We will probably never know with any degree of certainty how many people watch Zack Snyder’s Justice League now that it has landed on HBO Max. Similarly, while it wouldn’t shock me to see a press release next week talking up some aspect of its performance — “the biggest movie yet on the platform!” — I also doubt we’ll get an official read on how many people signed up for Max simply because of the superhero epic, unless the WarnerMedia-owned streamer is suddenly hit with a wave of transparency heretofore unseen in the digital-TV universe. So how to determine whether Justice League 2.0 ends up being a worthwhile investment for HBO Max? That one’s easy: It already is.
To be sure, the traditional ways of measuring success or failure haven’t suddenly become irrelevant for this one movie. From a short-term, bottom-line perspective, the data and finance guys at WarnerMedia parent AT&T are counting on the new Justice League moving the needle in an appreciable way. If it doesn’t and the numbers are meh, this will no doubt influence how Max execs spend their money in the future. But like so many programming plays in the streaming era, the decision to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut was never purely transactional. And in this case, the benefits of giving in to the online army of fans who clamored for the remixed version of Justice League have gone well beyond just quieting the die-hards.
➽ It has given Max months of (mostly) positive publicity. I don’t think it was a coincidence that, following months of rumors, the official announcement that Snyder’s work would be headed to streaming came on May 20, 2020, exactly one week before HBO Max debuted. Even though the film wouldn’t be available for nearly a year, the fledgling streamer generated a tsunami of coverage simply by confirming it was in the works. Most folks won’t subscribe based on the promise of one piece of content months in the future, of course. But even if a small percentage decided to take advantage of those discounted one-year subscriptions Max was selling last spring, that’s a win. Similarly, the swirl of speculation surrounding every tiny detail of the movie served as a low-key reminder to audiences that this big pop-culture event was coming and would be available only on HBO Max. Having such a high-profile buzz magnet on hand is always helpful but particularly so given how COVID shutdowns slowed Max’s pipeline of originals during its first year. And while not all critics are raving about the movie, plenty seem to really like it, making it all the more likely that audiences — particularly those who already have Max — will check it out. I didn’t see 2017’s Justice League, and even I was compelled to watch a screener of the movie. (Well, the first hour of it, anyway.)
➽ The arrival of Justice League serves as a gigantic (Bat)signal to audiences: HBO Max is serious about all things DC. Much the way Disney+ has been pitched to consumers as the home of all things Marvel (among other things), Max wants to be known as the new center of the DC Universe. WarnerMedia even shut down its DC-branded niche streamer last year to ensure that superfans of Superman, et al., knew they would need to sign up for Max to get their fix. What’s more, although Snyder’s movie is technically its own stand-alone thing — as of now, no plans have been announced to use it to launch new projects — folks who sign up to see it will find hundreds more hours of DCU movies and TV shows. The message that Max is now DC HQ has been out there for a while: Last December’s debut of Wonder Woman 1984 certainly underscored the franchise’s importance to the platform. But WW84 was on Max for only a month and also played in theaters. WarnerMedia is keeping Justice League a streaming-only event here in the U.S.; you can’t buy a digital copy or see it in a theater. Some short-term revenue spike is surely being sacrificed, but if the end result is more sign-ups for Max, it’ll be worth it.
➽ It pairs perfectly with the WarnerMedia strategy of shattering the exclusive theatrical window. The deal to bring the Snyder cut to streaming was hashed out a year ago, long before Warner decided its theatrical films would stream on Max the same day they hit theaters. And yet, even if not planned, that Snyder-cut investment meshes with the new theatrical strategy. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a movie blockbuster in every way — other than not being shown in theaters. Sandwiched between WW84 and Godzilla vs. Kong, it’s less of an outlier than it might otherwise have been. Audiences who come to Max for Snyder’s epic may stick around longer because they know that more new movies with a similar scope and scale are right around the corner. Similarly, anyone who signed up to see WW84 in December or January might have opted against canceling right after in part because they knew Justice League was coming soon.
Whether consumers will keep paying for HBO Max after watching Snyder’s movie is obviously one of the big unknowns here. Reducing the rate at which folks cancel — what industry types call “churn” — is a huge issue for streamers as they mature. And while a big event like this one is designed to fight churn, Justice League is still going to attract some viewers who have no intention of remaining Max subscribers for more than a month — much the way millions of people who tuned into CBS earlier this month to watch Oprah interview Meghan and Harry were nowhere to be found a week later when the Grammys aired in the same time slot. That’s one reason Max and other streamers have been pushing discounted annual plans so hard: They lock in audiences for longer and lessen the rate of churn.
But once again, I think HBO Max still comes out ahead here even if the data don’t show a huge surge in new subscribers. If you assume the widely reported $70 million price tag for Justice League is correct — although, for the record, Max officials have never confirmed it — the per-hour cost of the movie isn’t that outrageous by 2021 streaming-TV standards. Many top scripted streaming series these days carry a cost upwards of $15 million per hour, so $17.5 million for each of the four hours of Justice League isn’t ridiculously out of line. In exchange, Max has gotten a year’s worth of “free” publicity, been better able to promote the prominence of DC properties on its platform, and beefed up its value proposition among existing subscribers, who are getting access to one of the most buzzed-about movie projects in years. Oh, and there’s one other upside for Max execs: They no longer have to worry about responding to Snyder’s legion of passionate fans.
Younger by the Day
We’ve known since last month that the final season of TV Land’s Younger would stream on Paramount+ first rather than on cable. But it turns out there’s a twist: On the same day that episodes drop on Paramount+, they’ll also be showing on competing streamer Hulu. TV Land and Paramount+ didn’t mention this, either last month or on Wednesday, when the show’s April 15 return date was announced. But a few hours after yesterday’s announcement, Hulu sent out its own release saying it, too, would be premiering new episodes of Younger every week
Hulu has been the exclusive SVOD home of Younger for years now, but it usually doesn’t get access to new episodes until months after they air on TV Land. So why the change this year? Well, with ViacomCBS execs deciding to put the final season of Younger on Paramount+, it made sense that all episodes of the series would also be available to stream there as well. In order to do that, however, the company had to go to Hulu and ask it to reopen the existing deal and carve out a new clause allowing Paramount+ to share streaming rights to past seasons of Younger. The Disney-owned Hulu agreed, but with a condition, according to a source familiar with the situation: It wanted same-day access to season seven episodes. ViacomCBS agreed, and the upshot is, Hulu subscribers won’t have to wait months — or sign up for Paramount+ — in order to see Younger’s final act. Cable-only homes, however, are out of luck: The last season of the TV Land original series won’t actually be seen on traditional TV until “later this year,” according to a press release from producer MTV Entertainment.
Netflix and Sell
Last week, The Information reported Netflix could be looking to license some of its content to linear networks. If it happens — and it is hardly a given — it will be something of a departure for the streamer, which heretofore has preferred to keep all its originals exclusive to its platform. But it also wouldn’t be unprecedented: BoJack Horseman reruns were sold to Comedy Central back in 2018. (That deal happened because the show was greenlit in the early days of Netflix, when the company didn’t demand near-perpetual exclusivity from outside studios.) Given how large the Netflix originals library has become, I think it’s a no-brainer for the company to license a few of its less high-profile projects — particularly movies — to linear platforms. Not a single human being is going to cancel their Netflix subscription because they stumble upon a showing of The Ridiculous 6 on TBS. Plus, any money made from such sales could just go back into making more originals. Gotta love that virtuous cycle!