State of the Streaming Wars in 2021: It’s Netflix vs HBO Max vs Everyone Else

Can any company topple Netflix? HBO Max is surging in customer satisfaction.

Netflix Disney Amazon Apple Streaming Wars
How many streaming services will consumers sign up for and which are the most dispensable? Chesnot/Getty Images

The streaming industry is more robust and diverse than ever with an avalanche of premium SVOD platforms all available for audience enjoyment right this very moment. Among the biggest players jockeying for your hard-earned attention and dollars, content-hungry viewers have to choose from (deep breath): Netflix (NFLX), Disney+, Amazon (AMZN) Prime Video, Hulu, HBO Max, Paramount (PARA)+, Apple (AAPL) TV+, Peacock, and Discovery+. The deep roster of TV and film providers is a win for audiences as competition breeds quality and innovation. But homebodies will never have it as good as they do now.

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The streaming wars are still in its infancy and at a certain point, winners and losers will begin to emerge. Consolidation and forced opt-outs will narrow the field of competitors and audience choice will be reduced a a result. So let’s get a jump start on eyeing what the future of the streaming landscape could look like. Whip Media recently surveyed nearly 4,000 U.S. viewers about their perception of their SVOD services. While surveys are far from concrete conclusions, they do help to reflect the consumer mood of the moment.

Streaming Wars
Which services have you canceled since May 2020? Whip Media

Survey respondents subscribe to an average of 4.7 services and plan to add only one more. This fits in line with a recent J.D. Power survey referenced in the L.A. Times that found that the average American now subscribes to four-to-five streamers, up from three at the start of the pandemic. 70% of respondents feel that there are too many subscription services on the market and (most of them 85% say) it’s getting too expensive. The average American household reportedly spends $55 on SVOD platforms per month. Around 32% canceled an SVOD service in the past year as a cost-cutting measure.

However, churn is spread out over all of the SVODs. According to a December 2020 report from transactional data firm Antenna, Netflix led the streaming industry with a churn rate—or the number of customers who cancel their subscriptions in a given time period—of just 2.4%. At the time, Disney+ came in at 8.0%. Given the monetary investments and the rapid rise of FAST (free, ad-supported streaming TV), it’s no surprise that the majority (60%) of consumers prefer to pay for an ad-free service. 

Netflix vs Amazon Apple Hulu Disney
If you could only keep one, which one? Whip Media

When asked if they could only keep one streaming service, 41% of consumers said Netflix would be their choice if they could only keep one; followed by Hulu (21%), HBO Max (13%), Disney+ (9%), and Amazon (6%). Netflix has reached a level of ubiquitous access as reflected by their industry-leading churn rate. While some consumers subscribe to a streaming service only for the duration of a particular show before cancelling, Netflix remains a must-have platform across the board.

But how do the major players stack up against one another in terms of user satisfaction?

Netflix HBo Max Disney+
SVOD service satisfaction WhipMedia

When ranked on SVOD satisfaction, HBO Max jumps to the top spot. The WarnerMedia service got off to a bumpy start after launching in May 2020, but the same-day release strategy for Warner Bros.’ entire 2021 film slate has driven rapid growth. HBO Max is on pace to conclude 2021 with more than 11 million new subscribers in the year.

About 92% of respondents find library content, or pre-existing series and films, very important or important when deciding which services to sign up for. In today’s arms race for content, having library content is key to satisfying SVOD customers. Roughly 78% of respondents felt original content was very important/important. We’ve previously compared the original and licensed libraries of the main players. 

Of the major services, AppleTV+ is in the most precarious position as the streaming service consumers are least satisfied with and least likely to keep. However, Apple is deliberately slow playing its marketing for Apple TV+ as detailed in a recent PARQOR newsletter form industry analyst Andrew Rosen. With a growing library of quality originals, an impressive creative batting average, and an endless pool of money to draw from, Apple can afford to be patient. Rather than Netflix’s one-stop-shop approach, Apple TV+ is attempting to become the streaming equivalent of HBO

State of the Streaming Wars in 2021: It’s Netflix vs HBO Max vs Everyone Else