Updated on April 23, 2022
For years, I’ve considered Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and Netflix as the “Big Three” streaming services. Netflix made streaming services popular; was inexpensive; served as a broad “catch-all” for all genres; and carried content from major media conglomerates. Hulu offered TV shows the next day from broadcast and cable networks. Finally, Amazon Prime Video came for free with a monthly Prime subscription.
Needless to say, a lot’s changed over the past several years. All of these services have had to step up their game versus an explosion of streaming services from basically all the major US media conglomerates. The aforementioned three services have placed a larger emphasis on original content. Netflix has lost content from the media conglomerates, who’ve pulled material so they can make their own services. Thanks to mergers/changes, Hulu’s now a Disney owned service. And of course, the pandemic has seen a spike in both TV watching and online ordering, and thus more Amazon Prime usage.
Given all of this, I thought I’d check on the most popular streaming services that mainly serve the United States. (The overall top 10 globally includes several serving mainly China and/or the non-Japan parts of southeastern Asia.) Sorry, fans of Crave/BBC iPlayer/Foxtel…
The top 10 US streaming services
Here’s (as of this writing) the top 10 US streaming services by subscribers. Numbers are from Wikipedia (though they’re all credibly sourced) as of September 7, 2021:
- Netflix, 209 million subscribers
- Amazon Prime Video, 175 million subscribers
- Disney+, 116 million subscribers
- HBO Max, 67.5 million subscribers
- Peacock, 54 million subscribers
- Hulu, 42.8 million subscribers
- Paramount+, 42 million
- Apple TV+, 33.6 million
- YouTube Premium, 30 million subscribers
- CuriosityStream, 20 million subscribers
Note the numbers above are global totals, not just the United States. They also don’t account for, say, the Disney+ streaming service bundle (which includes ESPN+ and Hulu), Peacock’s free tier (which likely has more users than the paid ones), or Apple offering Apple TV+ free to new Apple device buyers for a year. Some of the numbers are also estimates, in the case of services like Amazon Prime (as Amazon’s reluctant to give out specific figures on anything). And of course, some services aren’t globally available; Hulu’s only offered in the US and Japan.
Still, despite all of this, the top three US streaming services at this point are Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+. HBO Max trails behind in fourth place, while Peacock and Hulu come in at fifth and sixth.
Disney+’s rise to such a high number of subscribers is a pretty phenomenal success story, helped by a mix of A) being cheap, B) the pandemic forcing a lot of people to stay home and watch TV, and C) Disney’s ownership of a metric ton of popular properties: Marvel, “Star Wars,” Pixar, Disney Princesses, etc.
I assume Hulu’s helped by being part of a bundle with Disney+. HBO Max’s numbers are likely seeing a boost by offering same-day movies in 2021 (plus fixing its Roku and Amazon Fire TV situations), despite being expensive. Peacock saw a boost in subscribers thanks to sign-ups for the Olympics.
The total monthly cost to buy the top five services (in their most popular tiers/bundles) would be about $55. (Assuming one pays for Peacock’s cheapest non-free tier.) That’d be more than enough TV for most people. The monthly cost for just the top three services comes to $35, which admittedly is also a decent amount of TV.