Until now, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video have been synonymous with streaming video. Sure, HBO GO, CBS All Access, Sony Crackle, and others are in the market, but these media moguls’ presence in streaming is modest compared to their standing in the traditional television and movie industries.

All that will change between November 1, 2019 and April 2020 as Disney+, Apple TV, HBO Max, Peacock, and the newly united ViacomCBS (with its one-two punch of subscription to CBS All Access and ad-supported, free Pluto TV) storm the streaming landscape. By the middle of next year, streaming pioneers (and tech behemoths) Netflix and Amazon will confront the media companies that built television and dominated it for 60 years and their companion movie studios with powerful franchises, plus cable’s most envied property.

And so begins the streampocalypse: an intense competition to be among consumers’ top choices of video entertainment in which the legacy media industry — ABC, NBC, CBS, and HBO — try to claw viewing time back from the tech upstarts, Netflix and Amazon.

Content is essential — I often say it is not just “king”; it is “emperor” — and to be sure, all these new entrants have the shows and movies that will entice consumers to try their services.

But Forrester knows that today’s consumers demand not only great products but great experiences using those products and that customer experience drives loyalty and business growth. These new streaming services will have to pair their powerful content with a compelling user experience in order to keep consumers and build a long-term successful business. The best content in the world has no value if consumers can’t find it — or can’t find it fast enough to satisfy today’s short attention span.

So I’m excited to launch the inaugural “The Forrester Streaming Media Wave™: US Apps, Q4 2019,” comparing nine top streaming services on 23 functionality and user experience criteria. Our analysis shows:

  • A high bar set by Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. These three top scorers pulled away from all other streaming services, demonstrating how much work the traditional media companies have to do to ensure their services meet consumer expectations. In fact, we heard from a number of consumers that they want streaming services “to work like Netflix.”
  • Consumers want more control and more relevance. The other services missed the mark because they lacked two critical capabilities that the digital world has trained today’s consumers to expect: high visibility of content that matches their interests and prior viewing choices, plus the ability to customize the app to their preferences.

But we’re entering a new era. Disney’s CEO Bob Iger, ViacomCBS’s CEO Bob Bakish, and AT&T’s CEO Randall Stephenson have all called out their streaming video services as key to their company’s future. These new services are drawing substantial investment compared to the days when streaming was seen as an adjunct to linear television distribution. Most of the headlines go to these companies’ content investments.

But will that be enough? When consumers pick up the remote and face the choice of which service to watch tonight, we expect that ease and flexibility of getting to desired content will provide a magnetic pull to viewers as they seek to maximize their viewing time.

As industry watchers look to pick winners and losers, they shouldn’t overlook consumers’ experience with these services. Here at Forrester, we sure won’t!

And I have to give a shout out to my stellar colleagues and collaborators: Andrew Hogan, Madeline King, and Senem Guler Biyikli. Thanks, team!