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Streaming success a COVID-19 peculiarity or here to stay?

Recent subscription figures show a surge in memberships during 2020, but it remains to be seen if this trend will continue.

Disney+, The Mandalorian

The Walt Disney Company’s amazing figures for its streaming business Disney+ show how streaming has become commonplace in households held hostage by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Disney+ had a staggering 94.9 million subscribers globally, Hulu had 39.4 million subscribers and ESPN Plus had 12.1 million, it announced in its first-quarter 2 January 2021 financial result. At the start of the quarter, the company told investors Disney+ had a goal of 90 million subscribers by 2024, which has since been revised to between 230 and 260 million.

“Disney+ has been a massive success and is a testament to Disney’s brand equity and expertise in storytelling,” eMarketer Analyst Eric Haggstrom told Reuters. “This has been one of the most successful consumer product launches in recent memory.”

Quarterly revenue fell 22 per cent to US$16.25 billion from US$20.88 billion a year earlier, with The Walt Disney Company’s theme parks losing an estimated US$2.6 billion due to being closed or operating at significantly reduced capacity due to the pandemic. Its cruise operation was also closed.

“We believe the strategic actions we’re taking to transform our company will fuel our growth and enhance shareholder value, as demonstrated by the incredible strides we’ve made in our direct-to-consumer business, reaching more than 146 million total paid subscriptions across our streaming services at the end of the quarter,” said The Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek.

“We’re confident that, with our robust pipeline of exceptional, high-quality content and the upcoming launch of our new Star-branded international general entertainment offering, we are well-positioned to achieve even greater success going forward.”

Indeed, Disney+ is releasing Raya and the Last Dragon as a paid Premier Access title on 5 March. New Marvel shows The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki are slated for release in March and May, respectively. The company recently announced new Marvel, Star Wars and Disney shows and films were planned for the streaming platform for the next several years.

Its rival Netflix last month reported it had more than 200 million paid members globally, with 37 million people signing on to its service last year – 8.51 million in the past three months alone.

AT&T’s HBO Max revealed it had nearly 40 million US subscribers in its first-quarter 2021 earnings report. Combined with traditional HBO subscribers, the platform has surpassed a 41 million subscriber milestone the company said it did not expect to hit for two more years. Globally, AT&T says HBO now has more than 60 million subscribers.

“The release of Wonder Woman 1984 helped drive our domestic HBO Max and HBO subscribers to more than 41 million, a full two years faster than our initial forecast,” said AT&T CEO John Stankey in a statement. It should be noted that 20.5 million people had not activated their accounts.

ViacomCBS’ CBS All Access will rebrand to Paramount+ in the US on 4 March. NFL Super Bowl Sunday delivered a record-breaking day in terms of new subscriber sign-ups, unique devices, streams and time spent on the streaming service.

Amazon Prime, as of January 2020, had surpassed 150 million global subscribers, according to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. The company last revealed a specific figure on paid memberships in April 2018, with just over 100 million subscribers.

Apple has not publicly revealed subscription numbers for its Apple TV+. However, it has twice extended the free period for the one-year free trial given to everyone who bought a new iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV or Mac. It now expires in July and means that customers who took advantage of the year free deal when Apple TV+ was launched will receive an additional nine months of access to Apple original shows and movies.

The estimated users of Apple TV+ was 40 million by the end of 2020, according to Statista.

The amount of money being spent on making subscription TV a success is evident in the nominations for the 78th Golden Globe Awards, which will be held on 28 February (1 March in the US). Netflix has secured the most nominations with 42, with 20 from its TV shows The Queen’s Gambit, Ozark, The Crown and Unorthodox. The rest came from films Mank and The Trial of the Chicago 7.

Disney+ scored a best drama series nomination for The Mandalorian, while Amazon received nominations for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and Small Axe.

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