Between HBO Max, Apple TV+, Disney+, and a yet-unnamed NBCUniversal streaming network, many of the entities set to battle in the great streaming wars to come don’t actually exist yet. This means all eyes are on teasers for forthcoming shows that have started to trickle out from the newer networks. Apple TV+, for example, recently unveiled the trailer for The Morning Show, its entrée into prestige television. In addition to a preview of the show—Jennifer Aniston is gonna do it her way, and Steve Carell and his TV had a disagreement, you see—the clip contains another long-awaited element of any streamer: the service’s animated logo along with a distinctive sound cue. Yes, at last, it’s Apple TV+’s brand identity!
Be it Amazon Prime or Netflix, most of the streamers have followed cable and premium TV’s tradition of airing these logos before or after their shows, the most iconic example being, of course, the HBO static logo, the visual-audio brand identity against which we judge all others. But which of the streaming networks has the best one? Which has sweet audio but lame viz? Which is the next HBO, and which is the next network so forgettable you can’t even call up its name? Below, I set out to rank the extant (Quibi, don’t leave us hanging forever!) streaming network animated logos by appealingness … until I realized how hard it was to describe all the sounds involved. So I called in golden-eared Slate podcast producer Pierre Bienaimé for some crucial assistance. Here they are, from worst to best.
8. CBS All Access
Pierre says: What starts off with the worrying sound of a leaking gas pipe culminates in a few stoic, descending notes. The skeleton of a major chord is here, though it’s not exactly spelled out. Either way, the brass is muscular (a good thing for brass to be) and accompanied by some plinking piano too.
I say: This logo is way too big for its britches. Who does this logo think it is, CBS back when there were only three networks? The lack of color and movement combined with the downbeat notes don’t portend anything good. The logo seems stodgy and overlong and does not make me want to watch any CBS All Access programming, which is convenient enough, because I wasn’t doing that even before I encountered this albatross.
7. Facebook Watch
I say: Yes, Facebook has shows. But as far as I can tell, Facebook Watch does not have a logo that airs before these shows. Nevertheless, having no logo at all is better than what CBS All Access came up with.
Pierre says: Use your imagination for this one. (It’s Disney!) In the visual here, Disney’s famous rainbow of light lands on the right side of the logo with the sound of a flipped switch. The “+” emerges, and so too does the sound of a rushing engine—the kind of hardware that often thrills us in the stuff of Disney, Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar (and OK, maybe less so in National Geographic), all of which fall under the Disney+ banner.
I say: I really don’t like the fwapping sound this one makes as Disney flashes the brands this streaming network is set to feature. What’s more, combining the logos of five different brands does not make for a great logo. Especially as compared with the magic castle that appears in the classic Walt Disney Pictures production logo that so many of us grew up with. This is about as un-magical as it gets.
Pierre says: A high whine culminates in an echoe-y snap. (That’s what you call reverb, folks.) YouTube’s logo tone also makes use of the wonders of stereo; the sound starts off heavier in the right ear before rushing toward the snap in the left, giving the whole thing a pleasant momentum.
I say: Why is the opening note so eerie? I like the flickering/light switch–y sound at the end.
But this one mainly gets points for simplicity and concision: Switching the regular red button and black-text-on-white YouTube branding for white text on red makes for a clean look.
4. Amazon Prime
Pierre says: Amazon Prime Video’s logo tone is over before you’re done thinking, “Wow, this is really pretty!” It sounds like a bunch of shiny space-age marbles falling into place, only for the whole Rube Goldberg machine to be tucked away behind a hasty falling of the curtain. Amazon, we know time is money, but mind easing off the fader a bit?
I say: All-caps text on a blue-gray background, with the Amazon arrow under it: It gets the job done. I think this one sounds a little too beep-beep-boop-boop at the end, but overall, it’s pleasant and harmless.
Pierre says: Hey Hulu, some company founded in 1968 called. It wants its logo tone back. Seriously, this thing is really similar to Intel’s sonic signature. And there’s a reason for that! They play with the same intervals. (That’s “distance in pitch” for you non–music nerds.) Hulu’s logo tone jumps up a fifth, then back down, then up a fourth. Intel’s does the same, but in reverse.
I say: I kind of liked this one until Pierre pointed out that it sounds like a tech commercial, and now I can’t unhear the echoes of the Intel jingle. That said, the green-on-black is on brand, the letter movement is playful and lively, and it’s nice to be primed for an entertainment experience with an all-black screen: It makes it feel like the movies right in your living room, which is the whole idea.
2. Apple TV+
Pierre says: Apple TV+’s logo tone sounds like it knows it’s the underdog in the race to deliver entertainment, chills, and thrills to America’s eyeballs. The warm hum of this low and high E (which are nearly the same notes as the lowest and highest strings on a guitar played openly) make the whole thing feel like a major chord, just like the Macintosh boot-up sound. And those are usually happy! But if ever we get a Jaws reboot (and we will), this sound would fit right into some of the uglier, red-watered scenes.
I say: Pierre sold me on this one. The sound is pretty subtle, almost imperceptible when you’re not looking at the screen. The text is minimal and incorporates Apple’s existing logo neatly. Understated is the overall vibe of this one: just a little tag at the end of a trailer starring all kinds of Hollywood heavy hitters. Apple knows what it has and doesn’t have to showboat.
Pierre says: Netflix’s logo tone starts off with two percussive thumps (one for “Netflix” and one for “chill,” perhaps), sounding out under a flickering hum—a dead giveaway that it’s probably some sound played in reverse!—that quickly fades out.
I say: Here is a logo that puts me in the mood to be entertained and/or sleep (but only when I’ve turned on Netflix to fall asleep). Ba-bum! It’s authoritative. It signals that some primo original content is on the way. But at the same time, the red Netflix N is so familiar that it returns me to a womblike state, ready to be sung to by Regina Spektor—Netflix N, are you my mother? The way the N dissolves into a spectrum of (pretty, rainbow) colors reads as a more modern take on HBO’s static. This logo may not have achieved HBO stature quite yet, but it’s getting there … or is at least famous enough to be parodied by Netflix itself: As the production credits for the streamer’s animated fantasy show The Dragon Prince start to flash by, a lizard walks on screen and mimics the logo tone, croaking “ba-bum.” If you can recognize it when an animated lizard says it, it must be pretty distinctive.