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Principia students are television lovers, and staying in dorms during weekends to binge-watch a show is a common activity. Many house presidents bemoan the fact that students are just as content to stay in their rooms watching movies as they are to venture out to house events that have taken weeks to plan.
In a poll on Prin’s Crägslist, 76 students reported which platform they use to stream video content. By far, the most common venue was Netflix, with 70 percent of the total votes.
Netflix appears to be the most popular service, but this doesn’t necessarily make it the best option for everyone. Competitive changes are being made by other streaming services, such as Amazon and Hulu Plus, who are battling for consumers’ dollars.
Netflix is the best known of the service providers. Their pricing plan of $7.99 a month for streaming-only service has been the industry standard since 2007. Now, Netflix is raising the price of streaming to $8.99 for those who are already members and $9.99 for new ones. The total cost of the service will be $119.88 a year.
The Netflix repertoire is expanding as it produces its own shows like “Orange is the New Black,” “House of Cards,” and “Marco Polo.” It also has a deal with Disney, which allows Disney content to be one of the constants on the site. However, critics say Netflix suffers from “quantity over quality” syndrome, piling B-movie after B-movie into its archives.
One advantage for Netflix viewers is that two people on different screens can watch videos at the same time from the same account. Netflix also boasts one of the industry’s best algorithms for finding shows that will match recently viewed media.
Additionally, Netflix is a site that many people are used to seeing, so navigating it feels very easy and intuitive for the average college student. Netflix’s gross income in 2014 was $1.75 billion, and their shareholder report states that much of their revenue goes into reinvestment, particularly towards creating original content.
Amazon Instant Video is a relatively young challenger to Netflix’s apparent monopoly. It costs $8.25 a month or $99 a year to access Instant through Amazon Prime. This is not only cheaper than Netflix, but includes bells and whistles that Prime offers: for example, free two-day shipping on certain items. This is a service that Netflix or Hulu could never hope to match, and is especially attractive to students, who need books shipped fast and cheap.
Amazon has also struck a deal with HBO to stream their content on the site. This includes shows like True Blood, Eastbound and Down, and Entourage—which come with rabid cult followings.
Unfortunately, Amazon suffers from an interface that is somewhat confusing. Videos are displayed even if they are not free to stream, and it can be disappointing to think a movie is available to watch only to be presented with the message “Please rent for $2.99 or buy for $10.99.”
On Amazon’s Instant content, it can also be hard to find the right title. Long lists of movies produced before 1960 are available, with no easy way to filter them out. Shows that are brand-new are placed next to hits from the early 2000’s for no obvious reason. Kids shows are grouped by content rather than age, and adult shows are sorted in very broad genres. However, the messy interface is the only knock on the Instant service.
Finally, there is Hulu Plus, available for $7.99 a month or $95.88 a year—the cheapest option of the three contenders. Hulu offers some of the most recent TV shows well ahead of any other service. It is also easy to view what is available as options can be sorted by both channel and genre. Hulu is straightforward with what it offers and many shows that are worth watching will be carried by the site.
However, there are some downsides. Even with the paid subscription, Hulu plays some ads throughout the shows. This can be a rough change from Amazon or Netflix, where binge watching is interrupted only by the credits. Hulu also has a lackluster selection of movies, which is uninviting to those who struggle to commit to a single TV show.
Overall, Principia students are getting a fairly good deal by favoring Netflix: the site looks set to grow again this year and a dollar or two extra a month isn’t going to kill anyone. Amazon is a great choice for those who use the service often and the free shipping is a bonus that can’t be ignored. Hulu is the cheapest for the broke college student, and a good choice for those interested in the most current shows. Streaming media is a choice, and these three major players can make it a very different one.