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Netflix executives received an interesting question during the company's Q3 earnings call last week: The company's streaming catalog is significantly smaller these days than it was just a few years ago, prompting Barclays Media Research Managing Director Kannan Venkateshwar to ask: "Is that deliberate? And how do you determine optimum volume? How much is too much?"
"It is true that there is less," admitted Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos. In the early days, Netflix often licensed bulk catalogs of hundreds of titles at a time, he explained. "Today, we are much more deliberate," Sadarndos said. "We really don't focus that much on the title count."
That may be true for a giant like Netflix that spends billions of dollars a year on originals. However, the size and makeup of these catalogs also tell us a lot about how streaming services approach the space, and how much of an investment they've been able to make over the years. In the end, it may not matter as much whether Netflix has 2,000 or 10,000 TV shows, but it does matter that Netflix has hundreds of times more movies than Apple TV+.
To help us size up the streaming services, Protocol got some exclusive data from Reelgood on the catalogs of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, Hulu, Disney+, Apple TV+ and the paid tier of Peacock, NBCUniversal's new streaming service. The results are fascinating, especially if you separately take a closer look at the number of movies and TV shows on each of those services.
Based on TV shows alone, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are almost head-to-head, with Hulu not far behind. Both Netflix and Amazon have for some time invested in original TV shows, and the two services have also added a lot of international TV content to their respective catalogs.
Hulu's relative strength here makes sense: It was originally conceived as a catch-up service for broadcast television, and more recently started to add exclusive programming from cable networks like FX. Disney+, on the other hand, is still a lot smaller, as a lot of its catalog is still focused on hit movies from its "Star Wars" and "MCU" franchises. Peacock, which launched just three months ago, is clearly still ramping up its catalog; HBO Max in a similar position, expanding beyond its core HBO catalog, but still far behind Netflix.
The notable outlier here is Apple TV+, which launched a year ago with a blank slate. Without any back catalog to prop up its numbers, it currently has only 31 TV shows available to U.S. viewers. Consumers often lament that they have "watched everything" on the services they subscribe to. Apple TV+ is the only service where this could conceivably be true.
Comparing the number of movies on each service gets a bit tricky, since Amazon Prime Video is such an incredible outlier. With 13,845 movies available to U.S. viewers, the service has more than 1.5 times as many titles in its catalog as all of its major competitors combined.
Early on, Amazon championed producing original movies, and unlike Netflix also embraced the industry's traditional windowing model, allowing theaters to show some of its films weeks before they appeared on the service.
Prime Video is also the only major service to embrace self-publishing. Indie studios and bedroom producers alike can upload their movies to Prime Video Direct and release them to Amazon's audience without giving up their rights, which has helped the service to significantly grow its movie catalog. The flip side of this is that Prime Video is also the only major service to host countless hours of Yoga instructionals, how-tos to "improve your boating skills" and similar fare you'd overwise find on YouTube — not exactly dangerous competition for hit shows on Netflix or Disney+.
Amazon aside, there are some surprising insights in this segment: As expected, Netflix does lead the charge, but it's worth noting that HBO Max has about 2.5 times as many movies as Disney+. Peacock, whose catalog includes the entire "Harry Potter" franchise, is also surprisingly strong, pulling ahead of both Hulu and Disney+.
The bottom spot is once again reserved for Apple TV+, which had just nine movies for U.S. audiences in October. This means that Netflix has more than 400 times as many movies available as Apple TV+.
Commenting on Netflix's own catalog, Sarandos tried to put things in perspective last week. "It turns out [a large title count] isn't that meaningful if people don't watch them. So what we have really done is concentrate on the titles that have a lot of impact and can aggregate big audiences," Sarandos said. "It's really not a chase for how many titles, but are these the titles you can't live without."
The flip side of this is that services still need to take bets and try 10 titles to find that one must-have. Taking those bets is a lot easier if you have hundreds or even thousands of titles than when your entire catalog can be counted on two hands.
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Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.