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Global Streaming Device Shipments Decline, Ending Seven Years of Growth

Lauren Forristal

When it comes to the hardware for streaming video, consumers have no shortage of options. However, in the fourth quarter of 2021, global streaming device shipments fell 8% year over year to approximately 28.6 million, according to Kagan, the media research unit of S&P Global Market Intelligence.

This ends seven years of growth, which Kagan attributes to a lack of new streaming device offerings, supply chain issues, and a heightened pandemic-fueled demand at the end of 2020. Despite those factors, the overall global streaming media device user base grew 7.6% in 2021 to 232.5 million.

These devices include things like Amazon Fire Sticks, Apple TVs, Google Chromecasts, Roku Streambars, and others that act as add-ons to TVs. This type of hardware has also faced setbacks as Smart TVs have become more commonplace in the market as well. Add-on streaming devices are a separate entity than Smart TVs as they often have simpler remotes, streaming dongles, more apps, and require more frequent updates.

While the United States is the most mature streaming hardware market, U.S. shipments dropped 10.2% year over year to 12.8 million. The country is more reliant than other regions on upgrades for older devices and consumers seeking the latest feature set for their home theaters. As a result, sparse amounts of improved hardware were more detrimental in the U.S. than on the global stage.

The Three Big Players: Amazon, Apple, and Roku Inc. still remains the largest global vendor by shipments, however, the company wasn’t immune to this cooldown either. Kagan estimates that fourth-quarter Amazon streaming media device shipments fell 3% to 7.5 million units. Just last month, Amazon announced its financial results for its fourth quarter of 2021. For the entire company, sales rose 9%, to $137 billion, in that time frame, while operating income dropped 50% to $3.46 billion.

Overall, Amazon has sold more than 150 million Fire TV devices worldwide since launching the streaming device in 2014. However, the company profits way more from its video streaming service, Amazon Prime Video as well as unlimited Prime shipping — which just recently raised its subscription price.

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy remarked about higher costs, “We saw higher costs driven by labor supply shortages and inflationary pressures, and these issues persisted into the first quarter due to Omicron. Despite these short-term challenges, we continue to feel optimistic and excited about the business as we emerge from the pandemic.”

The company predicts that it will experience growth of anywhere between 3% and 8% in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the first quarter of 2021.

Roku manufactures popular streaming devices like the Roku Streaming Stick+ and Roku Streambar. Even though Roku became the second-largest global vendor in the quarter, it fell an estimated 4.3% year over year to 6.6 million units.

Since Roku’s current business model is increasingly reliant on consumers subscribing after purchasing a new device, the supply chain factors that are causing this inability to keep up with demand have impacted Roku’s ability to maintain the momentum that led to its success in recent years.

As Apple no longer reports device shipments, Kagan estimates that unit shipments for the devices fell 2% to 158.5 million based on business unit revenues, supply chain information, and proprietary shipment and market share tracking models. However, Apple’s total product revenue increased 9% year over year in Q4 2021.

Like Amazon, Apple has been aggressively investing in its streaming service Apple TV+. However, as it is one of the most recent additions to the streaming wars, the platform is still far behind its competitors.

Should Streaming Devices Stay or Should They Go?

Supply chain and lack of upgrades aside, there’s a bigger reason as to why people aren’t purchasing as many streaming devices as they used to: Price and convenience.

Theoretically, you’re spending less when buying a Smart TV with a shared platform like Roku or Android TV, than you would by adding a separate streaming device. TVs are also a lot simpler to install — no need for extra power, HDMI ports, inputs, and wires.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Streaming devices have a lot to offer and should still be considered as a good option. The main reason to switch to a separate streaming player is that your smart TV’s software is slow, out of date, or lacking in-app support.

A television’s native hardware will progressively become slower over time, whether because new features are added to the UI or because it has to handle more demanding audio and video. Roku, for example, has introduced more visual flair to its UI over the years, including themes and animated screensavers.

Older TVs can’t always handle those upgrades and will sometimes stutter during buffering and previewing apps, and even if they can handle an advanced feature like 4K viewing, it’s not always necessarily the best experience.

This is also true for media streaming devices as they age, though the price difference to replace a stand-alone device is far less painful than replacing your entire TV set.

It’s also important to note that TV manufacturers are naturally focused on selling hardware, so they tend not to have the resources for frequent updates or have much to gain from such improvements.

Choosing a separate streamer also gives you more freedom to switch between an app and smart home systems. If you enjoy Chromecast with Google TV, for example, but want the games on the Apple TV 4K, you can move from each device. Or you may decide to go all-in on Alexa, such as a Fire TV Cube.


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