MDT

Earlier this year, the company pulled off a significant coup when it signed an agreement with Viacom for exclusive streaming rights to more than 250 TV seasons and thousands of episodes of programming from MTV, Comedy Central and, most importantly, Nickelodeon.

The deal includes a number of children’s shows that had previously been available on Netflix like “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “Dora the Explorer,” “Go, Diego, Go!” and “The Backyardigans.”

If that wasn’t enough to convince some parents to go with Amazon Prime Instant, the company also secured rights to more mature (though, not necessarily TV-MA) shows like “Downton Abbey,” “Fallling Skies,” “Grimm” and “Suits," among others, giving it a lineup that may not top Netflix’s, but at least offers something different.

As far as original content goes, Amazon is a little behind its competitors, although earlier this year, it greenlit five new series — two comedies and three kids shows — and announced five more pilots aimed at kids, including older, grade school-age children.

What really sets Amazon Prime Instant apart from the other major streaming services, though, is that it’s a feature included at no additional charge with every Amazon Prime membership. At $79 for a year-long subscription, which comes out to $1.41 less per month than either Netflix or Hulu Plus. That might not sound like a lot, but when you include other Prime member benefits like free two-day shipping, it turns out to be a surprisingly attractive deal.

Amazon Prime Instant also offers parental controls that allow users to restrict the types of content accessible to stream.

Completely separate from the Prime membership, Amazon also has a huge catalogue of movies for rental and purchase, meaning that if you can't find the one you're looking for, you can always just pay a little bit more and watch it anyway.

In a nutshell:

  • A smaller selection, but lots of kid-friendly options
  • Exclusive content that might appeal to parents
  • Included as part of an Amazon Prime membership
  • Costs less per year than Netflix or Hulu Plus
  • Parental controls

Cost: $79 per year ($6.59 per month)

Hulu Plus

With the smallest archived selection of movies and TV shows, Hulu Plus might seem like the obvious loser in the three-way battle for SVOD supremacy. Depending on one’s viewing preferences, though, it could actually turn out to be the best option.

Unlike Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant, which mostly specialize in movies and past seasons of TV, Hulu Plus’ main selling point is the ability to stream primetime TV shows the day after they air. Some of the titles include hit ABC series like “Revenge” and “Once Upon a Time”; brand-new shows like “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Sleepy Hollow”; Comedy Central's “The Colbert Report” and 39 full seasons of “Saturday Night Live.”

Along with newer series, Hulu Plus also features plenty of vintage content that might appeal to families — titles like “Fragglerock,” “He-Man” and “I Love Lucy,” to name just a few.

The selection of movies, on the other hand, is pretty sparse compared to other streaming services. For art house and foreign film junkies, though, Hulu Plus includes access to more than 800 titles from the esteemed Criterion Collection, including films by the masters of cinema like Akira Kurosawa and Ingmar Bergman. That alone could be well worth the $8 per month.

Along with Netflix, Hulu Plus also has the biggest lineup of original content, although the quality isn’t quite up to par.

One of the other big differences between Hulu Plus and its competitors, though, that could be a deciding factor is the presence of advertisements that periodically interrupt programming. The one exception is on the Hulu Kids page, an ad-free selection of family-friendly programming similar to Netflix's "Just for Kids" option. Unlike the other two services, though, Hulu Plus does not offer other forms of parental control for the regular selection of movies and TV series.

In a nutshell:

  • The smallest archived content library
  • Next-day viewing of current TV shows
  • Access to hundreds of hard-to-find foreign and art house films
  • A large selection of original content
  • Streaming experience regularly interrupted by ads
  • Hulu Kids
  • No parental controls for regular viewing experience

Cost: $7.99 per month

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff Peterson is currently studying humanities and history at BYU.

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