Major streaming service subscribers are up 50% since last year, proof of how the pandemic has boosted some industries and crushed others

Major streaming service subscribers are up 50% since last year, proof of how the pandemic has boosted some industries and crushed others
Emma Corrin plays Princess Diana on "The Crown."Des Willie/Netflix
  • The combined number of US subscribers for the largest streaming platforms are up 50% from this time last year as the pandemic boosts business for the likes of Netflix and Hulu, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis.
  • Netflix looks to retain its throne as the largest streaming service after releasing popular programs like "The Crown" and "Tiger King."
  • As the streaming business has boomed during the pandemic, many have speculated what the future of traditional cinemas will look like as theatres have taken a hit with stay-at-home protocols.
  • Warner Bros.' most notably announced it would release all of its movies in 2021 simultaneously in theatres and on its HBO Max platform, a move that angered some in the filmmaking industry.

Some industries have been slammed this year as the pandemic brought the world to a halt. But others, like streaming services, have seen surging business.

So much so that the combined number of US subscribers for the major streaming services will have increased more than 50% since this time last year, according to a recent Wall Street Journal analysis conducted with market research firms MoffettNathanson and Harris X.

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven scores of people into their homes while shuttering movie theatres and other means of entertainment, like sporting events. Services that offer people physical distanced-friendly activities while stuck in their homes have prospered this year, including video conferencing tools like Zoom and streaming avenues like Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and Disney Plus.

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However, the growth in streaming viewers, per the report, is in part also a result of a decline in traditional cable TV subscribers. And Americans aren't just opting for one platform over another - per the WSJ, US households subscribe to about three services on average.

As 2019 came to a close, experts anticipated a streaming fight to ensue among services, otherwise known as the "streaming wars." But what 2020 has proven is that streaming platforms have struck a chord with viewers and are all thriving.


Based on the WSJ analysis, Netflix will retain its throne as the streaming platform with the most subscribers as 2020 wraps up. Netflix released a robust line-up of original content and popular movies and TV shows this year, with "The Crown" and "Tiger King" specifically attracting big audience numbers. Analysts expect the service to continue to thrive even after the pandemic, while newer services may struggle upon normalization.

Newer services like Disney Plus, which was introduced in November 2019, saw lower numbers overall as did Apple TV Plus, which became available for Americans in early November of last year. Warner Bros.' HBO Max stood up in May and NBC's Peacock service launched in July.

It's worth noting that one streaming service failed to successfully take advantage of the in-demand at-home entertainment market. Quibi famously crashed and burned six months after launching during the pandemic.

AT&T's Warner Bros. made waves in early December when it announced it would release all of its new movies in 2021 simultaneously in theatres and on its HBO Max streaming platform, including "Wonder Woman 1984," which debuted on Christmas Day. The move signaled a greater investment in Warner Bros.' streaming service as it worked to push HBO Max further ahead in the race, as Business Insider's Travis Clark reported.

Read more: HBO Max's chief breaks down the seismic decision to stream all 2021 Warner Bros. movies as they hit theaters and responds to speculation about 2022 and beyond


But the decision also stunned the filmmaking world, prompting directors like Christopher Nolan and "Wonder Woman 1984" creator Patty Jenkins to speculate on the future of traditional cinemas if studios continue releasing films at home in the long-term.

Jenkins told the New York Times recently that movie studios could suffer an "empty slate of quality filmmakers" if they decide to move theatrical releases to streaming platforms on a permanent basis.