Do the numbers still make sense for day-and-date releases?
Listen, we knew this day was coming.
Ever since Comscore (née Rentrak) aggregated box office data and ever since Box Office Mojo made those numbers readily available to the public, we’ve been living in an idyllic world of data transparency. There was no reason to think that would ever change. Each weekend, we celebrated the winners and empathized with the losers. We were able to do that because it was communal data that we all trusted.
The transparency that we enjoyed doesn’t fit in today’s world where there is currency in opacity. Holding on to one’s data is a form of competitive advantage.
Of course, this took root in the streaming world when Netflix decided not to publish any viewership data. At the time, it seemed like a problem on the other side of the house. This was an affront to the Nielsen ratings in the TV world. It wasn’t a film problem.
Oh, how that has changed. Netflix evolved from a fledgling studio to Oscar winner. COVID created a perfect storm that accelerated the move from theatrical to streaming and now we live in this strange world where we have complete data for theatrical films partial data for day-and-date releases and no data for streaming titles.
When you add in theater closures, theater re-openings, and changes in consumer behaviors, any attempt to contextualize post-pandemic performance against pre-pandemic norms is absolutely futile. We have no way of knowing what is a good number.
THE SUICIDE SQUAD made $27M this weekend. Was that good or bad? Trades seem to think it was soft, but who the hell knows? As a day-and-date release, we have no idea how it did on HBO Max.
With 85% of theaters open, we can kind of extrapolate how a film performed versus a pre-pandemic release. But with the Delta variant, studies by The Quorum show that theater hesitancy is on the rise. How do we quantify that?
Let’s imagine a perfect world. As an industry, we commit to doing away with day-and-date releases. A film either gets released theatrically or on streaming.
We know that streaming services aren’t going to release numbers beyond the ones they cherry-pick for press releases. That’s fine. We’ve grown accustomed to that. Films that live on streaming services can stay in that ecosystem.
But, suppose films coming from the major studios all get an exclusive theatrical window. It can be short. All we are asking for is at least two weekends in theaters so we can create opening weekend and week two norms. After that, ship it off to your streaming service.
We have no illusions
The studios aren’t going to stop doing hybrid releases just because we ask politely. It will always be about the bottom line. But last week, when Disney announced that BLACK WIDOW made $60M through Disney+ paid purchases, they may have tipped their hand. By the way, that’s a worldwide number.
Under normal non-pandemic conditions, it would be reasonable to expect WIDOW to gross $1.00B at the worldwide box office, given that in 2018, CAPTAIN MARVEL made $1.13B. WIDOW now looks to be on pace for $400M worldwide. That’s a shortfall of about $600M, or approximately $300M in lost theatrical revenue. Can the studio make up that difference from at-home purchases? With $60M in the bank, they have a ways to go.
Likewise, Dwayne Johnson’s JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE made $962M worldwide, but it looks like his JUNGLE CRUISE will struggle to hit $200M. That difference won’t be covered by Disney+. According to Deadline, CRUISE has generated roughly $23M in streaming revenue.
I get it. It’s unfair to project theatrical based on pre-pandemic titles, and there’s clearly more that goes into the equation. But, with these expensive releases, it’s hard to imagine a world where the studios are making more from day-and-date than straight-up theatrical.