Netflix maintains its lead over streaming rivals as Americans add Disney Plus, HBO Max

By Ainsley Harris

December 30, 2020

Tiger King, The Queen’s Gambit, and now Bridgerton: Thanks to its popular original content, which resonated with viewers forced to entertain themselves at home, Netflix added over 5 million U.S. subscribers over the past year.

But Netflix wasn’t alone. Streaming services grew across the board in 2020, as recent entrants such as Disney Plus and HBO Max built momentum. Combined, those strong performances boosted the category overall by 50% over the last year, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. The average U.S. household now subscribes to 3.1 streaming services, versus 2.7 in 2019.

Amazon’s Prime Video closed out 2020 with nearly 50 million subscribers, up from roughly 43 million in Q4 of 2019. Hulu now boasts nearly 35 million subscribers, up from 27 million.

Among the newer entrants, Apple TV Plus more than doubled its subscribers, from 4 million in Q4 of 2019 to over 8 million in Q4 of this year. Since its launch in early 2020, HBO Max has won over nearly 17 million subscribers. Disney Plus, which ended 2019 with 24 million subscribers, today has 37 million.

As for 2021, the outlook for streaming is more murky. Free trials for some of the newer services are expiring. Production delays due to the pandemic will continue to affect timelines for original content. And as other entertainment options reopen, streaming fatigue is likely to drive viewers back to movie theaters, sports stadiums, and concert halls. In other words, it may be back to normal-ish soon.

“We try not to get overly focused on the COVID effects because they’re very onetime in nature,” Netflix cofounder and co-CEO Reed Hastings told analysts during the company’s Q3 earnings call in October. “We compete for time against TNF, TikTok, and YouTube, as well as HBO, as well as Fortnite. So really, the limiter for us is what’s the quality of our service, how often, how many nights do you say, ‘Oh my God, I want to go to Netflix and watch the next show.’”