Even if you have no intention of participating in cord-cutting, there are more opportunities than ever to stream content into your home. That makes this a unique time to invest in the top stocks in video streaming, though the vast number of options available may make the space seem overwhelming.
The landscape has changed dramatically from a decade ago, when you might have received a red envelope in the mail with a movie on DVD to supplement your cable or satellite viewing. And even today the field is still evolving: Sony recently announced it is shutting down its PlayStation Vue service, and Walmart wants to sell its Vudu streaming service, even as numerous other providers get ready to launch in the new year.
With so many moving parts, the five stocks below represent the best investments in streaming video today.
The size, prominence, and influence of Netflix (NFLX 0.74%) within the industry makes it stand atop any list of streaming investments. It's not coincidental that the high-water mark for traditional cable TV subscriptions peaked at 97.6 million households in 2012, the same year Netflix split its DVD rental and streaming services. eMarketer now expects the number of pay TV households to hit 80 million by 2021 when 20% of U.S. households are cord-cutters.
Yet despite the fits and starts in which Netflix is able to add new subscribers to its rolls, the streaming giant still has numerous levers to pull to achieve growth. International expansion continues to push out the boundaries for subscriptions; it can crack down on account sharing to bring in more users; and there's always the option to add advertising, something some analysts say is inevitable.
It would be a mistake to count out Netflix as a streaming force to be reckoned with simply because it has more competition.
Amazon.com (AMZN -3.23%) just reported a "record breaking" Christmas, shipping billions of items and selling "tens of millions" of Amazon devices like the Echo Dot. It also added 5 million Prime customers globally.
It's true that you're getting a lot more than just a video streaming service when you invest in Amazon, but its Prime Video is arguably the second most visible perk of the membership loyalty program behind free shipping. That hasn't made it second-class, though, and it is expected to spend $7 billion this year on developing new content for the service, up from an estimated $4.5 billion last year.
Streaming has become a content arms race, and Amazon is flexing its muscle. It may not be a streaming pure play, but for investors, that's a feature and not a bug. The more people it adds to Prime, the more money it has available to invest in the service, which should make it grow even larger.
In much the same way, Disney (DIS 0.54%) is obviously more than a streaming service, but investors would do well to include it on their list. The Disney+ service is just starting out, but it got off to a rousing launch with the Star Wars-based Mandalorian series that just concluded its first season to overwhelmingly positive reviews.
Although the service could suffer mass cancellations, much as HBO saw with the end of each season of Game of Thrones, Disney's massive entertainment library sets it apart from most other streaming services. That will undoubtedly allow it to retain a large core of subscribers regardless of any defections it sees.
Disney generated over $13.4 billion this year in affiliate fees that it charged cable and satellite companies to carry its Disney Channel, ESPN, and other programming, an amount that far outstrips what it will make from charging Disney+ subscribers $7 a month. But with cord-cutting growing, pay TV is a declining relic, and the entertainment giant will find itself on the leading edge of this new reality.
Unlike the various streaming services, Roku (ROKU 12.37%) is different because it is not a content creator, but rather an agnostic platform with avenues to access content. And it may be the single biggest opportunity in streaming video.
Having evolved beyond its humble origins as a hardware manufacturer, Roku has become a force through connected-TV advertising, which will soon eclipse revenue from traditional pay-TV services currently estimated at $70 billion. Because Roku is one of the largest sellers of streaming ads on TV, it is uniquely positioned to continue dominating that niche as it grows.
Moreover, Roku is increasingly controlling the environment in which those ads are seen. It now accounts for one out of every three smart TVs sold in the U.S., and with over 32 million active accounts spending 3.5 hours per day on its platform on average, it has an outsize roll in what people see, making it a key destination for advertisers.
5. YouTube TV
Alphabet's (GOOG -3.44%) (GOOGL -3.35%) Google may be the sleeper in this group, but YouTube TV has a chance to be an even more important streaming content choice for cord-cutters looking for a quality live TV service.
Before severing ties with their cable operator, customers often look for how they can replace many of the channels they watch, but without the high cost associated with a cable subscription. Increasingly, many are turning to YouTube TV, which has assembled a collection of broadcast channels, including ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC, as well as the special-interest channels often found on cable and satellite. There are more than 70 channels altogether, and they can be shared across six accounts, all for a reasonable $50 per month.
Additionally, subscribers get DVR service, on-demand movies, and more. Recently, Sony recommended YouTube TV as the new home for its PlayStation Vue subscribers. Having delivered streaming video over the internet for years, few companies are as adept at it as YouTube.
There are still unknowns in streaming video. Other factors may cause services to rise or fall, including pricing. Netflix says price increases earlier this year may be why its subscriber numbers failed to grow, but live TV option Sling also just increased its price by $5 per month. YouTube TV did so this past summer.
As these services close in on the cost of a cable subscription, many consumers may decide the simplicity of cable is worth the extra money, slowing cord-cutting's advance. But these five stocks remain among the best investments in streaming video today.