Let’s start this with a caveat or two: If you’re going to compare streaming services merely by the number of subscribers they have, it’s not exactly a fair fight. Not all services are available in the same places. Nor does the number of subscribers really address the “worth” of a streaming service. Or whether it’s easy to use, or if the apps are any good. Or, for that matter, if a given streaming service has what you want to watch, which really is the only measure necessary.
Still, it’s interesting to keep up with how things are doing from a global perspective, especially when you have relatively young upstarts like Apple TV+ gaining so many accolades in an industry dominated by Netflix.
So with that, mostly using information published by the streaming services (or their parent companies), here’s a look at the top 10 streamers in terms of total subscribers.
Starz is one of those movie-centric streaming services that seems like it’s always been around, even if not necessarily something you’ve used outside of a trial situation. But it’s surprisingly big, though maybe not as surprising once you realize it’s essentially the official streaming service of the Lionsgate studio.
Starz is a global service, amassing 15.79 million subscribers as of September 30, 2023, as reported in the Lionsgate earnings for the quarter. (It tacks on another 9.21 million in linear subscribers — think cable and satellite and the like.)
We don’t know exactly how many subscribers Apple TV+ has. Like pretty much every other product under the Apple umbrella, the company doesn’t give numbers, either anecdotally, or in its earnings releases. So take things with a grain of salt.
Estimates from market research firm Antenna put Apple TV+ — which is available on all modern streaming platforms and not just Apple devices — somewhere around 25 million paid subscribers. (More fall under a trial period tied to purchases of Apple hardware.)
In any event, it wouldn’t surprise us to see that number driven even higher thanks to MLS Season Pass being exclusive on Apple TV+ — and Lionel Messi being exclusive to Inter Miami. And that was just for the final months of the 2023 season.
Add on to that excellent shows like Ted Lasso, The Morning Show, Lessons in Chemistry, For All Mankind, and Monarch: Legacy of Monsters — in addition to exclusive movies — and Apple TV+ isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
ESPN+ is an interesting subscription streaming service. Owned by Disney, it’s a mix of live sports — both professional and collegiate — along with on-demand originals, and it also serves as a streaming option for those with traditional access to ESPN+ via a linear subscription. (Think cable, satellite, or YouTube TV and the like.)
While ESPN+ doesn’t yet get you standalone access to ESPN — and while it mostly doesn’t make available the live sports you’d see on ESPN proper — it is home to an entire world of live sports. If you can think it up and it’s a sport, there’s a pretty good chance you can watch it on ESPN+, from all college sports, to MMA and UFC live streams, to the German Bundesliga, to the Association of Pickelball Players and the Belgian Pro League. And that’s just scratching the surface.
ESPN+ launched in the spring of 2018 and hit its first million subscribers in about five months. It has been steadily trending upward since then and now stands at 26 million paid subscribers, as last reported in Disney’s quarterly earnings report. As you’ll read below, much of that is through standalone subscriptions, but ESPN+ also benefits from the Disney Bundle, which (as the name implies) bundles together Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ for a single price that’s almost too good to pass up.
Peacock is NBC’s streaming service. And while it’s definitely had a bumpy road — much of its initial slate of exclusives were canned because of low viewership — its corporate overlords have stuck it out. And as of the end of 2023, Peacock weighed in at a healthy 31 million paid subscribers. That’s up from 21 million at the end of 2022, and more than triple the 9 million subscribers it had at the end of 2021, according to parent company Comast’s earnings report.
Not bad a streaming service nobody wanted, eh? The popularity likely is due in no small part to its affordable price, as well as it being the U.S. streaming home of the English Premier League. And there’s still plenty to watch on Peacock, too.
Hulu has undergone a number of changes over the years both in terms of what’s on the service, as well as who owns it. As of late 2023, Disney — which previously owned a big chunk thanks to its purchase of 21st Century Fox — bought out Comcast’s 33% shares and now owns the whole thing.
Hulu is known for on-demand boutique content like The Handmaid’s Tale and Only Murders in the Building, and there’s a wealth of other on-demand content available, especially from the Fox side of the equation. Hulu has 43.9 million paid subscribers for its on-demand product. Complicating things a little is that you can now watch Hulu from within Disney+, if you’re subscribed to both services. But not everything on Hulu is available on Disney+.
Hulu also is home to the second-largest live TV streaming service in the U.S., at 4.6 million subscribers, per Disney’s Q3 2023 earnings. Those subscribers also are automatically enrolled in the Disney bundle and are also counted as subscribers of Disney+ and ESPN+.
Speaking of streaming services that are backed by entire studios, Paramount+ is global, and still very much a thing. (Though analysts believe it one day will need to be swallowed up, probably by the next entry in our list.)
A number of major brands fall under the Paramount umbrella and are included in Paramount+. Think CBS content. And the premium Showtime network, which is now directly integrated with Paramount+ instead of being a standalone service. There’s also Nickelodeon and MTV, Comedy Central, and BET. Paramount+ also has served as a streaming home for Champions League soccer, and the NWSL. And if you’re a Star Trek fan, it’s the place to be.
And Paramount reported in its Q3 2023 earnings that Paramount+ stood at 63.4 million subscribers, up about 38% from the previous year.
No service has undergone a larger transformation than Max. It used to be HBO Go and HBO Now before becoming HBO Max. And then owner Warner Bros. merged with Discovery — forming current parent company Warner Bros. Discovery. And now the streaming service is simply Max.
here we’re using Warner Bros. Discovery’s 97.7 million number as disclosed in its fourth-quarter 2023 earnings report. But it’s a messy number, comprising the totality of WBD’s direct-to-consumer subscribers. And that includes Discovery+ (which still exists), legacy HBO and HBO Max, and the current Max service.
In any event, Max is continue to morph as it grows. It’s more recently added more news content with CNN Max, and the Bleacher Report sports add-on with more than 300 live events annually, including the NHL and NBA, and U.S. Soccer.
And Max continues to expand. It’s moving into Latin America in the first quarter of 2024, and into Europe in the spring. And you’ll be able to bundle the upcoming super sports streaming venture that includes live sports from Disney (think ESPN and the like) and Fox, in addition to events Max holds the rights to.
Let that number sink in for a minute.
Disney+ also has been extremely aggressive in bundling itself with other Disney-owned streaming services — Hulu and ESPN+ — pricing the bundle so that you’re encouraged to just go ahead and get all three. So there’s going to be a bit of overlap.
In the U.S., Disney+ is home to all things D, of course, along with Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and National Geographic. And if you also subscribe to Hulu, you can now get that content inside the Disney+ app, too.
There also are different flavors of Disney+ depending on what country you’re in. That’s where another service called Hotstar comes into play in India, integrating live sports, plus more than 100,000 hours of shows and movies in nine languages. It’s separate, but still a part of the global picture, and is referred to as Disney+ Hotstar.
Here’s how it breaks down: There were 46.5 million Disney+ subscribers in the U.S. and Canada as of September 30, 2023. And there were another 66.1 million subscribers internationally, for a total of 112.6 million worldwide. Disney+ Hotstar adds another 37.6 million subscribers, bringing the whole smash to just over 150 million.
Amazon Prime Video isn’t quite like all the other streaming services here. Well, it is and it isn’t. In one sense, it’s exactly like all the others because you can subscribe to it and watch all kinds of things. But it’s also part of the vast Amazon Prime ecosystem. You pay a monthly (or annual) fee for Amazon Prime, and you also get access to virtually countless movies and shows as part of that subscription fee.
But Amazon Prime Video also is where you can rent or buy shows and movies. So it’s entirely possible to use Amazon Prime Video without subscribing to Amazon Prime. And Amazon Prime Video also is a portal to other streaming services via Amazon Prime Video Channels. So you can subscribe to, say, Paramount+ or Max, within Amazon Prime Video. And Prime Video is home to some exclusive sports (in the U.S., anyway) that you can’t watch anywhere else, like Thursday Night Football for NFL games.
So there’s a lot going on here.
That said, Amazon Prime Video is huge. It’s global, available in more than 200 countries. Amazon CEO Andy Jassey in the company’s Q3 2023 earnings call said that “Prime Video continues to be an integral part of the prime value proposition, where it’s often one of the top two drivers of customers signing up for Prime.” And while Amazon doesn’t publicly release actual numbers for either Amazon Prime or Prime Video, Jassey in his 2021 letter to shareholders — his first as CEO after succeeding founder Jeff Bezos — stated that Amazon had “over 200 million Prime customers.”
Various private estimates go up from there. But 200 million is the rough ballpark on the low end. And in 2024, Amazon is going to further monetize Amazon Prime Video with advertising — or charge users another $3 to get rid of ads.
Netflix is the biggest streaming service in the world. The company reported 260.28 million global paid memberships as of December 31, 2023. That number was up 5.3 percent from the previous quarter, and up nearly 13 percent year over year.
The secret to Netflix’s success? Reach, for one. It’s been available globally longer than any of the other services on this list. (And, of course, not all the services on this list are available globally.) The United States and Canada on their own make up 80.13 million subscribers, or just under 31% of the total. Europe, the Middle East and Africa make up about 34% of the total at 88.81 million. Latin America and Mexico weigh in at 46 million, and the Asia-Pacific region hits 45.3 million. It’s a big world out there.
But the other reason is just the sheer scope of content that you can find on Netflix. Movies. Shows. Foreign. Domestic. And, in fact, Netflix has capitalized by blurring the lines between countries thanks to some aggressive marketing, language-dubbing, and subtitles. Take the Squid Game phenomenon, for example, which brought a Korean-language series to the entire world.
And because Netflix is constantly rotating in new content, there’s always something new to watch.
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