the streaming wars

The Hottest Streamer (Right Now)

The top three spots get a shake-up in our annual power ranking.

Photo-Illustration: by Vulture; Photos Getty Images
Photo-Illustration: by Vulture; Photos Getty Images

Seemingly overnight, the aura of invincibility that used to surround Netflix has disappeared: Its stock has lost two-thirds of its value, hundreds of staffers have been laid off, and spending is being scrutinized at every level. The once-unstoppable platform’s grasp on the streaming crown is clearly slipping. But this fall from grace hasn’t happened in a vacuum: Rival platforms such as Disney+ and HBO Max are using their deep libraries of beloved IP to snag subscribers and the pop-culture spotlight. The result? A streaming universe that looks much different from a year ago, when we first set out to determine the hottest streamer around — and Netflix came out on top. To figure out where things stand now, we once again evaluated platforms in five different areas, including overall size, critical buzz, and how they’re regarded by Hollywood and Wall Street insiders. Our new list features the same seven platforms as before with the addition of Paramount+ (which had been operating for barely three months last time around). And like before, we tallied the scores in each category to arrive at a final ranking. Spoiler alert: Netflix didn’t win.



77 million subscribers; 2020 debut

➼ Top Critical Buzz
Highest Industry Ranking

Overall Size: 6
Originals Output: 7
Critical Buzz: 8; “All these other services would do anything just to have two of these in one year, and HBO had all of them: Euphoria, Winning Time, Barry, The Staircase, The Flight Attendant, The Sex Lives of College Girls, Insecure, Succession, The White Lotus, Hacks, Big Little Lies, Somebody Somewhere,” says one insider. “I left off And Just Like That … on purpose.”
Industry Ranking: 8;
Momentum: 7; “Underpromise, overdeliver is the methodology I see HBO Max operating within,” says one analyst.

Total Score: 36



138 million subscribers; 2019 debut

Overall Size: 7
Originals Output: 6; “If you have little kids, or if you are a devoted Star Wars fan, I could see it as a daily dose,” a producer explains. “But it needs to get the habit going across all age groups.”
Critical Buzz: 4; “So much chatter over those Marvel shows, even when people don’t like them,” says one executive.
Industry Ranking: 7
Momentum: 6

Total Score: 30



222 million subscribers; 2007 debut

➼ Largest Overall Size
➼ Biggest Originals Output

Overall Size: 8; Netflix’s content spend is expected to flatten out this year at around $17 billion, potentially helping rivals close the production gap.
Originals Output: 8
Critical Buzz: 5; “They are a mess,” says a PR vet. “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me ten times — with terrible movies starring A-list stars — shame on me.”
Industry Ranking: 6; “Had a rough year and couldn’t happen to a more arrogant group of people,” one agent says. “But they’re still so far ahead of everyone else that acting as though the wheels are coming off the cart feels premature.”
Momentum: 1; “Word of mouth has quickly deteriorated,” an insider notes. “It’s a real head-scratcher as to why they didn’t release Stranger Things weekly.”

Total Score: 28


Apple TV+

40 million-plus subscribers*; 2019 debut

➼ Most Momentum

Overall Size: 2
Originals Output: 4; “They still feel overly indexed on sci-fi and without a library to support growth,” a studio executive points out.
Critical Buzz: 7; “They’re making some ‘pedigree’ shows, like Severance, Pachinko, and Slow Horses, that remind me of the early Netflix-originals playbook,” says a PR vet.
Industry Ranking: 5
Momentum: 8; “Apple is the anti-Netflix,” said one exec.

Total Score: 26



46 million subscribers; 2007 debut

Overall Size: 4; Industry insiders are increasingly convinced the best way to maximize the value of Hulu’s strong slate of originals is to fold the service into Disney+.
Originals Output: 3
Critical Buzz: 6; “The acquisition and makeover of The Kardashians is hard to argue with,” says one reality-TV producer.
Industry Ranking: 4
Momentum: 5

Total Score: 22


Prime Video

200 million-plus subscribers*; 2011 debut

Overall Size: 5
Originals Output: 5
Critical Buzz: 3; “I can name at least three Apple TV+ series I’ve loved over the last few months,” an analyst says. “I can’t say the same with Prime Video.”
Industry Ranking: 3; In the words of a studio exec, “Using big-budget action shows to sell toilet paper, but not much more.”
Momentum: 3; “The Lord of the Rings better be good,” says a Wall Street analyst, referring to the streamer’s upcoming TV series.

Total Score: 19



40 million subscribers; 2021 debut

Overall Size: 3; “Can they merge with Peacock already and get it over with?” one insider wonders.
Originals Output: 2
Critical Buzz: 1; Green-lighting multiple spinoffs from the Paramount Network’s hit Kevin Costner series Yellowstone could prove to be a winning strategy.
Industry Ranking: 2
Momentum: 4; “A dumpster fire that doesn’t know if it wants to be CBS+ or Showtime,” says an agent, “and in the meantime is bad at being both.”

Total Score: 12



13 million subscribers; 2020 debut

Overall Size: 1
Originals Output: 1; We Are Lady Parts, Rutherford Falls, Girls5eva, Killing It: Peacock’s comedy slate feels like Thursday-night Must-See TV reinvented for streaming.
Critical Buzz: 2
Industry Ranking: 1; As one analyst puts it, “Year three of not mattering and not really trying.”
Momentum: 2

Total Score: 7


Overall Size

Number of subscribers; size and popularity of its library; international scope; money.

Even after a projected loss of about 2 million customers this quarter, Netflix will have roughly 80 million more than Disney+. It’s also the champ when it comes to mining hits from international markets (see Squid Game, Lupin), and it continues to crank out an ungodly number of titles every month. “Growth has slowed, but it’s still dominating time spent watching among all streamers by a wide margin,” one Wall Street analyst says.

Critical Buzz

The most acclaimed content offerings (both new and library); awards love.

Last year, we dubbed HBO Max the “It” streamer, and, if anything, its hold on the Zeitgeist has only grown stronger. Over the past year, the platform’s slate remained catnip for critics, mixing powerful newcomers (The White Lotus, Station Eleven) with the well-received returns of several COVID-delayed tentpoles (Barry, Euphoria, Succession). Even shows not universally adored (Winning Time, And Just Like That …) still had folks talking. It’s expected to clean up at the Emmys this year.

Originals Output

Scope of first-run content; how many people actually watch it.

Netflix remains the everything store of streaming, making a larger number and variety of TV shows and movies than any other platform. That vast output allowed the streamer’s originals to once again capture the biggest share of U.S. viewers’ interest (42.5 percent) over the past year, according to audience-research firm Parrot Analytics. But that’s way down from a year ago, when Netflix accounted for nearly 50 percent of viewer demand. By contrast, Disney+, Apple TV+, and HBO Max all saw their audience shares go up as they expanded their offerings.

Industry Ranking

Based on a survey of 14 Hollywood and Wall Street insiders.

Our expert panel voted HBO Max the hottest streamer in town, and it wasn’t even close: 12 of our 14 insiders ranked the platform either first or second out of eight contenders. “The service just feels more balanced and deeper than the others,” one top talent agent raves. Like last year, Disney+ came in a solid second, pushing former winner Netflix down to third (though four voters still ranked it No. 1).


Who is experimenting and shifting the paradigm — if Netflix was the first mover, who’s the next one?

Quality over quantity may seem a quaint notion in the era of Too Much TV, but it’s working for Apple TV+. While it’s still spending billions on content, it’s giving the money to top-name talent, letting them make passion projects (Severance, Pachinko) rather than blowing it on creating something for everyone. And the success of Ted Lasso and Best Picture Oscar winner coda proves Apple is getting people to watch, too.


Winner: HBO Max

After a rocky launch during the height of the pandemic, HBO Max has rallied to become the supernova of the streaming universe. Netflix remains far bigger overall, but its two-year-old rival is rapidly adding subscribers around the world and has pulled ahead in terms of industry respect and cultural resonance. The challenge for new boss David Zaslav, CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery: Don’t mess things up. Meanwhile, Netflix, already looking shaky a year ago, drops below Disney+ to third place.

*The most recent estimates as of 2021; Prime Video and Apple TV+ do not regularly report subscriber numbers.

The Hottest Streamer (Right Now)