- Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and Hulu are streaming favorites as Americans subscribe to more services amid COVID-19
- If you build it, we will binge
- Will Americans stick with subscriptions?
- The definitive ranking of streaming services as we head into 2021
- 1. Netflix
- 2. Disney Plus
- 3. Hulu
- 5. Peacock
- 6. Apple TV Plus
- 7. HBO Max
- Streaming services by the numbers
- HBO Max
- Amazon Prime Video
- Apple TV+
Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and Hulu are streaming favorites as Americans subscribe to more services amid COVID-19
USA TODAY’s Brian Truitt looks back on his 10 best films of 2020. Some weren’t released until December because of the pandemic's effect on Hollywood. USA TODAY
We used to complain there were too many streaming services battling for our money. Now we can't binge enough.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed our entertainment behaviors. Instead of going to a movie, concert or sports event, we're more ly to stream something at home. As a result, nearly all Americans subscribe to a streaming service, most of us paying for perhaps five or more.
The appetite for streaming has grown globally. Worldwide viewing time grew 44% in the last three months of 2020, compared with the same period a year ago, according to Conviva, a Foster City, California, research firm that tracks more than 500 million unique viewers and 180 billion streams annually on more than 3.3 billion applications.
“It will ly be remembered a pivotal year for streaming,” according to Conviva's Q4 2020 State of Streaming report. “The industry delivered with flourishing new services, astronomical peaks of growth, blockbusters released direct to streaming, and the rising profile of social media platforms.”
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HBO parent AT&T made a splash by making “Wonder Woman 1984” available free to view on HBO Max the same date (Dec. 25, 2020) it landed in theaters and announced similar plans for all of its 2021 films. Similarly, Disney made “Soul” available on Disney+ on Christmas Day.
Behind those two, the new movie with the third-biggest opening weekend of streaming from October-December 2020, according to streaming guide Reelgood, was “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” which was available for Amazon Prime subscribers in October.
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If you build it, we will binge
Similar trends are borne out in other surveys and research.
Consumers who subscribe to a paid streaming service pay for an average of five subscriptions, up from three before the pandemic, consulting firm Deloitte found in its Digital Media Trends survey of 1,100 US consumers, released last month.
Hub Entertainment Research's survey of 1,907 U.S. consumers found the number of streaming sources used rose more than 50% to about five services in 2020 from three in 2018. That includes free, ad-supported video services, a growing segment in the streaming ecosystem.
The most used streaming services, according to a survey of 1,000 consumers by HighSpeedInternet.com, an internet service provider comparison site:
Netflix at 80%, followed by Amazon Prime (67%), Hulu (57%), Disney+ (52%), HBO Max (35%) and Peacock (22%).
If you subscribe to the top five streaming services, you pay about $57 monthly.
“Biggie: I Got A Story To Tell” debuts on Netflix on March 1, 2021. (Photo: Netflix)
Numbers from the streaming services: Netflix has more than 200 million subscribers globally, 74 million in the USA and Canada; Amazon Prime has more than 150 million worldwide; Disney+, 94.9 million; Hulu, 35.4 million (an additional 4 million subscribe to Hulu's live TV service); HBO Max, 37.7 million; and Peacock, 33 million in the USA.
Nearly all (86%) of online video subscribers say they anticipate keeping or increasing their number of subscriptions in 2021.
More than one-third (36%) in the survey of 1,088 online subscribers say they subscribed to services after the onset of the pandemic that they would not have otherwise, according to a State of the Industry report, released Tuesday by Brightback, a San Francisco-based customer retention company.
More than 80% of consumers would be more ly to pay for or try a subscription service if they could pause or cancel that service online, the survey found. The gold standard? Netflix, which was rated to have a streaming cancellation experience more than two times better than Amazon.
Streaming accounts for 25% of time spent watching TV, according to Nielsen. Streaming amounted to 142.5 minutes on average per week in the second quarter of 2020, up from 81.7 minutes a year ago. “What’s more is that streaming has also taken hold among consumers 55 and older, often a technological sign of ubiquity and resolve,” the research firm said in a report from August.
Will Americans stick with subscriptions?
Subscribing has become a trend in itself, the Brightback survey suggests. Nearly 40% subscribe to other services, including online news, food, fitness or curated box services.
Streaming media subscriptions may be ubiquitous – Brightback's survey found that 98% of respondents have a streaming subscription – but “we're seeing new categories grow quickly,” says Brightback CEO Guy Marion. That includes food (31% of respondents subscribed to a service), fitness (34%) and retail/boxes (37%).
These services “are filling the gaps left behind by closed restaurants, gyms and shopping malls in the U.S.,” he says. “And even as the world opens back up, consumers are saying they plan to hold on to their newfound subscriptions.” He says 86% surveyed plan to keep subscriptions or add more.
Consumers to know they can cancel or pause a service, Marion says. About one-third (32%) of those surveyed by Brightback say they changed their minds about canceling a service in the past year after being offered an incentive to stay. The top three examples were discounts (49%), account credits (28%) and pausing their plan (26%).
This could be good news for subscribers. “We see many creative ways that subscription merchants are testing different types of discounts, credits, pauses and more to further incentivize subscribers to stay,” Marion says.
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The definitive ranking of streaming services as we head into 2021
The streaming wars reached new levels of competitive zeal in 2020 with the arrival of yet more services—most notably, HBO Max and Peacock—thus ratcheting up the need for players to prove their distinctiveness to customers overwhelmed by a dizzying array of choices.
Over the course of the year came surprise hits in the form of an eccentric tiger trainer, an enigmatic chess champion, and an irrepressibly upbeat (yet totally unskilled) soccer coach, and surprise showings of meant-for-theaters movies such as Hamilton and the Borat sequel.
Indeed, viewers greatly benefited from Hollywood’s increasing need to rely on streamers to launch movies (see item 7) in the midst of COVID-19, as theaters closed down around the world, a trend that will ly continue even once the pandemic passes.
Having arrived at the tail end of all the jostling, here’s how the streaming services rank as we go into 2021:
Netflix continues to be the bonkers, rich uncle who shows up for dinner in extravagant clothes that don’t necessarily match, with wild tales of traveling the world and lavish gifts spilling his pockets. He may make you roll your eyes, but there’s no way you’re not inviting him over.
The ever-dominant streamer became even more so in 2020 thanks to the pandemic and a global audience with huge gobs of time on its hands to Netflix and chill. This spike in consumption led to a record-breaking 16 million new subscribers in the first quarter, though the growth slowed down later in the year.
Nevertheless, the company has racked up 195 million subscribers total, still the industry leader by a mile.
Its throw-everything-at-the-wall approach to content is showing cracks: heralded films Glen Keane’s animated feature Over the Moon came and went, as so many titles do, and the rich deals that Netflix made with showrunners Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes have yet to pay off.
Murphy’s offerings this year (Hollywood, The Politician) were duds, and it’s taken Rhimes three years to launch her first executive produced (not created) show, Bridgerton, which came out on Christmas. But proving that it still has the ability to draw aces, shows Tiger King and The Queens Gambit came seemingly nowhere and dominated water-cooler chatter for weeks of the year. And as movie theaters shut down due to the pandemic, films Extraction and The Old Guard filled the void.
2. Disney Plus
In 2020 only one streamer proved it’s any match for Netflix—and that’s Disney Plus. Its laser-focus approach to branding and cultivating its stable of A-list, family-friendly brands—Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, Nat Geo, etc.—helped the service reach 87 million subscriptions in just 13 months.
The Star Wars offshoot The Mandalorian, the flagship series when Disney Plus launched, proved that a show without any big-name talent and a relatively modest production budget can still win over fans and have them hooked over the year that the show unspooled.
Granted, it took Disney Plus eight months to pull out its next big hit, the filmed version of Hamilton, which Disney decided to stream rather than release in theaters in 2021, and which became the film event of the summer. But it rounded out the year with Pixar’s first streaming feature, Soul, and the promise of a fusillade of content in 2021 in beyond.
Of the 105 new titles being spun off or given a prequel from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars,and old Disney titles Three Men and a Baby and Turner and Hooch, 80% of them will debut on Disney Plus.
Already firmly situated in the streaming ecosystem with a familiar brand and solid library of new and existing content—including buzzy series A Handmaid’s Tale and Little Fires Everywhere—Hulu has only become more fortified thanks to Disney ownership.
In 2020, it became the streaming destination for content from FX, which launched A Teacher on the service, and which is gearing up to produce 30 new, original titles a year. Fox Searchlight titles will start arriving on the platform in 2022.
(Essentially, Hulu will soon be Disney’s streaming channel for grown-up fare in the United States.
) Hulu’s combination of a deep catalog of comfort viewing, live TV, along with new surprises, such as the Andy Samberg film Palm Springs— which Hulu said generated more hours watched over its first three days in July than any other film on the service during the period—makes Hulu a must-have tile on any TV screen. In 2020, the service grew to 36 million subscriptions.
As the ultimate free, video add-on for Amazon Prime members, the streamer has easily scaled its subscriber base to an estimated 150 million.
Amazon has yet to clearly define its original programming strategy, moving the arthouse lane that initially defined it and into broader turf with this year’s thriller anthology series Welcome to the Blumhouse and the release of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, whose savvy marketing and timeliness (it was released days before the election) turned it into a buzzy cultural event—the streaming world’s equivalent of a blockbuster opening weekend. Amazon also generated noise with the dark, superhero series The Boys and garnered critical acclaim for Steve McQueen’s series Small Axe. The company certainly has the resources to surpass Netflix, but in order to do so will need to turn up its content spigot and invest more consistently in big-name attractions. Upcoming titles Coming to America 2, which it bought from Paramount, will help.
A late entry in the streaming wars, NBCU’s free, ad-supported service (there are premium tiers with no ads) went up against early headwinds when it launched in July.
The Olympics had been cancelled due to COVID-19, stripping the platform of a juggernaut marketing vehicle, and a number of its planned original series were delayed because of the pandemic.
But thanks to its enormous library—20,000-plus hours—of familiar network TV shows and movies coming at a time when audiences craved comfort, Peacock took off quickly and scaled to 26 million subscribers by early December. (It’s unclear how many of them are paying subscribers.
) An ongoing hurdle is that it is still not available on Amazon Fire TV, but it will gain more steam in 2021 with the arrival of The Office and extra content around the show in January. Its “Live Channels” feature, whereby content streams live, with no ability to fast-forward or scroll back—the way traditional TV works—is now being copied by Netflix.
6. Apple TV Plus
AppleTV Plus launched with a bang in late 2019 with a slate of gleaming, A-list original programs from the s of Jennifer Aniston and Jason Momoa.
The bang turned into more of a pop when most of its early releases failed to resonate—though series The Morning Show grew into themselves and drummed up Emmy nominations (and one win).
In the new year, the streamer gained momentum, launching left-field surprises, such as the addictively delightful Ted Lasso and the Israeli thriller Tehran.
The company also defined its feature-film strategy over the summer, when it bought the Tom Hanks film Greyhound from Sony and turned it into a event movie on the service. Apple wouldn’t divulge numbers, but it was the streamer’s biggest opening weekend and was reportedly commensurate with a summer theatrical box-office hit.
The streamer’s affordable pricing—$5.99 a month—and deep pockets mean that it’s poised to catch up to Netflix, and so far has a reported 35 million subscribers. Furthermore, its taste in prestige programming, penchant for talent relationships (it launched a Bruce Springsteen documentary), and partnerships with sterling brands A24 mean that it could easily fill the void that HBO is leaving as HBO Max morphs into an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink collection of movies and TV shows.
7. HBO Max
HBO Max got off to a rough start with confusing marketing—no one could figure out the difference between HBO, HBO Now, and HBO Max—and a challenging price point of $14.99 a month. It also lacked key distribution partnership with the s of Amazon and Roku.
But towards the end of the year (better late than never), WarnerMedia made bold—and highly controversial—moves to goose its growth (and the stock of AT&T, which owns WarnerMedia).
The $200 million Wonder Woman 1984 was moved to the platform, where it launched on Christmas Day; it was also released in theaters. More dramatically, WarnerMedia moved all 17 of Warner Bros.
2021 movies onto HBO Max, where they will get the same hybrid, streaming-theatrical release, including big-budget titles Dune and Matrix 4. The move prompted a new deal with Roku, just a month after one had been reached with Amazon.
Even without corporate maneuvering, HBO Max was starting to find its footing with shows The Flight Attendant and The Undoing, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant. As a result, in the last three months of the year, the streamer added four million new users, growing its activations to 12.6 million.
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Streaming services by the numbers
The choices for streaming services are increasing and with that will come household by household decisions regarding what subscriptions to get.
How consumers make that choice will depend on several factors, including a general taste in TV and movies, subscription costs, original content.
But cost might be the biggest factor.
Three-quarters of U.S. consumers don’t want to pay more than $30 a month for streaming services, according to a survey released by ad buyer resource, The Trade Desk, earlier this year. Moreover, 59 percent of consumers said they don’t want to pay more than $20 a month.
And the field is already crowded.
More than half of U.S. households are subscribed to Netflix while more than a third are subscribed to Amazon Prime and more than a quarter are subscribed to Hulu, according to the survey. With these three companies having such a stronghold on the market, it may be difficult to get consumers to shell out more cash.
Here's what streaming services look by the numbers:
Netflix, known for its easy-to-use platform and variety of original and licensed material, reported 183 million subscribers at the end of March.
The streaming service gained 15.7 million paid subscribers in the first quarter of 2020, according to its earnings report.
Netflix offers thousands of TV shows and movies, but the exact number changes by day and country since the company is constantly adding and discontinuing material. The platform spent $15 billion on original content alone in 2019 and is expected to spend $17 billion in 2020, according to Fortune magazine.
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The service offers three payment plans: Basic for $8.99 a month, which offers content on that can be played on one screen in standard-definition; Standard for $12.99 a month, which offers content that can be played on on two with high-definition available; and Premium for $15.99 a month, which offers content that can be played on four screens with HD and “ultra” HD available.
Netflix also offers a month-long free trial for eligible customers.
The platform offers “instant access” to content in 190 countries.
Disney+ surpassed 50 million global subscribers within the first five months of its launch in November, executives announced earlier this month.
The service made all Disney shows and movies, which were previously available to stream on other services, exclusive to Disney+. The platform also includes content from its Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and National Geographic franchises.
Disney+ will offer 7,500 TV episodes and 500 movies in its first year. Disney told Wall Street it expects to spend a streaming-service record of $1 billion on original content in 2020, according to Variety magazine.
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The service costs $6.99 a month or $69.99 a year and offers a seven-day free trial. Disney+ is also offering a bundle that includes a Disney+ subscription and Hulu and ESPN+ for $12.99/month.
The platform is currently available in 12 countries.
Hulu has reached more than 30 million paid subscribers, due in part to its partnership with Disney+. That is up from 22.8 million in December 2018, according to Variety.
The service's low-cost plan comes at $5.99/month, but users agree to watch ads during and in between TV episodes and movies with the subscription. A Hulu subscription without ads costs $11.99 a month.
The platform also offers a plan called Hulu + Live TV, which costs $54.99/month and offers primetime TV shows, news and sporting events from more than 60 channels in real-time, plus everything in Hulu's library, additional on-demand content. This plan includes ads.
Hulu offers the same Hulu + Live TV plan without ads for $60.99 amonth.
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The service offers a combination of licensed content and originals. Its annual content budget is about $2.5 billion, but that amount is expected to increase, according to the Observer.
Hulu is only available in the United States, U.S. territories and U.S. military bases, but Hulu + Live TV is only available in the states.
HBO offers seven 24-hour networks, but its streaming services are known as HBO Now, HBO Go and HBO Max (the latter two of which offer the same thing, only HBO Go is available to cable subscribers, and HBO Now is a standalone streaming service).
HBO Max, Warner Media's official platform that will be available at the end of May offers HBO content, original programming and content from other networks.
HBO Now and HBO Max are both $14.99 a month, and HBO Go is included in a cable subscriber's payment plan. HBO Now subscribers will have access to HBO Max once it launches.
Users can preorder HBO Max to save $3 a month for the first year of subscription.
HBO Now has 8 million paid subscribers, according to Variety. HBO's website says all HBO channels have a combined 35 million subscribers in more than 50 countries. The service offers a combination of licensed and original content.
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HBO spends about $3.5 billion on annual content, the Observer reported. The final season of HBO original “Game of Thrones” cost an estimated $15 million.
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon Prime Video became immensely popular simply because so many people were already subscribed to Amazon Prime's online retail service when the streaming platform launched.
The online retail platform has more than 150 million subscribers who pay $119 a year or $12.99 month and have access to Prime Video.
Students can get discounts of about 50 percent on yearly and monthly subscriptions.
Amazon Prime Video offers thousands of TV shows and movies included with Prime on top of TV shows and movies than can be rented or purchased by even people who do not have Prime subscriptions. Amazon also offers original and licensed content.
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The company spent about $6 billion on content last year, and that is number expected to grow, according to the Observer.
Apple TV+, which launched in November 2019, offers original and licensed TV shows and movies.
The company offers the lowest monthly service subscription cost of any streaming platform at just $4.99 a month, and users do not have to watch ads while streaming.
Users can also sign up for a seven-day free trial.
Apple TV+ has spent about as much as Amazon Prime Video did last year at $6 billion, according to the Observer.
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The service, however, only has a total of 27 original TV shows and movies as of Friday, according to Apple news website 9to5Mac.com, but the outlet said to expect content to expand quickly.
Apple TV+ has surpassed Hulu's subscriber numbers with more than 33 million users, but the majority of those subscribers aren't paying for the service, which offered a free, year-long subscription for users who signed up immediately after its launch, according to Variety.
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