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Which Streaming Service Has the Best Original Content?

By Daniel B. Kline - Jan 24, 2016 at 9:26AM

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The answer isn't what you think it is, but results should be taken with a grain of salt.

Some of the best content produced for television is not actually created by broadcast networks or cable channels. Instead it's coming from the top streaming services: Netflix (NFLX 2.72%), (AMZN 2.07%), Hulu, and the hybrid premium cable/stand-alone streamers Time Warner's (TWX) HBO and CBS's (PARA 1.51%) Showtime.

These services have grown their audience largely by delivering top-tier content, specifically original shows that rival or exceed anything on broadcast or cable when it comes to quality. But, while Netflix may very well receive the most headlines and hype for its originals, but according to research done by, it does not have the best slate of original shows among all the streaming services.

That's not to say that the streaming leader does not offer lots of quality originals, it's just that according to the research which used ratings from Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, it's not the top service for original content, at least according to one metric. Cut Cable Today explained its methodology on its site:

If a show had multiple seasons, Metacritic broke it into separate ratings. We averaged all seasons for an overall score. We then averaged all of the shows for that channel or service to get an overall score. If a rating wasn't available from one of the sites, we would take the rating or average rating from just the one available sites.

It's a scientific survey based on a very unscientific idea. Opinions about shows, of course, vary greatly. If you love Jessica Jones and Orange is the New Black then Netflix may well be the best streaming service offering the most originals you enjoy, but when the above criteria was applied, it did not take top honors.

Jessica Jones is a top original from Netflix. Source: Netflix

Which service ranked first?
The only fly in the ointment here is that many Hulu originals did not show up on Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes. Because of that, the service, which has been expanding it lineup of originals, is not included in the survey. That, however, is a minor glitch because it's hard to see where any numbers would show Hulu as superior to Netflix, HBO, or Prime when it comes to originals.

Cut Cable Today's survey examined the top streaming services/pay cable products as well as well-regarded cable networks AMC, USA, and FX. And, when it came to average rating for its original series, HBO topped the chart with Showtime, and FX both finishing ahead of Netflix, which came in fourth.

The survey looked at all originals produced by each station since 2000, even if they are no longer on the air. That makes the HBO win even more impressive because it has a much longer history of producing its own programs whereas Netflix has only being doing it on its own since 2013.

On the study's hundred point scale HBO scored an 82.3, Showtime scored, 75.1, FX had a 74, and Netflix took fourth with 73.6. Amazon, which has struggled with many of its originals, came in sixth at 71.8.

It's not all bad for Netflix
While the streaming leader came in fourth it did have a number of the highest rated shows, including Masters of None, which was the top-ranked show scoring a 96. That beat Amazon's well-regarded Transparent (94), and HBO's Game of Throne's (92), The Wire (94), and even The Sopranos (95).

Where Netflix was hurt is that its lowest-rated shows dragged down its average. Both Marco Polo (36) and Between (34) scored well below HBO's lowest-rated show The Leftovers (66). Those two programs essentially dragged Netflix's average down, and without them, the streamer would have scored a 79.5 good enough for second behind HBO.

"Netflix may have a few duds in the rotation, but by and large, they have a higher batting average when it comes to delivering well-received shows than any other content producer on the planet," wrote BGR's Yoni Heisler in a piece about its 2016 content spend.

With a grain of salt
While Netflix only came in fourth for overall original content, you can see above that the survey is not entirely a complete picture. In some ways it comes down to how much content you watch and if you would be discerning enough to screen out an obvious clunker (or a show designed for a niche you are not part of).

When it comes to originals HBO, FX and Showtime have a longer history where they have managed to churn out consistent winners. It's also worth noting that the rankings only includes shows which are rated by the Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes so HBO duds like John from Cincinnati are not included.

The study also did not include movies, comedy specials, or documentaries -- all areas where Netflix and HBO shine.

Based on all of this, it's very clear that there are no losers among the top-tier providers. Netflix, HBO, Showtime, and FX all offer a lot of high-quality originals. Netflix, aside from two shows critics appeared to hate, scores well alongside HBO, and it's hard to see where on a raw data level either would not be appealing to consumers.

We're living in a golden age of TV led by HBO, Netflix, Showtime, FX, and even Amazon. Netflix may not average out as the best, but it comes off fairly well when you dig into the numbers and the entire top five in this study has a strong enough track record to make any originals they release worth considering.

Daniel Kline has no position in any stocks mentioned. He is really into Jessica Jones at the moment. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends and Netflix. The Motley Fool recommends Time Warner. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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