With 2022 now coming to an end, it is time to take a look back at the past year to see how the main live TV streaming services compare in terms of the number of subscribers. While we won’t have firm fourth quarter numbers until the first quarter of 2023, we can take a look at the third quarter figures, as well as the first half of the year, to get some idea of what’s changed, who’s out in front, and who is lagging behind.
In addition to not having fourth quarter numbers yet, there’s also the issue that not all live TV services currently provide details on their subscriber bases. For example, while detailed subscriber numbers were previously revealed for DirecTV Stream when it was operating as AT&T TV Now, that’s no longer the case. Likewise, Philo hasn’t provided any updated information since November 2020, when its subscriber count stood at 800,000.
While it would be useful if all companies provided data on subscribers, it is still possible to take more of an industry-wide view at the situation to see how the market is generally shaping up and which services are proving more popular than others. As of the last count, Q3 2022, YouTube TV was generally understood to be the live TV streaming service in the United States with the most subscribers.
This is something that’s unlikely to change when the fourth quarter ends and full 2022 subscriber numbers are officially revealed.
Most recent 2022 subscriber numbers by service:
- YouTube TV: 5,000,000+
- Hulu Live TV: 4,400,000+
- Sling TV: 2,400,000+
- fuboTV: 1,200,000+
- Philo: 800,000+ (Nov. 2020)
- Frndly TV: 700,000+
- DirecTV Stream: Unknown
YouTube TV leads the pack going into 2023
YouTube TV is one of those services that chooses not to regularly (enough) release subscriber numbers which does make it hard to know how many YouTube TV subscribers there are at any given point. Instead of quarterly releases, YouTube tends to announce each time it hits a major milestone. The most recent of which was the confirmation that it was delivering live TV to more than 5 million subscribers. Previous estimates had put YouTube TV at around 4 million, as of September 2021, suggesting a gain of around one million subscribers year over year.
While the 5 million announcement was made in July of 2022, not much is likely to have changed since then. Certainly, not negatively for YouTube TV. The live TV service hasn’t encountered any price increase while existing Hulu Live TV and Sling TV subscribers have seen the cost of their plans increase. Whether or not YouTube TV has gained or lost subscribers in the second half of 2022, it seems unlikely that it has lost enough to push it below Hulu Live TV.
Furthermore, with YouTube TV having now confirmed the 2023 addition of NFL Sunday Ticket and the expectation that Mosaic Mode (multiscreen mode) will also arrive next year, YouTube TV looks to be entering 2023 in a very healthy position overall, and will likely continue to be the most popular live TV service next year.
Hulu Live TV and Sling TV continue to rise and fall
Unlike YouTube TV, Hulu Live TV and Sling TV both regularly provide updates on the number of subscribers via their parent companies, Disney and Dish. Both also seem to be constantly fluctuating without making any real progress or encountering any major losses.
Take Hulu Live TV, for example. Hulu finished 2021 with 4.3 million live TV subscribers. Although this is an increase on the 4 million it finished 2020 with, Hulu started October 2022 with 4.4 million live TV subscribers. Again, while an increase in itself, Hulu’s live TV service dropped back down to 4 million subscribers in August of 2022, and this was after closing the first calendar quarter of the year with 4.1 million subscribers. All in all, it has been a very up and down year for Hulu Live TV, and depending on how it finishes the fourth calendar quarter of this year, it could be up, down, or flat when compared to the number of subscribers it started 2022 with.
A very similar pattern emerges for Sling TV. Sling TV ended 2021 and started 2022 with around 2.49 million subscribers. However, the live TV streaming service entered the fourth quarter of this year with only 2.41 million subscribers. While that does point to a straight decline so far in 2022, things are never that simple with Sling TV. Instead, Sling closed the first quarter of 2021 with 2.25 million subscribers and had since built the number back up to 2.41 million by the end of October. Similar to Hulu Live TV, Sling TV could end 2022 up, down, or flat, depending on how its fourth quarter plays out.
DirecTV Stream, fuboTV, and FrndlyTV
As mentioned, official subscriber numbers for DirecTV Stream are no longer available following the spinning off by AT&T last year. As a result, it is impossible to say with any certainty where DirecTV Stream currently stands, let alone how it compares to the rest of the market. That said, third-party estimates suggest it hasn’t been the best year for DirecTV in general. According to estimates by Fitch Ratings, DirecTV’s video subscriber base (which includes DirecTV, U-verse, and DirecTV Stream) stood at around 13.3 million at the end of the third quarter of 2022. If correct, this represented a loss of around 500,000 in Q3 alone.
fuboTV, on the other hand, does provide regular updates on subscribers and has had a pretty good year by all accounts. fuboTV closed 2021 with 1.13 million total paid subscribers (North America and elsewhere), with its North American subscriber base growing to 1.056 million by the end of the first quarter. This number did drop back down to 946,735 during the second quarter, but reached an all-time high of 1,231,000 in the third quarter of the year. fuboTV has already said that it expects to close out this year with as many as 1.465-1.485 million subscribers, a significant increase on what it ended 2021 with.
Frndly TV also appears to have had a good year overall. Compared to the other live TV streaming services, Frndly TV positions itself as a super affordable option with plans starting at just $7 per month. An approach which seems to be working after the company announced earlier this month that its subscriber base had grown to more than 700,000. The announcement also confirmed that this represented an increase of around 200,000 subscribers when compared to the year before.
Live TV subscribers 2022 recap: summary
Although we won’t have official and final numbers for another couple of months, it is possible to see some of the trends and patterns that have developed in 2022. For starters, YouTube TV remained an appealing option and continued to lure in more subscribers over the past year. As a result, YouTube TV is very likely to have closed this year as the live TV streaming service with the most subscribers.
Hulu Live TV and Sling TV are unlikely to have seen much meaningful change in 2022, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Both have seen their subscriber numbers fluctuate over the past 12 months and both seem on track to close out the year in the same positions they were in the year before. Considering both also increased prices over the past year, unlike YouTube TV, both continue to perform well in comparison.
Outside of the top three live TV streaming services by subscriber numbers, fuboTV and Frndly TV also appear to have had a fairly decent 2022, and both are expected to finish the year with substantially more subscribers than they started the year with. As for DirecTV Stream, your guess on how the live TV streaming service is doing is as good as mine.