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‘Hamilton’ vs. ‘The Old Guard’ vs. ‘Greyhound’ vs. ‘Palm Springs’: Which Movie Was Straight-To-Streaming Champion of July?

According to Hulu, Palm Springs is a hit. All the signs point to Hamilton being a hit, too. (Specifically, data from Sensor Tower and 7Park.) Tom Hank’s latest film, Greyhound, seems to be buzzy as well. At the same time, folks are speculating that The Old Guard might be Netflix’s latest franchise. (And don’t forget about The Kissing Booth 2!)

Since those four films were released straight-to-streaming, let’s try to figure out “Who won July?”. We’ll use our favorite (and easiest to use) measure of popularity, Google Trends. Most importantly, we’ll try to figure out what this means for the business of straight-to-streaming.

The Google Trends Data

To start, let’s just pull the data.

IMAGE 1 -GTrends wOut Hamilton

Netflix won in this “United States” only battle. (Since Hulu is US only it made sense to limit it geographically to start.) This is closer than I would have guessed. Both Greyhound and Palm Springs were within shouting distance of it in terms of awareness/interest.

Of course, we left out the big dog of July 4th weekend.

IMAGE 2- GTrends w Hamilton

This was not close, and matches my consistent refrain that blockbusters aren’t just a pinch more popular than other films, but orders of magnitude larger. This is what a hit looks like.

(And yes, I predict your complaint before you even say it. Maybe Hamilton was virally buzzy, but didn’t drive sign-ups. If even half this traffic was folks who wanted to watch, it won the month. If even a quarter were new sign-ups than that’s great news.)

What do we make of The Old Guard in particular? It’s the latest in Netflix’s quarterly action film helmed by a famous actor. Let’s compare Netflix’s recent string of action films to each other…

IMAGE 3 - NFLX Action WW Sans Hamilton

As a bonus, this chart shows both the pros and cons with Google Trends data. On the one hand, Extraction is the biggest film, as it should be. On the other, 6 Underground peaked higher than Spenser Confidential, but they ended up with nearly the same viewership (61 million and 62 million respectively). How do we explain this? Well, if you add “Spencer with a c” to the Google Trends, then they’re almost equal at their peaks! Google search can be tricky.

I shifted to global numbers since Netflix is a global service. When I first saw these numbers, my gut was that The Old Guard wouldn’t get quite the numbers of Spenser Confidential/6 Underground range. I turned out to be right, as Netflix released that The Old Guard is estimated to get around 72 million households (at 2 minutes viewed), which would end up about 10 million under those two. Here’s a table for Netflix’s top ten films of all time, updated with The Old Guard.

IMAGE 4 - Netflix Top Ten Revised

Here’s the thing about Netflix, though, they don’t just release one film a month. They release multiple. Which is why the other winner could be the latest rom-com: The Kissing Booth 2

IMAGE 5 - GTrends with Kissing Booth

How do those Netflix films compare to Hamilton?

IMAGE 6 - NFLX Films compared to Hamilton

Yikes! Hamilton trounced both Extraction and The Kissing Booth 2. It’s even bigger in the US only version. To answer the question, yes Hamilton won July in the “straight-to-streaming” wars. This gets directly to Disney’s strengths. It can take well-known IP–Hamilton the musical in this case, the most popular musical of the decade–and blow it through the roof. Since blockbusters are the goal, they won the month.

Other Data?

Google Trends data is not absolute, of course, Other data could show slightly different things. For example, IMDb. While it skews male/genre, it provides a good second source for interest/viewership of films. In this measure, by just total reviews The Old Guard is on top, followed by Hamilton. (Again, that could be explained by the skew since musicals don’t get as many ratings on IMDb as action flicks.) 

IMAGE 7 IMDb Ratings

Greyhound has the interesting story here, compared to other Apple TV+ shows. (Back in April, I wondered if anyone is actually watching Apple TV+.) According to IMDb, Greyhound really is Apple’s most popular launch since The Morning Show. It’s taken 9 months for The Morning Show to get to 38K ratings on IMDb. Greyhound is at 31K after just three weeks of viewing.

Here’s another look at the IMDb popularity. This time via their “Moviemeter” provided by Kasey Moore of Whats-On-Netflix via Twitter. 

But let’s answer the next question: Did these films make any money?

The Economics of this Data

Folks have asked if I can run my “Great Irishman Project” analysis on Hamilton, Artemis Fowl, or other Disney+/Hulu/Apple TV+ originals. 

Unfortunately, no, I can’t. Unlike Netflix, I don’t have enough data to accurately forecast Disney’s per subscriber economics. (Even they likely don’t have enough data with only a few months of life under their belt.) Though I have a few thoughts directionally.

  • The “marginal benefits” are higher for newly launched streamers. This is one of the core points about the streaming wars that gets neglected. Essentially, if you have 30 million US subscribers, a new buzzy film like Hamilton is much more valuable than they would be for a service that has 63 million subscribers. When you’ve nearly peaked adding subscribers, the cost in convincing more folks to join your service is increasingly costly. Hence, it’s harder to monetize expensive films.
  • As such, it can make sense for new streamers to overpay for films; it doesn’t make sense for established players to do the same. Apple paying $75 million for Greyhound could make sense; they have tons of potential new customers. Disney paying $100 million for the rights to Hamilton then paying who knows how much to Lin Manuel and company to skip theaters makes sense as well. Netflix paying $150 million for 6 Underground? Or who knows how much for The Irishman? That makes less sense.
  • Apple TV+, though, may just be too small. Unlike Hulu or Disney+, if someone doesn’t have Apple TV+ already, this one film won’t be enough to keep them on the service. The lack of a library or any other real show/film that will keep subscribers means interest may be high, but the conversion could still be anemic. If, despite the buzz, Greyhound only had 1 million folks watch it, that still doesn’t justify the costs. (And we have no idea how many folks actually watched.)
  • For Disney, the missing theatrical revenue is real. If a year from now Hamilton had released in theaters, there’s a good chance it would have won the opening weekend. Then, it would have likely still done monster numbers on Disney+. That’s a loss of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars. Scott Mendelson wrote about this on Forbes back when Hamilton launched.

So did Disney make the right call? Or Apple? Or Netflix?

The Winners and Losers of July

Disney+: Winner

Frankly, Hamilton attracted so many new customers that it succeeded. If new customers like blockbusters, they’ll like the service. Even if not all of them will stay, as a move to attract new customers this was probably the right one, especially given the dearth of content due to productions being shut down. And unlike other blockbusters, this one had a much lower ceiling at the box office. (The math for Mulan/Black Widow would not justify a similar release.)

Apple TV+: Loser

I don’t think enough folks are using Apple TV+ to justify the types of huge spending this implies. Especially given the low price point of the service. Thus, spending gobs on lone prestige films is likely a bad long-term bet. (They should spend it on a library instead.)

Hulu: Don’t know

Unlike Disney+ and Apple TV+, the Hulu economics are tougher to parse out. They already have lots of subscribers and lots of TV series. Contrariwise, Palm Springs wasn’t a huge expense. (Somewhere between $17.5 and 22 million dollars.) On the other hand, Sundance films aren’t monsters at the box office, so it has a ceiling.

(Meanwhile, Hulu is trying to take the crown from Netflix for obscure metrics of success. They keep saying things like “this was our most watched independent film over a given time period.” The previous bizarrely worded datecdote was Parasite.)

Netflix: The Old Guard probably not; Yes, for the Kissing Booth 2

Ever since The Information reported that Ted Sarandos wanted no more expensive action films getting only around 40 million viewers (see: Triple Frontier), Netflix has pared down their action film budgets to *only* $60-70 million. (Extraction and The Old Guard budgets, respectively). As such, since The Old Guard didn’t get above 80 million viewers at 2 minutes viewed, it will likely won’t be profitable. The Kissing Booth—as a cheaper rom-com—probably will be.

(The Entertainment Strategy Guy writes under this pseudonym at his eponymous website. A former exec at a streaming company, he prefers writing to sending emails/attending meetings, so he launched his own website. Sign up for his newsletter at Substack for regular thoughts and analysis on the business, strategy and economics of the media and entertainment industry.)

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