Video streaming face-off: Amazon Prime Instant Video vs. Netflix

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Video streaming face-off: Amazon Prime Instant Video vs. Netflix

We compared two of the leading streaming services and uncovered a big secret

Last updated: June 12, 2015 04:00 PM

When you subscribe to Amazon Prime Instant Video or Netflix—two of the leading video-streaming services—you’re buying something of a pig in a poke. Both services display their movies and television shows on a cluttered buffet table of screens, making it difficult to get a good overview of their selections. And both keep the actual number of films available a closely guarded secret, making it even more difficult to judge which service has the greatest choice. But we did some digging to get the information you need to decide which service is best for you.

Behind the numbers

This review—covering selection, extras, convenience, and cost—is based on our evaluation using a 1-to-5 scale, where 1 is the lowest possible score and 5 is the highest. (The scores here are not our traditional Ratings.) Individual scores are averaged within category, and the category scores are averaged to produce the overall score. 

Share your opinion about the Amazon Prime Instant Video and Netflix streaming video services by leaving a comment below.

—Jeff Blyskal (@JeffBlyskal on Twitter)

Selection

Amazon Prime

Instant Video

Netflix

Score: 1.3 Score: 2.0

It’s so difficult to browse for movies on Amazon and Netflix that we turned to InstantWatcher.com, a site plugged into the databases of both providers. We found that Amazon Prime offered more than 17,000 standard- and high-definition movies and TV series, significantly more than Netflix, which had more than 10,000 when we updated our count in mid June.

But Netflix pulled ahead overall by offering more than 7,500 HD videos vs. almost 3,500 for Amazon Prime. Back in February, before we published our report, Amazon promised subscribers “40,000 choices.” It counts every TV show episode as a separate title; InstantWatcher.com counts all episodes in a TV series as one title, which we think is more accurate and honest.

After we published our report, Amazon did the right thing and has now reduced its claim to "thousands" of movies and episodes. An Amazon spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.  

Check our buying guide and Ratings for TVs and tablets. And choose the best telecom-services provider.

Extras

Amazon Prime

Instant Video

Netflix

Score: 5 Score: 2

Netflix provides some popular original series, including “Marco Polo,” “House of Cards,” and “Orange Is the New Black.” Amazon Prime offers some original shows, too, along with editor recommendations.

But because it’s part of a massive retailing operation, Amazon throws in free two-day shipping on Amazon purchases, as well as free music streaming of more than 1 million songs and free, unlimited photo storage.

Convenience

Amazon Prime

Instant Video

Netflix

Score: 2.5 Score: 5

Our survey found Netflix considerably ahead. More devices were Netflix-ready; 88 percent of 130 Consumer Reports tested and recommended TVs, Blu-ray players, and stand-alone streaming devices (such as Roku and the Amazon Fire Stick) had its app installed. Amazon’s service was built into only 68 percent of those models.

Consumers also seemed to find it easier to stream from Netflix. Its streaming comprised 35 percent of all peak-time U.S. and Canadian Internet traffic, according to Sandvine, a company that tracks such usage, vs. Amazon Instant Video’s 3 percent.

Cost

Amazon Prime

Instant Video

Netflix

Score: 5 Score: 5

The average Netflix user watches five TV shows and three movies per week, according to the firm GfK Research. If you paid $2 per show or movie à la carte, you would end up paying more than $800 over the course of a year. On our scoring scale, you get a deal with both streaming services: Netflix costs $108 per year (for a standard plan), and Amazon Prime is just a little less, $99 per year.

Overall score

Amazon Prime

Instant Video

Netflix

Score: 3.4 Score: 3.5

If your primary interest is watching high-definition movies and TV series, Netflix should be your first choice. If you’d rather have greater choice but in standard definition, and you swoon at the thought of goodies such as free shipping, music downloads, and photo storage, Amazon Prime may be a better bet. But all things considered, the two are pretty equal

Update:

This article, which originally appeared in the May, 2015 issue of Consumer Reports Money Adviser, was updated on June 12, 2015 after Amazon and InternetWatcher.com informed us of an error in InternetWatcher's count of HD titles, which understated the number of Amazon Prime titles by about 70 percent. Previously, Amazon would not disclose any information about exactly how many titles it offered. InternetWatcher has since corrected its search engine. The error had only a minor impact on Amazon's score in the category of Selection, which rose to 1.3 from 1.0, and the correction was not large enough to change Amazon's overall score of 3.4. 

 


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