Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton and Phillipa Soo as his wife Eliza in Miranda’s tour de force

October 05, 2020
In The Mix

Waiting for the Win

Calling a winner in the streaming wars is complicated.

Daniel Frankel

In a frenetic six-month period during which nearly half a dozen major media and technology companies launched new streaming services, Disney emerged as the only outfit enjoying unequivocal success.

Disney+ attracted more than 54 million paying subscribers in its first six months, with boffo rollouts across North America and Europe. Its app is supported by almost any popular OTT or mobile device — a feat unmatched by HBO Max and Peacock, which couldn't obtain blessings from Roku and Amazon, at least initially.

As showcased by its $75 million acquisition of the video-on-demand streaming rights for Hamilton, Disney+ has found savvy ways to come up with original programming despite pandemic-driven studio closures.

At this rate, according to the London-based analyst Digital TV Research, Disney's subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service will grow to more than 200 million subscribers by 2025. That would mean Disney+ has achieved its prime objective — creating a powerful SVOD platform that competes globally with Netflix.

So, now that Apple TV+, Quibi, HBO Max and Peacock have all launched, is it fair to say that Disney "won" the streaming wars?

It's complicated.

Save for Quibi, the $1.75 billion mobile-video startup, the major streaming launches haven't fallen short of expectations... or been demonstrably successful, at least so far.

Take Apple TV+, for instance. Apple's SVOD play relies on a limited amount of original content largely created by top-tier talents.

Originals like The Morning Show and Dads boast powerful lineups, both in front of and behind the camera. Since its November 2019 launch, the $4.99-a-month service has been offered free for a year to purchasers of new iPhones, Apple TV boxes and other Apple devices. Bloomberg reported in May that Apple TV+ had around 10 million users.

Underwhelming? Again, not necessarily.

Apple TV+ is only part of a broader portfolio of Apple "services" that also include cloud storage, music and news. In the first three months of 2020, Apple generated a record $13.3 billion selling such services — a meaningful outcome for a company trying to diversify its offerings beyond hardware.

Likewise, metrics for the launch of HBO Max by AT&T and its WarnerMedia division have been hazy. Disney+ was a new app with easy-to-gauge success metrics. The number of Disney+ app downloads, which are measurable by third-party analytics firms, provided a rough tally of how many folks were signing up.

HBO Max, however, is additive to existing HBO services and apps. Some 43 million preexisting U.S. HBO subscribers were automatically upgraded to the broader HBO Max service — at the same $14.99-a-month price. Since many of those who downloaded the HBO Max app were already customers, it's tough to say, at least early on, how much HBO Max has expanded WarnerMedia's tent.

Ultimately, the success of HBO Max — and similarly, Comcast and NBCUniversal's Peacock — will be measured in more diffuse terms related to corporate bottom lines.

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 9, 2020

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