March 4, 2021

The home theater goes literal: Why #SameDayPremieres might be here to stay

Throughout most of 2020, news coverage for the movie industry highlighted what wasn’t happening in the space, with major releases postponed and theaters shuttered. However, all that changed in December when WarnerMedia announced that its entire 2021 slate of movies would premiere on HBO Max the same day as in theaters. And on the heels of this news, Netflix upped the ante by announcing that it would release 70 new movies throughout this year. Because many of us still can’t go (or don’t feel comfortable going) to a movie theater, streamers have been making the most of a tough situation, delighting users by offering theatrical-quality content available at home. In turn, services have been able to redirect the huge investments that were sitting on the shelf toward business gains elsewhere.

All of this marks a change that even the CEO of Disney believes will last for a long time, and will require rethinking how movies should be released going forward. In this post, we’ll examine streamers’ recent movie strategies and how these could play out with current and future subscribers.

Movies as acquisition and retention tools:

Two key questions here are whether big-budget movies are a cost-effective driver for new users (acquisition) and if they’re “sticky” enough to retain current subscribers (reducing churn).

 
In terms of new user acquisition, we analyzed which content in the past year drove the most people to engage with a streaming service for the first time. We found that the most popular days for new engagement for streaming services generally aligned with movie-related news or launches. For example, the Wonder Woman 1984 (WW84) premiere landed HBO Max its biggest day for new engagers, surpassing even HBO Max’s launch date. The highest new-engager days recorded for Amazon Prime Video corresponded with the premiere of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. This finding is supported by Amazon, which stated that it drew “tens of millions” of viewers at launch. Apple TV+ saw the most new engagers with the release of Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special and the announcement of the recently-premiered Billie Eilish documentary. Netflix, however, is an exception to this trend, with the biggest new-audience days tied more closely to series-based content, such as Money Heist and Tiger King.

On the retention front, we looked at how relevant movie content is to people engaging with major streaming platforms. Among all streaming networks, the Apple TV+ audience ranks the highest in movie relevance (51.8x over-index), followed by HBO Max (28.3x) and Prime Video (22.2x). These streamers seem to be positioning themselves well, with Apple TV+’s recent premiere of the Billie Eilish documentary and a Tom Holland thriller coming in March, HBO Max having #SameDayPremieres and Prime Video licensing major movie content (Borat 2, Coming 2 America). Interestingly, Netflix ranks the lowest among streamers in terms of audience affinity for movies, with a relevancy score of 5.7x, meaning that this audience is still movie-engaged, just not as enthusiastically as the audiences of other streamers.

Examining strategies:

 
Brand building to mitigate churn:
When examining movie release strategies, one common theme that has emerged among streaming services is that of announcing a lot of content at once. Both HBO Max and Netflix revealed movie releases for the entire year in memorable ways. Disney+ announced its plans for many movies (most of which are franchise extensions) that will be released between now and 2023. Even newcomer Paramount+ will stream Mission Impossible: 7 and A Quiet Place Part 2 soon after their theater runs. It seems as though in a bid to mitigate churn, streamers are using these announcements to energize people now and to remind them that more exciting things are coming.

Exclusive licensing:
Another strategy has been licensing notable content and offering those as exclusives. Amazon has done this with Borat 2 and Coming 2 America, while Hulu recently premiered Golden Globe-winners and Oscar-contenders Nomadland and The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Placing bets to acquire exclusive rights to notable movies could pay off by enticing new subscriptions.

Case Study – HBO Max:

 
Taking a closer look at HBO Max’s planned same-day-as-theaters releases, we see there will be a new theatrical-quality movie available on the platform for most of the year. In fact, as the premiere schedule stands now, there are only twenty-nine days this year in which one of these movies won’t be available to watch. One of the upcoming movies, Cry Macho, still doesn’t have a release date, so those gaps in availability may be narrowed further.

Since these movies span all genres and it only takes a few hours to watch one, the timing between relevant releases could be an important factor in keeping users from unsubscribing in between releases. For example, our data indicate that WW84 has a high relevancy to the Justice League movie (192x), which is premiering fifty-two days after Wonder Woman leaves the platform, leaving fans plenty of time to unsubscribe and re-sign up between viewings In that fifty-two days, however, three other movies will be released, two of which (The Little Things, Judas and the Black Messiah) also have high relevancy to WW84 (105x and 111x, respectively). Since viewers can consume an entire movie (or more) in one sitting, ensuring the availability of additional, engaging content between these premieres will be another important element to reduce unsubscribes throughout the year.

Takeaways:

Repurposing content – Early data supports the strategy for leveraging idle theatrical-style content to drive audience acquisition across the streaming platform players. 
Understanding audiences – Streaming audiences are not uniform, the audiences for some top tier platforms (Apple TV+, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video) have much stronger affinity for theatrical-style content. 
Scheduling wisely – The art of content scheduling is still alive and well in our on-demand world, with platforms strategically timing the release of content assets to mitigate user churn; this approach is reinforced by content-first (vs brand-first) marketing campaigns.