When it comes down to Netflix Originals vs. Amazon Originals, which service is right for you? This comparison will help you make the call.
Setting the Scene
We’ll start with a quick recap of the two service’s origins and how their paths diverged. Then we’ll answer these questions to see how Amazon Originals and Netflix Originals stack up against each other:
- How focused is each company on original programming?
- How widely around the world can they distribute their content?
- How much content is there?
- What do the critics say?
- What kind of awards do they get?
Spoiler: Since you probably have both anyway, there’s no clear winner. However, your viewing tastes may incline you to watch one set of original content more than the other’s. My take is a completely subjective look at the shows I like from each service. I’ll leave it to you to set me straight in the comments.
Netflix launched its original programming with the premier of House of Cards in 2013. Over the next few years it steadily upped its game. By the end of this year, Netflix will have premiered more than one hundred new TV series and one-off specials.
Amazon actually launched more original shows in 2013 than Netflix with comedies like Betas and Alpha House as well as kids shows like Annedroids. However, budgets limited Amazon’s production schedules. By the end of this year, Amazon’s count of original premiers will be a tenth the size of Netflix’s.
Comparing Netflix Originals Versus Amazon Originals
Best focus: Netflix
Netflix has a clear advantage here since video is all it does. The company’s about page leaves little doubt that it sees itself as “the world’s leading internet entertainment service”. Its singular focus let it leap ahead in the streaming business – but that wasn’t the only factor that gave the company an edge. Netflix’s multibillion dollar budget may have helped it along just a bit, too.
For Amazon, on the other hand, video streaming is just one small corner of a vast empire. You have to drill down deep in the company’s about page to find even a mention of video – and you won’t find anything about original programming.
Having said that, once Amazon does focus on something it gets a lot of attention. Amazon doubled its budget for original programming in 2016 and increased it to more than $4 billion in 2017. That’s still less than Netflix’s $6 billion programming budget, but it’s still more than enough cash to fill the production pipeline.
Most extensive global reach: Tie
Both companies offer their service worldwide. Netflix is in 190 countries, while Amazon claims 200 “countries and territories.” China is the most notable exception for the two streamers – neither of them can penetrate the Great Firewall.
International expansion is a core part of each companies’ growth strategy. Amazon produced its first Indian Original, Inside Edge, this year. Netflix has also committed to producing more original content for local markets around the world.
Quantity winner: Netflix
Netflix’s head start gives it a much deeper and more varied catalog of original programming. In most categories of TV shows, Netflix enjoys a three-to-one or even five-to-one numerical superiority over Amazon.
Netflix’s stable of movies and documentaries is pushing close to one hundred as well. Amazon by comparison has only distributed a couple dozen films.
Critics’ opinions: Tie
The number and variety of shows Netflix churns out works against it from a critical point of view. Of course, Netflix produces shows based on what its subscribers want to see rather than what critics like. Fuller House only gets a 32% on the Tomatometer yet it won a People’s Choice Award.
Having said that, programs like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and GLOW are TV critics’ darlings.
Amazon’s critical wins are easier to see since they aren’t surrounded by programming for the unwashed masses. Transparent, Mozart in the Jungle, and The Man in the High Castle have all earned praise from the critics.
Both Netflix and Amazon have hit important award milestones over the years. Netflix was the first streaming service to win a Golden Globe when Robin Wright’s performance in House of Cards earned her a Best Actress award in 2013. Amazon was the first streaming service to win a Golden Globe Award for Best Series when Transparent won two years later.
Amazon also became the first streaming service to have a movie nominated for Best Picture at 2017’s Academy Awards (Manchester by the Sea lost out to La-La Land). Netflix’s online release policies make it ineligible for Academy Awards except in the documentary categories (it’s won twice).
Hulu beat both companies in 2017’s Emmy Awards where The Handmaid’s Tale took the Best Drama award – and most of the press coverage. Netflix still managed to rake in twenty awards – not surprising considering the ninety-one nominations it had going into the ceremony. Amazon, on the other hand, only converted two of its sixteen nominations into awards.
So Which One’s Best Overall?
There’s no clear answer to this one. Netflix has a lot of stuff in its catalog, but that means you have to wade through it or hope Netflix’s algorithm does a good job of surfacing it. Amazon’s limited catalog means its high-quality productions are easier to find. Of course, it also means you’ll clear through them in a few binge sessions.
In the end, most people committed to the cord-cutting way of life will probably want both services – Netflix because of its selection and Amazon Video because it comes with Prime anyway. Still, here are some reasons you might prefer Netflix Originals over Amazon Originals (or vice versa)
If you like superheroes…
For the next few years at least, Netflix will remain the go-to source for comic book titles. Its relationship with Disney let Netflix produce a number of original series within the Marvel Universe, bringing a more contemporary feel to the superhero genre.
Now that Disney plans to roll out its own streaming service, Netflix may need its own superhero franchise. The upcoming release of Will Smith’s Bright on Netflix may signal a future without Stan Lee.
If you like Brits talking about cars…
OK, there’s only one show that matters in this category: The Grand Tour. After the collapse of BBC-favorite Top Gear, Amazon reunited Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammon, and James May along with a big pile of cash to do what they did before… but bigger. Instead of being tied to a studio, The Grand Tour was shot on location in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and America.
If you like a laugh…
Netflix has made a huge investment in stand-up comedy releasing a new special on average every week. Nearly one third of its original programming consists of stand-up performances. Plenty of the shows feature marquee comedians like Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, Jo Koy, and Louis C.K. Naturally, that investment has triggered a backlash from purists. But if you don’t live near premium venues in LA or Vegas, what are the odds that you’d be able to see any of these performers? Netflix is now your destination.
If you like movies with indie cred…
Amazon has approached its movie deals more consistently than Netflix. The success of Manchester by the Sea is just the latest example. Spike Lee’s translation of Shakespeare to the south side of Chicago, Chi-Raq, was Amazon’s first acquisition in 2015.
Kate Winslet’s performance in last year’s The Dressmaker earned her a Best Actress award in the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards. And this year’s The Lost City of Z is well-positioned for the upcoming awards season.
What I Like is All That Matters… to Me
Here is a sampling of programs offered by Amazon and Netflix. There is no attempt at objectivity here. These are shows I have watched and liked. It is my opinion – you don’t have to watch them or like them. (But feel free to agree with me in the comments.)
Best Amazon Originals
The Man in the High Castle
Adapted from science fiction writer Philip K. Dick’s classic novel, The Man in the High Castle is set in a parallel world where Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan won the second world war. Its opening credits use Edelweiss as an off-key backing for a montage of the Nazi victory that stands in stark contrast to The Sound of Music’s chipper anti-Nazi message.
I appreciate the way The Man in the High Castle doesn’t resort to stereotypes. Most of the Japanese and German rulers and their American collaborators are not cardboard cutouts of pure evil. Neither is the American resistance populated by infallible paragons of virtue. The nuanced approach is a chilling reminder that, yes, this kind of thing could happen here.
Adapted from Michael Connelly’s crime novels, Bosch follows an LA police detective through season-long investigations. What I like about Bosch is the character-driven storytelling. Short on the shoot-first-ask-questions-later approach of shows like the Hawaii Five-O reboot, Bosch the TV show recreates the feel of Bosch the novel.
Mozart in the Jungle
Adapted from a classical music tell-all biography, Mozart in the Jungle follows a New York orchestra, its brilliant-but-erratic director and a young oboist looking for her shot along a meandering path towards… nowhere in particular. The main attraction here is the character interaction and the music. Classical music fans can also play spot-the-cameo as real-world musicians and directors appear in the episodes.
Best Netflix Originals
I was a little surprised when I sat down to write this and realized how few of the Netflix Originals I was interested in. Even from the beginning, Marco Polo and Hemlock Grove left me cold. I enjoyed the first season of Orange is the New Black, but didn’t watch the following seasons. I even skipped House of Cards having seen the (great) original British version.
Marvel Cinematic Universe
The trio of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage changed my opinion of Netflix Originals. The movies from the Marvel Universe are getting more and more complicated as its creators interweave story lines. Netflix’s take on superheroes simplifies things dramatically while showing us that life as a superhero is darker, grittier, and more brutal than the CG-filled big screen blockbusters would have you believe.
Unfortunately, Netflix’s Iron Fist introduced yet another pretty-boy-rich-kid-with-daddy-issues-turned-vigilante cliche (call it Arrow-lite) and then crossed the streams with its uneven production of The Defenders.
A basement D&D session? Check. References to 80s pop culture? Check. Winona Ryder freaking out with Christmas lights? Check and check. Netflix’s supernatural tale of parallel universes, government conspiracies, and the kids who’ll set things right earned praise from critics and viewers alike.
That momentum did not carry over to the awards season. Despite receiving nomination after nomination, the few awards given to Stranger Things were in categories like sound editing and title design.
I attribute this travesty to Stranger Things being set in fly-over country in stead of Los Angeles. Academy voters will give awards to anything in LA (*cough* La-La Land).
What do you think? Am I off base? Let me know it in the comments.