After 2020’s streaming subscriptions boom, what’s next for the big players?

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With much of the world in lockdown, 2020 saw a huge boom in people signing up for video streaming services. Here, we round up the big winners, and how the stage is being set for the streaming subscriptions giants in 2021.

Who’s leading the streaming wars:
  • Netflix is still the dominant platform, with 195.2m subscribers. Its otherwise steady growth curve was accelerated by the pandemic this year, with them netting 26 million new paid subscribers in the first half of 2020 alone. For context, they added 28 million subscribers in total in 2019.
  • Amazon Prime follows with 150m subscribers, but this is a more complex one to evaluate given that many Prime subscribers sign up for the free delivery and preferential pricing, rather than the video content. Historically, only a third of Prime members are active Prime Video viewers.
  • Disney+ has been 2020’s outstanding performer. Despite only launching at the end of 2019, the streaming service has charged into third place with 86.8m subscribers. The ‘explosive’ growth has exceeded the company’s wildest expectations, putting them almost three years ahead of target.

(All figures as of Q4 2020 via Axios)

What now?

The biggest challenge for these platforms going into 2021 will be subscriber retention.

  • Disney+ is set to do very well for retention among families, because of its enormous back catalogue of child-friendly content. 
  • However, it will have to work harder to retain some subscribers, with fewer original, big-hitting ‘grown-up’ shows than Netflix and HBO. It is looking to raise prices in 2021, as well as launching in more territories.
  • Disney has announced plans to premiere new original content on Disney+ every week to maintain growth. This will include 50 new Marvel, Star Wars, Disney and Pixar series and movies, following the success of The Mandalorian. 

Prime position: 

  • Amazon may not quite be topping Netflix in terms of big-hitting series, but it is beating out the competition elsewhere in terms of engagement with its originals.
  • AT&T also beat its subscriber goals for its HBO and HBO Max services, reaching 38 million subscribers between them.

“Originals get people to subscribe. The library of content keeps people subscribed,” said A Media Operator’s Jacob Donnelly in an analysis of HBO Max’s direct-to-streaming release of Wonder Woman 1984 in December.

A crowded field

The competition for subscriptions isn’t about to slow any time soon.

  • NBC’s Peacock launched in mid-2020. Unlike many of the other streaming platforms, two-thirds of its movies and TV shows are free to watch, with originals and top-tier shows available to paying subscribers. It also has exclusive rights to The Office, which is expected to be a key subscriber driver after its release on the platform this month.
  • Discovery joined the streaming wars at the end of the year, debuting Discovery+, a new global entertainment streaming service for $4.99 a month.
  • Short-form video streaming platform Quibi both launched and closed in 2020. Despite spending nearly $2bn on creating a library of exclusive short content, nothing was compelling enough to convince users to continue paying for subscriptions past the free trial.
The end of cinemas?

Film releases are set to be a big area of controversy in 2021 as theatres and film companies battle the ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic and forced cinema closures. 

  • Disney’s release of live-action remake Mulan to Disney+ with a ‘premier access fee’ in the fall was seen as a test of the streaming giant’s appetite for direct-to-streaming releases.
  • AT&T has said it will make all 2021 Warner Bros. films available on HBO Max at the same time that the films debut in theatres. The move has angered theatre chains, who rely on exclusivity to sell tickets.
  • Warner Bros. claims the ‘hybrid model’ is temporary, but if dual releases prove a hit with consumers, they may well become part of a longer-term strategy for streaming companies.

Did you know? Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video are forecast to control half the world’s SVOD (Subscription Video On Demand) subscriptions by 2025.

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