The State of Streaming In the U.S. in 2020

Published on August 24, 2020

Today, there are more video streaming services available than ever before.

Streaming is as ubiquitous as cable TV has been since the 1990s — everyone subscribes to some streaming platform (or two or three or five of them). 

That begs some questions. Which streaming services are most popular? Who subscribes to more platforms: Men or women? Are older people adopting streaming as much as younger people? And are people generally satisfied with streaming services, or do they have a lot of complaints that go unresolved? We set out to answer these questions and more.

This is the state of streaming in 2020.

Netflix Still Reigns Supreme

If there’s one service that’s synonymous with online streaming, it’s Netflix, the platform that pioneered the industry.

That’s why we weren’t too surprised to see that Netflix was the most-subscribed-to platform in our survey. Overall, 78 percent of respondents said they have a Netflix account. The number of Netflix subscribers was highest in the 25-34 age group —  a whopping 87 percent of those respondents said they subscribe to Netflix.

What’s even more impressive is that Netflix has the most-subscribed-to platform in our survey by a very wide margin. In second place was Prime Video, which 54 percent of respondents said they had a subscription for. The third highest was Hulu, which just over half of our survey respondents subscribe to. 

We’re not surprised that Netflix came out on top; the platform has come a long way since its beginnings as a mail-service DVD rental business. In 2007, Netflix became the first on-demand movie streaming service on the internet, and in 2013, Netflix completely changed the streaming platform game by introducing House of Cards, its first original series. Since then, the company has created and produced award-winning original content — and paved the way for other online streaming services to create shows and movies of their own.

And while most of the streaming platforms with the highest numbers of subscribers are older, more established sites, Disney Plus ranked fourth, despite only launching in late 2019. This might be partly attributable to Disney Plus users who are still on a free promo account; for example, Disney Plus was offered as a free promotion to Verizon users.

But Netflix is facing more and more competition. Nearly 10 percent of survey respondents answered that they subscribe to a lesser-known streaming service that wasn’t included on our list of options. They filled in more than a dozen services they subscribe to, other than the top 10 we listed above, including:

  • Apple TV
  • BET+
  • Britbox
  • Crunchyroll
  • ESPN+
  • FUBOTV
  • Funimation
  • Pantaya
  • Peacock
  • Philo
  • Pluto
  • Quibi
  • Starz
  • TVNow
  • WWE Network

With new streaming services coming online all the time, will Netflix continue to dominate the industry like it does now? Only time will tell.

Older Folks Are Less Likely to Use Streaming Services 

It’s no secret that rates of adoption of new technology are higher among young people. But streaming services aren’t exactly new technology anymore, so we were a little bit surprised to see how much less likely older Americans are to have subscriptions to the most popular video streaming services available today.

Nearly a quarter of survey respondents over 54 years of age (24 percent, to be exact) answered “none of the above” when asked which of the top 10 streaming services they subscribe to. A few filled in smaller, lesser-known streaming services they use, but that means that around 20 percent of our oldest age demographic doesn’t use any online streaming at all.

Even With Tons of Options, Consumers Are Keeping It Simple

Overall, the vast majority of our survey respondents subscribe to three or fewer streaming services.

One possible reason for this? Password sharing. Despite attempts by streaming giants to use different rules, regulations, and tools to block their users from sharing their passwords with others, recent research found that 36 percent of streaming service customers share their passwords with one or two other people, and 27 percent share with three to four other people.

For password sharing to be a factor here would make sense. Past research has found that the average person watches 3.4 streaming services, but our survey shows that the average person subscribes to fewer than that. It’s also possible that individuals subscribe to different platforms in order to share them with their household.

Password sharing is against the terms and conditions for most streaming platforms, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping a lot of users.

Men Are More Likely to Subscribe to More Services

While users were overall likely to only subscribe to a small handful of platforms, we found that men are far more likely to have more subscriptions than women. More than a quarter of men subscribe to four or more different services. Men are actually more likely to have four or more subscriptions than they are to have two or three. Men also represented a slightly higher percentage of the subscriptions for almost every service on our list.

Compare that to women, who are much more likely to subscribe to just one or two services.

Streaming Is Still Cheaper Than Cable… For Now

According to our survey, around 75 percent of people pay less than $50 per month for whatever number of streaming services they subscribe to.

That means that for a vast majority of people, even having multiple streaming service subscriptions is costing less than the average cable TV package, which sits at around $100 per month. Contrast that with streaming services — only 1 percent of respondents in our survey reported paying more than $100 a month for streaming.

It’s been predicted that streaming services would turn into a sort of ala carte cable equivalent with similar pricing, but so far, that doesn’t appear to be happening.

Consumers Love Being Able to Rewatch Content

The lower costs aren’t the only area where streaming platforms have a major advantage over traditional cable plans.

Now that consumers have had a taste of choosing what content they want to watch, when they want to watch it, it seems there’s no going back from in-demand streaming.

According to our survey, a majority of consumers use streaming services to split their time between watching new content, and re-watching old content they’ve seen before. In other words, if you’re bingeing The Office for the fifth time, you’re not alone — and that’s something people love about internet streaming.

Consumers Think Streaming Services Are Good Value

And finally, we were pleased to see that, for the most part, consumers seem to be satisfied with the service they get from streaming platforms and rank it as having high value.

When asked to rank the overall value they receive from their streaming service subscriptions, almost 90 percent answered with a seven or higher, and the largest share of respondents — 29 percent — said 10/10.

If we consider a rating above 5/10 to represent a satisfied customer, then all of the top streaming services — Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney Plus, and HBO — have more than 98 percent satisfied customers. 

What makes those high ratings for perceived value even more interesting is that a significant number of consumers report having problems with their streaming services.

More than 30 percent say there are too many ads in content that they pay for. More than 25 percent complain about the limited selections of content on each platform. And more than 15 percent report a more serious problem: That they were charged for auto-renewals of subscriptions without their consent.

For Netflix users, the most common complaint was poor content selection (27 percent), auto-renewal without their consent (16 percent), and poor video quality (12 percent).

For Amazon Prime Video users, the top complaints were too many ads (32 percent), poor content selection (27 percent), auto-renewal without the user’s consent (19 percent), and poor video quality (15 percent).

For Hulu users, the most common complaints were, similarly: Too many ads (41 percent), poor content selection (30 percent), auto-renewal without consent (19 percent), and poor video quality (16 percent).

Overall, though? The majority of customers are happy with their streaming services. Nearly half (42 percent) said they’d experienced none of those listed issues.

Methodology

Using Pollfish.com, we surveyed 1000 American adults in July of 2020 about their streaming service use and habits, including which and how many streaming platforms they subscribe to, how much they spend each month on streaming, whether they have any complaints about their streaming services, and how they would rate the value they receive from streaming platforms.

Our survey respondents were slightly more female (58 percent of the total) than male (42 percent).

Their ages broke down like this:

  • 12.9 percent were between 18 and 24;
  • 28.7 percent were between 25 and 34;
  • 27.5 percent were between 35 and 44;
  • 13.1 percent were between 45 and 54;
  • 17.8 percent were above 54.

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