The streaming wars raged on in 2021. The large gamers—Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney Plus—created extra high-profile occasions to cement the viewing habits fashioned within the pandemic, and late entrants (welcome, Paramount Plus!) tried to make a dent in folks’s streaming finances. All of the companies benefited from the shift away from seeing films in theaters, however viewers additionally started migrating off of couches and heading again into IRL social gatherings as effectively as returning to the workplace. To not point out that pandemic-induced manufacturing delays meant that new TV reveals and flicks didn’t hit streaming platforms in a considerable approach till later within the yr. No two corporations’ methods in assembly these challenges had been alike, nor had been their end-of-the-year outcomes. Herewith is a report card summarizing who finest rose to the very distinctive event that was 2021.
If any streamer received a shot within the arm in 2021, it was HBO Max, which, in a twist of pandemic-related destiny, wound up with Warner Bros.’ total theatrical slate for the yr on its platform, together with big-budget movies like Dune and Godzilla v. Kong, which had been launched day and date on HBO Max. This infusion of mass leisure (a wager that would have gone horribly awry, thoughts you) together with HBO’s constant supply of top-notch, buzzy reveals—White Lotus, Succession, and Mare of Easttown—made HBO Max the streamer to beat this yr. (HBO Max originals like Hacks additionally struck a nerve.) The service, together with HBO, now has almost 70 million subscribers. Extra unique movies are deliberate for 2022. Though Warner Bros. will return to theatrical releases within the new yr, it’s making 10 movies particularly for its streaming sibling. The transfer comes as HBO Max is getting ready to lose some of its content material to rivals eager to beef up their very own streaming platforms. Comcast introduced that Common films will quickly transfer to Peacock after they arrive out in theaters. And Disney can be maintaining films from Fox on Disney Plus or Hulu after 2022. But even with these hiccups, HBO’s continued monitor document of residing as much as its pedigreed mantra—”It’s not TV. It’s HBO”—makes HBO Max one of the strongest contenders within the race.
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2. Amazon Prime Video
In April, Jeff Bezos wrote in his final shareholder letter as Amazon CEO that Prime, which incorporates its video streaming service, had surpassed 200 million subscribers, inching it ever nearer to arch-rival Netflix. The progress underscored Amazon’s personal transition from a status programming platform (keep in mind Manchester by the Sea?) to at least one that has expanded its focus to main occasion movies. The Chris Pratt motion film The Tomorrow Warfare, for instance, price Amazon $200 million to purchase the movie from Paramount, and reportedly garnered 1.1 million minutes of viewing time over its Fourth of July weekend launch. This previous yr additionally noticed the discharge of the Coming to America sequel (one other Paramount acquisition). On the TV entrance, Amazon notched issues up tremendously with the variation of Robert Jordan’s best-selling fantasy novels, The Wheel of Time, which Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke said was the most-watched collection premiere of the yr and one of the highest 5 collection in Amazon’s historical past. (Prime Video’s long-anticipated The Lord of the Rings adaptation is coming in 2022.) Fan-favorite originals such as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Boys, in the meantime, proceed to roll alongside. Amazon nonetheless spends far lower than Netflix on content material—$11 billion in 2020, to Netflix’s $17 billion—however with the pending $8.5 billion acquisition of MGM, the corporate might quickly have entry to library that boasts the sort of franchise—James Bond—that Netflix can solely dream of.
After a lackluster begin to the yr—the hangover following the binge fest that was 2020, when Netflix noticed its subscriber numbers soar—Netflix ended the yr with a bang within the type of Squid Recreation. The dystopian Korean drama, that has spurred TikTok memes and Halloween costumes (and impressed Netflix executives to point out as much as an earnings name in green track suits) grew to become the largest present in Netflix’s historical past, proving how its technique of investing in native language content material is paying off in an enormous approach. Certainly, reveals like Squid Recreation, La Casa de Papel (Spain), and Intercourse Training (U.Ok.) had been the highest watched-shows on Netflix in September. Squid Recreation not solely pushed Netflix again into the cultural dialog, however it offers the corporate a significant franchise (along with Stranger Issues) to plug into its new income gambits such as gaming and merchandise, which Netflix is pursuing as it tries to catch as much as Disney. If there was any lesson for Netflix in 2021, it was that it must additional differentiate itself from rivals like HBO Max and Amazon Prime which might be beginning to catch as much as its long-dominant subscriber base—it hit 209 million this yr. Makes an attempt to repeat Marvel and create a cinematic superhero universe with the comic-book IP Millarworld has sputtered so far, and though Netflix has touted the outsized success of its star-studded motion movie Crimson Discover, it seemed to be a quite quiet phenomenon in phrases of precise discourse.
4. Apple TV+
In 2021, Apple’s deliberate, slow-paced method in the case of producing content material started to repay. Ted Lasso got here again for its second season with an aw-shucks allure offensive, establishing itself as one of the yr’s hottest reveals—it took dwelling seven Emmy Awards, together with Finest Comedy collection—and titles like The Morning Present, the NASA-themed For All Mankind, and the variation of Isaac Asimov’s Basis generated their very own share of buzz. The firm remains to be taking part in meet up with subscribers—it reportedly has 20 million paying customers and one other 20 million who get the service by way of free trials—however with reports that it will dramatically improve its output in 2022 to at the very least one new TV present or film per week (double its 2021 launch cadence), that quantity is poised to spike. Within the meantime, the corporate is constant to marry large, business bets just like the Tom Hanks film Finch with extra area of interest alternatives like Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground documentary and the collection The Drawback with Jon Stewart. The imaginative and prescient doesn’t really feel totally realized but, however the blueprint is there. With extra firepower within the coming yr, AppleTV Plus may effectively turn out to be an actual menace to the mega streamers, notably if it dips into the corporate’s trillion-dollar struggle chest.
5. Disney Plus
After meteoric begin in November 2019, Disney Plus’ progress stalled in late 2021, partly because of pandemic-related manufacturing delays slowing its capability to launch new content material. However the sluggishness additionally factors to a extra urgent, existential drawback that the streamer faces: How does a platform so singularly centered on a single style—household leisure—survive in a panorama the place Netflix, Amazon, et al, are providing nearly every part to their subscribers? Put one other approach: Are new seasons of The Mandalorian and WandaVision, plus a library of previous youngsters’ titles (nonetheless beloved), sufficient for Disney Plus to stay a mainstream streaming participant? Disney has racked up a formidable 118 million subscribers in a really brief quantity of time, however for that to double and shut the hole with Netflix and Amazon, the corporate might want to provide you with extra content material choices for viewers. Not serving to issues is Disney’s complicated, figure-it-out-as-we-go programming technique in the case of releasing films. Whereas Pixar’s Luca was out there completely on Disney Plus (reportedly annoying animators), Marvel’s Black Widow and Cruella received day-and-date releases, out there to Disney Plus subscribers for an additional $30 whereas concurrently debuting in theaters. Later within the yr, Disney veered again to theatrical-only distribution with Marvel’s Shang-Chi and Eternals, and Disney Animation’s Encanto, which all appeared on the streaming platform months after they hit theaters. (This annoyed Scarlett Johanson, who sued Disney over misplaced compensation; they settled.) For a corporation that’s so steadfast and clear about what it’s providing customers, the way it’s providing it to them is a tad schizophrenic.
Hulu has traditionally been within the crosshairs of various company pursuits, making it a conundrum that nobody may appear to determine. Even with Disney now as its majority proprietor, that notion hasn’t actually modified. With most of Disney’s firepower going towards Disney Plus, Hulu has but to provide you with a sturdy, originals pipeline to switch growing old favorites like The Handmaid’s Story and Little Fires In every single place, neither is a lot cash being spent on that effort. Hulu’s content material finances in 2020 was $3 billion. Worse: In 2022, the platform might begin losing content from NBCU, which may start redirecting reveals to its personal streamer, Peacock. Broadcast reveals, together with next-day reruns, stay Hulu’s largest enchantment, however even this may get difficult. For a buzzy collection like FX’s Impeachment: American Crime Story, the present was solely out there to Hulu Reside subscribers. Though FX can be now owned by Disney, Impeachment can be headed to Netflix in 2022, because of an previous library deal. Then once more, some new originals struck a chord this yr, such as Dopesick and Only Murders in the Building, which the service claims was its most-watched comedy collection premiere ever. Hulu’s subscribers have risen to 43 million, in comparison with 35 million in 2020. Disney additionally says Hulu is now worthwhile.
In 2021, Peacock lastly received the dwell occasion its unique launch in 2020 was predicated on: the pandemic-delayed summer time Olympics. As anticipated, the Tokyo Video games delivered a jolt and in July, Peacock was as much as 54 million signups and greater than 20 million month-to-month energetic customers. However the query shortly grew to become: Now what? And not using a assortment of buzzy unique collection, by the top of the yr subscriptions seemed to be lagging. Guardian firm Comcast supplied no particulars on Peacock’s progress throughout its third-quarter earnings name in late October. Slightly than a Netflix-style Vegas buffet, Comcast has positioned Peacock as the place to observe the very best of broadcast TV. It’s dwelling to The Workplace, Parks and Recreation,and Fashionable Household (which it shares with Hulu). Thrown in are a smattering of originals—like Dr. Death, which did garner acclaim, and a reboot of Saved by the Bell—as effectively as WWE programming, which Peacock acquired the U.S. streaming rights to early in 2021. However with out a stable premium providing, it’s not clear how Peacock will pull itself up within the streaming wars, notably in the case of gaining higher-paying clients who need greater than Peacock’s free-with-ads tier. One reply could also be Common films, together with Jurassic World: Dominion, and Minions: The Rise of Gru, which Peacock will begin streaming 45 days after they hit theaters in 2022.