The streaming wars are heating up, from Netflix to Amazon Prime Video, and HBO Max to Disney+, and each service is offering plenty of exciting exclusives. It's easy to overlook just how rapidly the age of streaming changed the way audiences consume entertainment, and how seismic a shift it was when Netflix decided to evolve from that company you rent DVDs from to a multi-billion dollar content complex. In less than a decade, millions of people worldwide have completely changed how they watch film and television. When House of Cards released, it seemed like such a novelty to have every episode of a season of TV available to binge-watch, but now it’s the norm.
Last Updated: October 30, 2019
As Hollywood leans harder into nine-figure blockbusters and mega-franchises, viewers have turned to streaming for a large chunk of their regular film consumption. It remains debatable exactly how much Netflix has changed the game in the entertainment world but it would be downright foolish to deny their power and how devoted audiences have become to streaming as a concept. It’s taken a few years for the rest of the world to catch up to Netflix, but now, we're heading into the first true phase of the streaming wars. Netflix has always had some sort of competition, primarily from Amazon and Hulu, but now the stakes are much higher and the investments far greater than before.
Major networks and titans of the traditional studio system are getting in on the streaming game, each hoping to entice audiences with hotly-hyped exclusive content and deals viewers can’t get anywhere else. It remains to be seen if this strategy has any longevity or if we quickly succumb to Peak Streaming Services. Are audiences willing to pay potentially hundreds of dollars a month for multiple platforms, as many do with their cable packages, or will they simply pick the one they like the most and stick to that? Whatever the case, consumers certainly won’t be short on choices in the coming years. Here are the streaming services available or arriving soon, and what to expect from each.
Release date: Available now.
Cost: $12.99 per month for standard plan.
Netflix has too many exclusive movies and TV shows to list. Suffice to say that the giant of streaming services is immensely proud of its sheer quantity of entertainment available only to them. Indeed, the company are investing billions of dollars in original content in the hopes of having their platform be 50% exclusive films, shows, etc. So far, they’ve managed to attract major names to the platform with big money deals and the promise of more creative freedom. Ryan Murphy has made the jump to Netflix, as has Shonda Rhimes, and none other than Martin Scorsese will premiere their new movies with the platform.
Netflix was founded in 1997, originally to sell and rent DVDs to customers by mail. They expanded into streaming media in 2010 but didn't become a major player in producing and distributing their own shows and movies until 2012. After that, they expanded at an enormous rate and became the go-to streaming service for users the world over. In 2018, the company’s revenues increased 35% year-over-year to $15.8 billion, according to Forbes. By April of this year, Netflix were reporting that they had 148.8 million subscribers globally.
More than that, Netflix also carries an immense amount of critical prestige. Shows like Orange is the New Black and The Crown have won multiple Emmys, and they broke through the Oscars glass ceiling big time this year with Roma, which took home three awards from 10 nominations. Being at Netflix is now cool, especially for genres and stories previously written off as box office flops by the traditional studio system, as seen by the service’s major boon in rom-coms. Coming up soon, Netflix have TV adaptations of The Witcher (starring Henry Cavill) and The Chronicles of Narnia.
Amazon Prime Video
Release date: Available now.
Cost: $119 per year or $12.99 per month.
For a reported 100 million plus users, Amazon Prime is primarily a go-to subscription service that offers customers speedy delivery on products purchased from the site. In that aspect, it's unique among streaming services as it acts as a media extension of a wider shopping conglomerate, for better or worse. Amazon Video started offering original programming in 2013, and in 2015, the celebrated dramedy Transparent became the first show produced by Amazon Studios to win a major award and the first series from a streaming video service to win a Golden Globe for Best TV Series - Musical or Comedy.
Since then, Amazon has gained a strong reputation for their films, including award winners like Manchester By the Sea and Suspiria. Unlike Netflix, Amazon give their films traditional theatrical releases, but the streaming rights are exclusive to Prime. Amazon has also invested heavily in sports, particularly exclusive rights to live tennis matches, something that Netflix has never done. But like everyone else on TV, they’re hoping to create the next Game of Thrones, and they’re placing a reported half a billion dollars on the line with an epic television adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.
Release date: Available now.
Cost: $5.99 per month with ads, $11.99 per month ad-free.
Biggest exclusives: The Handmaid’s Tale, The Act, FX series.
Hulu was founded in 2007 as a joint project between News Corp., NBC Universal, private investors, and later The Walt Disney Company, as a way to stream episodes of shows from their respective networks. While the platform has some breakout shows - most notably The Handmaid's Tale and The Act - it's best known to many as the place to get full seasons of their favorite network comedies, like How I Met Your Mother.
Disney's recent acquisition of 21st Century Fox's movie and TV assets gave them a majority stake in Hulu. AT&T then sold back its minority stake in the company, and Comcast soon thereafter announced that it had reached an agreement for Disney to purchase its 33% stake as early as 2024. Given Disney’s own interest in the streaming game, many wondered what role Hulu would service in the future, if any. Disney’s upcoming streaming service will not feature any content with R-ratings or above, so Hulu will be the home for such entertainment, including FX shows (another thing Disney now owns).
Hulu is currently only available in the USA, but rumors have swirled that the service may be available worldwide in the future as an add-on to the upcoming Disney+.
Release date: Launches in May 2020.
Cost: $14.99 per month
For WarnerMedia and parent company AT&T, HBO is arguably the most valuable name they now have under their umbrella, hence the apparent decision to name their streaming service after the cable network. That’s not to say WarnerMedia’s own back-catalog is lacking. One of the true legends of Hollywood history will make the jump to streaming soon, and they’ve promised a jam-packed platform of content that encompasses everything under the vast umbrella of AT&T, including several new shows.
The biggest news from this announcement - and perhaps the most telling sign of what audiences truly want - is that HBO Max will be the exclusive home to the TV series Friends. This has proven dramatic for many because the sitcom has been extremely popular on Netflix, and that streaming service were willing to pay $100 million a year to keep it on the platform. WarnerMedia are hoping that this, along with HBO’s impressive catalog and that of their own brand, will encourage people to subscribe. It was recently confirmed that HBO Max will cost $14.99 per month, the same as the existing HBO Now service.
Release date: Launches in April 2020.
Cost: To be announced. Will have both an ad-supported free version and a paid ad-free option.
Biggest exclusives: The Office (and other NBCU programming), the Olympics.
As with Friends, Netflix has found surprising success with younger audiences through streaming of The Office, and now they’re about to lose those rights to another competitor. NBCU’s streaming plans will be somewhat different from its main competition. The service will be free to NBCU pay-cable subscribers in America and will be supported via ads, but there are plans for the service to be made available both to subscribers of Comcast (a parent company of NBCU who previously put in a bid for Fox) and Sky, which would take it international.
Release date: Launches on November 12, 2019.
Cost: $6.99 a month, or $69.99 per year.
Biggest exclusives: All Disney films and TV series, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and upcoming TV series, Star Wars (plus The Mandalorian), National Geographic, 20th Century Fox, Pixar, The Simpsons.
Out of all of Netflix’s many competitors, it may be Disney+ that poses the biggest risk to their subscriber count. Take decades of Disney’s historical output, add the MCU and Star Wars, plus everything acquired in the Fox deal that’s rated PG-13 or under (including every episode of The Simpsons), and finish it off with brand new shows and movies unavailable anywhere else. All that and it’s half the price of Netflix. Disney+ are not afraid to play hardball with the streaming giants.
Disney’s total domination of the domestic and international box office is one of the few things holding up the box office from certain disaster, as audiences choose to stay at home with Netflix for most movies that aren’t major blockbuster events. The company will almost certainly be keen to replicate their success as an at-home service, and what better way to do so than by offering Marvel, Star Wars, Disney, and countless ABC/Fox sitcoms?
CBS All Access
Release date: Available now.
Cost: $5.99 a month with ads, $9.99 a month ad-free.
CBS's foray into streaming was discussed with much cynicism when it was first launched in October 2014. The network is frequently one of the highest rated of its kind, but its reputation is still that of the channel preferred by older viewers who may not be willing to sign up for an online service. However, the prospect of a new Star Trek series proved enticing enough to get some people onboard, as did the critically adored The Good Wife spinoff, The Good Fight. By early 2018, CBS All Access were reporting that their subscriber count had reached 2 million, with that number increasing to 4 million by this February, according to the network.
Release date: Launches April 6, 2020.
Cost: $4.99 a month with ads, $7.99 a month ad-free.
Biggest exclusives: Original programming by Guillermo del Toro, Steven Spielberg, Chrissy Teigen, Zac Efron, Lena Waithe, Catherine Hardwicke.
Quibi is probably the most unusual streaming service to soon be hitting the market. Developed by former Dreamworks co-founder and CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and former Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman, this streamer is unique in that it's designed exclusively for mobile devices. Short for “Quick Bites”, all Quibi programming will be 10 minutes or less in length, with Katzenberg and company banking hard on the belief that audiences prefer to consume content in short bursts rather than hours of marathon viewing. It’s a risk, to be sure, but Katzenberg has still managed to entice a lot of major talent to the platform, with none other than Steven Spielberg on board developing a horror show that can only be viewed after dark.
Release date: Launches November 1, 2019.
Cost: $4.99 per month.
Biggest exclusives: The Morning Show, See, For All Mankind
Apple's TV app has been a big part of the tech giant's output for several years now, providing video on demand and movies and TV for rent. The announcement that Apple would be fully investing in their solo streaming service came as no surprise given the company's popularity and capabilities. While they already have some original exclusives under their belt, most notably Carpool Karaoke, they're set to build upon that in startlingly impressive ways.
Some of the biggest stars in entertainment are on board Apple TV+ with new and exclusive programming. Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston have teamed up for The Morning Show, a comedy-drama set behind the scenes on a major morning talk show. Steven Spielberg is reviving Amazing Stories for the platform. Chris Evans will star in Defending Jacob, a crime drama directed by Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game). Stephen King's novel Lisey's Story will be adapted into a miniseries starring Julianne Moore, and there are plans for shows from M. Night Shyamalan and Taika Waititi (the latter is attached to a remake of Time Bandits).
And then there is the queen of talk herself, Oprah Winfrey, who will revive her iconic book club for Apple TV+ as well as team up with Prince Harry for a docuseries on mental health. If Apple TV+ are hoping to grab attention through sheer star power then this was certainly the way to do it.