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Netflix Slips, Belfast Ascends: The 2022 Streaming Wars Commence

by Alex Kirschenbaum Apr 21, 2022

It’s that time again, dear readers: the Streaming Wars have kicked off in 2022!

Throughout 2021, as you will no doubt recall from 2021 Streaming Wars entries I, II, III and IV, Netflix saw a dip in Streaming Video On Demand (SVOD) search engagement in the U.S., according to our pals at JustWatch. It remained, by far, the dominant streaming option for JustWatch interest, but its lead was slipping as a series of new streamers created by some of the biggest studios reclaimed their own content from Netflix to lure new subscribers.

Well, JustWatch has supplied some fascinating insights into user trends for the first quarter of the new year, and the standout issue is this: Netflix has just a 4% advantage over its closest competitor, Amazon Prime Video, in terms of SVOD engagement on the site! It’s still leading the charge with a plurality of engagement, 23% of all JustWatch searches. But that number represents a 2% decline in overall market share since the fourth quarter of 2021.

A surprise dark horse contender for the SVOD crown has emerged, too. During the final quarter of 2021, the fairly fresh HBO Max saw huge gains while quickly reaching the top five streamers in terms of JustWatch interest, behind Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and Hulu. That’s nothing compared to where it is now. HBO Max just leapfrogged Disney+ and Hulu to capture 14% of stateside SVOD interest on the platform. It enjoyed more growth (a 2% uptick in market share) than any other streamer over the quarter. Why might this be? HBO Max has an incredibly diverse array of movie and TV options, and unlike Netflix in particular, does not shy away from older films, thanks in large part to its Turner Classic Movies channel, as well as a robust catalogue of more recent classics (from the ’70s onward). Okay, fine, it also has Friends.

The reasons for Netflix’s drop are myriad. A big part of it, of course, is the vacating of licensed content from the platform. Ever since Netflix starting cranking out originals and proving the efficacy of the online streaming model, competitors have emerged to snatch back some of the less-than-original content that had previously been licensed out to them. Swiping Seinfeld from Hulu last year (to the tune of $500 million) was a pretty blatant Hail Mary after the U.S. incarnation of The Office vacated the premises for Peacock. The streamer increased its subscription prices for all of its viewing tiers in January, and has very recently threatened to crack down on password sharing among users lately in an effort to gain new subscribers.

None of this has abetted Netflix’s popularity. The company announced this week that it had lost subscribers for the first time since 2011, with 200,000 customers departing for greener streaming pastures during the first quarter of 2022. Michael Liedtke of The Associated Press observes that a big component of that dip was the result of Netflix to cancel service to Russian citizens as a result of that nation’s war with Ukraine, cutting off 700,000 Russian subscriptions. The announcement caused Netflix stock market shares to dip precipitously, to the tune of 25%.

In a move to attract more viewers at a more affordable price point (as well as generating some new sponsor revenue), Netflix and Disney+ are apparently considering the creation of ad-supported cheaper tiers, much like what Hulu, Prime Video, and more recently HBO Max currently offer.

JustWatch also supplied us with a graph tracking the evolution of SVOD market share development during the first three months of 2022. As you can see, Netflix and Hulu both declined 1% from January to March, while HBO Max tacked on an additional 1% of interest. Two “scrappy” big-money conglomerate streamers, Paramount+ and Apple TV+, have been growing gradually during the year to date, per the graph.

HBO Max, the big gains leader thus far in this calendar year, currently houses just two of the top 10 most-sought after films across the first quarter of 2022, per JustWatch. Those flicks are the 2021 Best Picture-nominated Dune (No. 3 on the JustWatch chart) and Nightmare Alley (No. 5). Two other Best Picture nominees made the cut, with Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical ’60s dramedy Belfast topping the charts Paul Thomas Anderson’s deeply personal-if-not-quite-autobiographical ’70s dramedy Licorice Pizza coming in at No. 8. Licorice Pizza is actually semi-biographical itself, in that it is Anderson’s fictionalization of the colorful adolescence of his friend, the producer Gary Goetzman (re-named “Gary Valentine” in the movie).

But I digress. The box office sensation that swept the nation, Spider-Man: Home Alone 2: Lost In New York (okay okay, Spider-Man: Homecoming), found itself sandwiched between two Best Picture nominees among the top three most-searched SVOD titles during the quarter. Its predecessor, Spider-Man: Home For The Holidays (fine fine, Spider-Man: Far From Home), also made an appearance in the top 10, slotting in just above Licorice Pizza. Two original animated musicals, Sing (No. 4) and Encanto (No. 10), plus two legacy sequels, Scream (No. 6) and Ghostbusters: Afterlife (No. 9), round out the list. The oldest movie to make the cut? Sing, at a whopping six years of age. Interestingly, the actual Best Picture winner at this year’s Academy Awards, the uplifting family drama CODA, did not crack the top 10 list for the quarter.

So where can you stream Belfast, anyway? And will it cost anything to stream, apart from a subscription (currently, the answer to that second question is yes)? For that, dear reader, might we refer you to its JustWatch page (for our international friends: this link represents the movie’s stateside availability, but there are different JustWatch pages reflecting different countries’ streaming availability).

What does the future hold for Netflix? Oodles of cash, that’s for sure. This current decline does not feel indicative of a total abandonment in the marketplace just yet, as it still remains the biggest streamer in the world. Whether Prime Video catches it or not remains to be seen, but the odds feel pretty good that the Netflix advantage will continue to shrink.

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