Do Theatrical Releases Help Library Titles? What TV Time’s Data Says

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How do theatrically-released films do once they head to a streamer? 

It’s the question that everyone wants to answer, since it determines the fate of two different business models and thus every company’s future strategy. If a movie goes to theaters, does that limit how many people will want to watch it on Disney+, HBO Max, or Paramount+? (Or Apple TV+ eventually...) 

Conversely, if movies still do as well on streaming services, even after a theatrical release, why not release them in theaters to get that extra revenue? 

Conversely to the converse, if a theatrical film cannibalizes lots of streaming viewership, and streaming is the focus, maybe theatrical releases doesn’t make sense.

Those three outcomes—in a nutshell—will determine the future of film distribution.

Will today’s visual answer these questions? No, we’ll need a lot more data. But it starts to paint a picture. Since the start of the movie season this year—call it February/March when The Lost City and The Batman came out—we’re starting to get data on how well films perform once they leave theaters and head to their corporate-owned streamers. 

In particular, TV Time tracks the interest in films across all streamers. Let’s see what they have to say about these streaming performance after a theatrical release.

First, here’s a look at the percentage of TV Time’s film charts, broken out theatrical titles versus first-run streaming, from December to present:

This isn’t really mind-blowing stuff. Films that had a theatrical run tend to be popular. (Or accompanied with big marketing campaigns that raise their profile.) Currently, about 50% of the weekly TV Time top ten list is composed of theatrically-released films. At first glance, we’re not seeing evidence that the theatrical window is undercutting the streaming window. 

(Which makes sense, since the number of people who go to theaters has always been a fraction of the number of people who watch movies in later windows.)

But these are all new movies released in 2021 or 2022. What’s more interesting is a different, older type of film: library titles. 

What do all of these films have in common? They’re all library titles that were buoyed by a recently released, theatrical sequels. The newest Fantastic Beasts film pulled the previous two films onto the charts for Peacock and HBO Max. Top Gun: Maverick boosted Top Gun (from 1986) on both Netflix and Paramount+. Same with The Batman and The Dark Knight on HBO Max.

Disney had the weirdest examples. Basically, the last Dr. Strange trailer/commercial inspired fans to rewatch old X-Men movies. And Dr. Strange of course. (I’d say why it helped lift X-Men films, but spoilers.)

Does this provide a definitive answer on whether films should go to theaters or streaming only? No. But the early signs point to theatrical releases at least helping streamers. The marketing campaign and release of a new film encourages people rewatch older films. Perhaps exclusivity provides some benefit to a streamer, but we’re also seeing the theatrical window working in tandem with streamers for many franchise films.

Lest I use the most cliched word in business, is this…synergy?

Other Notes and Thoughts

– Yeah, some of this speaks to the power of franchises. Especially comic book films. For people predicting the demise of comic book movies, we’re not seeing any sign of that yet. 

– But it’s not just comic books. Scream, Jackass, and Top Gun show that other franchises can support each other. (We’ve seen this with other horror film franchises in the past.)  

– Once again, let’s mention the “kids films” caveat. Basically, yeah, Encanto is just sitting there on an island all its own. Sonic the Hedgehog: 2 is off to a strong start as well. But there’s not a lot of kid’s content being released. Yet. 

– I think Death on the Nile and The Lost City have done sneakily well. Looking at Death on the Nile, which had a $90 million budget, $137 million globally isn’t a great box office performance. (Though it was released during the Omicron wave.) That said, it did great on the TV Time charts. So if it paid off its budget, not a bad run? Same goes for The Lost City.

Is there a world where mid-size films, made for adults, like this, can use streaming and theaters to thrive once again? 

– It is interesting that it’s taken this long to even get the data about theatrical films and their performance on streaming. For most of the last decade, the only streamers were Netflix, Prime Video, and Hulu, and they didn’t release big films theatrically. (And even if they had, there weren’t releasing any ratings data.) Then, once the major studios launched their streamers, Covid-19 put a big old pause on all movie-going, leading to six months with theaters being closed, then multiple false starts and stops…Until this year! Theaters are back baby! And now we can start to figure out the future of theaters and streaming. 

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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