Here’s the deal: it still doesn’t make financial sense for studios to release tentpole blockbusters via at-home platforms. Every time they do, they’re likely taking a loss on the film overall. But as the coronavirus pandemic stretches towards its 10th month, the need for revenue is very strong. With movie theaters still struggling in the U.S. and Europe, the desire to prop up billion dollar streaming services and pivot toward the future is also very understandable. That helps to explain why, after several release delays, Warner Bros. is shifting strategies with Wonder Woman 1984.
On Wednesday night, WB announced that the highly anticipated $200 million superhero sequel will hit both U.S. theaters and HBO Max on December 25 while its international release date has been moved up to Dec. 16. The movie will be available for HBO Max subscribers—who pay $14.99 per month for the streaming service—at no extra cost for one month. Wonder Woman 1984 is easily the largest-scale feature film to hit a streaming service, so to formulate loose expectations, let’s compare it to the biggest streaming sensation of 2020: Disney+’s Hamilton.
Key metrics to monitor when measuring the success of a direct to SVOD release include sign-ups, trial conversions, retention, viewership, plan choice, and distribution channel. Unfortunately, because most streaming services guard this data like they’re the villains in an Indiana Jones movie, we have to rely on third-parties to make up the difference in integral categories.
New Sign-Ups and Retention
Over the Friday to Sunday period of Hamilton‘s July 4th weekend release, Disney+ downloads saw 266,084 in the U.S. and 513,323 globally, according to data from analytics firm Apptopia provided to Variety. That marks a 72.4% domestic hike compared to the average four weekends in June 2020 and a 46.6% surge globally. However, this does not include viewers that could have signed up for Disney+ through smart TVs, Roku or Amazon Fire Stick devices, which means the total could have been even higher.
Antenna Data paints an even rosier picture, calculating that Hamilton drove a 641% increase (!) in sign-ups vs the prior weekends. Importantly, Antenna also found that nearly 30% of Hamilton sign-ups had cancelled their Disney+ subscription one month after release. A 70% retention rate is good hunting for SVOD services, which typically retain an average of 49% of monthly streaming subscribers throughout the year.
HBO Max currently has north of 8.6 million active users and is only available in the U.S. The discrepancy in price point between Max ($14.99 per month) and Disney+ ($6.99) is admittedly an obstacle to generating similar levels of new sign-ups. But Wonder Woman 1984 is one of the most anticipated films of 2020 arriving in the blockbuster-friendly holiday corridor. Earlier this week, HBO Max finally struck a deal with Amazon Fire TV devices, which provides 40 million Fire TV device owners in the U.S. alone. It’s possible that a Roku deal, which would bring another 40 million U.S. users to the table, is on the horizon. The streamer’s potential reach is expanding just as it’s set to deliver its most high-profile piece of content. Intentional strategy at work.
According to 7Park Data provided to Variety, 37.1% of the viewers studied under the data analytics firm watched Hamilton in the month of July. That is a massive streaming share compared to the competition as the closest followers for June were Netflix’s Unsolved Mysteries (13.7%), Amazon’s Hanna (9.6%), Netflix’s Space Force (8.3%), and Hulu’s Palm Springs (8.1%).
In terms of overall viewership, ScreenEngine/ASI recently compiled a list of the 30 most-watched streaming video on demand released movies in the U.S. Here’s the top-10:
- Hamilton (Disney+)
- Borat 2: Subsequent Moviefilm (Prime Video)
- My Spy (Prime Video)
- Extraction (Netflix)
- Phineas & Ferb the Movie (Disney+)
- Mulan* (Disney+)
- The Old Guard (Netflix)
- The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix)
- The Witches (HBO Max)
- The Lovebirds (Netflix)
According to smartTV analytics firm Samba TV, 1.6 million U.S. households streamed the Borat sequel on Amazon Prime Video during its opening weekend while Mulan drew 1.12 million U.S. household streams on Disney+ Premier Access over Labor Day Weekend. Samba TV clocks Hamilton‘s viewership over its opening weekend at 1.8 million U.S. households and July 3-July 13 at 2.7 million from July 3-July 13. However, there are more access points beyond just smartTVs so the holistic number could be much greater. According to Netflix’s self-reported viewership data, which we recommend pairing with a grain of salt, Chris Hemsworth’s Extraction drew 99 million viewers over its first four weeks to become the streamer’s most popular original film of all time. Charlize Theron’s The Old Guard reportedly attracted 78 million viewers in the same time frame.
Netflix currently has north of 65 million U.S. subscribers and HBO Max falls behind Amazon and Disney+ in active users as well, so it’s not nearly an apples-to-apples comparison. But those numbers can provide a very loose floor-to-ceiling idea of SVOD movie viewership. What will be important to monitor through third party estimates is the number of hours Wonder Woman 1984 is consumed and the number of people that consumed it. We’re interested in what percentage of HBO Max’s total active user base wind up watching the film and the total length of its consumption. In an open letter yesterday, WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar wrote a little over “four million fans in the U.S. enjoyed the first Wonder Woman movie on its opening day in 2017.” That’s an entirely different model, but gives you an idea of WB’s hopes.
If other high-profile SVOD movie releases in 2020 are any indication, Wonder Woman 1984 has considerable upside potential as a growth driver for HBO Max.