Which TV streaming service has the best original content? We scraped the data to find out

When Netflix first launched its streaming plan in 2007, it was little more than a novelty.

The company was still firmly in the shipping-DVDs-to-subscribers business, touting its new “streaming” option as a cutting-edge perk to a Netflix membership.

It would be another six years until Netflix produced its first original series, House of Cards. The show would go on to receive 33 Emmy nominations over six seasons, but it changed the landscape even more dramatically than that number illustrates.

In 2019, Netflix is still shipping DVDs and licensing content, but original shows and movies are clearly the future of streaming. Netflix is expected to spend $15 billion on content this year, with 85% going to originals

Even though licensed shows are by far the most popular titles on the service — according to Nielsen data, they made up 72% of viewing minutes in 2018 — Netflix is losing them at a dramatic rate.

As companies like Disney, NBC, and WarnerMedia (all launching over the next year) pull streaming comfort food like Friends and The Office for their own streaming services, Netflix will be forced to rely on its own original content to keep subscribers.

(Netflix’s primary competitors, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu are more insulated from this trend. Prime Video is one of many perks of an Amazon Prime membership, while Hulu is controlled by Disney.)

So that left us wondering: Which streaming service actually has the best original content?

How we evaluated original content on each streaming service

We started by focusing our list of contenders on the top four most popular streaming services, according to market research firm Parks Associates: Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu and HBO Now. After these four, there’s a significant dropoff to number five, Starz.

From there, we evaluated each streaming service on three criteria, giving equal weight to each one.

Audience ratings

First, we looked at how general audiences received each streaming service’s original shows and movies. To do this, we used both IMDb’s user ratings and Rotten Tomatoes’ audience score, which shows the percentage of all users who rated a title 3.5 or higher out of five. We collected both ratings for every piece of original content, with one caveat: We set a baseline requirement of 100 ratings to be included in our scores.

Critical reception

To gauge how critics viewed each service’s original content, we utilized Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer® score. The metric scores TV seasons and movies once at least five professional critics have weighed in. If an original title had enough critic reviews for a score, we included it.

Awards recognition

Finally, we considered how many Emmy, Oscar and Golden Globe nominations and wins each service has garnered since 2013, the first year a streaming service was nominated for a major award. (Netflix received four Emmy nominations for House of Cards that year and one for Arrested Development.)

However, we didn’t include every award in our count. Each event gets incredibly specific with their awards, and we didn’t want to give the same weight to “Outstanding Production Design For A Narrative Period Or Fantasy Program (One Hour Or More)” as “Outstanding Drama Series.”

Here is the full list of awards that we included in our count.

Why we didn’t factor volume into our score

Anyone who’s ever scrolled through Netflix for an hour without picking something to watch knows that more isn’t necessarily better. But it does matter to some degree.

For example, Netflix has nearly 1,200 original titles in its library, while Hulu has fewer than 60. The more original shows and movies a service has, the more likely it is you’ll find something you want to watch.

That said, our goal was to determine how good each service’s original content is, not how much it has. Netflix clearly has a throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach, and we didn’t want to reward it for its sheer volume.

What about shows that moved over to streaming services?

For shows like Arrested Development or Veronica Mars that started their initial run on cable or network TV and moved over to a streaming service later, we only used critic and user ratings from the seasons in which they were produced by the streaming service.

Here’s how each streaming service’s original content compares

Prime VideoHBO NowNetflixHulu
Overall Score5.
Number of Titles1645071,19757
Audience Score7.
Critics Score7.
Awards Score2.

HBO Now came out on top in our analysis by a significant margin. While it has about half as many original titles in its library as Netflix, they are of a markedly higher quality. It wasn’t entirely unexpected — HBO finds a way to dominate the TV conversation every year with shows like Game of Thrones and Big Little Lies — but its lead on the other streaming services was still stark.

HBO Now: Best original content

HBO Now has the second-highest audience ratings from IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, it’s the best-reviewed from critics and it’s also won the most awards, by far. It excelled in every metric we used.

HBO Now’s 507 original TV shows and movies earned an average rating of 7.3 from IMDb’s users and 75% approval from Rotten Tomatoes users, and it was a full 7% higher than second-place Hulu on its average Tomatometer® scores.

That success has translated to the major awards, too. Since 2013, HBO has gotten more Emmy nominations and wins than any streaming service, and it’s not particularly close.

Prime VideoHBO NowNetflixHulu
Emmy nominations (2013-19)3927014726
Emmy wins (2013-19)946175

While Netflix, Hulu and Prime Video have one or two awards hits each year, HBO dominates the Emmys consistently with shows like VeepLast Week Tonight and Game of Thrones. This year figures to be more of the same, as HBO racked up 46 nominations in the major categories, compared to 37 for Netflix, 18 for Prime Video and six for Hulu.

Netflix: Best original movies

Netflix ranked a distant second behind HBO Now in our metrics, but it does stand out in one particular area: original movies. When we took TV shows out of the equation, Netflix moved into first place with an overall score of 7.6.

Much of that is volume — Netflix still had a lower average score than HBO Now from audiences and critics alike on its original movies — but it’s the only streaming service to show up in a significant way at the Oscars.

In 2018, for example, Netflix received eight nominations in the major categories, and even took home the Best Director award for Roma. (HBO and Prime Video both received one nomination and zero wins in 2018.)

This looks to be Netflix’s game plan going forward. It’s the only streaming service investing significant money in original movies — 257 of HBO Now’s 338 movies are documentaries — and the only one attracting major names like Martin Scorsese, Will Smith and Sandra Bullock to its movies.

If anything, these metrics might underrate the quality of Netflix’s film library — because they don’t typically show them in theaters, most of Netflix’s original movies don’t qualify for Oscars.

Prime VideoHBO NowNetflixHulu
Overall Score66.47.65.2
Number of titles4233859610

Prime Video: Best original comedies

Prime Video was pretty mediocre by every metric we used, but it did stand out for its selection of scripted comedy shows. It’s not very large — 19 by our count — but it’s full of critical and audience favorites like FleabagCatastrophe and the Emmy-darling The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Here’s how Prime Video stacks up for comedy shows:

While Hulu does have a slightly higher critics average, they are generally more niche than Prime Video’s comedies. Prime Video has won four Emmys for its comedies over the past six years, including last year’s Outstanding Comedy Series for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

Prime VideoHBO NowNetflixHulu
Number of titles19478917
Rotten Tomatoes Audience85%82%82%84%
Rotten Tomatoes Critics84%82%80%86%

The bottom line

Each streaming service’s original content has its own strengths and weaknesses, but HBO Now is the clear leader right now. It ranks highest in awards collected, critical response and a close second in audience scores. While Netflix has closed the gap in recent years, it still doesn’t produce as many reliable hits as HBO.

The only service that graded out poorly across the board in our analysis was Hulu, and that’s not altogether surprising. Aside from The Handmaid’s Tale, it hasn’t made a major investment in original content. Instead, they’ve focused on licensed shows from network TV.

As Disney+, Apple TV+, HBO Max and NBCUniversal’s streaming service debut over the next year, we’ll continue to update our scorecard. Until then check out our Resource CenterFacebook and Twitter for all the latest streaming news.