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Who is Set to Win the Streaming Wars?


It’s official… there are now so many streaming services that if you had them all, you’d likely pay more than you pay for cable. 59% of all TV consumers use two or more of the top streaming services in lieu of cable. But that isn’t stopping every cable channel, network, and production company from throwing their hat into the ring to leverage their content to make bigger profits. The result is what’s been called the Streaming Wars. It’s like Star Wars only instead of relying on The Force, HBOMax is relying on Friends: The Reunion

Things sure have escalated since the days when Netflix was delivering DVDs by mail. In 2007, Netflix, known for their by-mail rental service, began streaming so customers could watch movies from their computers. 

Years later, there seems to be a rallying cry to try and topple the behemoth that is Netflix. Anyone with content is trying to get into the race. Whether they are offering an ad-free experience, exclusive content, or access to your favorite licensed properties, it can be hard to keep track of all of the new channels. 

The players

Netflix was the original content streamer. Concepts like binge-watching have changed the way we watch television with Netflix at the helm. Next to the space was Hulu which offered a chance to watch some of your favorite live television series on your schedule. Amazon Prime began offering content in addition to its two-day shipping benefits, allowing you to watch movies and some of their own original content. Each service had exclusive content and a unique draw. Soon they began to provide competition for network and cable channels with original series like Orange is the New Black, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and The Handmaid’s Tale all bringing critical acclaim and awards to their respective streaming services.

The first wave

With the wide-adoption of streaming services, many traditional cable channels and networks made their content available online, relying on ad-revenue. But soon it was clear that there was money in streaming, so they built streaming services around exclusive content or access to a backlog of desirable content. CBS All Access was the only place to watch the latest Star Trek series. DC Universe tried to capitalize on the fandom of DC comics films and series and included exclusive series Titans and Doom Patrol. Paramount even tried to create its own network, the Paramount Network. But there were growing pains. And then came Disney+.

Second wave: bigger players 

It was clear that oversaturation and relying on a few series was not enough to build one single streaming service. But then Disney+ entered the space, armed with the entire Disney catalog featuring decades of cartoons and animated films, along with the entire Star Wars collection and Marvel Cinematic Universe. It also was prepped with exclusive series like Wandavision and The Mandalorian. These series had a built-in audience. 

Apple TV similarly focused on creating content with a draw with series like The Morning Show, See, and Ted Lasso. Each series featured an A-list star. HBO Max’s offerings were a bit random, including all of the great content of HBO and Cinemax but had also the DC Universe, Turner Classic Movie’s streaming service, the Asian drama channel Crunchyroll, and became a hub for major box office releases during the Pandemic. ‘Home Box Office’ is right. 

RIP: Quibi

A few streaming services have dissolved, with their catalogs going to larger streamers. But Quibi was an obvious failure. Built around short form content, presumably leveraging the success of TikTok, and boasting A-list names and high production value content, it just never found its legs. 

The present state of affairs 

CBS All Access and the remains of the Paramount Network have become Paramount Plus. They boast the entire CBS and Viacom library (MTV and Nickelodeon properties) including new seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race and new seasons of The Real World and iCarly. NBCUniversal has also entered the race with Peacock, which includes a free and premium version. Peacock also created new versions of Saved by the Bell and Punky Brewster.

It can be hard to tell who exactly will win the streaming wars, as things shift so quickly. After all, HBOMax releasing box office blockbusters the day they open is a huge draw. And HBO had name recognition all on its own with series that drew people to upgrade their cable packages. Netflix is also holding steady, setting the benchmark with 200 million users worldwide. The Pandemic was a huge boon to the streaming service with content like Tiger King, The Queen’s Gambit, and  The Crown having major draws. 

Disney+ is also holding strong despite its infancy with major Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars themed series and a robust plan to release content across all its brands including less House of Mouse-friendly content under the FX and Hulu umbrella. Yep, that’s right, Disney owns Hulu. So that inevitable merger could cement their stronghold on streaming. Also, if you think about how their series can draw hardcore fans wanting more film fun at home, it’s a win. 

Vulture rated Netflix as top, followed by HBOMax and Disney+. It is highly likely that these will be the new top three, jockeying for control of the space and your free time. ReelGood’s rundown of streaming video on demand services showed some similar findings that the three were performing well. Amazon Prime was also holding its own with its robust addition of content. 

Only time will tell. But it does look like there is some potential for some of these smaller streamers to merge with the big three. And there’s been major growth given that Disney+ and HBOMax are still relatively new. One thing’s for sure — there’s plenty to watch these days.

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