2022 was a pretty weird year for streaming platforms. After a subscription price hike, the year started in poor form for Netflix, with record subscriber losses after years of continued growth, and many spelling the end for the streaming giant, only for it to pick up steam later in the year and exceed all expectations. Then there’s Amazon Prime, who picked up a prime IP and made the most expensive TV series ever – The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power – only for it to get review bombed for casting choices and instances of poor writing. And HBO – HBO actually did quite alright, winning its prequel battle with Amazon and otherwise being pretty consistent in terms of quality.
Therefore, I wanted to write this article as a sort of retrospective look at last year and how each of the big three has done – as well as what their prospects are for 2023.
Funnily enough, maybe, contrary to the opinions of those declaring it dead by the beginning of 2022, Netflix ultimately showed that it’s still by far the strongest streaming platform in terms of both titles as well as quantity and scope of new content. Starting the year with subscriber loss, bad press and questionable quality early on, Netflix gradually recovered, grew back the subscriber numbers, and posted substantial ratings wins. It did fairly well with some of its bigger names, such as Bridgerton and Inventing Anna, and also stabilised its position with the decision to release the latest season of Stranger Things in two spaced-out chapters. It scored some short-term wins with questionable but high-press material, such as the Harry and Meghan documentary, but also showed longer-term vision with Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story and Wednesday.
Looking forward towards the rest of 2023, it remains to be seen what other aces Netflix has up its sleeve and whether it can continue to make some of the gains it made in 2022. It can’t keep relying on a Stranger Things that is wrapping up with its next season anyways, and it remains to be seen whether Wednesday Season 2 and another season of Monster can replicate the success that Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story enjoyed. And it all depends a lot on the business model Netflix decides to adopt when it comes to the ad-based version and password-sharing discussions. So far, however, it doesn’t seem likely that it will lose its top spot.
Runner up: Amazon Prime
The thing with Amazon Prime is that, even years after they became a Netflix rival, many Prime subscribers still don’t know that a streaming platform is included with their free Amazon delivery. Add to that a very clunky interface, the polar opposite of the storefront’s user-friendly and well-structured UX, and Prime’s streaming platform becomes a little bit puzzling to fully understand. Its 2022 results were quite mixed, actually: they had the first episode of Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power watched by 25 million people on the first day, but the show overall, while still great, failed to justify its massive price tag. Moreover, despite the promising start, it was overshadowed by HBO’s House of the Dragon and even by Netflix’s Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, and given its rock-solid LOTR name, that’s a big failure. Otherwise, it delivered some semi-interesting series that were still of questionable quality – The Peripheral, for instance – but also scored wins with their action series named Jack (Jack Reacher and Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan), as well as The Boys – which holds plenty of promise going forward.
There will be no new Lord of the Rings season in 2023 (and possibly not even in 2024, though I think they will have to eventually make an effort), but 2023 will bring on more of The Boys as well as its spinoff, a God of War series and possibly some more solid horror titles than what they’ve had previously. And considering that The Rings of Power did put them more on the map as a streaming platform, they are arguably in a stronger position than where they were heading into 2022.
Loser: HBO Max
Here’s the controversial one: HBO. On paper, it looks like HBO Max had quite a great year – big-name releases such as The White Lotus, Raised by Wolves, Legendary, and House of the Dragon channelling the early Game of Thrones energy and scoring big in terms of audience, as well as picking up a Golden Globe recently. However, the change in leadership brought the feeling of consistency and progress to an end – with David Zaslav joining as CEO, many promising films were shelved, and well-loved series was quickly pulled from the platform without much notice.
While HBO Max might have lost in 2022, its decisions might place it in a better position for the upcoming years. Cancelling projects left and right and not renewing original shows that were well-loved but still retained a niche appeal without huge viewerships may be very sad from a quality viewpoint, but it’s the kind of hardline business decision that ultimately works out. Despite unrest among some fans, these decisions are sometimes quick to forget, and simply throwing more House of the Dragon at its subscribers is a pretty good strategy. Plus, it’s due to tap into a massive videogame fanbase with their The Last of Us series adaptation, so HBO might be poised for a better year.