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Humanizing Tech

Comparing Entertainment Streaming Services

Who wins: Apple, Amazon, Spotify, Netflix, HBO Go or all-in-one Playster?

I. Setting the Stage

This is the second half of a two-part review of Playster’s entertainment service. In Part I, we dug deep into Playster’s product and content offering across streaming movies, music, games, and books. We also noted the rarity of the free headphones and tablet that came with a full $25/month subscription.

In this Part II, we compare Playster to its competition — some that bundle many of the same services together, and some that only offer one standalone service, like music.

This won’t be a ticky-tacky feature by boring feature comparison of the various services. You can find plenty of that on the internet. And in reality it doesn’t help you make a decision.

Rather, what this analysis is about is walking the reader through the decision-making process by starting high-level, and then drilling in where it matters. Then figuring out the decision points, and making them. Finally we will whittle a list of 9 services down to a single critical question that you will need to answer for yourself.

It’s different, but we feel that’s where all the value is.

II. High-Level Competitive Assessment

The first thing we did to compare the services was, as you might have guessed, list out the first brands that came to mind for each of music, movies, games, and books.

For books, you might think Amazon, since they have such a long-standing history of selling books online. For movies, likely Netflix since they are closing in on nearly 100 million subscribers globally, or maybe HBO Now since we grew up with it. Music is a bit more competitive in the average consumer’s mind. Spotify, of course, and then there’s the newcomer Apple Music after its Beats acquistion. It wasn’t just for the headphones.

But gaming is more difficult. Which service do you subscribe to in order to play an unlimited amount of video games? There’s the Apple App store and Google Play store, but you still have to pay for individual apps. Steem is more about giving you the ability to play games on your computer, but doesn’t let you subscribe Netflix style. There’s Gamefly, which lets you subscribe to rent both movies and games, one or two physical disks at a time. And now NVIDIA is riding its AI GPU wave of success into the “Netflix of Gaming” business with its Shield set-top box product and a GEFORCE Now subscription. But your average, casual gamer has no clue this box even exists.

So how does our high-level comparison shake out for the services that have things bundled? Something like this:

Once you put it on a page, the first thing you notice is how few real competitors there are for a totally bundled solution across all entertainment for the casual consumer.

You’re really only looking at Google, Apple, Amazon, and Playster. The other big names just focus on one thing. Which is funny because, at least for movies and music, the technology is basically the same. You’re streaming bits across a CDN.

The real magic in each of these businesses, of course, is the rights deals. Without the rights to the high-value content, you won’t attract anyone to your service.

But before we get into that, let’s zoom in one layer deeper and understand how much this is going to cost me. Because if it’s too expensive, it’s a non-starter.

III. Price Comparison

Instead of comparing the monthly cost between services, we decided to level-set it across a year. This helps normalize the cost of the headphones and tablet that you get included in the Combo Box from Playster.

Note: Playster requires that you pay a full 12 months to get the hardware for free. You can’t just sign up for a month, get the headphones and tablet, then cancel. However, they do not require that you pay for all 12 months up-front. You only need to the $24.95 monthly fee. If you do cancel, they will charge you an early termination fee to offset the cost of the hardware that you didn’t end up paying for as part of the monthly fee. This seems more than fair and reasonable from our perspective.

We’ve used the same analysis chart from above, only this time we’ve filled it in with the details of what we believe a reasonable person would use on average per month. We then added it all up across a full year, ordering the most expensive service on the left and the cheapest on the right.

Because Playster is the only company to bundle a tablet and headphones, we had to take a best guess as to similar hardware a consumer might choose in the same price range and ecosystem. For example, we imagine an Amazon-loyal person might choose Amazon’s tablet, the Fire. Or, if you’re an all-Apple ecosystem person, you’d likely get the iPad mini 2, which is the cheapest tablet they offer. Google only had one tablet, the Pixel C, for sale so we went with that.

We did the same with headphones. You might be surprised to find out two very interesting things:

  1. Amazon makes “basic” products, including $15 on-ear headphones.
  2. Beats makes an entry-level on-ear headphone for only $99.

Wow, how about Google and Apple at the high end? They’re nearly an entire order of magnitude more expensive. How is an average citizen supposed to afford that, especially if it’s for your kids? It’s untenable. Two kids at about a grand each and you’re looking at $2,000 per year, which doesn’t even include the smart phone bill and cellular service or WiFi on top of it to stream all of this data.

Call Apple and Google Tier 1 priced services.

Playster, however, is much closer to Amazon, it seems. And now that we see them side-by-side like this, they seem to have similar sorts of brand aesthetics. The price is very close. It’s entertainment, but utilitarian in that it gets out of your way and doesn’t try to be overly playful or too buttoned-up. Get in, get your content, and get on with your day.

Call Amazon and Playster Tier 2 priced services.

That then leaves the more focused services, which we’ll call Tier 3. Funny enough, if you’re paying attention to the total cost, these Tier 3 priced services are nearly as expensive as the bundled approaches, which seems silly on the surface. If you created your own bundle of these across the different content types, you’re going to be paying 2x to 3x more than the Tier 2 bundle.

Looking just at price alone, it makes absolutely no sense to use a single service or the not-really-bundled services of Apple and Google. That leaves only Playster and Amazon as real contenders if price is your main consideration and you’re happy with an 80/20 rule of content. Sure, with those two you might miss a few songs or movies, but if it’s for your kids, maybe it doesn’t matter as much.

Next, we need to zoom in another level deeper of granularity to unpack why someone would subscribe to one of these services over the other, or subscribe to multiple services.

IV. All-In-One Versus Build Your Own Bundle

Now that we know our likely decision if it was based solely on price (Amazon or Playster), we need to consider the implications of what type of content you want. The majority of people watch movies and listen to music, likely more than playing games or reading books. So that’s where we’ll start.

Say you just wanted a movie subscription and a music subscription. You’d start with maybe Netflix and HBO Now, as they’re familiar, to get the most well-rounded content offering. Right there, you’re at $300 per year.

Add in a music streaming service. Spotify has about 40 million subscribers to Apple Music’s 20 million, but Apple is growing faster and has a much larger ecosystem and install base. In addition, Apple is getting into original video content and there have been various rumors about Apple making a large media acquisition to round out their Apple TV service. We’ve written previously about trying to value music streaming services, which is a good place to go from a financial valuation standpoint.

If you’re just joining the music streaming revolution, then it’s likely you’re only going to choose one provider. If you figure Spotify and Apple Music have a similar content library, then we suggest Apple’s version simply because they have the massive cash pile and global customer base to make more improvements, faster, in return for our $10 per month.

Adding up the movies, TV shows, and music streaming services, we’re looking at $420 per year so far. We still need books and gaming. If we’re choosing Apple for music, then maybe we look to their iPhone/iPad family for reading and gaming as well. That, of course, requires we pay individually for a book we want, a game or app we want.

This is the route I’ve personally taken. Buy individual movies from iTunes where new releases aren’t included in Netflix, HBO Now. I buy a book every so often, listen to music rarely (but still subscribe to Apple Music). I don’t buy games or apps, unless it’s work related. I also own an Apple TV.

So the approach I’ve taken is the build-your-own-bundle maneuver. Unfortunately, it’s cost me a pretty penny. An iPhone 7, a 13" MacBook Pro with TouchBar, an Apple TV, Netflix, Internet, and HBO Now means I’m paying thousands of dollars every year.

So, if you’re like me, you’ll probably design your own bundle. But I’m not a normal consumer. I’m a professional.

If you’re a normal consumer, or a family with kids who want to have a bit of their own independence, we recommend going the bundled approach. Amazon or Playster and then if you don’t find something you’re looking for, you can buy it on a one-off basis. Buy that hardcover book or DVD in physical form, or just purchase the digital version through one of the various app stores while enjoying the cheaper price.

And that really only leaves two options: Amazon & Playster.

V. Content Comparison & The Ultimate Question

Let’s begin with a refresh of Playster’s list of content partners. As you can see from the below, it’s pretty well rounded, especially for music, movies, and books.

Amazon says they have 2 million songs so the music side is likely a wash. They also describe their video service as “thousands of movies and TV shows” plus their own original content. Looking at the selection of titles featured on both of their movie homepages might be the best way to compare the content.

Here’s Playster (first) and Amazon (second) side-by-side:

You’ll notice a completely different title list. Amazon is showing off their most high-value content titles, of course, while Playster is showing off their algorithm for ranking and recommending titles. Neither tell you how big their library is. Amazon shows more of the blockbuster Hollywood titles from the past, but the library likely isn’t that consistent or deep with this.

Meanwhile, Playster is showing the real “average” titles that I would expect to find exactly in their service. So I like Playster’s transparency here. It’s hard to make a judgement for anyone in this regard because movies are so personal, much like music, so you’re going to have to judge for yourself. But I would think Amazon has a few high-end titles than Playster, but otherwise are pretty close to each other.

And the other aspect to understand is you can always just go to Apple TV and rent a movie you want for $3.99. so I wouldn’t get too caught up on individual titles.

The books, and games, to me are secondary to movies and music.

If you’re a voracious reader and it’s all you care about, Playster has a mountainous library of titles that should cover most of your needs. And again, you can always go one-off if need be. But the truth is, if you’re already reading that much, it’s highly likely you have an Amazon Kindle and have been plugging away for years. So maybe you’re looking for something to give you music and movies and here we find ourselves again. Amazon is likely to give you a larger books library due to their decades of selling books online.

For gaming, Amazon offers access to Twitch, but that’s not really gaming in the way you’re thinking about it. Twitch lets you watch other people play games. While Playster lets you play games. So Playster wins in this regard.

Our best recommendation is to browse and preview Playster’s service for yourself before ever signing up to see if it meets your content needs.

Finally, the thing that Amazon has on Playster when you subscribe to their Prime service is free shipping on eCommerce items, but they don’t give you a tablet nor a pair of headphones. And truth be told, we’ve chosen the most low-end hardware we could from Amazon to see how cheap we could get it.

The decision for you, then, ultimately comes down to one simple question:

Do you value a tablet and headphones more than free shipping from Amazon?

If so, then Playster is your only choice. If not, go with Amazon.

Sean

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Comparing Entertainment Streaming Services was originally published in Humanizing Tech on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.



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