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Streaming Wars: Who's Winning and Why This Matters to Marketers and Brands

With deep interest and growth in TV streaming services over the past year, it’s no surprise that the streaming space has become crowded, chaotic, and quite frankly, a little confusing. With a record-breaking seven million American households dropping their traditional pay TV subscription in 2020 and another 27% planning to cut cable by the end of 2021, it’s no wonder marketers are racing to figure out how their brands can be part of the streaming platform evolution.

Who is actually winning the streaming war?

First, let’s gather a quick snapshot of the current streaming TV market. While 91% of U.S. households subscribe to at least one streaming service, the average American household pays for four streaming services annually, spending an average of $47 per month. Ninety-three percent of households who are current subscribers are planning to increase or maintain streaming subscriptions over the next 12 months. The cord-cutting trend continues to skyrocket due to three main factors: the rise of digitalization, lack of time for traditional TV, and availability of more/different types of content. With these factors in play, which TV streaming services are winning American consumers hearts, minds, and viewership?

Netflix, HBO Max, and Disney+ are all big winners when looking at account subscriber numbers, overall content, and ongoing momentum. Based on a 2021 Vulture Study:

  • Netflix leads the streaming field, ranking highest in subscriber size (207MM), original content output (461 titles), and industry ranking and second in critical buzz. Netflix’s original content share commanded 50% of U.S. audience interest in 2020 by searches/downloads.
  • HBO Max ranks highest in critical buzz and second in original content output (50+ titles) and momentum, while winning more Emmy’s than any other streaming platform.
  • Disney+ ranks highest in momentum and second in industry ranking. With Disney+ debuting in 2019, the platform quickly achieved 100MM+ global subscribers in under 18 months.

tv streaming graph


Brands should focus on subscriber audience, content output, and industry buzz to capitalize on growth opportunity. Recent mergers, partnerships, and new players in the space should also be of interest, laying groundwork for greater potential audience reach and unique integration across streaming services and programming.

Battle of the eras

Another theme that has driven the evolution of streaming services are the types available to consumers. Key players such as Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube led the charge at the start of the millennium and have adapted over the years to remain relevant. Amazon Prime and Apple TV moved later, giving consumers new content and bringing sophisticated data and technology platforms to the table. More recently, competition has come from key traditional players such as NBC (Peacock), ESPN (ESPN+), and Discovery (Discovery+). Major challenges for traditional TV platforms include managing legacy channels while simultaneously growing D2C services to maximize revenue, producing enough original content to compete with streaming players, having deep enough pockets to woo and retain talent from actors to TV producers, and finally, creating a global platform to compete with newer players such as Netflix and Amazon.

tv graphic

As more traditional TV networks enter the streaming market, the lines will continue to blur between linear and connected TV (CTV). While traditional networks examine how to keep pace with newer streaming companies, there are ample opportunities for marketers and brands to help shape these conversations and create valuable partnerships. Only time will tell who is built for longevity and will truly win out in the end.

But what about ad-free platforms or tiers?

Surprisingly, US households are OK viewing ads within their streaming services, provided the monthly cost remains low. While some streaming services are completely ad-free or have ad-free cost tiers, price is a key factor with American households. Sixty-seven percent support lower cost, ad-supported TV over an ad-free subscription with higher premiums. With three quarters of US households willing to view ads in exchange for free or lower cost, opportunities remain for marketers and brands to engage across a wide variety of platforms. However, it will be important to focus on the right streaming platforms, focusing on subscriber audience, content, and ad-supported capabilities.


As we look ahead to 2022, expect an ongoing evolution of streaming platforms through content, technology, and device upgrades. Streaming TV will continue to become more complex as more services enter the market along with the formation of new partnerships, mergers, and acquisitions.

The streaming audience will also continue to shift as younger audiences seek to stay engaged with new, inspiring, and exciting content while older audiences may finally feel comfortable shifting away from traditional TV. This is a huge opportunity for both traditional and new streaming services to capture both audiences but in different ways.

As streaming services serve up new and exciting content, content that brings the nostalgia of familiarity and comfort is also highly sought after, especially through legacy TV services. The way content is presented and types of content available will certainly play a role in how marketers and brands can best utilize streaming content cross-device and smartly invest media dollars across over-the-top (OTT)/CTV platforms as part of their media mix.


For more information about the streaming wars, as well as other key trends for the quarter, download our Q4 Media Insights Report.