The next twelve months will usher in a new phase in the streaming wars, as three major companies — two entertainment titans and one very wealthy disruptor — enter the field. This shakeup will introduce tons of new animation to the subscription video on demand (SVOD) sphere, and rearrange what’s already there. But unless you want to shell out over $50 per month, you’ll have to pick and choose your platforms. Read on, then, for our rundown of the key players’ animation strategies…
(guide last updated on January 31, 2020)
What animation does it offer? As things stand, Netflix is easily the most dynamic producer of animation among the SVOD platforms. It outspends its rivals, dropping $1.1 billion last year on animated originals, according to estimates by venture capital firm Loup Ventures. By paying creators well and giving them considerable freedom, Netflix has attracted a wide range of top talent. It’s ambitious in both kids’ and adult programming, and has confirmed its commitment to animation by opening a dedicated studio in L.A. It also licenses a lot of content.
As well as developing existing brands through partnerships with established production companies, Netflix backs plenty of original ideas — see the variety in its new slate of preschool series. It will soon release its first original feature, Klaus, and has more in the works from auteurs like Guillermo del Toro and Nora Twomey, while also acquiring prestige indie works like I Lost My Body. Aside from flagship series like Bojack Horseman, the platform has created a range of interesting series for older audiences, like Castlevania and Big Mouth. It’s also charging into the anime market, and has global rights to the Studio Ghibli catalogue (excluding Japan and North America).
Any downsides? Netflix’s library of licensed content is shrinking as rival old-guard media companies withdraw their shows in preparation for their own SVOD services. All Disney films and series, for instance, are being pulled ahead of the launch of Disney+ (see below). Licensed works — and not Netfix originals — currently get the lion’s share of views on Netflix; as the licensed works start to migrate elsewhere, original content will have to pick up the slack.
How many subscribers? Over 151 million
How much? $8.99–$15.99/mo
Key animation executives: Melissa Cobb (vp, kids & family), Mike Moon (director, original series), John Derderian (director, Japan and anime), Phil Rynda (director, kids and family), Curtis Lelash (director of original animated series), Heather Tilert (director, original animation, preschool)
Amazon Prime Video
What animation does it offer? Amazon is another major player in streamed animation, its budget second only to Netflix’s at the moment. But it lags some way behind, spending around $300 million on original content in 2018, compared to Netflix’s $1.1 billion (as estimated by Loup Ventures).
Amazon Prime Video boasts a rich back catalogue of kids’ content. It has some 20 original series, including two from Dreamworks (which is gradually reducing its reliance on its erstwhile partner, Netflix). Spongebob Squarepants and Shaun the Sheep are among the roster of licensed programs, while a deal with DHX Media recently gave the platform a package of popular series in Spanish. Meanwhile, it’s about to launch its first original adult series, Undone, which brings together Bojack Horseman’s creator and respected Dutch animator Hisko Hulsing.
Any downsides? Although it has no plans to end its licensing agreements, according to recent reports, Amazon is pulling away from original kids’ programming. Taking a step back from original children’s content may be a smart move, as children’s producers have privately expressed frustration working with Amazon Studios and the tight control they exercised over the content of the shows. Further, unlike Netflix, the platform hasn’t shown any commitment to original animation features.
How many subscribers? Amazon is tight-lipped, but it revealed in April 2018 that it had over 100 million Prime subscribers (who get Prime Video as part of their package). Around the same time, it was estimated that roughly one-quarter of Amazon Prime subscribers in the U.S. — 26 million — used the accompanying SVOD platform.
How much? $8.99/mo (standalone) or $119/year (includes Amazon Prime membership)
Key animation executives: Melissa Wolfe (head of kids programming)
What animation does it offer? A well-established streamer, Hulu came under the Disney umbrella with the corporation’s acquisition of Fox last year. The Mouse House intends to keep it alongside its forthcoming Disney+ service (see below), which will be aimed at younger audiences. This means that Hulu stands to benefit from the sheer weight of Disney’s teen and adult offerings. As a taster of what’s to come, it recently greenlit four series and a special based on Marvel properties.
The platform features plenty of blue-chip series — including South Park, Rick & Morty, Bob’s Burgers, and Teen Titans Go! — and commissions original works from interesting creators, such as the people behind Rick & Morty. It is home to Dreamworks’s entire film library, and is developing original series based on the company’s franchises (this arrangement is a little awkward now that Hulu is controlled by Disney, Dreamworks’s rival). A first-look deal covering anime titles from Funimation makes it arguably the best of these six platformx for fans of Japanese animation.
Any downsides? Hulu is only available in the U.S. and Japan, although Disney has indicated that it plans to bring it overseas in the near future. The need to distinguish it from Disney+ will probably restrict its offering of family fare. That said, the two services are expected to be combined in a discount package (alongside sports streamer ESPN+). Like Netflix and Amazon, Hulu could lose licensed content as rivals enter the field — for instance, Warnermedia may claim back Cartoon Network shows for HBO Max (see below).
How many subscribers? Over 28 million
How much? $5.99/mo (with commercials), $11.99/mo (without)
What animation will it offer? The Walt Disney Company is the biggest player in Hollywood, and home to the best-loved animation brands in the world. Even though it won’t contain the company’s entire catalogue of classics at launch, Disney+ will be a formidable SVOD competitor, in the family stakes at least. It will be the destination of choice for fans of Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel, Blue Sky, The Simpsons, and of course Disney’s own peerless history of filmmaking.
Going by early indications, the platform will devote more effort to extending existing brands than to creating new ones. Original content announced so far includes spinoff shows inspired by Toy Story 4 and Monsters, Inc., a number of Marvel-based series, a new series of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and Muppets and Chip ‘n’ Dale content. The live-action take on Lady and the Tramp will debut exclusively here, and the same may apply to future Disney remakes. To top it all, the service will come cheap.
Any downsides? Disney+ will be pitched primarily at younger audiences, and will center on the company’s legacy franchises — to begin with, at least. It may not be ideal for older viewers, or those accustomed to the eclecticism of, say, Netflix. But they will have the option of a package with Hulu, for the same price — $12.99 — as Netflix’s most popular plan.
When will it launch? November 12, 2019 (U.S.); 2020 fiscal year (Western Europe and Asia); 2021 fiscal year (Latin America and Eastern Europe)
Key animation executives: David Levy (director, animation), Agnes Chu (senior vp, content)
How much? $6.99/mo (standalone), $12.99/mo (packaged with Hulu and ESPN+)
What animation will it offer? Of the heavyweight SVOD platforms yet to launch, only this one has to build its library of content from scratch. Good thing Apple is the second-largest company in the world by market cap. It is currently on an acquisition spree, and animation is certainly a part of its plans.
There have been few concrete announcements to date. What we do know is that Apple TV+ will have Wolfwalkers, the forthcoming feature from Cartoon Saloon’s Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, and Central Park, an original series from Bob’s Burgers creator Loren Bouchard. Apple is teaming up with DHX Media to create new Peanuts animation. It has also signed a deal with Sesame Workshop — not for Sesame Street itself, but for spinoff series such as Helpsters, in which Muppets will teach preschoolers to code.
And there are other signs of Apple’s ambitions. The company has hired children’s tv veteran Tara Sorensen, most recently head of kids’ programming at Amazon Studios, to oversee its children’s content division.
Any downsides? From what we know, it looks like Apple’s animation strategy consists at this point of working with well-established brands and creators, particularly on the family side of things. The company is playing it safe. It enters the SVOD market at a disadvantage, and so far it doesn’t seem to be using its considerable resources to distinguish itself. To compete, it will have to forge the sorts of Hollywood connections enjoyed by Netflix or Hulu and/or thoroughly commit to original ideas from a wide range of creators.
When will it launch? November 1, 2019, in over 100 countries
How much? $4.99/mo, or free for one year with purchase of new iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV
What animation will it offer? Like Disney+, this service comes with the backing of an entertainment titan. In this case it’s Warnermedia, the product of AT&T’s blockbuster takeover of Time Warner, and home to Warner Bros., Adult Swim, DC Comics, Cartoon Network, Crunchyroll (see below), Rooster Teeth, and much more. CEO John Stankey has confirmed that animation will be central to its strategy.
The lineup will contain Gremlins, an animated series based on the film of the same name; four one-hour specials based on the show Adventure Time; a new Looney Tunes series; and Jellystones, which will star characters from the Hanna-Barbera library. HBO Max will also be the logical destination for other projects under the Warnermedia banner, such as the Flinstones revival. The platform could end up with old and new content from a huge range of respected franchises. Not to mention its biggest licensing coups: it has acquired U.S. rights to South Park and Studio Ghibli’s catalogue.
A question mark hangs over Boomerang, a U.S.-only subscription service owned by Warnermedia, which offers classic cartoons from Warner Bros., Hanna Barbera, and MGM, as well as original content. Warnermedia has previously shuttered similar niche services, like Filmstruck (classic movies) and Dramafever (Korean dramas). However, a representative recently told Cartoon Brew that the company plans to keep Boomerang as a standalone service.
Any downsides? HBO Max could be fairly expensive. And until Warnermedia reveals more about its programming, it will be hard to gauge the platform’s strategy and value for money.
When will it launch? Spring 2020
How much? Warnermedia has yet to confirm the price, although industry rumors place it at $16–$17
Key animation executives: Billy Wee (senior vp, original animation), Suzanna Makkos (executive vp, original comedy and animation), Jennifer O’Connell (executive vp, original non-fiction and kids), Aaron Davidson (director of animation)
What animation will it offer? Animation may not be front and center in NBCUniversal’s offering — the main selling points for now are a vast live-action library and live sports/news — but it still has an important place. The streamer will launch with a ready-made animated catalogue courtesy of NBCU subsidiaries Dreamworks Animation (DWA), Illumination Entertainment, and Universal Kids.
DWA is preparing a raft of original series for Peacock, many of which are spin-offs from popular franchises: TrollsTopia, Madagascar: A Little Wild, Where’s Waldo?, The Mighty Ones, Cleopatra in Space. A non-DWA original in development is The Adventure Zone, an adaptation of the eponymous podcast, which is loosely based on the Dungeons & Dragons games. The streamer will also get new episodes of Curious George and access to the first pay window for forthcoming DWA films. The library will be filled out by classics, including Shrek, Shark Tale, and Despicable Me.
Oh, and the service (in its most basic incarnation) will cost nothing at all.
Any downsides? The emphasis is firmly on “family.” Adult animation buffs may find more to detain them elsewhere. Overseas audiences won’t have the choice, for now at any rate: Peacock only has a fixed release date for the U.S., although Comcast (NBCU’s parent company) says that an international rollout is on the cards.
When will it launch? April 15 for Comcast’s Xfinity X1 and Flex customers; July 15 nationwide
How much? Peacock Free (basic, ad-supported): free to all; Peacock Premium (more content than Free, ad-supported): free to Comcast and Cox Cable subscribers, $4.99/mo to others; ad-free: $4.99/mo to subscribers, $9.99/mo to others
What animation does it offer? Even as the likes of Netflix and Hulu barrel into the anime market, Crunchyroll remains the destination of choice for dedicated fans of Japanese animation. The platform, which is owned by Warnermedia, boasts a peerless library of more than 1,100 licensed titles, totaling over 40,000 episodes. In addition, users can access manga and live-action Asian shows.
As well as offering classic works like Naruto, Crunchyroll simulcasts new anime episodes on the day they air in Japan, complete with professional subtitles. In early 2020, it unveiled its first ever Crunchyroll Originals, a slate of eight series produced in-house and in partnership with major Japanese studios. The platform has signalled its intentions in this area by becoming the first anime streamer to open its own production unit.
The platform’s freemium model means that casual and cash-strapped viewers can access a large catalog of shows for free, as long as they don’t mind commercial breaks and low resolutions. Premium membership provide access to the simulcast features and presents content ad-free. Meanwhile, the company fosters a sense of community through its events like Crunchyroll Expo, news service, and lively fan forums.
Crunchyroll is also exploring synergies with other Warnermedia companies, such as its programming and distribution partnership with cable network Adult Swim. The partnership makes Crunchyroll a content partner for Adult Swim’s anime block Toonami, and the two divisions are collaborating on licensed content, co-produtions, and distribution opportunities. The two companies are currently working on Blade Runner — Black Lotus, a new anime series and co-production with Alcon Television Group based on Blade Runner 2049. Finally, Crunchyroll has purchased a majority stake in distributor Viz Media Europe Group.
Any downsides? Many famous anime shows — Death Note and Neon Genesis Evangelion, to name just two — have been snapped up by other streamers, and can’t be found here. Crunchyroll’s library was diminished in 2018, when anime distributor Funimation ended its cross-licensing deal with the platform and signed a first-look pact with Hulu. In general, the emphasis is on series, not films. Don’t come here looking for Studio Ghibli or Satoshi Kon. Oh, and be ready to read subs — dubbing is scarce.
How many subscribers? Over two million paying subscribers, and 45 million registered users (10 million monthly active users)
Key executives: Joanna Waage (general manager), Branon Coluccio (head of original content)
How much? $7.99 (premium), free access to ad-supported library
What animation will it offer? Unlike the other streamers, Quibi is focused exclusively on short-form content: episodes will run to 5–10 minutes, and movies will be broken down into chapters of the same length. The company is backed by Hollywood mogul (and Dreamworks co-founder) Jeffrey Katzenberg, who oversees content. To date, it has announced only four animation series, but Katzenberg’s connections could lead to some premium shows. Many A-listers are producing for the platform, particularly in live action.
The four greenlit and announced animated series are: Gloop World, a stop-motion show from Rick & Morty co-creator Justin Roiland; an adaptation of Anthony Piper’s superhero comic Trill League; Your Daily Horoscope, a narrative series featuring the zodiac animals; and The Andy Cohen Diaries, in which the titular writer-broadcaster shares anecdotes from his colorful life.
Any downsides? Quibi has no established franchises, and even its $1.4 billion of funding (to date) pales in comparison to the major streamers’ budgets. The company insists that it isn’t competing with Netflix et al., but it will still need stellar original content in order to convince consumers to shell out for another subscription. Also, its shows will only be viewable on mobiles, although the platform’s integration of phone features (such as dual landscape/portrait formats) could open up intriguing creative avenues.