Skip to content

The World‘s Largest Subscription Companies in 2022

Subscription services now reach over 4.2 billion users globally. As leaders in entertainment, software, commerce, and more transition to recurring payment models, subscriptions encompass ever-increasing portions of budgets and lifestyles.

But with no signs of slowing, how did we get here? Which subscriptions stand out in scale or growth today? And what does the future look like as subscriptions continue proliferating?

The Rise of Recurring Revenue

While subscriptions may feel omnipresent lately, they originated centuries agoALLOWING CUSTOMERS TO TRY BEFORE FULLY COMMITTING. In the 1600s, bookshops opened some of the first known subscriptions, operating rental libraries that exchanged a recurring fee for borrowing privileges. Newspapers and magazines quickly implemented similar ongoing access models based on annual dues. Cable TV and AOL dial-up brought us closer to modern SVOD with consistent content or connectivity fees.

However, the subscription economy only recently ignited at global scale thanks to two key enablers:

Flexible Digital Payments – Platforms like the iPhone App Store (launched 2008) made entering card details online for ongoing charges frictionless. This paved the way for cheap, instantly available digital subscriptions.

Cloud Computing – By allowing consumption to scale up and down to meet demand, cloud infrastructure enabled companies to launch services with less upfront capital.

Forward-thinking startups combined these capabilities to unlock the first runaway digital subscription successes, led by Spotify and Netflix. Once these pioneers demonstrated the potency of recurring revenue at global volumes with strong retention, a monumental industry shift occurred.

The flexibility of subscriptions also proved particularly recession-resilient, locking in consistent cash flow. This economic cushioning helped further fuel adoption from both businesses and consumers.

Fast-forward to today, over 75% of companies now leverage some kind of subscription model. Let‘s analyze the top subscription services standing out by number of paying users.

10 Largest Subscription Companies

#10: Sirius XM – 34 Million Subscribers

Kicking off our list is satellite radio provider Sirius XM, which broadcasts ad-free music, sports, comedy, and talk radio via a fleet of orbiting satellites. This enables uninterrupted live and programmed content across the United States, Canada, and beyond whether listening in a vehicle or on a phone.

Sirius XM‘s wide selection of unique, curated stations not found on terrestrial radio has captured over 34 million subscribers to date at various paid tiers:

Plan Price/Month Description
Essential $8.99 300+ channels
Extra $10.99 400+ channels
Platinum $16.99 200+ channels + streaming

However, the company does face stagnating car sales limiting growth avenues. Nonetheless, by super-serving audio enthusiasts seeking more variety and depth, we expect Sirius XM satellites to keep broadcasting unique content to millions indefinitely.

#9: ESPN+ – 22.8 Million Subscribers

Turning to streaming, Disney-owned sports service ESPN+ takes 9th place with 22.8 million customers. Offering thousands of live games and events spanning soccer, UFC, NHL, MLB, college sports, and more, ESPN+ provides premium programming to superfans globally for just $9.99 per month.

Thanks to substantial brand recognition and content from its ESPN cable network, ESPN+ built a respected niche in sports entertainment quickly. More affordable than expensive live TV bundles, ESPN+ offers cord-cutters specialized sports coverage without requiring additional subscriptions.

In particular, soccer rights deals across Europe, MLS here at home, and coverage of collegiate athletics expand ESPN‘s possible ceiling substantially. If pricing remains accessible and exclusive matches, analysis programming bolsters perceived value against free highlights, ESPN+ can keep subscribers hooked.

#8: Amazon Prime – 236 Million Subscribers

In our first appearance from ecommerce juggernaut Amazon, Prime takes #8 with over 236 million members worldwide. For either a $14.99 monthly fee or $139 annual payment, the base Prime package bundles:

  • Free Two-Day Shipping on over 100 million products
  • Full access to Prime Video streaming
  • Photo storage via Amazon Photos
  • Extras like free games/loot via Prime Gaming

Occasional Amazon shoppers likely can‘t justify Prime solely for shipping. However, frequent customers quickly offset the annual outlay through free delivery convenience. By bundling desirable entertainment features like movies, music, and gaming perks, Prime‘s overall proposition has ballooned.

Now supporting expansive supply chain and fulfillment operations for speedier delivery, drones, Amazon Fresh groceries, and more, Prime essentially serves as an "everything membership." Locking consumers into subscriptions for Amazon‘s ecosystem builds loyalty and consistent revenue.

#7: Apple One Bundles – 860 Million Subscribers

Apple takes #7 by aggregating memberships across its premium hardware and software ecosystem. While not a singular unified service, Apple Music, iCloud, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade, Apple Fitness, and more each contribute recurring subscription revenue streams.

Altogether, Apple averaged 860 million paid subscriptions across its platform as of Q4 2022 based on financial disclosures. Further breaking down key elements:

  • Apple Music – Over 90 million music subscribers
  • iCloud – 850 million paid iCloud members
  • Apple TV+ – Did not disclose official counts
  • Apple Arcade – Did not disclose official counts

By integrating these media subscriptions tightly into Apple devices and iOS while bundling via Apple One plans, they incentivize greatly reduced churn. Moving seamlessly between an iPhone, Apple TV, iPad, and Mac builds formidable stickiness.

Consistently expanding into new verticals like news, fitness, payments, and potentially more over the horizon, Apple continues adding more reasons to subscribe across its ecosystem permanently.

#6: Amazon Prime Video – 226 Million Viewers

Separating out Amazon‘s Prime Video business specifically, analysts estimate over 226 million global viewers stream movies/TV through Prime memberships.

Offering a catalog with over 20,000 movies alongside Amazon Originals like The Boys and The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, Prime Video now sits among the streaming elite. Combined with crossover from immense retail data to personalize recommendations and exclusive premieres of theatrical releases like My Policeman, Amazon leverages impressive resources to build out video entertainment.

Critically though, tethering to the larger Prime ecosystem generates growth. Attaching desirable shows, movies, and originals to the overall Prime bundle drives sign-ups.

While still chasing Netflix in pure subscriber totals, impressive Prime engagement and viewership figures confirm Amazon certainly contends amongst pure-play streamers.

#5: Microsoft 365 – 359 Million Monthly Active Users

Claiming fifth place, Microsoft 365 has surpassed 359 million monthly active commercial and consumer users across its subscription productivity software and cloud storage suite.

Standardizing access for essential services like Outlook, Word, Excel, Teams, OneDrive, and more for a consistent ~$7 monthly fee proved monumental. This transition to Software as a Service (SaaS) migrates existing Microsoft customers into reliable recurring revenue streams.

Cloud-based convenience enables easy collaboration across devices and unparalleled enterprise network effects. Steady enhancement of artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities within Microsoft 365 apps should further cement competitive differentiation through exclusive features.

With business reliance on tools like SharePoint, Azure AD, and Power BI swelling significantly recently, Microsoft software retains its stickiness for years further at minimum.

The SaaS industry continues experiencing tremendous YOY growth – Subscription2Success

#4: Disney+ – 205.6 Million Subscribers

In the ongoing streaming skirmish, Disney+ finds itself at fourth place with 205.6 million subscribers in under 3.5 years of operation. Consolidating content gems spanning Disney Animation, Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Studios and beyond, Disney forged tremendous early momentum.

Hits like The Mandalorian combined with the extensive child and adult libraries established formidable growth runways. Furthermore, savvy bundling with sister services Hulu and ESPN+ via The Disney Bundle maximizes pricing efficiency for wider audiences.

Disney also holds dominant market positions internationally via Hotstar (with nearly 60 million subscribers alone) and European expansion. With the industry‘s top brands under Walt Disney Studios & Television fueling new releases across verticals, Disney+ likely retains the greatest remaining ceiling.

Disney+ Subscribers Over Time – TechCrunch

#3: Netflix – 231 Million Subscribers

Sitting just behind Disney at #3 is the streaming titan who made it all possible – Netflix, with 231 million global paid memberships.

Practically pioneering video streaming models starting in 2007, early bets on original programming plus personalization algorithms gave Netflix an insurmountable competitive advantage. Licensed re-runs failed to inspire loyalty – by leveraging data to predict breakout hits through owned IP, Netflix wrote the SVOD playbook.

However, cracks in the armor started showing in 2022. Accelerating account sharing crackdowns, inflationary pressures, and inconsistent content slates drove the first sequential membership declines in Netflix‘s history over two quarters (-1.2 million subscribers). Competitors also rapidly erode market share thanks to improved libraries.

Nonetheless, with an ad-supported tier on the horizon, re-accelerated release pipelines, and lasting first-mover status, Netflix should rebound in due time.

#2: Amazon Web Services (AWS) – Over 100,000 Enterprise Customers

In second comes Amazon‘s lesser-discussed gem – Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud infrastructure. Enabling convenient, affordable access to on-demand storage, databases, analytics, machine learning and virtually limitless other tools, AWS provides the foundation for much of the internet itself already.

While subscriber counts don‘t fully convey AWS success dealing with major institutions, over 100,000 enterprise customers trust mission-critical workloads to AWS including over 90% of the Fortune 500. Estimates suggest AWS quarterly revenue now outpaces Amazon‘s retail operations, speaking to its embedded partner status.

With market leadership stretching back over a decade now accelerating further, competitors lack AWS experience depth and gravity across startups and enterprises concurrently. Rock-solid reliability and continuous enhancement of capabilities keep Amazon the preferred cloud for the foreseeable future.

AWS Revenue Over Time – Wall St. Form

#1: Spotify – 456 Million Premium Subscribers

Finally, taking the crown at #1 is Spotify, registering 456 million paying members globally.

Transforming digital music consumption by providing on-demand access to 82 million tracks, Spotify became synonymous with music streaming. Partnerships with labels worldwide plus podcasts, original programming, global expansion and social features maintain Spotify‘s appeal.

Given streaming‘s definitive rise over physical music and extensive listening hours keeps all key demographics pouring in, Spotify subscription trajectory keeps bending skyward. Developing markets like Indonesia and Bangladesh still provide enormous runways too.

With steady 20%+ annual growth, expect the Swedish audio streamer to cross 500 million subscribers in 2023.

Spotify Premium Subscribers Over Time – Backlinko

The Future of Subscriptions

Studying the top subscription services today clearly illustrates a few key trends:

  • Entertainment Dominance – From music to movies to games, subscriptions largely focus on recurring access to media content
  • Cloud Reliance – Software/infrastructure like AWS and Microsoft 365 runs society behind the scenes
  • Ecosystem Lock-In – Apple, Amazon, etc leverage bundles across families of subscription to retain users
  • International Scale – Global expansion reaches more customers with higher lifetime values and sustainability

As leaders double down on subscriptions meshing with IoT ecosystems, investments in data-driven personalization and billing infrastructure should further boost retention.

However, churn from account sharing crackdowns poses risk – economic and generational factors driving piracy must be addressed. Password sharing alone costs streaming alone over $35 billion annually. Mitigating these losses without alienating genuine individual subscribers requires careful balancing.

Overall, as subscriptions spread deeper into transportation, retail, computing and our most common daily activities, expect the companies providing the most compelling, fairly-priced recurring value to join these ranks soon.