The Streaming Wars Illustrated

Summarizing the growth of Streaming Platforms

There hasn’t been much to get excited about in 2020. One positive thing was the incredible growth of streaming services. Here’s a quick review of streaming services as they stand at the end of the year.

Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

I began this effort by gathering as much data as possible. The most useful source for research was the streaming companies themselves. Most entertainment companies haven’t had a lot of great news this year, so they are falling over themselves to tell the world about the latest boost in subscription numbers. Quarterly analyst reports are a good place to stay. Another helpful source of information is research companies and industry publications. Variety, Hollywood Reporter, Wall St Journal, Bloomberg, New York Times have all published reports on entertainment-related research studies. Some of the featured research companies are Ampere, HarrisX, Statista, and Apptopia.

# altair line chart
Individual Streaming Company Subscribers

Disney Plus has the most information. Disney is keen to highlight how successful their new streaming service has been. Not only do they release subscriber numbers during the quarterly presentations, but also they have frequent check-ins where they update subscriber numbers.

Amazon and Apple TV have kept their subscriber numbers close to their chest. In February, Jeff Bezos let it slip that there are now 150 million Amazon Prime subscribers. Apple TV hasn’t said a word. This secrecy has been successful. Research studies can’t agree on Apple TV+ subscriber numbers, ranging from 10 million to 36 million.

#altair steam graph
alt.X('Date:T', timeUnit='yearmonthdate',
axis=alt.Axis(format='%m%Y', labelAngle=0, title='month')),
color=alt.Color('company:N', scale=alt.Scale(scheme="category20b"))
Total Streaming Industry Growth

Total International Subscribers at the end of 2020 are 633 million.

My year-end numbers are calculated by maintaining the trend of the most recent data point for each company. HBO Max is an exception. I estimate that subscribers will increase considerably based on Warner Bros. releasing their 2021 on HBO Max, including Wonder Woman 1984 on December 25.

Year-End Subscriber Count — International (hundred millions)

Here’s a chart with monthly subs of all streaming platforms — with the highest definition and no ad plans shown. Prices include future monthly increases that have been announced.

Altogether it is a staggering $117 to subscribe to all the streaming platforms. And that’s if TV and movies are your only form of entertainment. If you’re also interested in music, gaming, radio, or fitness services, your monthly subscription will be even higher.

Note: no-one would actually be paying this total. Some services can be bundled, and many are available for free with other services — Verizon and AT&T, for example.

Streaming Cost (Highest Definition, No Ad Plans, future price increases included)
Photo by Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash

Finally, with so much streaming now available, what would it take to watch everything? It is not easy to compare like with like. Some platforms indicate their entire library in terms of hours, while others do not. Admittedly, the volume of content is continually changing, with new series getting released all the time. Also, content can jump from one platform to another as contracts are negotiated.

When I didn’t have total content hours, I used the estimated total Movies and TV from Reelgood and calculated the total hours from there. I found a dataset on Kaggle that I could use to calculate the average runtime for movies. Unfortunately, there is nothing similar to TV. We don’t know the average number of seasons, episodes per season, or even average episode length. Traditionally network TV seasons were 22 episodes long. Streaming has less of a need to fit the TV calendar and average season length is now shorter, especially on HBO, Netflix, and Amazon Prime.

192,000 hours or 22 years. That’s a long time! Here are some of the things we were thinking about 22 years ago in 1998 (in no particular order).

  • Britney Spears released “Baby One More Time”
  • Dow Jones peaked at 9,374
  • Clinton / Lewinsky scandal
  • Disney release Mulan (animated)

Thanks for reading. I hope that you enjoyed this. Please leave me a comment if you’d like to know more or if you think that I overlooked anything.

Best, Andrew

Netflix is pretty transparent with their subscribers. Amazon Prime is a mystery. Even if we had a handle on prime subscribers, we don’t know how many use prime video regularly. Research indicates that free shipping is the main reason for signing up. Disney+ gives us regular updates of subscriber numbers, but we don’t know how many are bundled or receiving it free. There may be as many as 20 million free subscribers courtesy of Verizon. We also don’t know how many free subscribers there are in Apple TV+, Peacock, and HBO Max.


Netflix split their results by region, so we know how many US subscribers there are … almost. Netflix US totals are UCAN, which is US and Canada.

Amazon gives us next to nothing. There is only one data point -150 million. The research company Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimated US prime subscribers in a survey. I applied their growth rates to create a trend for 150 million international subscribers.

Disney hasn’t split out a national breakout — with one exception, India. India’s massive growth is illustrated in that India represents 15% of subscribers in June and 25% of total subscribers in September. Disney+ is bundled with Hotstar in India. One of the main drivers of Hotstar is the IPL cricket season, which this year ran from September to November.

Apple TV+ hasn’t revealed any information. Bloomberg estimates 10 million subscribers at the beginning of this year. In contrast, Ampere Analysis estimates 33.6 million U.S. users, indicating that the “vast majority” were not paying subscribers, receiving it free with the purchase of an Apple device.

  • Company reports and press releases
  • News publications: Variety, Hollywood Reporter
  • Reelgood, Kaggle

Andrew has an analytics background with over 20 years of experience in various industries, working with world-leading brands.

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