Streaming Entertainment Will Continue to Dominate in 2021 With No End In Sight

Even before the pandemic, approximately 80.2 million Americans above the age of six could be classified as physically inactive. And since the threat of COVID-19 kept many of us at home over the past year, it’s no surprise that screen time increased during this health crisis. According to a recent poll, 59% of survey participants said they’ve spent more time on their smartphones during this time, while the same percentage said their television watching increased. Roughly 55% said they’ve sat in front of a computer screen more often since the start of the pandemic, while 31% said the amount of time they spend using their tablets has done up as a result of COVID-19.

And since live entertainment opportunities are rather scarce, many Americans have relied heavily on popular streaming services — like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney Plus, HBO Max, and others — to keep themselves occupied. While a single optical fiber can carry 90,000 TV channels, many have chosen to cut the cord and ditch cable forever in favor of these platforms. And as the pandemic rages on, it’s likely that these services will only continue to grow in popularity — perhaps even at the expense of small businesses. But whether consumers will care enough to put down the remote remains a mystery.

Although 82% of businesses that fail do so because of cash flow issues, that doesn’t seem to be much of an issue for Netflix or Amazon. In fact, a Wall Street Journal data analysis found that some of the biggest U.S. streaming services were expected to finish out 2020 with a 50% increase in combined user numbers from the year prior. The average household now has 3.1 streaming services (compared to 2.7 in 2019), with three-quarters of all households subscribing to at least one video streaming service.

Unsurprisingly, Netflix holds the number one spot for streaming services, with 195.15 million paid subscribers in Q3 of 2020 (an increase of 23.3% from a year prior). But even newer streaming services like Disney Plus and Apple TV came in strong this year, as did Peacock (which now holds exclusive rights to fan-favorite The Office). Discovery Plus just launched this week, as well, which is set to offer a wide variety of shows related to food, home improvement, nature, and reality TV. Cable providers, on the other hand, saw some major losses in 2020, with one report citing that the first three quarters of the year saw a loss of 3.75 billion subscribers for providers. And while some media companies have released streaming rights for films initially intended for film releases to cable companies, many streaming services have also gained access and continue to entice people who haven’t yet subscribed.

Although Quibi didn’t achieve the success of many other streaming platforms last year, most are faring quite well. The challenge, experts say, will be holding onto their success — typically through the offering of exclusive content. Subscribers need to view these services as essential; Disney Plus was arguably one of the most effective in that regard, reaching 86.8 million subscribers in just over a year since its initial launch.

Others are looking to replicate that success, as Tom Ryan, the president and CEO of streaming at ViacomCBS, told Deadline: “To have a great chance at breaking out, you need to be a service that people gravitate toward and want to use regularly.”

For now, it’s clear that many of us can’t get enough of those quarantine hits, like Tiger King and The Queen’s Gambit. But it’s up to these platforms to ensure fresh and compelling content will keep members coming back for more — and given the challenges of an ongoing pandemic, that won’t be an easy feat. Still, since we have to stay home anyway… we might as well see what’s on.