Analysis: Netflix Trails Hulu, Amazon, and Several Cable Networks in Quality of Original Shows

“Quality and quantity are not mutually exclusive.” — Cindy Holland, Netflix’s Vice President of Original Series

When it comes to producing the best original shows, Netflix is slipping and Hulu is making a run for the top, despite the former spending more than five times as much this year on content.

Why is that? Hulu’s CEO says it’s about quality, not quantity.

And he might be right.

Netflix is expected to spend $13 billion in 2018 on its content budget — both original and syndicated programming. According to Forbes, that’s more than any Hollywood studio will spend on a slate of movies this year. With that money, the streamer will produce or acquire 700 new or exclusively licensed television shows.

Hulu, on the other hand, is reportedly only spending $2.5 billion and making up to 25 shows.

“I think money is a relative term,” Hulu CEO Randy Freer told CNBC earlier this year. “I think it’s how you spend that is really important.”

In other words, Hulu’s strategy is that quality is more important than quantity. (Side note: You hear that, HBO? If you want to keep your place as the home of the best original series [SPOILER ALERT], stop this talk about trying to become like Netflix.)

For their part, Netflix believes they’re achieving both quality and quantity with their programming lineup. Cindy Holland, Netflix’s Vice President of Original Series, told TV critics recently, “Quality and quantity are not mutually exclusive. We are maintaining quality as we grow by hiring brilliant talent.”

Unfortunately, this seems to be wishful thinking on the part of Netflix.

Using a specific methodology (explained below), we analyzed the quality of original TV shows from the top streaming services and pay TV networks, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO, Showtime, Starz, FX, and USA Network. The results speak for themselves — Netflix is toward the rear of the pack when it comes to pure quality of its original series, seemingly suffering from its focus on churning out as many shows as it can.


Our Methodology

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: the quality of TV shows is subjective by nature. One person’s favorite show could be another’s least favorite.

However, there are some entertainment sites that do a good job of gathering reviews from a curated group of respected critics and assigning scores to their reviews to come up with an overall rating for shows.

To determine who makes the best original programming, we’ve taken data from loyal critic sites Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. Metacritic tends to be more critical, while Rotten Tomatoes is a little bit more favorable. Both ratings are on a 1-100 scale.

Metacritic breaks down its ratings for shows by season, so we averaged all seasons for an overall score.

We then took the average scores for all shows by a particular channel or service to get its overall score. If a rating wasn’t available from one of the sites, we took the rating or average rating from just one of the available sites.

When I tackled this list a few years ago, Hulu had hardly any ratings. That changed this year, especially as the streamer gained popularity for its hit, “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

The list includes shows produced by each channel or provider. We went back into the 1990s, although many of those older shows didn’t have a rating available.


The Results

Here’s our list of the best original programming (out of 100):

Rankings (out of 100):

  1. HBO: 75
  2. Hulu: 74
  3. AMC: 74
  4. Amazon: 72
  5. Starz: 72
  6. FX: 72
  7. Netflix: 70
  8. Showtime: 68
  9. USA: 66

For comparison, here are results from 2016, the last time I ranked original programming:

  1. HBO: 82
  2. Showtime: 75
  3. FX: 74
  4. Netflix: 74 (73.6)
  5. AMC: 74
  6. Amazon: 72
  7. Starz: 72 (71.6)
  8. USA: 65

* Less than half of Hulu’s original shows at this time had ratings on Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes, so I kept them off the 2016 list.

Best and Worst Shows:

This year, we thought it would be fun to also highlight the all-time best- and worst-rated shows by each content provider:


You might be surprised to see The Larry Sanders Show as HBO’s top series of all time, but the show received an average of 95 and 100 from Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes respectively. During its original run in the 90s, some called it the best original sitcom in the history of cable TV, but this overall rating by the two services may be slightly skewed due to the show’s age and it not having as many reviews available. Both The Sopranos and The Wire received average scores of 94.


No surprise here that Hulu’s critically acclaimed The Handmaid’s Tale is their top-rated series.


Breaking Bad has held its place atop the list of the best AMC shows for years now, but its spinoff series Better Call Saul is nipping at its heels with a 91 rating of its own.


Amazon has earned its place as a great source for original series, like its top-rated show Transparent and others that include The Man in the High Castle.


A lot of people seem to sleep on Starz, but the premium cable channel has been putting out some excellent television over the years with shows like Survivor’s RemorseAsh vs Evil DeadAmerican Gods, and Counterpart. 


A few years ago, FX President John Landgraf said his network produced the best originals. The data didn’t quite support his assertion, but there’s no doubt that the channel has put out some quality shows, including AtlantaThe AmericansPeople vs OJ Simpson, and others.


Netflix has put out its fair share of hit shows, but its focus on cranking out as many series as it can has led to a number of duds and a low hit rate overall.


Showtime has a history of not letting its great shows end on a high note (we’re looking at you Dexter…and Weeds…and Shameless…and Nurse Jackie).


While USA Network might seem like a bit of a wildcard in this battle, the channel has been home to some notable series, including White CollarMr. Robot, and Suits (speaking of shows that overstay their welcome).

Notes and Highlights

• Right off the bat, you can’t ignore that Netflix is slipping in the rankings from a couple years ago. Their library of original content has also grown immensely during this timeframe. Shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black have dropped as they enter their sixth seasons.

• Master of None continues to be the highest-rated show on Netflix. When will a season 3 of Emmy-winning show land? Whenever Aziz Ansari is ready, according to Netflix officials.

• HBO — thanks to winners like The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Big Little Lies, and Boardwalk Empire — remains the top dog when it comes to original programming, but Hulu isn’t far behind. And if HBO is serious about wanting to become more like Netflix, they may soon lose their spot at the top.

• Hulu’s quality-over-quantity strategy is obviously working and can be compared to HBO’s approach. Investing in fewer shows, but making sure those shows are winners can add subscribers to that business. Of course, any original programming is a gamble and no one can be 100 percent sure if a particular show will resonate with a big audience.

So, now it’s time for your opinion. Who do you think puts out the best original series? Let us know by commenting below.