Netflix vs. Disney: Who’s the Leader in Streaming Now?

Disney's come-from-behind lead, if you want to call it that, did not last a year.
Beef. Ali Wong as Amy in episode 110 of Beef. Cr. Andrew Cooper/Netflix © 2023
Ali Wong as Amy in Episode 110 of Netflix's "Beef"

When it comes to subscribers, the great streaming race always has been a two-horse sprint with Disney+ and Netflix trading wins by a nose. A late-2022 surge at Netflix and Disney’s loss of cricket rights in India have put Netflix back in the winners circle.

Netflix and Hulu were pretty much the only streamers in town before Hulu’s majority owner, Disney, came out strong (and cheap) with Disney+ in November 2019. The field became crowded with a whole lot of plus signs shortly thereafter. New greyhounds (and others that were just dogs) emerged, but Disney+ surpassed Hulu in subs after its first full quarter of availability in the U.S. Score: 33.5 million vs. 32.1 million. (At the time, Netflix had 186.86 million global paid subscribers.)

A little more than two years later, Disney made its first pass at dominance in the June quarter of 2022 with 221.1 million total subscriptions vs. 220.67 million for Netflix. However: It’s worth noting that “subscriptions” are not the same thing as “subscribers.”

For the Walt Disney Company, total streaming subscriptions include Hulu and ESPN+ (and Disney+ Hotstar, a different version of Disney+ in its geographic availability and pricing). At Netflix, which does not have multiple services to bundle, one subscription equals one subscriber (at least that’s its hope in the password-crackdown era). Disney counts three subscriptions for every person who has the three-service Disney Bundle (Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+) and two subscriptions for anyone who has the two-service bundle.

Disney ended the September 2022 quarter (Disney’s fiscal Q4 2022; Netflix’s Q3 2022) with 235.7 million subscriptions vs. Netflix’s 223.09 million. At the end of the calendar year, it was 234.7 million Disney subscriptions to 230.75 million Netflix subs.

Disney was going backward as Netflix grew; both services launched ad-supported tiers that quarter. That would mark the conclusion of Disney’s reign.

Another tough quarter for Disney and a relatively good one for Netflix returned things to order: Netflix was again the undisputed champion with 232.50 million subs; Disney had 231.3 million streaming total streaming subscriptions.

On Tuesday, Netflix announced its account-sharing crackdown has started in the U.S. Add-ons to an existing account will not count as new subscribers, a Netflix rep told IndieWire. Some borrowers may opt to instead start their own account, which would widen the gap with Disney.

One thing that was never close was the revenue race. Netflix’s most-recent quarterly revenue was $8.162 billion; Disney’s overall streaming revenue was $5.514 billion. (The company’s overall revenue from January-March was $21.815 billion; with its high ARPU — average revenue per user — Hulu’s revenue still outpaces Disney+.)

Netflix has another financial advantage: profitability. The pricey Netflix service has been profitable for years; the inexpensive (though getting more expensive) Disney+ is not… yet. (Hulu is considered profitable.) Disney CEO Bob Iger is doing everything he can to fix that, which now includes the removal of content from the core platform, David Zaslav-style.

As recent as February, Iger touted 2024 as the year Disney+ would turn a profit; there has not been much chatter about thae target in recent months. On Tuesday, IndieWire asked Disney if that 2024 expectation still holds, but we did not receive a response from company reps.

(L-R): Grogu, Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) and Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) in Lucasfilm's THE MANDALORIAN, season three, exclusively on Disney+. ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.
Pedro Pascal and Carl Weathers in “The Mandalorian”Courtesy of Lucasfilm Ltd. / Disney+

Speaking of huge revenues and profits: Amazon.

In early 2022, Amazon announced that there are more that 200 million paid Prime members worldwide, and in 2021 it was announced over 175 million Prime members had streamed shows and movies in the past year. That is the latest Prime subscriber update — and Prime Video-usage update — we’ve gotten.

(Amazon does not assign a subscriber-revenue figure to the ad-free Prime Video; it also does not break out its Prime Video-only sub count. Since the main draw for many overall Prime members is the e-commerce giant’s free, two-day shipping, there is no fair way to directly compare Netflix and Disney streaming to Amazon.)

Shoutout here to the only other streaming company that can rightfully claim a place at the podium: Warner Bros. Discovery. Its HBO Max and Discovery+, which relaunched Tuesday as new platform Max, combined for 97.6 million subscribers at the end of March. The company’s U.S. streaming business turned a surprise profit in the quarter, and Zaslav believes the direct-to-consumer segment — now starring Max — will make money for the year. And that’s a +. As a matter of fact, it’s an A+.

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