Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu or Disney Plus: which streaming service wins 2020 so far?
Even though it feels like it's lasted for a century, we're somehow only three months into 2020. The chances are, wherever you are, you've been spending more time with streaming services lately than you normally do. These days of being stuck indoors really put those subscriptions to the test.
We decided to take an at-a-glance look at each streaming service, and how they're each doing. While some of the streaming services in here are US-only, we've also discussed what each service is doing internationally too, where applicable. With the likes of Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, Amazon Prime and Netflix, too, there's some parity across regions in original content.
Hopefully this helps you figure out what's worth subscribing to right now. We'll also give you an overview of the streamers launching in the next few months, and how we rate their prospects.
- Best Netflix shows
- Best Hulu shows
- What's the best TV streaming service?
The winner so far? Netflix
Netflix's release schedule of originals is still unmatched by other streaming services, and that cadence of content means you can always find something to watch. Most recently, documentary/true crime series Tiger King became the big talked-about Netflix show.
But before that, everyone was talking about reality sensation Love is Blind, where contestants fell in love before ever actually seeing each other, a reality show that blew all others out of the water with its absurd premise. People loved it, and Love is Blind season 2 is on the way.
Outside of factual entertainment and reality TV, Netflix can still bring it when it comes to scripted shows. Horror-infused Locke and Key didn't capture the wider public's attention like Stranger Things did, but that just got a second season, so clearly it found a happy fanbase. I Am Not Okay With This, another teen-centric supernatural show but vastly different in tone, was another Netflix hit we enjoyed this year. The Stranger is a well-reviewed big British drama based on a Harlan Ellison novel.
The number of returning series is enormous, too: BoJack Horseman ended this year, we got more seasons of Jon Favreau's The Chef Show, the Jason Bateman drama Ozark, more grim episodes of animated hit Castlevania…the list goes on.
You're never going to like all of Netflix's stuff, but you'll always find something to like. It's still well worth the subscription fee in 2020.
Amazon Prime and Hulu are no slouches, either
One big benefit of the Disney/20th Century Fox merger was the joining up of Hulu and FX, turning the streaming service into the de facto home for FX's acclaimed original productions. Alex Garland (Ex Machina) drama Devs is the first to come out of the scheme, meaning you can stream episodes after they air on FX and FXX in the US. The next show to launch on both will be April's Cate Blanchett miniseries Mrs America. The deal also means there's a deep archive of FX content on Hulu, with everything from Atlanta to Nip/Tuck available to watch.
We also enjoyed the new version of High Fidelity on Hulu, which trades Jon Cusack for Zoë Kravitz as the lead. Little Fires Everywhere, another high-profile Hulu series starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington, has reportedly become one of the US-only streamer's most watched shows of the year so far.
Amazon ended 2019 strongly with new seasons of critical favorite The Marvelous Mrs Maisel and cult sci-fi hit The Expanse. This year, it debuted Hunters starring Al Pacino, a decent enough drama that was mired in controversy after The Auschwitz Museum criticized the show's fictionalized take on the real Nazi death camp.
This week brings us Tales From The Loop (April 3), a thoughtful sci-fi series based on the striking art of Simon Stålenhag, with a pilot episode directed by Never Let Me Go's Mark Romanek.
If you're outside the US, Amazon Prime has the international rights to Star Trek: Picard, too, which beats the hell out of getting another subscription to watch it (in the US, of course, it's on CBS All Access).
Amazon will have more firepower later in 2020 with shows like The Boys season 2 and Upload, a sitcom from The Office creator Greg Daniels. And in the US, it's getting all the James Bond movies in 4K this April, a huge injection of films that's perfect to binge, although UK viewers will miss out.
Disney Plus and the wait for big originals
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Your expectations of Disney Plus may vary, but we think it's having an okay year so far. The nascent streaming service has mostly served up lower-profile kid-friendly originals like Diary of a Future President and The Clone Wars. But Disney set its stall out on new content pretty early: the bigger originals coming after The Mandalorian were always going to require a longer wait.
Instead, Disney Plus has created big headline-grabbing moments out of releasing hit movies onto the service. Aladdin, The Lion King and Toy Story 4 all arrived in the first couple of months of the year, and then Disney really went to town by bringing the release date of Frozen 2 ahead by a few months. Pixar's Onward, meanwhile, doomed with a poor box office return as cinemas shut around the world just after it released, arrived soon after to make another huge splash.
A bigger problem facing Disney Plus, though, will be if we get deeper into 2020 and its biggest content is delayed by production shutdowns caused by the current health crisis. All three Marvel shows that were in production, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, WandaVision and Loki (scheduled for 2021), were put on hold over the current global health crisis. It's unclear when they might resume filming.
The Mandalorian season 2, though, finished production before the shutdown happened. And so far Disney hasn't indicated that any of its big originals have been delayed from their original dates.
The streaming service definitely doesn't have the range of originals as its competitors yet, but by dropping those Disney movies early, they are successfully servicing an audience that wants to get excited about Disney worlds and characters.
In the UK, Disney Plus just launched, and viewers have to watch The Mandalorian weekly months after it released in the US. The launch line-up, though, is very strong.
What about the rest?
HBO remains a powerhouse in original TV, and this year's shows have already demonstrated that. The Outsider is a slow-burn Stephen King adaptation about a man accused of murder who's spotted in two places at once during the crime. It's slow-going, but it's got a fantastic ensemble cast.
Less successfully, HBO served up sci-fi comedy Avenue 5 from the creators of Veep and The Thick of It, which we gave up on after a couple of laugh-free episodes. The ever-dependable Curb Your Enthusiasm still retains its form ten seasons in, though.
HBO is currently airing the third season of the outrageously fancy-looking sci-fi drama Westworld, which has moved pretty far from its original setting of a Wild West theme park at this point.
CBS All Access served up Star Trek: Picard, a somewhat divisive return for Patrick Stewart's Star Trek captain set years after The Next Generation. Picard: season 2 is on the way. Its next big original is the fourth season of The Good Fight, a spin-off of The Good Wife. But that didn't finish filming its last two episodes before the production was shut down over coronavirus.
Two more Trek series are set to follow this year: Lower Decks and Star Trek: Discovery season 3.
Apple TV Plus's limited selection is growing this year. Mythic Quest, a gaming-focused sitcom from the creators of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, is over way too soon, but it's a high-quality show about a subject that's otherwise under-served by the TV and movie industries. Anthology show Amazing Stories didn't leave the best impression on us, though.
Upcoming Apple shows include the dramas Home Before Dark and Defending Jacob (both out in April), while British comedy Trying is coming in May.
Coming soon: Quibi, HBO Max and Peacock
Is this a good time to launch a new streaming service? It's really hard to tell. Sure, people are indoors a lot more right now. But jobs are being lost across the world as a result of the lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus. Not everyone is desperate to lay down more cash for streaming shows they still don't have time to watch.
The three new streaming services launching in the US this year are HBO Max, Peacock and Quibi. HBO Max, launching in May, has plenty of big stuff, including the entire series of Friends and the complete HBO archive, but it comes at a steeper $14.99 per month (which existing HBO subscribers likely won't be fazed by).
Quibi is a mobile-only streaming platform launching on April 6, serving tailor-made on-the-go content in daily 'quick bites' for $4.99 with ads. If people are commuting less, where they might be more likely to watch video on their phones, it'll be interesting to see if the content resonates.
Peacock, meanwhile, will have a lighter free streaming tier as well as paid options. An ad-supported version is a reasonable $4.99 per month (this tier is free to Comcast customers) and a $9.99 ad-free version. This'll eventually be the exclusive home of mega-hit The Office, currently on Netflix. That service arrives on July 15. Who knows what the world will look like by then?
Each streamer will boast its own original shows, and they've all got exciting stuff in the works. But Hollywood's production shutdowns are affecting these new streaming services too, with Quibi's Varsity Blues, Peacock's Rutherford Falls and HBO Max's Tokyo Vice among those that are on hold.
Existing streaming services are arguably better equipped to deal with the production shutdowns than those yet to launch, because they already have subscriber bases. Then again, in HBO Max and Peacock's cases, both are leaning just as heavily (if not more so) on high-value older content. For people who love The Office, there's never going to be a time that they won't want to watch that. And HBO's acclaimed programming automatically gives Max a big boost from the off.
Our verdict: spend smart in 2020
You don't need every streaming service all the time, and you can be selective if money is on your mind right now. Make the most of free trials on the likes of Amazon Prime, Apple TV Plus, Disney Plus or CBS All Access.
Our feeling is that if you have to get one streaming service, Netflix still offers the broadest range of programming and the best value, but those free trials are there for a reason. Is there only one show you want to watch on a particular service? Get a trial and burn through every episode, then unsubscribe. You might also discover other shows on there that you want to watch as a result of the trial, which will make paying for the service feel worthwhile.
You don't have to watch everything, and the sheer increase in streaming services isn't really your problem as the customer. Spend the amount on TV that you want to spend. You'll always find something to watch.
- Best TV shows of 2020 so far