After a wild 2020, all bets are off in this year's streaming wars
Posted February 2, 2021 8:22 a.m. EST
CNN — 2020 was supposed to be the kickoff of the streaming wars — the year when new contenders battled Netflix to take their own slice of the streaming pie.
Then the pandemic happened. Instead of finding itself under siege, Netflix further cemented its supremacy with massive subscriber numbers and hit after hit. As for the rest of Hollywood, Covid turned the industry on its head.
So what does 2021 have in store? Well, if last year taught us anything, it's that anything can happen, so all bets are off for this year's streaming wars.
Here's our best guess on what to expect from the biggest names in streaming in 2021.
Netflix had a huge head start in streaming, and that lead only got larger last year. How much larger? In 2020, the streaming company added 31% more new users than the year before. That helped Netflix reach a big milestone: 200 million subscribers.
In 2021, it's doubtful that Netflix is going to slow down.
The service has a surplus of content coming from some of Hollywood's biggest names including Lin-Manuel Miranda and The Rock. It also promises to release a new film every week — an impressive feat considering that US movie theaters are still mostly closed.
To quote Mel Brooks, it's "good to be the king," but Netflix does have one competitor with a shot at closing in on its throne this year.
Disney had an amazing 2020, in streaming at least.
The company's new service, Disney+, attracted more than 85 million users in about a year, matching its own long-term expectations.
And it did so at a time when Disney itself was being ravaged by the pandemic, with much of the company's established businesses — from the box office to theme parks — taking major hits.
Going into 2021 and beyond, Disney+ is adding an onslaught of content from its name-brand properties like Marvel Studios, Star Wars, Pixar and Disney Animation.
Disney+'s new content, brand loyalty and fervent fan base makes it a true rival to Netflix. However, 2021 will show if it can truly catch up and possibly even surpass the streaming standard bearer.
Peacock and HBO Max
Last year brought two newcomers to the streaming party with NBCUniversal's Peacock and HBO Max from CNN's parent company, AT&T.
Both services have libraries stacked with beloved content, but both had an access problem right out of the gate. Negotiations to get onto popular streaming platforms such as Roku stalled for months. And while some of those issues were ultimately resolved, they may have held back millions of potential customers from signing up.
HBO Max and Peacock also didn't offer a big, buzzy new show like Disney+'s "The Mandalorian." Instead, both relied on old favorites such as "Friends," "Game of Thrones," "Parks and Recreation" and "The Office" to lure new customers.
But in 2021, both have big plans.
Peacock has an ace up its sleeve with live sports including the WWE and the Tokyo Olympics (that is, if the already delayed summer games actually happen).
And HBO Max has plans to literally become your home box office by streaming all of Warner Bros.' 2021 feature films on the same day they premiere in theaters — a revolutionary move that ruffled some feathers in Hollywood.
ViacomCBS' CBS All Access is getting a makeover in 2021.
The service will be rebranded Paramount+ this winter in hopes of using the name recognition of its storied studio to add to its subscriber count.
It's a gamble — consumers might not associate Paramount with its popular franchises such as Mission: Impossible or Star Trek the same way they associate Disney with Marvel and Star Wars.
But a treasure trove of kid's content from Nickelodeon, familiar brands including MTV, BET and CBS as well as a star-studded remake of "The Godfather" series starring Oscar Isaac and Jake Gyllenhaal may help get Paramount+ noticed.
Apple and Amazon
And of course, there are the deep pocketed tech giants who dabble in streaming: Apple and Amazon.
Apple TV+ has managed to create some buzz during its first year with programming like "The Morning Show" and "Ted Lasso," while Amazon Prime Video has had award-winning success with "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel."
But as we head further into 2021, both appear to be just scratching the service of the impact they can have in the streaming world.
Apple, for example, has been getting more into the movie business while Amazon is poised to reach the streaming stratosphere with its big-budget, highly anticipated "Lord of the Rings" series, which is filming its first season.
So now what?
Hopefully 2021 will see the world reopen with people getting vaccinated. That'll be great news, but it could also change the streaming scoreboard.
With audiences no longer cooped up at home, and with disposable income hard to come by for millions of families, streaming's growth could slow, and that could cause some major shifts in the marketplace.