[Hey, you may be thinking, this isn’t a Streaming Ratings Report! True. I spent almost all of this week (and some of last week) updating my “U.S. Subscriber Estimates for Q1 of 2021.” Given that I just published a sneak peek at the Ankleryesterday, I wanted to put up this explainer for paid subs. It’s over 3,000 words with 11 extra charts no one else will see.
Meanwhile we are still waiting on Nielsen data from last week, and now this week. Nielsen has assured me when they do publish their data, they’ll make sure I get a copy. So the plan is to publish this deep dive today, a “Most Important story of June” column early next week, then a jam-packed Streaming Ratings Report next Friday.
By the way, the streaming ratings report will be AWESOME next week, as Nielsen just added HBO Max to the list. Stay tuned!]
When it comes to the “streaming wars”, you’d think we’d know certain things, like the number of subscribers for each U.S. streamer? That should be easy to figure out, right?
Some streamers provide U.S. numbers. (God bless them.) Others provide U.S. and Canada numbers lumped together, which isn’t as good but is still useful. Some only provide global numbers. And some streamers don’t provide anything at all.
The easy thing to do in this situation is to use whatever numbers are available and simply add a bunch of caveats to the bottom of the table or chart. (That’s what a few other outlets do.) That’s not good enough for me. I’m Mr. “Apples-to-Apples” and comparing U.S. only numbers to U.S./Canada number is confusing.
As a result, I make my own estimates of the number of paid subscribers to streamers (and premium cable) in the U.S. Previously, I made these estimates for Q3 of 2020, Q2 of 2021 and Q4 of 2021. (I also quickly calculated this in December of 2019 too.) This is the first quarter I’ve managed to update the numbers back to back and, in exciting news, I’ve now calculated an estimate for every streamer back to Q4 of 2019. (Basically, when the streaming wars started.)
And the plan is to update this chart every quarter moving forward.
In full disclosure, I teased these estimates at The Ankler yesterday. But just seeing the numbers is one thing; I like to add value to you, the paid subscribers. So here’s what you’re gonna get today:
1. An explanation for each of these calculations.
2. An extra chart for almost every streamer.
To sell this article a pinch, if you read through this, you’ll know vastly more about the true state of the streaming wars in the U.S., what we know, and what we don’t know. It really gives a picture of who’s winning, who’s struggling, what we actually know, and what we don’t know.
I’ll start by explaining my overall process, then explain my calculations for each streamer, ranked in order of easiest to calculate to the hardest, along with a bonus chart for each one.
For each streamer, I collect any subscriber numbers that are publicly available. I prioritize official disclosures in quarterly and annual earnings report or presentations, then what the executives choose to leak. (Starz and HBO fall into this category.) After that, I track any leaks in media outlets. For companies who release U.S. and Canada numbers, I adjust those to only the U.S. market. (Disney and Netflix fall into this category.) These are the easiest numbers to figure out.
Next come the “tough” estimates. These are usually when streamers provide a global number, and I have to estimate the U.S. percentage. (Discovery+ and Paramount+ fall into this category.) After I make my initial estimates, I use Antenna’s tracked growth rate to sanity check my estimates.
Then comes the really hard calls. Basically Apple and Amazon. These two tech behemoths tell us next to nothing about how many subscribers they have. As a result, I make my own guesses using a combination of market-sizing estimates, leaks and some public disclosures.
That leads to these confidence intervals, color coded:
And yes, it’s nearly the first week of July, and this quarterly report is just coming out. Why the delay? I wait until all the companies have reported earnings so that everyone has a shot at being official. For example, Lionsgate, which owns Starz, waited until 26-May to publish their results.
Could I have published soon after then? Sure, but I spent May and June putting up my paywall. Once that was finished, I turned to this project. And I spent a lot of extra time cleaning up and standardizing my data for this project, so it took a few more work days to finish than I intended. The work next quarter should go much faster. (But at least I got it out two quarters in a row!)
Other notes on these estimates:
I only cover the U.S. For details, read my last explainer from 2021 Q4.
The difference between “paid” and “free” matters. Meaning, if a streamer gives its own product away for free, I exclude those customers. So for Apple TV+, only the folks currently paying for the service count. For Amazon’s Prime Video, I make an estimate for how many folks I think would pay if Prime Video became its own company.
I updated my estimates for each streamer back in time as well, going to the end of Q4 2019. This will allow us to track growth for the streamers over time!
I also make a range of high and low outcomes. Call this my “80% confidence interval”. Meaning eight times out of ten, the actual subscribers may be outside that range.
Also, this is a work in progress. Sometimes I make mistakes—pretty minor, but they happen—and I try to revise them if I catch them.
Also, when we get more data, I revise my past estimates to make them more accurate.
To make this list, a streamer needs to have more than roughly “5 million” subscribers. There are too many streamers below that level that would really make this table hard to read. So this is about the major players. (Apologies to Curiosity Stream, CrunchyRoll, DAZN and others.)
That’s a lot of preamble, but here is my estimate for Q1 of 2022…