When it comes to subscribers, the big streaming race has always been a two-horse sprint with Disney+ and Netflix trading narrow wins. A surge in Netflix in late 2022 and Disney’s loss of cricket rights in India put Netflix back in the winner’s circle.
Netflix and Hulu were pretty much the only streamers in town before Hulu’s majority owner Disney came out strong (and cheap) with Disney+ in November 2019. The field filled with a ton of positive signs soon after. New greyhounds (and others who were just dogs) emerged, but Disney+ surpassed Hulu in closed captioning after its first full quarter of availability in the U.S. Score: 33.5 million versus 32.1 million. (At that time, Netflix had 186.86 million paid subscribers worldwide.)
Just over two years later, Disney made its first move to dominance in the June quarter of 2022 with 221.1 million total subscriptions to Netflix’s 220.67 million. However: It’s worth noting that “subscriptions” are not the same thing as “subscribers”.
For the Walt Disney Company, total streaming subscriptions include Hulu and ESPN+ (and Disney+ Hotstar, a different version of Disney+ in terms of geographic availability and pricing). At Netflix, which has no more services to bundle, a subscription equals a subscriber (at least that’s its hope in the age of password crackdowns). Disney counts three subscriptions for every person who has the Disney three-service package (Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+) and two subscriptions for everyone who has the two-service package.
Disney ended the September 2022 quarter (Disney’s fiscal 2022 fourth quarter; Netflix’s third quarter 2022) with 235.7 million subscriptions versus Netflix’s 223.09 million. At the end of the calendar year, there were 234.7 million Disney subscriptions to 230.75 million Netflix subscribers.
Disney was rolling back as Netflix grew; both services launched ad-supported tiers that quarter. This would mark the end of Disney’s reign.
Another difficult quarter for Disney and a relatively good one for Netflix brought things back to order: Netflix was again the undisputed champion with 232.50 million subscribers; Disney had 231.3 million total streaming subscriptions streaming.
On Tuesday, Netflix announced that a crackdown on account sharing has begun in the US. Some borrowers may choose to open their own accounts instead, which would widen the gap with Disney.
One thing that has never been close has been the rush for revenue. Netflix’s most recent quarterly revenue was $8.162 billion; Disney’s overall streaming revenue was $5.514 billion. (The company’s overall revenue from January through March was $21.815 billion; with its high ARPU — average revenue per user — Hulu’s revenue still surpasses Disney+.)
Netflix has another financial advantage: profitability. The expensive Netflix service has been profitable for years; the cheap (albeit getting more expensive) Disney+ isn’t…yet. (Hulu is considered profitable.) Disney CEO Bob Iger is doing everything he can to fix the problem, which now includes taking content off the main platform, David Zaslav-style.
Through February, Iger touted 2024 as the year Disney+ would turn a profit; there hasn’t been much talk about the target in recent months. On Tuesday, IndieWire asked Disney if the 2024 expectation still stands, but we haven’t heard back from company reps.
Speaking of huge revenues and profits: Amazon.
In early 2022, Amazon announced that there are more than 200 million paid Prime members worldwide, and in 2021, it was announced that more than 175 million Prime members had streamed shows and movies in the past year. This is the last update for Prime members and Prime Video usage update that we got.
(Amazon doesn’t allocate a revenue figure for ad-free Prime Video subscribers; it also doesn’t exceed the number of Prime Video-only subscriptions. Because the main draw for many Prime members overall is the e-giant’s free membership— commerce, two day shipping, there is no fair way to directly compare Netflix and Disney streaming to Amazon.)
Shout out here to the only other streaming company that can legitimately claim a spot on the podium: Warner Bros. Discovery. Its HBO Max and Discovery+, which relaunched Tuesday as the new Max platform, together reached 97.6 million subscribers at the end of March. The company’s U.S. streaming business turned in a surprise profit in the quarter, and Zaslav believes the direct-to-consumer segment — now starring Max — will make money for the year. And that’s a +. As a matter of fact, it’s an A+.