Apple TV Plus’ reported subscriber numbers aren’t even close to Netflix and Disney Plus

iPhone with Apple TV Plus logo, a pair of AirPods on top, laying on a red background with pieces of popcorn
(Image credit: Burdun Iliya / Shutterstock)

Apple has been fairly guarded when it comes to revealing subscriber numbers for its Apple TV Plus streamer, so it may come as a surprise to learn that the platform allegedly has fewer than 20 million paying users in North America.

Last week, CNBC reported that a spokesman for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees said Apple told the union of its subscriber count as of July 2021, a figure which, by law, would allow the company to pay behind-the-scenes production crews lower rates than those working on Netflix or Disney Plus shows.

That’s because both of those rival streamers boast around 74 and 38 million subscribers in North America, respectively, meaning they’re obliged to pay production teams a wage that meets a certain threshold.  

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (which Apple is a part of) “doesn’t create carve-outs for specific companies,” according to a spokesperson for the industry group mentioned in the report, and Apple itself has since claimed that the company pays rates equivalent to those paid to workers on other streamers. 

Union negotiations aside, though, this mysterious “less than 20 million” figure reveals a relatively new streaming service in uncertain health.

Analysis: Unfair comparisons?

Obviously, less than 20 million paying subscribers in the US – which could conceivably mean anything from one to 19 million – isn’t anything close to Netflix, and Disney Plus’ 38 million-person equivalent figure might as well be double that of Apple TV Plus, but the playing field isn’t a level one.

The former, for instance, spent nearly a decade building its now-impressive library of content on the back of existing pedigree in the DVD rental market, while the latter coughed up eye-watering sums of money on perhaps the two most valuable IPs in the history of filmmaking (Star Wars and Marvel, for reference), which all-but guaranteed a large number of paying subscribers at launch. Unleashing the Disney animation library, too, offered Disney Plus tremendous value and an easy sell. 

By comparison, it’s worth remembering that Apple TV Plus is built upon original content exclusively. That means there’s no old movies or existing TV shows in its library, rather completely new (read: completely untested) content like Ted Lasso, Mythic Quest and Foundation.

We recently dug into the importance of Apple TV’s newest shows in more detail, and though these subscriber figures arguably don’t reflect the quality of the streamer’s content, it’s still mightily impressive to see a platform less than two years old (it launched in November 2019) boast such a varied library of original properties. 

It’s unlikely that Apple TV Plus will ever catch up with Netflix when it comes to subscriber numbers, that much has long-been clear, and even with Disney Plus reportedly struggling to add more American customers in 2021, its slate of upcoming movies and TV shows will ensure there’s hysteria-level interest in its content for years to come.

That being said, Apple deserves credit for getting its burgeoning streamer as far as it has done in so little time, and the impending arrival of even more original content should see its subscriber numbers become a little easier on the eyes in the not-too-distant future. 

Axel Metz
Senior Staff Writer

Axel is a London-based Senior Staff Writer at TechRadar, reporting on everything from the latest Apple developments to newest movies as part of the site's daily news output. Having previously written for publications including Esquire and FourFourTwo, Axel is well-versed in the applications of technology beyond the desktop, and his coverage extends from general reporting and analysis to in-depth interviews and opinion. 

Axel studied for a degree in English Literature at the University of Warwick before joining TechRadar in 2020, where he then earned an NCTJ qualification as part of the company’s inaugural digital training scheme.