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The Biggest Stories in Streaming in 2020

Stephanie Sengwe

To say that 2020 threw us all for a loop is to unjustly describe the events of this year. While the year started off perfectly normal, it all took a turn in March as the entire world was forced to shutdown. With people cooped up with all members of their families, there was nowhere else to turn but to TV. As such, streaming services saw a huge spike in viewership, with Netflix and Disney+ pulling in the strongest numbers among SVODs while Pluto TV and Tubi also performed among AVODs.

While the presence of the coronavirus boded well from the consumer perspective, it wreaked havoc on the production side. All studios had to shut down all productions until it was safe to resume filming. Service such as Peacock and HBO Max which were slated to launch with a slew of programming had to make adjustments though their launch dates remained the same. Films that were meant to be huge blockbusters wound up being delayed, premiering on PVOD or getting very small windows in theaters before heading to streamers.

With the year finally winding down here is a run down of all the major streaming news that transpired this year.

1. The Rapid Rise of Disney+

Disney+ Reaches Nearly 90 Million Subscribers

Disney+ opened the year on a high note. In February, the wildly popular streaming service reported they had amassed 26.5 million subscribers at the end of 2019 — after launching just 6 weeks earlier.

The rocket ship didn’t stop there. The streaming service launched in India and eight Western European countries in the spring and those expansions pushed the service to 50 million global subscribers. By the time the company reported their Q2 2020 results in May, they were already at 54.5 Million subscribers.

With the pandemic raging on and several high profile releases such as Onward, Frozen 2, Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker, Hamilton the film and Beyonce’s Black is King, the streaming giant climbed to 60.5 million subscribers as of Aug. 3rd.

By the time their fourth quarter wrapped in September, the streamer had amassed 73.7 million subscribers.

At their 2020 Investor Day, the company revealed that after launching in Latin America, they had reached 86.8 million subscribers as of Dec. 2.

Disney+ Hotstar, their streaming service in India, now makes up just ~30% of Disney+ subscribers, meaning that there are ~60 million outside of India.

Disney Adds Two Streaming Services

Going into 2021, Disney has accelerated their streaming plans. They announced two new international streaming services: Star and Star+.

Star will feature entertainment movies, television, documentaries, and more, along with Star-branded new exclusive originals and local productions being created for the service.

Since it will now include content not that might not be suited for kids, they will add the ability to set limits on access to content for specific profiles and add a PIN to lock profiles with access to mature content.

Instead of including Star within the Disney+ app in Latin America, they will be launching a separate streaming service called Star+ which will feature both general entertainment and live sports.

The service will be the exclusive streaming home for general entertainment TV series and movies and the home for streaming live sports from ESPN.

Disney+ First Price Hike

Disney+ announced they would increase the monthly price by $1 to $7.99 in the U.S., while Continental Europe would see an increase of €2, becoming €8.99. Other regions would see a similar increase. In Latin America, Star+ will be $7.50 a month or ~$9 a month when bundled with Disney+.

Plans For More Star Wars and Marvel Content

Disney+ announced more ambitious content plans for Disney+, targeting to release more than 100 titles per year and $8B in content spend. To do that, they plan to have 10 series from Marvel and Star Wars, 15 series and 15 features from Disney and Pixar over the next few years.

2021 will see the debut of WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Solider, Ms. Marvel, Hawkeye, season 3 of The Mandalorian, and a new series called The Book of Boba Fett.

2. New Entrants, But Netflix Continues to Dominate

In May, HBO Max officially launched as WarnerMedia tried to expand the appeal of HBO to a broader set of streamers. The results so far has seen HBO grow for the first time in years – but not at the rate of Disney+.

As of latest report, HBO and HBO Max now have 38 million subscribers as of Q3 2020, up 1.7 million from last quarter.

In July, Peacock launched despite not having the 2020 Olympics as the launching pad they had hoped. While NBCU hasn’t revealed how many subscribers they have, the company has seen sign-ups reach 26 million since July.

Despite the growth of Disney+ and addition of Peacock and HBO Max, Netflix showed that they are still the undisputed leader in streaming. With people stuck at home, they continued to capture share of streamers.

By the end of Q3, they had reached 195 million global subscribers and 73 million in the U.S. and Canada. The company added more than 37 million global subscribers, despite having more competition than ever.

3. Strength of Streaming Platforms

2020 saw the rise of the power of the streaming platform with the continued growth of Roku and Amazon Fire TV. As of writing, Roku has 46 million active accounts, while Fire TV has surpassed 50 million.

With their dominance and the control of streaming eyeballs, streaming platforms like Roku and Fire TV are now requiring more for apps to become available on their platforms. So just like there has been carriage disputes between cable companies and networks, we’ve now seem the same dynamic with streaming platforms and streaming services.

Streaming Service & Streaming Platform Carriage Disputes

Roku dished out a major shocker at the top of the year when they announced that at the end of January, Fox Apps would no longer be available on Roku streaming devices. The timing of the announcement was terrible, seeing as though Super Bowl LIV was streaming in the Fox Sports App in 4K on February 2nd.

But before the apps could be removed, the two sides reached a deal – but set the stage for what would be a year of dispute between streaming platforms and streaming services.

Of the more prominent ones are HBO Max and Peacock’s longwinded with Roku and Fire TV. When the two services launched on May 27 and July 15, respectively, they did so without having struck deals with either distributor. The disputes were a big deal because without being available on those platforms, HBO Max and Peacock weren’t reaching a large percentage of the market. With a combined 80 million active users, Roku and Amazon make up 70 percent of the overall streaming player industry.

Two months after their national launch, Peacock finally reached a resolution with Roku in September, but it took threatening to pull all of NBCU’s TV Everywhere Apps to get a deal done.

In November, WarnerMedia announced they reached a deal to bring HBO Max to Amazon Fire TV devices and Fire TV tablets. The company followed that up with another announcement in December revealing HBO Max will also be making its way to Roku platforms.

At the time of this writing, Peacock is yet to reach an agreement with Amazon.

4. Movies Go Direct-to-Streaming

Premium Video On Demand (PVOD) Makes a Splash

With movie theaters shuttered across the country studios began considering a new way of releasing their movies. NBCUniversal’s Universal Pictures took a chance and revamped the landscape making digital rentals of new release movies available for $19.99. The rental was made available for 48-hours once you start the film. Prior to the pandemic, films became available to rent four to five months after their theatrical release date.

The biggest news was that they would release DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls World Tour on-demand the same day it was released in theaters (April 10th). The film went on to have an incredible opening weekend and reportedly reached $100 million in sales in its first three weeks.

The success of Trolls World Tour had NBCUniversal considering early digital release as a new mode of movie distribution. Following the precedent set with the animated film, the studio revealed plans to employ the same release strategy for “The King of Staten Island”, a new comedy directed by Judd Apatow.

The execs at AMC were displeased by NBCU’s decision that they opted out of screening any of Universal’s films. After some negotiating, the two sides finally agreed to make films available exclusively in theaters for at least 17-days ahead of (PVOD). This would be drastically shorter than the normal 75-day window between a theatrical and digital download.

Disney Releases Hamilton, Mulan and Soul on Disney+

Noting the success of Trolls World Tour Disney announced the highly anticipated film version of hit Broadway musical Hamilton would be coming to Disney+ earlier than expected. The 11-time Tony Award-winning musical, which was supposed to hit theaters in October 2021, was made available on July 3, 15 months earlier that planned.

The decision turned out to be lucrative for the streamer, with Apptopia revealing that app downloads of the streaming service in the U.S. were up 72.4 percent higher “than the average of the four weekends in June 2020 over comparable time periods (Friday through Sunday).”

In August, Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced that Disney’s Mulan, which was originally supposed to be released on March 9, but was delayed due to COVID-19 will be coming Disney+. The compnay shocked subscribers when they revealed the film would not be included with the regular Disney+ subscription. Instead, it was released on Sept. 4 as a premium on-demand offering for $29.99.

Though Disney was never transparent with Mulan’s numbers, company CFO Christine McCarthy said they were “very pleased” with how the film performed.

However, they opted to move Pixar’s Soul directly to Disney+ on Christmas Day. Unlike Mulan, the film was included in your Disney+ subscription and didn’t require an additional fee.

Next March, Disney will be releasing animated film “Raya and the Last Dragon” on Disney+ Premier Access.

WarnerMedia Causes Major Disruption With 2021 Film Slate News

WarnerMedia blew everyone’s minds on Dec. 3, when they announced they will debut their entire 2021 film slate on HBO Max and in theaters on the same day. The news came after the company announced they would be employing the same strategy for Wonder Woman 1984. Movies on the slate include blockbusters such as Godzilla vs. Kong and The Suicide Squad, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Dune and Matrix 4.

Upon hearing the news, AMC was once again one of the first movie theater companies to lash out at the media conglomerate. “Clearly, WarnerMedia intends to sacrifice a considerable portion of the profitability of its movie studio division, and that of its production partners and filmmakers, to subsidize its HBO Max start up,” AMC’s Adam Aron said in a statement.

Netflix Adds Major Movie Titles to Platform

Pre-pandemic, Netflix had released a slew of big films and series, that have gone on to contend in the major categories at all major award shows. With the the virus still raging, the streaming giant was fortunate to already have major films ready to go for the platform.

Films such as Trial of the Chicago 7, Hillbilly Elegy, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and The Prom are currently available for streaming.

5. Major Shows Switching Homes

Once upon a time, Netflix was the great hub for all your favorite classics. However, with so many other streaming services launching over the course of the last year, Netflix has lost some of its prized library content. Most notably, the streaming giant lost Friends to HBO Max as well as Parks & Recreation and The Office to Peacock.

However, always a few steps ahead, Netflix has bulked up their library with other classics. The streamer announced they have reached a deal with Sony Pictures Television to bring the entire 180 episodes of Seinfeld globally to the service. The series is currently available on Hulu, but will move to Netflix when the deal expires in 2021.

In July, Netflix announced they will be bringing some of the most beloved Black sitcoms onto their platform. Moesha, The Game Sister, Sister, Girlfriends, The Parkers, Half & Half and One on One all began rolling out onto platform in the summer.

6. RSNs Get Dropped by Streaming Services

fuboTV, YouTube TV, and Hulu + Live TV Drop Sinclair-Owned Fox Sports RSNs

Even before the pandemic, tensions between RSN carriers and distributors were starting to arise. Last year, both Dish Network and Sling TV dropped the channels from their service. This year, fuboTV, YouTube TV, and Hulu Live TV opted not to carry Sinclair’s Fox Sports RSNs.

This was a trend that started on January 1st, when fuboTV dropped Fox Sports RSNs without warning.

Then, in March, YouTube TV dropped YES Network, Fox Sports West, and Fox Sports Prime Ticket – and narrowed the availability of the rest of the regional sports networks. Finally, in October, they announced they would be dropping all 21 remaining Fox Regional Sports Networks

Hulu + Live TV followed suit and dropped 23 Fox Regional Sports Networks, including YES Network and Marquee Sports Network, from the service on Oct. 23. While the service still carries RSNs from NBC Sports — the news was a major blow to sports fans looking to stream their local teams.

Just a few weeks after losing Fox Sports RSNs, YouTube TV also dropped NESN, the regional sports network covering the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins.

Currently AT&T TV NOW, is the only streamer carrying Fox Sports RSNs on their $80 Max plan. In fact, they’ve been the sole streaming service that has expanded carriage of RSNs – adding Altitude, AT&T SportsNet, ROOT Sports, and MASN.

Sinclair to Rebrand Fox Sports RSNs and Launch DTC Offering

With the decay of their RSN business, Sinclair had to look for additional ways to monetize them. They reached a deal with Bally’s Corporation, which will see Bally Sports become the new name of Fox Sports RSNs. The 10-year deal, which was for a reported $85 million, will also see the companies partner on bringing sports betting to their telecasts.

Sinclair will be bringing the newly-branded RSNs direct-to-consumer.

Company President and CEO Chris Ripley shared that the company will be launching a new app to replace Fox Sports Go. The current Fox Sports Go app provides access to live sports and other content from Fox Regional Sports Networks.

He said their new streaming app will rollout first with TV Everywhere authentication, then they’ll be available via direct-to-consumer service. Ripley did not give any details on pricing, nor did he reveal whether or not the DTC offering will include all games.

7. CBS All Access to Become Paramount+

After months of speculation, ViacomCBS announced CBS All Access will be changing its name to Paramount+ next year. The rebrand is part of a broader effort to make the service a more direct competition for other streaming services, like Netflix, Hulu, Peacock, and HBO Max.

One of the more alluring points of the new service is the fact that it’s getting additional content, when it relaunches in early 2021 expanding to 30,000+ TV episodes and movies from the company’s library. The service is currently $5.99 for the ad-supported version and $9.99 for the ad-free version, but the company hasn’t said if that will change with the relaunch.

8. Discovery Announces Streaming Plans with discovery+

After staying mum for months, Discovery finally unveiled their streaming service, discovery+ on December 2nd. The service will launch on Jan. 4 with two tiers—a $4.99 ad-supported tier, as well as a $6.99 ad-free tier.

The new offering will launch with 55,000 episodes of TV across 2,500 series with content from HGTV, Food Network, TLC, Investigation Discovery, OWN, Animal Planet, and Discovery. The service will also include exclusive discovery+ Originals and will feature notable personalities like the Irwins, Jonathan and Drew Scott, Chip and Joanna Gaines, Bobby Flay, Ree Drummond, Guy Fieri, Giada De Laurentiis, Lieutenant Joe Kenda and so many more - all in one place.

Discovery also reached a deal with A+E to include popular shows on Discovery+ from A&E, History and Lifetime, including The First 48, Dance Moms, Ice Road Truckers, Married at First Sight, 60 Days In and more.

9. Growth of Free Streaming Services

As the pandemic continues to rage on and people are looking for more ways to save, the pivot toward AVOD services only grows stronger. Tubi, Pluto TV, and Xumo all saw hoards of viewers flocking to their platforms.

In March, Fox acquired free streaming service Tubi – and has continued to see major gains.

In November they reported “since acquisition, Tubi has averaged approximately 100 percent increase year-over-year, in total view time.”

The service previously announced that their monthly active users broke the record in August, reaching 33 million, a 65 percent increase year-over-year. At the time, total viewing time was reported to have surpassed 200 million hours streamed each month since April.

Pluto TV has been on the up and up since it was acquired by ViacomCBS back in January 2019. In their Q3 2020 earnings report, ViacomCBS revealed that Pluto TV reached 28.4 million monthly active users (up 57 percent year-over-year).

In February, Comcast acquired free streaming service Xumo which has continued to grow as well. In October, they shared that they’ve reached more than 24 million monthly actives.

10. The Failure of Quibi

After raising nearly $2B dollars, Quibi both started and ended in 2020.

It made its official debut at CES in January, revealing their content slate and their Turnstyle technology – which seamlessly shifted content from portrait to landscape mode.

Quibi’s rough start may be attributed to several factors. Not only did the short-form streaming service launch right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, but because people were forced to stay at home, it’s mobile-only viewing model became a point of contention for users.

With the pandemic still raging and no clear solution in sight, the streamer later on added AirPlay and Chromecast support.

In addition, the company was in the middle of a patent infringement and misappropriation of trade secrets legal battle with Eko over the Turnstyle technology.

With free options like YouTube and TikTok, their content was just not good enough to get users to subscribe for a mobile-only experience.

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