Excerpt from Disney’s latest Pixar movie “Luca”.
While most Americans breathe a sigh of relief as they resume their normal activities away from home in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the streaming video industry may not be also enthusiastic about the return to reality.
Comcast’s NBCUniversal, ViacomCBS, WarnerMedia and AT & T’s Discovery are among the companies that launched streaming video services during the pandemic. Powered by hundreds of millions of people at home, video streaming has been one of the big winners in the pandemic, with an increase in the use of subscription services. Americans spent 44% more time streaming video in Q4 2020 than a year earlier, according to research firm Conviva.
The streaming wars are really starting now. Media and tech companies will need to show investors that they can increase streaming subscribers when not everyone is stuck inside.
Determining the winners and losers is not the easiest task. But a simple way to gauge which businesses are doing well – and which aren’t – is to look at total subscribers and average revenue per user, or ARPUs. The more, the better.
The problem is not that all companies reveal these numbers. If a company chooses to hide them, there is likely a reason for this. The clarity around subscribers and ARPU may be the clearest indication of who wins and loses the streaming wars.
As the pandemic (hopefully) eases, here’s a look at where the biggest players in the streaming war stand. Figures are based on the most recent quarterly earnings report for each company.
- 208 million paying subscribers
- 74.4 million subscribers in the United States and Canada
- ARPU for the United States and Canada: $ 14.25
Netflix is the gold standard for transparency. The company distributes paid subscribers and ARPU for its US-Canada, EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa), Latin America and Asia-Pacific region. Netflix doesn’t take ad revenue, so it doesn’t need to disclose ad finances.
- Disney + (including Hotstar): 103.6 million subscribers, $ 3.99 ARPU worldwide
- Hulu SVOD only: 37.8 million subscribers, $ 12.08 ARPU
- Hulu SVOD + Live TV: 3.8 million subscribers, $ 81.83 ARPU
- ESPN +: 13.8 million subscribers, $ 4.55 ARPU
Disney is somewhat transparent with its numbers, but not as clear as Netflix. Disney includes the significantly cheaper – and faster growing – Indian streaming service Hotstar in its Disney + numbers rather than clearly exploding the number of Disney + customers. The company has yet to break down the numbers by region. The Information reported on Friday that Disney + ‘s growth may stagnate in the United States and Canada.
Disney also doesn’t specify how many of its streaming customers get a free trial, like the one-year free offer it offers to some Verizon customers.
WarnerMedia’s HBO and HBO Max
- 63.9 million global subscribers, 44.2 million US subscribers.
- ARPU: $ 11.72 per month
There is quite a bit of confusion with the HBO numbers, which AT&T could clarify but chose to be vague. Some pay TV customers get HBO Max for free because they already pay for HBO. Other AT&T wireless subscribers also get HBO Max included in their plans. And some HBO watchers don’t use – or haven’t discovered – HBO Max at all.
The company chose not to say how many people specifically use HBO Max. But he yielded a solid ARPU number – highlighting the streaming service’s relatively high price tag (and perceived customer value) for investors.
Of course, AT&T might not have to worry about this any longer. This is a spin-off from WarnerMedia to merge with Discovery. The deal is expected to be finalized in mid-2022.
Amazon Prime Video
Amazon does not publish a firm ARPU number or a specific Prime membership number, but the company plays a different game from other streaming services. Most Prime members probably don’t just subscribe to video, but instead subscribe for free and fast shipping on Amazon plans, Whole Foods discounts, and other perks. The lack of disclosure around Prime Video is not as much of a red flag as it can be for other streaming services.
- 42 million “listings” in the United States.
- ARPU 😕
NBCUniversal – CNBC’s parent company – has yet to be particularly transparent with Peacock. Its streaming service stands out from the competition because some versions of Peacock are free. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that less than 10 million people pay for Peacock – either for its ad-supported level of $ 4.99 or its ad-free level of $ 9.99.
NBCUniversal has yet to release an ARPU figure, which would help investors weigh the value of a free subscriber versus paying customers. NBCUniversal has publicly valued an ARPU number on its three levels from $ 6 to $ 7 per month.
Investors will also be curious about Peacock’s global listing count as it spreads across the globe.
- 36 million subscribers worldwide, including Paramount +, Showtime, Noggin, BET + and others
- 50 million average monthly Pluto TV users worldwide
- ARPU 😕
ViacomCBS does not distribute Paramount + subscribers, preferring to bundle them with its other streaming services. It also doesn’t give average revenue per user number for Paramount + or Pluto TV, although CEO Bob Bakish has said that Pluto TV’s advertising revenue will exceed $ 1 billion in 2022. Neither did ViacomCBS more distributed geographic subscribers, although CFO Naveen Chopra said the “significant majority” of new streaming subscribers were Paramount + customers based in the United States.
- 29.5 million subscribers worldwide, including 16.7 million streaming
- ARPU: around $ 6 per month
Starz is often a forgotten service in streaming wars, in part because it is not an independent company – Lionsgate owns it – and because its ambitions are more niche. Nonetheless, the company’s transparency in streaming may suggest that it is confident in its future prospects – or that it wants to be bought out.
Discovery has been transparent about global subscribers and ARPU in its first quarter results, released April 28 – although it did not disclose how many of its users signed up through a one-year trial with Verizon.
Discovery also announced its merger with WarnerMedia. It’s a sign that CEO David Zaslav has realized that his streaming service alone probably wouldn’t be the size to survive. He basically said it himself.
The merger with WarnerMedia not only gives Zaslav more content to compete with, but also refocuses investor interest. Discovery’s streaming performance won’t really matter until its deal with WarnerMedia is finalized. Next, companies must integrate.
The merger probably bought Zaslav three years of investor goodwill. Take note, struggling streaming players. Take note.
- Apple TV + subscribers worldwide:?
- ARPU 😕
The price for less transparency goes to Apple, which has revealed next to nothing about Apple TV + since the service launched in November 2019. Apple offered Apple TV + subscriptions free for a year, then extended those free trials. But many of those trials end, and users will have to decide if they want to spend $ 4.99 per month on the service. Maybe Apple is waiting to reveal stats until it starts getting recurring revenue from users.
Then again, there’s a reason Apple extended free trials to begin with – the service is very light on content, especially with many original series delayed during the pandemic. Apple doesn’t have the movie and TV library to compete with other streaming players, so the $ 4.99 per month offer seems unreasonable.
That’s a long way to put it: don’t expect too much clarity from Apple in the quarters to come, either.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of CNBC.
WATCH: What the WarnerMedia-Discovery deal could mean for the streaming wars