By Mike Murphy
In 2020, most of us streamed a lot more shows than we otherwise might have, thanks to coronavirus stay-at-home orders. But the pandemic also set in motion a tsunami of new content that’ll hit in 2021.
While consumers in 2020 could glide by only two or three regular streaming subscriptions (one almost certainly being Netflix), 2021 looks certain to deliver even stronger competition for your dollars. A big reason for that is the game-changing plan by AT&T’s /zigman2/quotes/203165245/composite T +0.69% Warner Bros. to stream its entire 2021 slate of movies on HBO Max the same day they hit theaters, and Walt Disney Co.’s /zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite DIS +0.21% hybrid strategy to release some of its movies straight to Disney+ as pandemic restrictions continue to hobble theaters.
HBO Max and Disney+ are also seriously bulking up on new series. Meanwhile, fledgling services Apple TV+ and Peacock were hurt the most by pandemic-related production delays in 2020, but those woes should result in significantly more new releases in 2021. And that’s all in addition to Netflix’s monthly flood of new offerings, Hulu’s best-in-field selection of TV series, the solid-if-not-spectacular Amazon Prime Video, the soon-to-be-rebranded CBS All Access and the soon-to-launch Discovery+.
With even more quality shows spread around even more streaming services, it’s going to be harder than ever to decide which ones are worth your money.
So for those trying to budget their viewing (and spending) for the year, here are five things to watch for in streaming in 2021:
Netflix has long dominated the conversation for buzz-worthy streaming programming. That’s about to change, with Disney+ and HBO Max making major plays to dominate the workplace water-cooler conversation. (Remember water coolers? Remember workplaces?)
As evidenced by the mountain of new shows and movies that Disney teased at its recent investor day, Disney+ is becoming a must-have not just for families, but for any adult with nerdish tendencies. Disney announced roughly a year’s worth of new Marvel shows — “WandaVision” in January, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” in March, “Loki” in May, “What If?” next summer, and “Hawkeye” and “Ms. Marvel” in the second half of the year. And that’s not even including the truckful of “Star Wars” shows coming, including the animated spinoffs “Star Wars: Visions” and “The Bad Batch,” and “The Book of Boba Fett” next December.
Disney will split its new movies between theatrical releases and straight-to-streaming, with “Flora and Ulysses” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” going directly to Disney+, while “Raya and the Last Dragon” will stream the same day it opens in theaters. And while bigger movies such as Marvel’s “Black Widow” and “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” will debut in theaters only, they’ll still hit Disney+ before the year’s end.
Overall, Disney+ seems to be taking a cue from HBO, which built its brand by always having at least one must-see, tentpole show airing at any one time — you only need four or five of those to have year-round programming. Disney+ is taking that and doubling down. As loaded as 2021 will be, expect 2022 and beyond to be ridiculously stuffed, with multiple Marvel, “Star Wars” and Pixar series airing at the same time, all year long. That’ll be hugely appealing to viewers of all ages.
Meanwhile, HBO Max has an even more ridiculously loaded 2021 on tap, appealing to a much wider and more grown-up audience.
WarnerMedia’s stunning shift to stream its entire 2021 slate of Warner Bros. movies on HBO Max the same day they open in theaters could completely blow up Hollywood’s business model , but for HBO Max subscribers, it’s great news.
Among those 17 movies: the Sopranos prequel “The Many Saints of Newark” ; the monster epic “Godzilla vs. Kong” ; the musical “In the Heights,” co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda; James Gunn’s “Suicide Squad” ; Denis Villeneuve’s highly anticipated take on “Dune” ; and Keanu Reeves in the long-awaited “The Matrix 4.” Analysts project Warner could be sacrificing more than $1 billion in box-office receipts in a bid to bulk up HBO Max. This is a big deal.
Add to that originals such as such as Zack Snyder’s fabled “Justice League” director’s cut and Steven Soderbergh’s crime thriller “No Sudden Move,” the period drama series “The Gilded Age” from “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes, and new seasons of “Search Party,” “Succession” and “Insecure,” and potentially the Bong Joon Ho/Adam McKay “Parasite” limited-series spinoff and Michael Mann’s crime thriller “Tokyo Vice.” Oh, and the long-awaited, pandemic-delayed “Friends” reunion. And much more.
There’s a jaw-dropping amount of fantastic stuff there, and Max’s high price of $14.99 a month can be justified if you think of it as about the price of a single movie ticket. There are no two ways about it, HBO Max and Disney+ are going to be absolute must-haves in 2021.
Here’s another streaming service following the HBO model. In its first year, Apple TV+ had some good shows, just not enough of them. Slowly but surely, that library is growing.
Apple /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL -0.41% has dozens of big-name shows in its pipeline, and while it’ll likely take another year or so to become a must-have service, there’s little doubt that one day it will be. Apple rarely does anything halfway.
Among the highlights on tap for 2021: Jon Stewart’s as-yet-untitled new current-events show; “Cherry,” a crime drama starring Tom Holland; “Schmigadoon,” a musical comedy series from “Saturday Night Live’s” Cecily Strong; and the second seasons of “Dickinson,” Servant,” “For All Mankind” — and possibly new seasons of “The Morning Show,” “Raven’s Quest” and “Ted Lasso,” though that one’s probably more likely for 2022.