Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) is big -- bigger by far than its major streaming competitors. By subscribers, Netflix towers over the competition with nearly 140 million subscribers worldwide. Netflix has more than 58 million U.S. users; its nearest competitors have around 25 million.

But to truly understand how in control Netflix is, you need to understand that even when a competitor attracts a viewer, that doesn't mean Netflix loses. Streaming isn't a simple zero-sum game. 

Scissors cut a cable in front of a background of $100 bills

Image source: Getty Images.

The myth of the "Netflix killer"

As the top dog in its space, Netflix is the service to beat and people are always talking about "Netflix killers." We've heard a lot about such homicidal streaming services in the past year, because so many new streaming services from major companies are on the way in 2019 and beyond.

Of course, no streaming service so far has come remotely close to toppling Netflix from its perch.

Streaming Service Number of Users
Netflix 139 million total subscribers; 58 million U.S. subscribers
Amazon Prime Video Estimated 26 million U.S. viewers*
Hulu More than 25 million subscribers
Tubi "Millions" of active users

*Estimate from early 2017. Data sources: Netflix, Reuters, Hulu, Tubi.

But those aren't the most damning numbers for Netflix's competitors.

Check out the latest earnings call transcript for Netflix.

The reality: People like to share

Viewing subscriber counts in the raw can be misleading, because plenty of people have more than one streaming service. When I say that Hulu has more than 25 million subscribers, I'm not saying that more than 25 million people picked Hulu over Netflix. How well a service does as a "Netflix killer" is a more complicated question than how many subscribers it has, because people don't pick just one service.  People seem to use would-be Netflix killers as Netflix supplements.

Subscriptions Percent of Streamers
Netflix only 20%
Netflix and Amazon Prime Video 14%
Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu 9%
Netflix and Hulu 9%
Amazon Prime Video only 5%
Hulu only 1%

Data source: Ampere Analysis via Multichannel.com.

Amazon Prime Video and Hulu have their fans, but it looks like there are very few cases where they are actually taking customers away from Netflix. Data analysis firm Ampere Analysis shows that a slim majority (52%) of American households have Netflix, and a fifth of American households have Netflix alone. Only 6% of American households have a streaming subscription but do not have Netflix, according to this data.

Will Netflix ever have real competition?

There has been no Netflix killer yet and for many of the new streaming services, this has to look like bad news. AT&T's HBO hasn't been able to dominate Netflix, so is there much hope for a WarnerMedia effort to do so while fueled by HBO content? Such a service could easily end up competing with Hulu and Amazon for leftovers, and not really competing with Netflix in a two-way race at all.

If any service has a shot, it's Walt Disney's Disney+. Disney will bring unprecedented firepower to exclusive content, which could be what it takes to finally steal subscribers from Netflix. But if Disney can't do that, it will be stuck with pretenders past and present -- other would-be Netflix killers now battling over scraps that fall from Netflix's table.