The Streaming Wars in 2022

Major mergers, familiar franchises, and rampant rumors all play a part.

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While broadcast television continues to hold on, streaming and differentiated viewing grows its audience with each passing year. One stark comparison can be drawn from the Nielsen broadcast ratings numbers from the week of March 14, 2022; the top show, 60 Minutes, pulled in just over nine million viewers. By contrast, Euphoria is pulling in over 16 million watchers combined from HBO and the HBO Max platform. As streaming continues its ascent, the battle for the top of the heap has become more intense, with major platforms making significant moves to cement their place in a rapidly shifting landscape.

Netflix remains at the top of the biggest streamers with an audience that’s nearly 222 million viewers. The remainder of the top services in America are Prime Video, Disney+, HBO Max, YouTube Premium, Hulu, Paramount+, Peacock, ESPN+, Apple TV+, Discovery+, Crunchyroll, Funimation, BET+, and Shudder. Nearly all of them have made news in the past few months with everything from new features to new additions that have people talking. Here are a few highlights.

Stranger Things 4 trailer (Uploaded to YouTube by Netflix)

Netflix: While continuing to perform at a high level with outsized hits like The Adam Project, Netflix continues to fall back on complaining about password sharing among customers. Despite being the clear leader in subscriptions worldwide, there has rarely been a four-quarter frame in which Netflix doesn’t discuss a new initiative to stop the shares. Most recently, the service announced that it was going to start charging accounts extra for passwords being used outside the household. However, that program is currently only going into effect in Peru, Costa Rica, and Chile. Right now, the top-tier Netflix subscription allows up to four screens to be in use; many users argue that it shouldn’t matter if all four screens are in the same house, particularly if one of those screens is being used by a child away at school. Such a change could actually upset the balance of subscriptions in the U.S., which is obviously a situation that the biggest kid on the playground wants to avoid.

The Streaming Home of Marvel ad (Uploaded to YouTube by Disney Plus)

Disney+: The House of Mouse just introduced new parental controls that allow for parents to create kids’ accounts that prevent them from watching some of the more mature fare on the service. This is instigated by the arrival of the six Marvel shows that had previously existed as Netflix offerings (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, The Defenders, The Punisher) and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which ran for seven seasons on ABC. That influx of material added a whopping 184 episodes of new content to the streamer in one day. The parental controls also popped up, in what is certainly no coincidence, in time for the new Marvel series, Moon Knight; while the show is rated TV-14, some early viewers and advance reviewers have noted that the show’s intensity takes it very close to the line of mature fare.

Euphoria Season One teaser (Uploaded to YouTube by euphoria)

HBO Max and Discovery+: The biggest news on both of these fronts is that they’re about to merge. Though the two services were already part of the same company, it was announced on March 14 that shareholders have approved a merger of HBO Max and Discovery+. There is not yet a set date for switchover, nor is there an exact monthly price quote, although there will be different tiers with and without ads. The merger puts HBO Max’s vast library in one place with Discovery’s large well of content, which includes shows from popular channels like Food Network, Lifetime, OWN, HGTV, History, and the Magnolia Network.

Crunchyroll welcomes Funimation and Wakanim (Uploaded to YouTube by Crunchyroll Collection)

Crunchyroll: The extremely popular anime streaming service is battling rumors of a change that isn’t actually happening. Word had been going around that the streamer was going to dispense with free-with-ads programming. That’s actually a misinterpretation; Crunchyroll is moving simulcast episodes (that is, brand-new episodes that debut in the U.S. and Japan at the same time which were running on the free-with-ads tier one week after their debuts) behind their pay structure, but free-with-ads series will still be running. Crunchyroll has a rather unique position in the Streaming Wars; while it has around five million paid streaming subscribers, it has over 120 million registered users that take advantage of free-with-ads use. That puts it below the marquee services for paid viewers, but among the most-watched overall. And that will only get bigger as Crunchyroll is now bringing aboard a huge influx of content from Funimation (creators of the insanely popular DragonBall franchise) and Wakanim.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds teaser trailer (Uploaded to YouTube by Paramount Plus)

Paramount+: To this point, Paramount+ has thrived by being the home of multiple new Star Trek series. With Discovery, Picard, Lower Decks, Prodigy, and the forthcoming Strange New Worlds (which arrives May 5), the service has a lock on that extremely loyal audience. However, they are maximizing efforts with new shows (Halo) and a barrage of reboots and spin-offs, including another Yellowstone series, original movies spun-out from S.E.A.L. Team and Teen Wolf, and revivals of Frasier and Beavis and Butt-Head. At right around $5, it’s a must-have for Trek fans, and a bargain for others with its growing film library (which includes The Godfather trilogy and more).

If there’s one thing that’s certain about our streaming future, it’s that nothing is certain. In the past few years, there’s been a veritable explosion of options. While some were DOA (like Quibi), some have grown beyond their introductory form into something of greater potential, like the evolution of CBS All Access into Paramount+. The consolidation of HBO Max and Discovery+ is no real surprise, as it gives owners a mammoth base. At this point, it seems that the titans (Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, HBO) will continue to sit at the top of the mountain, but diversity of content and healthy services with a targeted audience (like horror streamer Shudder) mean that there is plenty of room for other entries.  As the Streaming Wars continue, some forces are going to take more ground, but it’s apparent that smaller established entries will find a place to survive.

 

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