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These 4 Services May Have Already Won the Streaming Wars

By Adam Levy – Jun 4, 2020 at 10:46AM

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They're already the most popular, and could become even more popular going forward.

Consumers have more options than ever to stream video on demand, but most people will get by with a bundle of four services that'll cost just $35 per month. 

Given $50 per month to spend on streaming services, around half of Americans would subscribe to Amazon (AMZN -1.65%) Prime and Disney's (DIS -1.78%) Hulu and Disney+, according to a recent survey commissioned by Bloomberg. Unsurprisingly, 84% said they'd subscribe to Netflix (NFLX -2.12%). No other option garnered the favor of more than 16% of respondents.

Not only are these four services already more popular than the competition, they stand to gain popularity over the next few months. New challengers face a difficult environment in producing new originals and attracting an audience that's mostly been stuck inside for the last three months. By comparison, Netflix, Amazon, and Disney benefit from competitive advantages that will keep subscribers around while new productions are halted.

A person holding a tablet streaming a video.

Image source: Getty Images.

A long pipeline of content at Netflix

Netflix loves to encourage binge-watching, and it always releases every episode in a season of its original series at once. But that means it needs to have every episode shot and produced for the premiere, which is much different than traditional television networks.

"We work really far out relative to the industry because we launch our shows all episodes at once," content chief Ted Sarandos said during Netflix's first-quarter earnings call. "So, our 2020 slate of series and films are largely shot and are in postproduction."

Original series are very important to attracting and retaining subscribers for Netflix (and most other streaming services, for that matter). With a long pipeline, Netflix is in a stronger position than most other streaming services, which release episodes on a weekly basis.

A service like Comcast's (CMCSA -0.91%) Peacock is in an even more precarious situation. Not only is production halted on its originals, but it's also launching without live sports content. This summer's Olympic Games were going to be the cornerstone of its nationwide launch in July.

Netflix should be able to ramp up production and work on accelerated timelines to get its schedule back on track in 2021 without much delay in its releases. That should keep subscribers around long-term.

Originals aren't that important for Disney

Disney knocked it out of the park with The Mandalorian, but most of its 54 million subscribers would've signed up for Disney+ regardless. The value of Disney+ stems largely from access to Disney's back catalog of content from its popular franchises.

Disney-controlled Hulu, likewise, benefits from a strong back-catalog of content -- albeit not with the same brand strength as the brands on Disney+. Nonetheless, Hulu is now home to all of FX's content. It's also the home to a lot of licensed content from NBCUniversal at least until 2024, as part of Disney's agreement to buy out Comcast's stake in the company that year.

The ability to bundle Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN+ strengthens subscriber retention, and Disney has seen early success in marketing the package of all three streaming services. That offer should bolster ESPN+ while it lacks new sports content amid the pandemic.

What's more, there could be further room to grow for Disney. Bloomberg's survey found more people were willing to pay for both Disney+ and Hulu given a streaming budget of $50 per month than the number of people who currently subscribe. So, as more people cut the cord and free up their budgets, Disney could be a big winner. The only other streaming service with the same under-subscribed characteristic was, surprisingly, Netflix.

Prime Video is just another benefit of Prime

While Amazon offers stand-alone access to its Prime Video service for $8.99 per month, most viewers get the service through the full Prime benefits package, which costs as little as $10 per month when paid annually and includes unlimited fast shipping on orders from

In other words, there are a lot of other benefits keeping consumers subscribed to Prime than its video service. That said, Amazon has seen an uptick in engagement, even more so than its competitors, over the last few months. Some members are discovering Amazon Originals for the first time, and have binged through them while stuck at home. That makes them even more likely to renew their subscriptions when they come due.

Engagement with Amazon Prime Video has been relatively low, historically. Just one-third or so of total Prime subscribers watched the video service in an average month.

Bloomberg's survey found a 7% discrepancy in the number of people who currently subscribe to the service and those who would get value from it. That's to say, Amazon Prime Video is oversubscribed. 

But based on the historical percentage of Prime members who actually watch Prime Video, it may still be under-watched. That means there's a lot of room for Amazon to improve engagement with Prime Video, and by extension, improve its overall Prime member retention rate.

It's hard to beat a head start

Netflix, Hulu, and Prime Video have been around a long time when it comes to streaming. While Disney+ is sort of a newcomer, its well-established brand and deep catalog of Disney content going back decades put it on a strong footing. It's hard for newcomers to compete with longevity and the knowledge of what works in the industry. And that's evidenced by the relatively low interest in streaming services outside of the top four.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Adam Levy owns shares of Amazon and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon, Netflix, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Comcast and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $60 calls on Walt Disney, short January 2022 $1940 calls on Amazon, long January 2022 $1920 calls on Amazon, and short July 2020 $115 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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