Battle Of The Streaming Services: Netflix Vs Hotstar Vs Amazon Prime Video
Cover image credits – Financialexpress.com
With broadband connections reaching most parts of India, there has been a significant surge in the online video consumption. These on-demand video services come from local and international players. For many folks, streaming services have replaced the good-old cable or satellite TV. On top of the large catalogue of movies and TV shows, players such as Netflix and Prime offer exclusive content. This includes many big-budget movies such as Okja, War Machine, and Bright. These movies won’t hit a theatre near you but will be exclusively available on video streaming services.
In India, the only online video services you need to bother about are Hotstar, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. Star India, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, had a head start in India by launching Hotstar in 2015. Then came, Netflix in early 2016. Followed by Jeff Bezos’ Amazon Prime video in the same year.
To get a piece of this nascent business in India, the big three companies offer a truckload of features. For starters, these services can be accessed via smartphones, tablets, smart TVs and whatnot. With 4G seeping in most parts of the country, watching TV during a commute is now a reality.
Shows such as Game of Thrones also propelled the popularity of this content consumption pattern. Thanks to ridiculous censorship laws, many of the critically acclaimed shows were butchered in India. There were so many cuts that viewers found it difficult to keep up with the plot. Plus, nothing beats the fun of binge watching your favourite show on a weekend compared to traditional fix-time airing.
Although these services are seemingly rich in content there are many factors which need to be considered before pulling the trigger. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hotstar are quite different from each other and cater to different audiences. We are going to talk elaborately about that in this comparison guide. We will differentiate these three content services based on parameters such as content, UI Interface, Subscription costs, and extra features to choose your service accordingly.
Fans have been anticipating for Netflix for a long time. Finally, when they did launch, the content catalogue was abysmal compared to what you had in the US. However, Netflix India did catch-up soon enough in increments. It now airs hit shows such as Black mirror, Stranger Things, Narcos, and The Crown. You can also tune-into classics including Breaking Bad, Star Trek, Gilmore Girls, and Dr. Who.
Netflix has the widest selection of Hollywood movies. On top of that, you get access to films such as Okja and War Machine that are exclusive to the platform. To cater to the Asian audience, Netflix air Playful Kiss, Quiz from God, Man to Man, Stranger, The Legend of Bruce Lee, and Ice Fantasy.
While not really a big line-up, Indians do have access to Bhabhi Ghar pe hai, Jhansi ki Rani, Agent Raghav, Ramayan, Razia Sultan, and Gangs of Haseepur etc. Food and travel aficionados need not feel left out as you get Chef’s table, Kaha Suni, Anthony Bourdain, Tales by Light, Cooked, and Metropolis.
As far as the content is concerned, Netflix beats the competition. However, do keep in mind that most of its programming is focused on English-language content. At this point, there’s not much Hindi or regional content.
First month’s subscription is free for trial provided you have a Debit/Credit card to link. It is as annoying as Aadhar card link nagging in our country.
The subscription starts from Rs500 per month which provides Standard Definition (SD) quality and single device screening. For Rs 650, you get HD resolution and two simultaneous device screening ability. For four screen access, you have to shell out Rs.800 per month. In short, Netflix is one of the most expensive online streaming services in our country.
Once subscribed to the plan of your preference, Netflix displays recommended a mix of TV shows and Movies from all over the world and prompt to select any three to determine your taste. Using its algorithm, the Netflix actually gives spot-on suggestions. For instance, if you pick sci-fi movies such as District 9 and Children of Men, you will see Snowpiercer, Elysium and other similar movies in suggestions.
The app layout is intuitive. Not a single aspect of the UI has any sign of clutter. With no lag or slowdown, the experience is top-notch. There are neat touches such as ‘Continue Watching’ window to let you continue consuming the content from where you left off. The carousel features ‘My List’ of bookmarked content, new releases, trending, documentaries, US TV Programmes, comedies, Dramas, Kids TV etc. One touch on the top right Hamburger menu reveals more genres and settings.
App settings are fairly simplified and let you control playback and downloads. Yes, Netflix lets you download content that can be watched later when you are offline. If manually set Low(4Hrs/GB), Medium(2Hrs/GB), High(1Hr/GB) and Unlimited for UltraHD high FPS. You can set the download location to either Internal or SD card from here.
While in fullscreen, usual Play/Pause and Rewind options are a click away. The Mirror cast option sits at the top left. If it is a TV series, a tab shows the next episodes in the season in a playlist mode. Language and subtitle menu are duly covered. However, video streaming quality can’t be adjusted on the fly. You have to enter App settings for that.
Owned by Start network, Hotstar obviously pushes shows from Star Plus and Life OK a lot. Thanks to Rupert Murdoch’s International clout, you get exclusive access to HBO’s insanely popular show Game of Thrones. Original content isn’t exact Hotstar’s strength. However, it carves out its niche by offering India-centric live News and sports. Cricket buffs and Formula 1 fanatics can rejoice as it is the only legal streaming service in India to carry these games and races. The best part is that some of the content is free to watch. That’s quite good if you don’t mind a few ad interruptions. For better quality and wider catalogue, you ought to subscribe the premium membership.
The roster includes popular shows from Star Plus, Life OK, Asianet, Asianet plus, Channel V, MAA TV, Star Jalsa, Star Pravah, Star Utsav, Star Vijay, Star World, Star Sports to name a few. You can also binge watching classics such as Sarabhai vs Sarabhai, Khichdi, and Mahabharat. In an attempt to enter the original programming space, Hotstar has produced its web-series Sarabhai vs Sarabhai Take 2. Hotstar broadcasts regional content and live channels in Hindi, Marathi, Malayalam, Tamil, Bengali, Telugu, Kannada, Gujarati languages. It has hands down the best library and categorization for regional content compared to its rivals.
As mentioned earlier, Game of Thrones remains Hotstar’s killer content. Somehow, it manages to sneak from Pahlaj Nihalani’s “sanskaari” edits. Watching GOT without any cuts alone is worth spending money on a premium subscription. It is also the quickest way to get your fix of GOT, as the show airs in India in only 30 mins from its USA release. Other shows worth checking out on Hotstar include Sex and the city, Modern Family, Prison Break, and Silicon Valley.
Hotstar features a well curated Hindi movie library with flicks such as Kaabil, Pink, Housefull 3, Bahubali, Phillauri, Neerja. English movie category consists of Hollywood flicks such as Real Steel, Riddick, Dredd, Captain America, Need for Speed, Finding Dory to name a few. Not really a match to Netflix though. Hotstar also features well-curated library for Kids section with movies like Toy Story 3, The Finest Hours, Alice in Wonderland, Zootopia, The Jungle book, The Lion King, Monsters etc.
Getting started with Hotstar
Get the app from a relevant repository and sign up using E-mail or Facebook account. For watching content falling under the Premium umbrella, you need a monthly subscription of Rs 199. This is way cheaper than Netflix, but on the flipside, Hotstar is not available on most smart TV platforms.
Speaking of the app layout on the Homescreen you have a dynamic window at the top. It runs a carousel of popular content. For instance, you see live sports feed or latest episodes of TV series right at the top.
Playback interface has all the essentials you would expect from a streaming app. However, compared to Netflix, Hotstar’s UI feels cluttered. ‘Pause/Play’ button in the centre while additional settings are at the top right corner. You can adjust the quality of the stream to Low (180p) – 9 hours per GB, Medium (320p) – 2.5 hours per GB or High in HD(720p) – 1 hour per GB.
This is followed by ‘Continue watching’ option that does what it says. A series of windows continue further down with recommendations based on your preferences. Also, there are independent tabs on categorising TV, Movies, Sports, Premium, News, Channels, Language, and Genres which you can choose from.
Since Internet connection can be flaky in many parts of India, Hotstar has duly covered the option to download content for offline viewing. However, not everything is up for grabs here as some free as well as premium content is not downloadable and is denoted by a grey restricted download icon.
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon is the biggest shopping portal in the world. With millions to burn, its head-honcho Jeff Bezos decided to diversify his portfolio by launching a video streaming service. Dubbed as Amazon Prime Video (talk about the lack of creativity), it competes directly with Netflix.
Amazon Prime Video’s presence spans over 200 countries. However, at least in India, Prime Video’s catalogue is nothing to write home about. Compared to Netflix and Hotstar, this streaming service has the lowest number of movies and TV series on the roster.
The bright spots include Amazon’s exclusive show The Grand Tour. This spiritual successor to BBC’s motor show Top Gear, hosted by charismatic trio Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson, and James May has been cited as the sole reason for the majority of people to subscribe Amazon’s service. Other interesting shows include American Gods, Preacher, Le Mans, and Into the Badlands.
In an attempt to provide India-centric exclusive content, Amazon has produced Inside Edge series. It covers match-fixing in Cricket. Jeff’s company has also partnered with popular stand-up comedians from India including EIC, Abhish, Zakir Khan etc. Depending on your definition of comedy, you can choose to binge watch Taarak Mehta Ka Oolta Chasma or C.I.D.
Prime Video does have some recent Bollywood movies such as Badrinath Ki Dulhania, Sultan, Murder 3, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, The Ghazi Attack, Hindi Medium, and Begum Jaan. Coming to the subject of Hollywood, there are a few noteworthy titles such as Deep Water Horizon, Star-Trek Beyond, 13 Hours, The Dictator, and Batman V Superman.
Much like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video comes with a free trial for a month. After that, you can choose to renew it annually. Amazon’s biggest strength in this three-way fight is its absolutely killer pricing. For a 12-month access to Prime Video, you only have to pay Rs 499. This roughly translates to paltry Rs 43 per month!
To further sweeten the deal, you get prime membership benefits on Amazon shopping services. You can avail next day delivery for no extra charges. Prime members also get 30 min early access to exclusive deal during the sales.
Amazon’s app layout is well designed. Although not as refined as Netflix, it is definitely better than Hotstar. In the carousel, Amazon showcases latest and exclusive content. Followed by the ‘Watch Next’ window, which takes you to the TV show you left watching for you to resume. Scrolling further down, reveals categories such as movies, series, Kids, and Family TV.
On the top right corner, a hamburger menu reveals Home, TV Shows, Movies, Watchlist, Downloads, and Settings. In the Settings tab, you can set the streaming and download quality. The presets include Best that uses 0.46 GB per hour, Better requires 0.26 GB per hour, Good spends 0.18 GB date every hour, while Data Saver mode takes the usage down to mere 0.12 GB for an hour.
In Playback mode, it takes a rather minimalistic approach with the Play/Pause and a 10sec Forward/Reverse option. If you happen to pull down your notification panel of your phone for some brightness setting or viewing messages, it pauses the playback automatically and plays again the instance you are back to the playback menu. It is good to see that app makers have paid attention to such small detail that elevates the user experienced.
Another cool feature is the integration of IMDB with X-Ray feature which provides information of the content being viewed, cast, scenes, and ratings. For example, it displays the information of the on-screen characters and actors which are dynamically updated.
Like the other two services, Amazon’s Prime Video offers an option to download content for offline viewings. It also has some nifty settings like Download on Wi-Fi only, Stream on Wi-Fi only, notify when Streaming on Mobile Data.
Which one to choose?
If you are someone who is hell-bent on English content and don’t mind relatively higher subscription charges, then look no further than Netflix. It also enables you to watch simultaneously on a maximum of four different devices. It is available on most platforms including smart TVs.
Those looking for Indian content along with a few English-language media, Hotstar is the way to go. Another selling point is live sports and news broadcast. Do keep in mind though that Hotstar works only on one device per subscription. Maybe hence, its tagline ‘Go Solo’.
If you are looking for the most affordable service, Amazon Prime video has you covered. Plus, the extra-goodies in Amazon store provide you excellent value for money. There is no denying the fact that it is still not up to the mark in terms of content, but then it is a lot more than just video streaming service.