The streaming wars effectively kicked off in 2018 and intensified over the last two years as Covid-19 manifested and all of us hunkered down to watch TV. Now, this viewing space is more crowded than ever, with 10 OTT services (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, Hulu, HBO Max, ESPN Plus, Paramount Plus, Apple TV, Starz and Showtime) ranking as most popular among US subscribers—and additional platforms debuting every year. Here’s what you need to know about the current state of streaming, plus a peek at what’s to come.
Leaders of the Pack
The average American household has access to 4.4 streaming services, up from a total of four last year, and spends roughly $44 a month on those subscriptions, according to Ampere data. Among these options, Netflix indisputably dominates, boasting over 213 million global subscribers as of last year’s third quarter. That represents a nine percent year-over-year growth, thanks in part to breakout originals like Stranger Things, The Witcher, Bridgerton and Squid Game—despite weathering some controversy for Dave Chappelle’s The Closer standup comedy show, which was criticized for its transphobic content. The majority of new Netflix customers now hail from the Asia-Pacific and EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) regions as opposed to the US, which added only 88,000 new subscribers in the first nine months of 2021. By contrast, Asia recently contributed 4.6 million new Netflix members, in turn leading to an increased investment in foreign-produced shows. This year, the streaming giant is expected to spend over $17 billion on fresh content, a 25 percent increase from 2021 and over 57 percent more than the $10 billion dropped in 2020. What’s more, the company predicts it will break even and become free cash flow positive, marking a sweetly lucrative 2022.
Disney Plus comes in second as Netflix’s closest rival (not counting Amazon Prime, which includes shipping deals and shopping discounts as part of its subscription package). That’s an impressive accomplishment, considering the streamer only launched two years ago. As of November, the house of mouse totaled 118 million members, a feat due in part to its extensive range of Marvel, Star Wars and popular Pixar programming. And while numbers from the most recently reported quarter were slightly less than stellar—totaling only 2.1 million members, as opposed to the projected 10 million new sign-ups—Disney Plus has exciting 2022 content plans up its magical sleeve. Their investment in streaming is projected, by Morgan Stanley, to grow by as much as 40 percent. That could mean a total of $23 billion to be spent on movies and TV shows, with fresh programs including a remake of Pinocchio starring Tom Hanks, Obi-Wan Kenobi featuring Ewan McGregor and a new addition to the Cars franchise.
Devising New Strategies
Given the intense competition among streaming networks, platforms are concocting increasingly innovative strategies to differentiate themselves from the pack. Case in point: HBO Max, which started 2021 by accepting short-term pain for the sake of long-term gains. Executives potentially sacrificed box office revenues—and definitely earned the ire of certain directors—when they decided to simultaneously release all 17 films made by parent company Warner Bros. both in cinemas and on HBO Max. Titles included Suicide Squad, Godzilla vs. Kong, Dune and The Matrix Resurrections. The plan, internally named “Project Popcorn,” had a goal of boosting subscriber rates in an already saturated market—and it seemingly worked. HBO Max totaled 61 million global members at the start of last year, and now counts a number closer to 70 million. Their additional gamble included parting ways with Amazon Prime (which led to an initial loss of 1.8 million subscribers), so the platform could prioritize direct subscriptions rather than relying on a third party to do the work. “We think long term, we’ll have a healthier, more robust and ultimately, larger business if we earn those direct-to-consumer relationships ourselves,” said WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar. “You have to be willing to accept short-term impact in the best interests of the long term.” Critically acclaimed series like Succession plus the highly anticipated Sex and the City spinoff And Just Like That, along with upcoming 2022 movie titles including The Batman, The Flash and Black Adam have execs hopeful that those figures will continue to rise.
Meanwhile, Peacock’s plan is to push for a wider global audience. Comcast’s 18-month-old platform counted 54 million users at the end of July, a milestone aided in part by their exclusive streaming-only coverage of the Tokyo Olympics. Sports offerings like Sunday Night Football helped strengthen Peacock’s position, while their recently signed six-year deal with UK’s Premier League should appeal to fans who can now livestream soccer matches. Peacock partnered with Sky media group to go live in Europe last October, and this February they’ll also air the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games.
There are currently over 200 streaming services around the world, according to Flixed (a company that tracks streaming data), with still more being released. ABC will launch a platform for Good Morning America-related content, following the success of a program called Final Hours: America’s Longest War that contained news footage collected in Afghanistan, which premiered on Hulu. Before Christmas, NBC News advertised its nascent NBC News Now streaming outlet in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, while CNN may soon embark on a marketing campaign for its upcoming CNN Plus platform. “The reason everyone is pushing into streaming is that’s where the eyeballs are moving towards,” said Noah Oppenheim, president of NBC News.
Meanwhile, other companies are expected to consolidate, including Warner Bros and Discovery via their expected $43 billion merger that would result in the Discovery-WarnerMedia group. Likewise, Paramount Plus and Showtime may become a single app this year. With new movies and shows being added to content libraries every month, it’s clear the streaming wars won’t be dying down anytime soon—which spells good news for both consumers and marketers.