What Does the Data Say About “Turning Red” Skipping Theaters?

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One of the pieces of advice Substack gives you when you start trying to “monetize” is to keep putting out lots of good content for free subscribers. They recommend this because most people’s gut—including my own!—is to do the opposite, hoarding your good stuff behind your paywall like Smaug hoarding gold in the Lonely Mountain. While I won’t put out quite as much free content as Substack recommends, this advice makes sense from a strategic perspective.

As a result, about every two weeks, I’m bringing back my “Visual of the Week” feature (so really a visual of every two weeks?), alternating with my “Most Important Story of the Week” strategy column. (I guess the “Most important story of every two weeks”!) 

Usually the Visual of the Week will be some fun nugget that I couldn’t fit into a Streaming Ratings Report, but sometimes it could be a visualization of a business framework, a comparison of company financials, or a look at the entertainment landscape.

All of which is to say, even if you can’t afford to subscribe to get the full weekly Streaming Ratings Report—which I still recommend as the most comprehensive, regular and thorough source for streaming ratings out there, subscribe here!—a free subscription will still deliver lots of value. 

Take this week’s visual. It’s time to update my Disney streaming and theatrical film chart with Turning Red, now that it’s been out for four weeks. I don’t think any other outlet compares every single Disney release in one chart—with box office, and separating out PVOD viewership from streaming—the way this one does:

Here are the data “5Ws” for this:

What – Feature films released on Disney+
What – Total hours viewed, in millions, by week in the first four weeks
What – And Total domestic box office
When – From September 2020 to present
What – Of select films
Where – In America
Who – Nielsen’s weekly top ten lists

Implications, Takeaways, Data Thoughts and More

Even a small visual like this sends me down my own Alice in Wonderland-style rabbit hole, though that rabbit hole is filled with data and charts.

In particular, I would love to solve the raging debate in Hollywood for the “ideal” release calendar to maximize revenue. Does this graph help us figure that out?

Yes and no. 

Let’s start with the streaming viewership. Encanto is in a category all by itself, given that it actually gained total hours viewed in its first four weeks of release, whereas Turning Red declined (as expected) into its third and fourth weeks. Meanwhile, Turning Red, Luca and Soul are (roughly) in a tier below that. Turning Red had a stronger opening two weeks than Luca, but Luca had slower decay in its third and fourth weeks.

The key question is: would Disney rather have Turning Red’s first two weeks and no box office revenue or Encanto’s four-week run and $94 million in box office? I’d rather have the latter, though some of streaming’s biggest bulls still insist that adding subscribers generates the most value. Sonic The Hedgehog 2, for example, earned $185 million domestic box office and likely still drew folks to Paramount’s streamer. I think Turning Red could have grabbed at least that much domestic box office.

But then would they have seen their total streaming hours decline? Maybe. But “By how much?” is the question we can’t answer. If the decline was in line with Soul exactly, would Disney have accepted that? Trading a few million hours of streaming viewership for nearly $100 million makes sense for me. In particular, at an average revenue per user of about $5, $100 million in box office is about 20 million subscriber months. Do we really think Turning Red was worth half of their U.S./Canada subscriber base signing up for one month when the film would have done nearly as well on streaming if it had gone to theaters? Probably not.

(As David Zaslav told The Wall Street Journal, a fact I’ve cited a few times, HBO Max’s data shows that theatrical films do better than straight-to-streaming.)

Let’s not go too far with this data, though. Because we have so few data points, and such different release styles (day-and-date, straight-to-streaming, traditional) and environments (depending on whether the U.S. was in a Covid-19 wave or not), we can’t really draw that many  firm conclusions. None of this is quite apples-to-apples. 

In November 2021, theaters had reopened, but lots of families hadn’t started returning in droves. Who knows what Encanto could have earned in June of 2019? Or even 2022? One could also argue that Soul and Encanto disproportionally benefitted from a Christmas release. And Luca and Hamilton benefitted from July 4th weekend.

Also, Disney+ has been gaining additional subscribers since Soul came out. One could argue that the only reason Turning Red bested something like Raya and the Last Dragon is simply because the Disney+ is bigger now than two years ago.

Or consider the fraught comparisons of Encanto to Black Widow. We know kids rewatch content over-and-over, so really we comparing the hours viewed of to adult titles and kids titles doesn’t make sense, meaning we have even fewer data points!

When it comes to data, this messiness is okay.  We’re dealing with about ten data points here. If you expect firm, “This is the answer” results from ten data points, your expectations are too high.

The Entertainment Strategy Guy

The Entertainment Strategy Guy

Former strategy and business development guy at a major streaming company. But I like writing more than sending email, so I launched this website to share what I know.


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