Watch and Save on Streaming Subscriptions

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Save on Streaming Subscriptions If you're looking for an alternative to cable, think about subscribing to a streaming service. Here we compare Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime and weigh in on which provider offers the most for your money.

Netflix has the largest library of movies, TV and award-winning original programming. With just a few clicks, you can be watching your favorite shows in no time. It's about $8 per month, which is a bargain compared to the cost of cable. However, it takes anywhere from 3 months to 1 year for newer shows to become available, so Netflix can also be an exercise in patience.

If you can't wait to see what happens next on your favorite show, Hulu Plus is another option. It costs $8 per month, which gives you access to full seasons of shows that are available before they hit Netflix. In many cases, new episodes of current shows are available online the day after they air. The downside is that you have to sit through commercials while you're watching your show, and you often can't fast forward through them.

Amazon Prime has the second largest TV library next to Hulu, but without ads. For under $7 per month you not only get streaming access to movies and television series, but you also get free 2-day shipping on Amazon purchases, as well as one free e-book per month. You have to pay extra to watch latest shows, but regular Amazon shoppers can more than make up for the cost with what they save in free shipping.

While these are all the biggest pros and cons of the top streaming providers, the choice is ultimately up to you. No matter which you pick, though, it will definitely be cheaper than cable.

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There are now 36.3 million streaming subscribers worldwide, and a big reason for Netflix's success is that the value proposition of $7.99 a month for an unlimited buffet of video titles is too juicy to let go.

Netflix points out that it served up 4 billion hours of content to its streaming customers during the first three months of the year. Divide that by the midpoint of the 33.2 million streaming accounts that Netflix had when the year began and the 36.3 million that it had three months later and you get an average of 115 hours of content per member during the quarter -- or roughly an hour a day.

Yes, Netflix is that magnetic. Worrywarts arguing a couple of years ago that premium entertainment services have a history of peaking around 25 million don't realize that Netflix is rewriting the rules.

"Hemlock Grove" -- Netflix's latest exclusive series -- began streaming late last week.

The reviews have been mixed, and that's a far cry from the consistent raves that its licensed "House of Cards" series received two months ago. However, Netflix revealed that "Hemlock Grove" attracted more viewers during this past debut weekend than "House of Cards" did in its first weekend back in February.

Netflix points out that the creepy Eli Roth-helmed series is faring well with young adults, and that's a jaded group that probably ignores the reviews of older critics. We still don't know if folks will stick to the series the way that many did as they went through all 13 episodes of "House of Cards," but it's a good start.

In a surprising move, Netflix revealed that it begin offering a streaming plan that allows as many as four members to be online at the same time for 50 percent more than the current plan, which only allows for two simultaneous streams.

Netflix isn't banking on the new $11.99 a month plan to move the needle. It emphasized twice during its call that it doesn't expect more than 1 percent of its subscribers to upgrade to the new offering. However, as large families lean on Netflix across a growing number of supported devices, upgrading to four simultaneous streams will be an easy sell.

More importantly, this is the first time that Netflix has added a new option to the $7.99 a month streaming plan it introduced in 2010. It could be a taste of more customized plans in the future.

 

Netflix has made no bones about the future of its DVD rental business. CEO Reed Hastings has argued that it's DVD-based mail-order accounts will continue to shrink with every passing quarter. Netflix closed out the quarter with 7.98 million DVD subscribers at the end of March, 240,000 fewer than it had three months earlier.

Netflix has routinely provided subscriber, revenue, and contribution profit guidance for its streaming and DVD businesses. On Monday, it only provided contribution profit guidance for its DVD business. Netflix expects this to be the case in the future, as the number of DVD customers and the dwindling revenue they generate continues to shrink.

Photo: Michael C. Rael, Flickr.com

As Netflix families will attest, a problem with sharing a Netflix streaming account in an immediate family is that Netflix doesn't distinguish between viewers. It offers recommendations based on what the accounts are watching, and that's a problem for the quality of the suggestions.

Netflix is addressing that by testing individual settings. The new Profiles feature will ideally begin producing better recommendations so your toddler can watch "Yo Gabba Gabba!" and your spouse can catch "How I Met Your Mother" without getting in the way of your affinity for "Breaking Bad."

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