The year 2020 has ushered in a new phase in the streaming wars. Several major companies — old-guard entertainment titans and wealthy disruptors alike — have entered the field, and the coronavirus has given them a captive audience to fight over. This shakeup is introducing tons of new animation to the subscription video on demand (SVOD) sphere, and rearranging what’s already there. But unless you want to shell out close to $100 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 June 30, 2020)
What animation does it offer? Netflix is easily the most dynamic producer of animation among the SVOD platforms. It outspends its rivals, dropping an estimated $1.1 billion on animated originals in 2019 — more than Disney+’s entire budget for original content in fiscal 2020. 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.
The platform has proved adept at developing existing brands through partnerships with established production companies. It has a close relationship with Aardman, a multi-year pact with Nickelodeon, and the rights to Roald Dahl’s stories, to cite three high-profile examples. But it also backs plenty of original ideas — see the variety in its recent slate of preschool series. It has released two self-produced animated features, the Oscar-nominated Klaus and The Willoughbys, and has more in the works from auteurs like Guillermo del Toro and Nora Twomey, while also acquiring prestige indie titles like I Lost My Body (also Oscar-nominated).
Aside from flagship series like Bojack Horseman, Netflix has created a range of interesting series for older audiences, like Castlevania and Big Mouth. It’s also charging into the anime market, a space where Disney doesn’t compete; notably, it has global rights to the Studio Ghibli catalogue (excluding Japan and North America). Finally, the platform is thinking globally, acquiring popular animation from countries like China and Saudi Arabia.
Any downsides? Netflix’s library of licensed content has shrunk fast as rival old-guard media companies withdraw their shows and place them on their own SVOD services. The number of Disney titles, for example, has dwindled to almost nothing. Original content increasingly has to pick up the slack, but creating quality shows and franchises from scratch is not easy.
Not only is Netflix now competing against titanically popular IP, some of its rivals are also fantastically rich, and can afford to undercut it for a long time. That seems to be the strategy behind both Apple TV+ and Disney+, which are both far cheaper.
How many subscribers? Over 182 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, original animation), Curtis Lelash (director, kids and family), Heather Tilert (director, original animation, preschool), Bruce Daitch (vp, animation production), Dominique Bazay (director, original animation, international)
What animation does it offer? The Walt Disney Company is the biggest player in Hollywood, and home to the best-loved animation brands in the world. It has withdrawn almost all its licensed content from rival platforms, and Disney+ is now the home of Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel, Blue Sky, The Simpsons, and of course Disney’s own peerless catalogue. In contrast to its main rival Netflix, the self-styled patron of original ideas, the House of Mouse is the epitome of filmmaking-by-franchise.
The platform launched in November 2019 with a bang, picking up 10 million subscribers in its first day. Original content released or 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. There are unscripted shows that delve behind the studio’s scenes, such as Frozen 2 docuseries Into the Unknown. The hybrid take on Lady and the Tramp debuted exclusively here, and the same may apply to future Disney remakes (although the company has refused to move the live-action Mulan here amid theater shutdowns). To top it all, the service comes cheap.
Any downsides? Although Disney has said it will spend $1 billion on original content for the platform in 2020, the offering has been modest so far. In any case, branding limits what will appear on the platform in the future. Original shows will center on the company’s legacy franchises — to begin with, at least — and there won’t be much to appeal to older viewers, or those accustomed to the eclecticism of Netflix. But they have the option of a bundle with Hulu and ESPN+, for the same price — $12.99 — as Netflix’s most popular plan.
As of June 2020, Disney+ has yet to be rolled out in some regions, including Latin America and parts of Europe.
How many subscribers? Over 54 million
How much? $6.99/mo
Key animation executives: David Levy (director, animation), Agnes Chu (senior vp, content), Sarah Shepard (vp, original content, scripted)
What animation does 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. AT&T president John Stankey has confirmed that animation will be central to the platform.
HBO Max is strong on young adult content, launching with Adult Swim content like Rick and Morty and The Boondocks, a library of new and old anime curated by Crunchyroll, and the Lego movies. A new collection of Looney Tunes shorts has debuted here alongside the classics, as has the first of four exclusive Adventure Time specials. HBO Max is also the logical destination for other projects under the Warnermedia banner, such as the Flintstones revival and Jellystone!, which will star characters from the Hanna-Barbera library. Then there are the platform’s biggest licensing coups: it has acquired U.S. rights to South Park (pinching it from Hulu) 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 has told Cartoon Brew that the company plans to keep Boomerang as a standalone service.
Any downsides? The platform had a bumpy start in May, with confusion over branding and access among its problems. So far, it is not a powerhouse of original content like Netflix, but nor do its tentpole brands cohere into a simple, elegant whole like Disney+. It is also expensive, although a (presumably) cheaper ad-supported option is planned. Another downside: it only available in the U.S. for now.
How many subscribers? HBO Max picked up 4.1 million subscribers in its first month, around a quarter of whom came through AT&T wireless packages that include the service.
How much? $14.99/mo
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), Nikki Reed (vp, kids and family scripted originals), Aaron Davidson (director of animation)
Amazon Prime Video
What animation does it offer? Amid the glitzy launches of rival platforms, it’s easy to forget that Amazon is still, by some way, the biggest streaming player after Netflix, with over 150 million subscribers (most of whom admittedly receive the platform passively alongside their Prime shipping service). The company plans to spend $7 billion on content this year.
For all that, it hasn’t made much of a mark in animation. Prime Video is not a standalone service, and splashing out on eye-catching originals is less a priority for Amazon than for many of its competitors. Amazon Prime Video boasts a rich back catalogue of kids’ content. But it does have some two dozen original animated series, including the well-received stop-motion show Tumble Leaf and two series from Dreamworks (which is gradually reducing its reliance on its erstwhile partner, Netflix).
Spongebob Squarepants, Shaun the Sheep, and Dora the Explorer are among the roster of licensed programs, while a deal with DHX Media has given the platform a package of popular series in Spanish. As this list suggests, Amazon is strong in the kids’ sphere. But it made waves in 2019 with 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? Over 150 million worldwide, but that figure refers to Prime memberships — Amazon doesn’t release separate stats for Prime Video.
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 in 2019. The House of Mouse intends to keep it alongside Disney+, which is aimed at younger audiences. This means that Hulu stands to benefit from the 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 commissions original works from interesting creators, such as Solar Opposites (from the people behind Rick and Morty) and Crossing Swords (from Seth Green and his Robot Chicken colleagues). This is partly out of growing necessity, as it is losing some of the licensed series it once boasted: South Park has gone to HBO Max, and Adult Swim shows could follow suit — Rick and Morty is now available on both platforms. But it still houses many blue-chip shows, including Family Guy, Bob’s Burgers, Futurama, and King of the Hill.
Hulu is also home to Dreamworks Animation’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 a good option 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, although the two services are available (alongside ESPN+) in a bundle. Like Netflix and Amazon, Hulu faces the challenge of building and sustaining its own brands, as licensed ones desert it.
How many subscribers? Over 32 million
How much? $5.99/mo (with commercials), $11.99/mo (without)
Key animation executives: Craig Erwich (senior vp, scripted originals)
What animation does it offer? Of the heavyweight SVOD platforms, only this one is having 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.
That said, half a year after launch, there still isn’t much animation on the platform. Central Park, an original series from Bob’s Burgers creator Loren Bouchard, has opened to solid reviews. Snoopy in Space, the first product of a partnership with DHX Media to create new Peanuts animation, has picked up a Daytime Emmy nomination. Then there’s Wolfwalkers, the anticipated new feature from Cartoon Saloon’s Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart.
Broadening out to puppetry: Apple has signed a deal with Sesame Workshop for Sesame Street spinoff series like Helpsters, in which Muppets teach preschoolers to code. It has also ordered a reboot of Jim Henson’s Fraggle Rock. And there are other signs of the company’s ambitions. The company has hired tv veteran Tara Sorensen, previously head of kids’ programming at Amazon Studios, to oversee children’s content. It is reportedly looking to snap up classic library content, which may well include animation.
Any downsides? Given the depth of Apple’s pockets, the animation slate is meager. The company’s strategy for the platform is still unclear — in animation, it has so far been working with well-established brands and creators, particularly on the family side of things. The company is playing it safe. It entered the SVOD market at a disadvantage, and so far it hasn’t distinguished 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.
How many subscribers? Apple isn’t saying. In May, insiders told Bloomberg that the number stands at ten million, but analysts have put it as high as 33 million.
How much? $4.99/mo, or free for one year with purchase of new iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV
Key animation executives: Tara Sorensen (creative development, children’s)
What animation does it offer? NBCUniversal’s offering launched nationwide on July 15. Animation may not be front and center — 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 has access to a ready-made animated catalogue courtesy of NBCU subsidiaries Dreamworks Animation, Illumination Entertainment, and Universal Kids. NBCU has confirmed that it plans to greenlight originals and license content from outside suppliers for the platform.
Dreamworks 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.
Peacock comes in different tiers, ranging from free to ad-free premium. The free service offers library kids’ series like Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures, The Woody Woodpecker Show, and Kong: The Animated Series. A premium subscription is needed to watch all the above originals, alongside classics like Shrek and fresh releases like Trolls World Tour.
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.
Key executives: Bonnie Hammer (chairman, NBCUniversal Content Studios), Bill McGoldrick (president of original content, NBCU Entertainment Networks and Direct-to-Consumer), Frances Manfredi (president, content acquisition and strategy, Peacock TV)
How many subscribers? Too early to say.
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. They 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
CBS All Access (provisional name)
What animation will it offer? Nothing concrete has yet been announced, other than that ViacomCBS is planning to relaunch the existing service as a major streaming competitor. The revamped CBS All Access will draw content from ViacomCBS’s portfolio: Nickelodeon, Paramount, MTV, Comedy Central, Smithsonian, etc. Famous IPs will spawn original content.
Through its brands, ViacomCBS owns a wide range of animation properties: think Garfield, Dora the Explorer, and (via Paramount) the Fleischer library. (Comedy Central broadcasts South Park, but HBO Max has acquired exclusive U.S. streaming rights to the show in a multi-year deal.) All seasons of Spongebob Squarepants will be available on CBS All Access, as will the franchise’s new film Sponge on the Run, which will land exclusively on the platform after a PVOD launch in early 2021. The animated spin-off series Star Trek: Lower Decks, from Rick and Morty writer Mike McMahan, is due to premiere on the service this year.
Any downsides? Hard to say, when we know so little. The biggest questions are: how much of their eclectic animation library will ViacomCBS open up, and to what extent will they deliver the originals that they’re promising? Executives are pitching the new service as a “house of brands,” evoking the array of brands on Disney+ — if we’re lucky, that will mean a diverse animation offering.
When will it launch? The reboot is scheduled for summer, with the service due to be rolled out in some international markets over the next 12 months.
How much? To be announced. Subscribers currently pay $6 with ads, $10 without.