2020: The Year in Streaming

Our yearly recap this year has one simple rule: We all know the big stories that defined 2020. This isn’t that kind of blog. So there will be no mention of them here. Let’s talk about the other stories for a little while.

Streaming certainly had a great year. We all know why. But even without 2020 lending a hand, this would have been a great year for streaming. The big streaming stories of the year had (almost) nothing to do with 2020’s big stories, which I am straining not to mention, because I said I wouldn’t. So here goes.

Winner: Movie Premieres on Streaming

A lot of films skipped the theatrical release this year, choosing instead to go straight to home release. Some had premieres in theaters and streaming at the same time. For the most part, these premieres were free to subscribers, as we saw with Wonder Woman 1984, Onward, and Soul. In one very specific case, Mulan, a film was offered to subscribers at a premium. Others, like Tenet, were available for pay-per-view at a price similar to a pair of movie tickets.

The streaming landscape was rich this year with great movies, which proves that you don’t need a big screen to make a big impact.

Loser: Directors who complained

In a year when we all had a lot on our minds, it didn’t ring particularly true to hear someone like Christopher Nolan complain about his films not being well treated because they didn’t get a massive big-screen rollout. Trust me, Mr. Nolan. Good films are good films regardless of the screen size.

Winner: Comfort TV

A lot of TV came out this year and the shows that really resonated were the ones that took our mind off things. Whether it was an opportunity to laugh at those less fortunate, like Tiger King, or fun retro TV like Friends, we all craved a little bit of escape. Streaming delivered for us, big time.

Loser: Shows that incorporated 2020 into their storylines

Networks discovered fast that if you’re on Zoom for 8 hours a day the last thing you want to do is watch a TV show where the characters are on Zoom. That was the hard-learned lesson of Connecting… a show that flopped hard on NBC and Hulu despite having the incredible gift that is Shekina Nayfack, as well as Tony Plana, who I will always remember as Jefe from Three Amigos! in its cast.

Streaming shows that tried to show 2020 head-on just flopped because, well, we’ve all had enough 2020 and don’t need more.

Winner: HBO Max and Netflix

As much as I hate to say it, Netflix had a great year. Their fire-hydrant approach to content really worked in a year when we had a lot of time to stream. They even ended the year strong with Mank, a movie tailor-made to win every Oscar there is.

Of course the big story was the HBO Max rollout. AT&T built a great portal where you could watch a lot of content from a lot of different places. There was a lot of stuff available right out of the gate, and even more came in later months. As I write this I haven’t seen Wonder Woman 1984 yet but I’m looking forward to that as well as the long-awaited “Snyder Cut” of Justice League.

Loser: Peacock and Quibi

By now you’re probably thinking “Quibi who?” The fact is that Quibi didn’t fail because it’s 2020. Quibi failed because it was a dumb idea in the first place. The streaming service that you couldn’t get on your TV failed to impress anyone and I’m sure by this time next year it will only be remembered by people trying to get on Jeopardy.

Peacock, on the other hand, managed to do practically everything wrong this year. Bad luck, to be sure, that NBC couldn’t launch it to coincide with the 2020 Olympics. But, lackluster original content and a really bad user interface make this one of the truly avoidable mistakes of the year.

What do I mean? Peacock launched as a free service with a paid tier. In the free arena, they competed with Pluto and Tubi, both apps with much more content. In the paid arena, their user interface does practically everything wrong. Auto-play trailers combine with a sloppy playback experience that makes it hard to fast-forward or rewind.

Oh, and let’s not forget their original content. Or better, let’s forget it because it just wasn’t that good. From  Intelligence, billed as “The-Office-Meets-Dr. Strangelove” to Brave New World, which shows a depressed and ravaged America, Peacock managed to whiff pretty much every original show it tried to bring out.

Peacock has Comcast’s dollars behind it so there’s time for it to improve before it needs to be profitable. Good thing too, because there’s a lot of work to do.

What did you stream this year?

What about you? What were the hits and misses in your streaming universe? Leave a comment below and we’ll all look forward to 2021.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.