the streaming wars

Did Wonder Woman 1984 Lasso New Subscribers for HBO Max?

Photo: Warner Bros.

In Wonder Woman 1984, Diana Prince uses her magical Lasso of Truth to swing, Spider-Man-like, from (at various moments) a shopping-mall balustrade, a rocket-propelled grenade, and actual lightning. Logistically, these moves seem rather risky. Sort of like how, in an unprecedented rupture with the way tentpole titles are ordinarily released, the movie’s distributor, Warner Bros., swung WW84 into both North American cinemas and onto HBO Max on Christmas Day — providing the first real barometer of how blockbusters will perform within the studio’s controversial “hybrid model” intended for all 17 of its 2021 films. Question is: Has the $200 million DC Extended Universe sequel managed to lasso a substantial number of new subscribers for WarnerMedia’s fledgling streaming service?

When more than 60 percent of the country’s theaters remain off-limits to audiences, and every other high-profile 2020 event movie save for Tenet and a handful of holdouts had been jettisoned off the year’s release calendar as spiking coronavirus infection rates continued to cut off movie-industry oxygen, WarnerMedia gambled big. It shook up the time-cherished, theaters-first distribution scheme for an erstwhile summer blockbuster in a naked bid to drive new sign-ups for its embattled OTT platform.

Theatrically, the results seem to be neither good nor catastrophic. Over its first weekend, Wonder Woman 1984 hauled in $16.7 million — surpassing prerelease expectations to log the biggest box-office opening of the N95 era — but slipped to just $5.5 million in its second weekend to close out Hollywood’s least profitable year to date. (The movie has tallied a lackluster $118.5 million globally.)

Streaming-wise, meanwhile, WarnerMedia celebrated WW84 having “broken records and exceeded our expectations” but did not release any HBO Max subscriber data that would have confirmed — or invalidated — the efficacy of that move.

According to the streaming-service measurement and analytics firm Antenna, however, Warner can claim an important, if qualified, victory. In Wonder Woman 1984’s first three days on HBO Max, the platform registered more new sign-ups than any other streaming service has recorded over any other three-day period in the past year. It is important to note that Antenna does not yet, as a policy, publish specific subscriber projection numbers. But comparative data the company released Monday shows that WW84 bested its closest runner-up, the filmic version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton on Disney+, by 40 percent. And it eclipsed the third-place winner, Disney+’s Soul, which also came out on Christmas, by a whopping 107 percent.

To put that achievement into further perspective, Antenna says WW84 significantly outperformed the year’s only other megabudget event title to go straight to streaming, driving 5.7 times more new subscriptions in the U.S. than Disney’s $200 million live-action adaptation of Mulan. (On the downside, according to Samba TV, a viewer-tracking company that draws data from 13.5 million smart TVs across the U.S., Soul pulled off something of an upset over Christmas Weekend: The lesser-promoted Pixar animated romp was watched by 2.4 million households on Disney+ while Wonder Woman 1984 was streamed in just 2.2 million households over the same three days.)

Yet even with a massing of cherry-picked intel giving WarnerMedia executives reasons to crow, in the brave new post-pandemic Hollywood, the business of quantifying Wonder Woman 1984 as a streaming hit remains far from simple. With studios such as Universal and Warner Bros. only recently coming to narrow or close the 90-day “window” between a movie’s theatrical release and its online availability, most industry observers say it is still far too soon to count WW84’s short-term victory as a win in the streaming war. In the continuing absence of a normalized cinema-chain operation, the common refrain around Hollywood is that moviegoer behavior remains impossible to predict. And to hear it from an Antenna executive who spoke to Vulture on background, even if Wonder Woman jams new HBO Max sign-ups like no other title before it, for now, we can only see half of how successful 1984 really is.

The key metric — subscriber retention — remains unknown. Whether customers stay loyal to the platform, or just cancel HBO Max and resubscribe whenever a new movie they want to see comes online, is anybody’s guess.

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Did Wonder Woman 1984 Lasso New Subscribers for HBO Max?