– Disney and Netflix are in the “top tier” of US streaming subscribers, with 69.1 million and 66.8 million respectively. Disney just passed Netflix for top streaming subscriber in the US.
– HBO, Prime Video, and Showtime/Paramount+ make up the next tier of streamers.
The latest issue of the Economist features a topic near and dear to my heart, intelligence. Specifically, “open source” intelligence, meaning publicly available data. The amount of publicly available data is literally—not just hyperbolically—growing exponentially and it could disrupt the previous monopoly on intelligence by states.
(For those who don’t subscribe, they also have an excellent podcast on the topic.)
Honestly, you could make the same case for “open source intelligence” in business intelligence as well. Previously, analysts hoarded business intelligence like governments hoarded secrets. Firms wanted to create walled-gardens of knowledge because secret knowledge was much more profitable than publicly available knowledge.
My approach is the opposite. I thrive off a surfeit of publicly-available information. Partly this is of necessity (I can’t pay hedge fund rates!) but partly it is from philosophy: I want everyone out there to have the same access to data that I do. So you can come to your own conclusions.
Anyways, that’s a lot of preamble to get to the exciting part of today:
I’m updating my US streaming subscriber estimates!!!
And it’s all from “open source” intelligence. First, I’ll show you the awesome chart with the estimates, then, I’ll explain why I make these estimates (again for the United States alone, and not for the globe), my general approach, my methodology and my exciting plans for the future.
Without further ado, here are my estimates on US Subscribers as of August 2021:
(Update on 13-Aug-2021. I found a slight miscalculation in the Viacom-CBS numbers. The total is almost identical but Showtime and Paramount+’s subscriber counts each shifted slightly.)
However, many of these are estimates. Here are my estimated “90% confidence intervals”.
The Data 5Ws
Who — Streamer
What — Estimated paid subscribers
When — As of August 2021
Where — The United States
How — From industry estimates, public disclosures, leaks and other estimates.
Unfortunately, even such a straight-forward sounding goal—collect US paid subscribers—quickly gets mired in details. Do I count all users or only paid subscribers? Do I count linear subscribers on premium channels or only “OTT” subscribers? What about free promotions? Where do I stop counting smaller subscription services?
It’s a mess. To focus I have the following “rules” to make this comparison as “apples-to-apples” as possible:
– First, I’m estimating subscribers. Users or viewers watching free or advertising-supported services from Youtube to Pluto TV don’t count.
– Second, paid subscriptions are the goal. Not users, or sign-ups or activations or unique viewers, but paid subscribers.
– Third, the goal is “streaming”, but I include “premium cable” subscriptions too. Because lots of folks subscribe to HBO, Showtime and Starz directly. Ignoring that provides less context than more.
– Fourth, basic cable subscribers do not count though, since folks don’t realize they pay a monthly fee for those. (This excludes Curiosity Stream for example.)
– Fifth, a subscriber is “paid” if the customer or a third party pays for the subscription. Meaning a customer getting Netflix through T-Mobile counts as paid, but a customer redeeming a year of Apple TV+ for buying an iPhone does not. Call this the Apple and Amazon rule.
– Sixth, the data is up to the current moment, but for the most part reflects the end of the last fiscal quarter, on June 30th.
– Seventh, any major studio with a general purpose streamer makes the list.
– Eighth, smaller streamers need over 4 million combined US subscribers to qualify. (This excludes DAZN and Crunchy Roll for example.)
So that’s the requirements, to get the actual estimates here’s my approach. Step one is to make my personal estimates. In which I…
– Review relevant financial reports (meaning quarterly and annual earnings reports) for specific subscriber data and specific definitions.
– Then I search for additional news, leaks, third party data, and other estimates.
– Then I build my best estimate.
I then gather other third party estimates for all US subscribers. I like to make my estimates first to ground my thinking and supplement them with other estimates to see what other folks are forecasting.
Lastly, I then define all my estimates on my “certainty” level. For example, when Starz says they have 9.7 million OTT subscribers, I take that as fact as of 30-June-2021. For other data with well known inputs, I consider those “estimates”, like Netflix’s US subscriber totals.
Whenever I spend this much time on data research—and I’ve been working on this on and off since July—the number of thoughts I generate are much to voluminous to fit into one quick article. The plan for the rest of August is to release streamer-specific articles describing my information and estimates for each streamer above.
Further, I’ll keep refining my methodology, and letting you know when I do. The goal is radical transparency.
Next, my goal is to keep these updated going forward! One of the reasons this took me some time was that I updated past estimates per quarter as well. Which took time. But now that I’ve re-reviewed everything, future updates should go even quicker.
If you wildly disagree with my numbers, that’s fine. Though I’ll explain my specific assumptions in future articles, so wait until those are up to vehemently insult my thinking. But even if you disagree, consider these a starting point to ground the discussion of the streaming wars in the US.
Oh, and as for that headline, yep, Disney is in first place. Technically, they passed them in Q1, but I didn’t publish an update then.