The Streaming Wars: Winners, losers and question marks 

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A person gets ready to relax and watch Netflix, a popular streaming service. Wisnefsky breaks down which streaming services are the most successful, which are failing and which ones we aren’t quite sure of yet. Photo courtesy of: unsplash.com

The entertainment business is a complicated one, with its ever changing business models and technologies. The goal is always to deliver the media content to the consumer, but the question is always how? 

The most popular answer as of recently is through over-the-top streaming services, where users have access to a media library of a size that could have never been imagined.  

The birth of this technology in the 21st century has led to “streaming wars” of sorts, where corporations are competing to attract customers to their own services. Some create their own content, a few gain most of their supply from licensing deals, while most do a bit of both. 

In this article, we will break down which streaming services are the most successful, which are failing and which ones we aren’t quite sure of yet. 

The Winners 

Netflix 

Unsurprisingly, the streaming service with the most worldwide subscriptions is Netflix, with just north of 220 million subscribers. This is a company that prides itself on the pure quantity of content that it provides. In 2019, Netflix produced 2769 hours of original content, which doesn’t include its prior productions or licensed content on its service.  

With a large, diverse library of series and movies, Netflix has created a worldwide brand for itself. They have fostered this growth by creating a number of original foreign language shows, to service their international audience. 

Ultimately, though the service has continued to raise prices, it still remains supreme in the world of streaming. Some prognosticators expect its growth to slow down eventually, with perhaps another undertaker taking them down soon, but that remains to be seen. Netflix, for now, is the King of Streaming. 

Amazon Prime Video 

What may be surprising to some is that Amazon Prime Video is the second most subscribed streaming service worldwide, with an estimated subscriber base of 175 million. However, this number should be taken with a grain of salt. 

Amazon Prime Video is a paid service, but it comes for free along with an Amazon Prime account. Because of Amazon’s large scale e-commerce network, Amazon Prime has been a valuable purchase for many frequent online shoppers. This begs the question, how many people are aware of their Prime Video subscription or are simply just Amazon shoppers? 

Amazon has not released much data on this, but it is interesting to consider if the service itself is heavily used by that subscriber base. The service still has significant potential for growth though, especially with the heavily anticipated “Lord of the Rings” series coming this fall. The show reportedly will cost $1 billion to produce, which is far and away the most expensive television show in history. Amazon has the cash to do so, but will the filmmakers produce a successful show? I guess we will see in the near future. 

The Disney Bundle 

Disney has a majority stake in three major streaming services: Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+. Disney+ leads the trio with nearly 130 million worldwide subscribers, Hulu follows with 45 million and ESPN+ closes out with just north of 21 million. Altogether the Disney Bundle as it is called, has an estimated 196 million subscribers. This number does not equal the sum of these as Disney does offer a bundle for all three of these, thus there are some duplicate subscribers in those individual data points. 

While Netflix succeeds in quantity, Disney+ invests in quality, investing in a number of high budget television and film projects every quarter. Whether it is the renowned Star Wars and Marvel franchises, or Pixar animated projects, Disney+’s original productions are expensive to make, but have received fantastic reception by critics and audiences. 

Disney is one of the biggest brands in entertainment and likely will be for the foreseeable future. 

The Question Marks 

HBO Max/Warner Bros Discovery? 

HBO Max launched just under two years ago but with the power of the HBO brand and several direct to streaming movie releases in 2021, the service has earned itself 73.8 million subscribers. 

With a strong underlying brand and well-received original content, HBO Max has put itself in prime position to compete with Netflix and Disney. However, this past year its parent company AT&T made the decision to sell off the media part of its company to merge with Discovery, creating a new company by the name of Warners Bros. Discovery. Now there are still a lot of moving parts with this deal, but the first question is what will happen to HBO Max? 

Discovery has a lot of valuable content on its own, with channels like HGTV, Food Network and Animal Planet in its portfolio, but how will that integrate to HBO Max? 

HBO Max has already done the leg work in building itself into a brand, but with this new merger it may be back at square one in that regard. 

Thus, though the service has been relatively successful in its short existence, this is a definite question mark. 

Paramount+ 

Paramount+, formerly known as CBS All-Access, is another conglomerate of sorts that exists due to ViacomCBS and Paramount’s recent merger. The service is still developing its name recognition but has already earned 32.8 million subscribers, most of which are holdovers from the prior titled service. 

Ultimately, it’s just too early to tell with Paramount+. The brand has only existed for around a year. It will take some time to tell whether or not Paramount+ is a successful service. 

Apple TV+ 

Apple TV+ has the worldwide brand and reach of Apple behind it, yet has only achieved a subscribership base of around 20 million users. It’s difficult to call it a failure, because of its relative low level of content and its major successes with shows such as “Ted Lasso”, but it’s difficult to call it success because of its small user base. 

In the end, Apple TV+ has almost all the money in the world, due to its parent company, and it is probably too early to tell whether it is a success or a failure. Apparently Apple is trying to invest in the live sports market, with a deal with the MLB already in the works and more deals coming down the line. That may be their route to success in the streaming marketplace. 

The Losers 

Peacock 

Peacock, NBCUniversal’s streaming service, has had a difficult start. Though most services operate at a loss, Peacock has struggled mightily, apparently having an adjusted loss in 2021 of $1.7 billion. 

It is difficult to quantify the number of subscribers for the service, as it does have an ad-supported free tier, but it has about  25 million active users, and around 10 million paid subscribers. 

Considering the wealth of quality content the service has, it is surprising to say the least that the subscribership base is so relatively low. 

I think that NBCUniversal is aware that Peacock needs revamping, both in branding and in the service itself, and I think that a few changes can help suppress its losses and begin developing into a premier streaming service. 

Quibi 

Alright, well this one no longer exists but if there’s any loser of the streaming wars, it’s Quibi. It had over $1.75 billion of venture capital from investors, and proceeded to burn itself out in just under 8 months of operation. It never garnered any sort of significant number of subscribers and ended up just liquidating its content in a sale to Roku for $100 million. 

Quibi was an interesting experiment that failed pretty spectacularly. 

Ultimately, the streaming wars are something that will continue for the foreseeable future. These are the standings right now but even they are subject to change in these next six months.  

One major development is that the NFL Sunday Ticket rights deal with DirectTV is expiring next year. This service offers live out-of-market NFL games to viewers around the country. Apparently, Amazon, Apple and Disney are bidders at the moment for these rights, but it would not surprise me in the slightest if other companies join the negotiations. Live sports is one of the highest viewed programs on TV, so whoever ends up purchasing the rights will earn a large number of subscribers. 

We are already deep into the streaming wars and this is a battle with no end in sight. 

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