14 Hollywood Insiders Reveal Who’s Really Winning the Streaming Wars

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photo by HBO

If there were a scientific device able to measure Schadenfreude the way a Geiger counter picks up on radiation, the levels within a 20-mile radius of Netflix’s Hollywood headquarters right now would be off the charts. That fact became clear while I was working on this year’s streaming rankings for New York Magazine’s TV issue, which use industry sentiment as a key metric to determine who’s up or down in the battle of the platforms. Hollywood and Wall Street types have long been wary of the ways the streamer giant was disrupting the TV business, but most still grudgingly accepted Netflix as the new king in town. This year? Not so much.

In my conversations with 14 power brokers (and power-adjacent insiders), it became clear that Netflix’s well-documented troubles have given folks a license to express every single doubt they’ve ever had about the invaders from the north (i.e., Silicon Valley). Although a few still consider Netflix the most powerful streamer out there, most ranked the two-year-old HBO Max at No. 1, while many others ranked Disney+ or Apple TV+ ahead of Netflix. The streaming heavyweight does still have its defenders, who point to its massive lead in subscribers and global scale as reasons to be wary of those writing off the service. But one PR-industry vet captured the dominant sentiment: “Outside of Stranger Things, Netflix is a mess.”

As with last year’s survey, I gave our panel of insiders complete anonymity so they could express their completely candid opinions about the state of the streaming business. The group of 14 — composed of agents, producers, studio and network execs, and industry analysts — ranked the eight major subscription platforms and then explained why they voted as they did. I asked them to consider not just the quality and scale of programs on the services but how well their user interfaces work and how often they found themselves using the apps. Here’s how they voted and what they had to say about their choices.

Note: We spoke to multiple people within various segments of the business, so the descriptions used below (PR execs, Wall Street analyst, producer) do not refer to individual persons but rather to their role in the entertainment industry.



Streaming-industry analyst: Year three of not mattering and not really trying.

Studio exec: Universal needs to get behind this platform the way that Disney, Warner, and Paramount already have with their in-house streamers. There is still an opportunity and a real brand to exploit, but the window is closing quickly.

PR exec: I never sampled Bel-Air. But I loved We Are Lady Parts; it was fantastic. Honestly, subscribed to the service for Yellowstone. A real miss for Paramount+ that their biggest show is on a competitor’s site.

Reality-TV producer: Their programming is questionable, their interface is awful, and I will never understand how they aren’t making more noise with their deep libraries.

Agent: Peacock is nowhere. I have no idea what they make.

Wall Street analyst: When do they throw in the towel?



Wall Street analyst: Surprisingly strong first year with good content momentum and energy, plus commitment by the company to spend. Perhaps the biggest year-over-year increase in perception.

Agent: This place is a dumpster fire that doesn’t know if it wants to be CBS+ or Showtime, and in the meantime is bad at being both. Last stop for anyone with any sense.

TV exec: Two words: Kevin Costner. It’s still very, very, very early.

Streaming analyst: The lower overhead cost compared to competitors, the catalogue of content, and the connection to Paramount’s film side make me pretty confident that Paramount+ will see sustainable success.

PR exec: I am watching The Offer, and I really like it — but given the lack of chatter around the show, it seems like only three of us are watching. I tried Halo but never watched beyond one episode. I’m not sure how they can stay competitive with their slate.


Amazon Prime Video

PR exec: The Boys is great … the navigation system is a disaster. Who designed this home page? It’s counterintuitive to how anyone searches for content. Unlike how the other services feed you suggestions, it’s just a hodgepodge of what is on your main page.

Studio exec: Effectively using big-budget action shows to sell toilet paper.

Streaming analyst: I can name at least three Apple TV+ series I’ve loved over the last few months. I can’t say the same with Prime Video. At least they have older shows and movies for me to watch when I’m bored.

Producer: It’s easy to forget even though I order something every day from Amazon. The brand is powerful; they need to do a better job reminding me what they have.

Wall Street analyst: The Lord of the Rings better be good.



Studio exec: Great content and some of the best executives in town, but if they delay merging this platform with Disney + for too long, Disney will have dismantled all of Hulu’s value before it could even harness it.

Reality-TV producer: This is the one to watch because Hulu’s buying has become so much more sophisticated — particularly in the unscripted world. The acquisition and makeover of the Kardashians are hard to argue with (although I think they have even less to say than they did on E!).

Agent: Hulu has so few shows, but what they have is pretty great. They need to put this all under Disney and be done with the labels.

Wall Street analyst: Needs to stop spending on last night’s television as linear-TV viewership fades.

PR exec: More than anything, I admire that these guys put a lot of elbow grease into the promotional campaigns around their shows and movies. Their launch and award campaigns rival HBO Max’s.

Streaming analyst: Outside of the live-TV service, Hulu’s role as a stand-alone streaming service still feels uncertain. Now, its role within the Disney+ bundle feels much more understandable, and maybe that’s all it needs to do — be the other 30 percent of the equation that drives people to sign up for the bundle and not just Disney+.


Apple TV+

PR exec: I feel like Apple is the anti-Netflix: quality over quantity. At least when I go there, I expect something to be good or well thought out.

Streaming analyst: I like Apple TV+. They have one of the strongest hit rates in the industry. But it’s a service that doesn’t light up the Nielsen charts, even with talked-about shows like Severance. I often wonder if it is achieving the goal that Apple had in mind — drive people to use more services, keep people within the ecosystem, etc. Without a strong library of content or IP to keep people invigorated, it still feels like a vanity project.

Producer: What an extraordinary surge in top-shelf programming. Still overlooked but probably not for long.

Wall Street analyst: Content is definitely top-notch and memorable, just not sure that the subscriber base is big enough or sticky enough to matter in this market. If it wasn’t Apple, not sure why it would exist.

Studio exec: Some of the best shows, but they still feel overly indexed on sci-fi, and without a library to support growth, that could be limiting.

TV exec: Two words: Best Picture!



Agent: Had a rough year and couldn’t happen to a more arrogant group of people. But they’re so far ahead of everyone else in terms of subscribers, international business, and general momentum that acting as though the wheels are coming off the cart feels premature.

Wall Street analyst: Still the market leader, still the top share of streaming viewing time, so I’d be stupid to ignore those traits. But: Product flow has been meh, and they need to rethink film and binge strategy. Intro of ads will be interesting to watch because it isn’t a layup.

Streaming analyst: Netflix needs to start relying less on its own internal, self-serving, algorithmic data to make as many of its decisions as it does. It’s a closed-loop feedback system. Data is crucially important, but it’s a lighthouse. Netflix needs to focus on developing for longevity, not just for the quick hit.

Producer: No denying it’s still the juggernaut of subscriptions, but the gloss is fading. There is a reason they added the message asking if you need help finding something to watch. That’s because the aisle with something for everyone has gotten pretty crowded. Feels like they are being beaten with the very thing they designed: unique scripted programming. Still, great marketers should never be underestimated.

Studio exec: You can’t count Netflix out — their scale and ubiquitous subscriber base are still significant — but they need a strategy that can help them compete with all the new entrants.

PR exec: In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.



PR exec: Whatever they are paying Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau isn’t enough. The Star Wars empire is striking back big time with The Mandalorian, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and some good-looking future series. Also, even “fine” Marvel is still a must-watch.

Agent: If you combined it with Hulu, it would feel like HBO Max.

TV exec: Service seemed pretty thin at launch, but Disney said they would bring the brands to Disney + and they delivered … big time.

Wall Street analyst: Consistent in its niches but too limited in terms of content breadth — hard to believe another year separate from Hulu.

Streaming analyst: My question is whether Disney can still hit the growth multiples promised to the Street or if Disney takes the opportunity to readjust projections for its Disney+ subscriber growth. I hope it’s the latter.



Producer: Less is more is working. Buzzy content, young appeal, and they have figured out an episode drop that gets you to come back and still feels like streaming.

Studio exec: Best overall original content and a library that feels worth the monthly fee — but with new Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav in charge, that can, and most likely will, change on a dime.

Agent: Some remarkable shows, and HBO remains a powerful marketing machine. Jury is out on how Discovery impacts them, but guessing the answer won’t be good.

Streaming analyst: HBO Max is an indisputable champion within the space. The looming question is whether the inclusion of Discovery content will better the experience or create a bloated, non-curated, frustrating experience that sacrifices what makes HBO Max great in order to scale as fast as possible.

PR exec: They are on a crazy run. It feels like they have at least one culturally relevant show always happening, sometimes two or three. If you told me I could only keep one, this would be my pick.

14 Hollywood Insiders on Who’s Winning the Streaming Wars