The Growth of Streaming Services in 2020

By John Springer  | 

The world shut down for much of the year and many of us stayed home, but 2020 wasn’t totally void of highlights. Notably, streaming services stepped up to keep us entertained. New players like HBO Max and Peacock arrived on the scene to challenge longstanding rivals—looking at you, Netflix—and even Hollywood joined in the fun. With theaters temporarily shuttered, movies premiered directly on streaming channels, a trend that proved so lucrative for those services that it’s projected to continue even after the pandemic ends. Here’s a look at how some streamers fared.

Netflix
The ever-popular viewing platform broke additional records by signing up 16 million new subscribers in the first quarter of 2020. As March lockdowns went into effect and homemade sourdough consumption skyrocketed, baking shows like Nailed It! and The Great British Bake Off enjoyed a nearly 50 percent viewership spike, compared to the previous month, according to Netflix’s 2020 “What We Watched” report. By April, searches for sad movies had risen almost 30 percent, matching the mood of many viewers. The May killing of George Floyd prompted Netflix to launch a Black Lives Matter collection featuring popular titles such as LA92, which saw a 1,300 percent viewership increase, and Dear White People, whose audience rose by 700 percent. Of course, no one can forget Netflix originals like Tiger King or The Queen’s Gambit, the latter of which set a new record as the streamer’s most-watched series, totaling 62 million viewers in the first 28 days.

Peacock
Marketers held their breath when NBCUniversal’s streaming service, Peacock, debuted in July. The Olympics had just been cancelled and a number of original series were experiencing pandemic-related delays, causing some to worry that the platform would crash before it flew. But Peacock proved resilient, thanks in part to its extensive library featuring over 20,000 hours of beloved TV shows and classic films that hit the comfort viewing sweet spot. Its free, ad-supported model likewise won the loyalty of fans experiencing subscription fatigue or Covid-related financial strain. (Peacock does also offer a $5 and $10 subscription tier with fewer ads.) That winning combination secured 26 million subscribers by the start of December, a number that’s expected to increase with the this month’s addition of The Office, followed by the long-awaited Tokyo Summer Olympic in July.

Disney Plus
It was a hit from the start. Disney Plus launched November 12, 2019, acquiring 10 million sign-ups on its first day. By early December of 2020, the family-friendly streamer has managed to grow that number to nearly 87 million subscribers, thanks to A-list brands like Marvel, Nat Geo and Pixar, among others. And they’ve already reached the 60-90 million viewership number projected by 2024. Programming promised for the next few years includes 10 more Star Wars films, 15 live-action Disney movies and 15 animated Pixar flicks. Top hits, like the film version of Hamilton, opted to debut on the streamer rather than waiting for a 2021 theatrical release date, further adding to the platform’s popularity. The Walt Disney Company’s two additional streaming services, Hulu and ESPN Plus, total 38.8 million and 11.5 million subscribers respectively. Between all three streamers, the corporation is expected to reach over 300 million members in the next four years.

Tubi
Consumers love Tubi because it’s free to download, compatible on over 25 different devices (from iOS to Android to its own website) and always free to use. Its advertising format most closely mimics television viewing, with ad breaks taken at regular 12 to 15-minute intervals. The Fox-owned streaming service currently offers over 20,000 movies and TV shows, and recently released a complete list of programming available as of January 1. Look for hits like Fight Club and Wayne’s World, along with family-friendly favorites including Bee Movie and Shrek the Third.

Pluto
Pluto TV launched in 2013, making it among the oldest streamers, and today it boasts a global audience of nearly 36 million monthly users. It’s beloved internationally, with members in 24 countries across Europe, Latin America and the US. On December 8, the Viacom-owned service launched in Brazil, delivering thousands of hours of Portuguese content. Stateside, the service scored points during the holiday season with Pluto TV Christmas that featured everything from classic movies to Hallmark originals to CBS cartoon specials.

A wide array of streaming services means customers have ample choice when it comes to content they want to savor or binge. These platforms proved especially essential during 2020 lockdowns. Now, consumers and marketers alike are looking to see what’s next from these and other innovators in 2021.

John Springer
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