2019 was a big year for streaming television. Media and tech companies old and new began charting their courses into the streaming space. Some upstart services, like Disney+, made a splash, while others, like Apple TV+, created only ripples. Other media companies worked in the background to outline their streaming debuts in 2020, and Viacom and CBS merged, creating another entertainment giant with formidable streaming power. Existing services like Netflix and Hulu invested heavily in programming (and in Hulu’s case, ad units). And as subscription video-on-demand services continued their upward trajectory, consumer abandonment of traditional pay TV also increased.
Here’s a look at some of the streaming industry’s most crucial moves in 2019. (And since there’s a lot more coming in 2020, make sure to keep an eye out for our upcoming story about the five things we’re most looking forward to in the streaming world next year.)
Apple TV+ and Disney+ barreled into the market
We’ll start by focusing on the newest major entrant to streaming television: Disney+. The highly anticipated service, which premiered Nov. 12, has proven to be a major hit, attracting more than 10 million signups within two days of its availability in the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands. The service’s live-action Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, has evolved into a pop culture phenomenon (who can resist Baby Yoda?), giving Disney a strong position in the direct-to-consumer space.
Disney+ isn’t the only major new streaming service that came onto the scene this year. Apple pushed into original television to incentivize purchasing its hardware, debuting Apple TV+ on Nov. 1, but the lineup of originals hasn’t been nearly as enticing.
After buying most of Fox, Disney continued its ongoing takeover of Hulu
It didn’t take long after Disney completed its $71.3 billion purchase of 21st Century Fox for the company to move in on Hulu, given that the Fox acquisition increased Disney’s ownership of the service to 66%. Disney assumed full operational control of the platform in May, and Hulu began to gradually and subtly transform in the months since, as Disney began to leverage its newly expanded portfolio. Beginning in July, Disney TV began overseeing the service’s original programming. Three months later, Disney CEO Bob Iger announced that Hulu would become the official and exclusive home of series from FX (which it acquired in the Fox deal), including a number of “Hulu on FX”-branded originals. Disney has also started bundling its three streaming properties, offering up an ad-supported version of Hulu along with Disney+ and ESPN+ for $12.99.
WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal prep their own services
AT&T-owned WarnerMedia and Comcast-owned NBCUniversal spent the year slowly rolling out details for their own streaming services, which are scheduled to debut in the first half of 2020. WarnerMedia announced its service would be called HBO Max and in October held an investor day to detail information about the service, which will serve as the cornerstone of AT&T’s larger plan to find sure footing in the streaming space.
NBCUniversal, meanwhile, has been quieter on plans for its own offering, which will be called Peacock, but it’s looking like the service won’t be a traditional ad-free SVOD service like many of the service’s competitors. Instead, Peacock may be entirely ad-supported or represent a combination of SVOD and AVOD models like Hulu’s ad-supported and ad-free tiers. (We’ll know more after Peacock’s own investor day on Jan. 16.)
Those aren’t the only services ramping up for big 2020 debuts. Quibi, the deep-pocketed startup from Hollywood bigwig Jeffrey Katzenberg that will focus on vertical-video original content, has been announcing new programming almost daily in advance its April 2020 debut. Discovery is also working on an OTT offering, but details of that service remain scarce.
Viacom and CBS merged, creating another force in streaming
It’s only worth a fraction of the Disney-Fox deal, but the reunification of Viacom and CBS, which was finalized earlier this month, created another media giant in a consolidating industry and combined a number of subscription and ad-supported assets like CBS All Access, CBSN and the free, ad-supported streaming service Pluto TV, which Viacom acquired in March. Already, IP from the newly formed company has started appearing on the various services for both ad-supported and subscription viewing. What remains to be seen is how exactly these companies will fully combine and what their content and operational strategies will be.
AVOD’s resurgence began to take shape
The increased importance of ad-supported video-on-demand only became more prominent in 2019, as media companies bet that a glut of subscription-only services will widen the demand for free viewing. Pluto TV, now owned by the combined ViacomCBS and bolstered by a deep library of programming, said it had more than 20 million monthly users in November, a substantial jump from the 12 million it averaged at the beginning of the year. (For those of you calculating at home, that’s a 66% growth rate.) Tubi, an independently owned AVOD (and one that could be snapped up by a larger media company), said in June that it had more than 20 million monthly active users.
As those companies expand, other companies are looking to get in on the growth, too. Sony’s AVOD service Crackle, a majority stake of which was sold to Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment in March, is now the “bedrock” of a collection of AVOD and SVOD services the company says has an average of 10 million monthly active users across its properties. Other services like the Roku Channel, Vudu and Xumo are all trying to find sure footing in the AVOD path. While details on NBCUniversal’s Peacock remain under wraps, it’s been reported the company may even try to offer a completely free AVOD experience for certain customers.