The days of knowing how big a movie is are apparently over


In the past week, Billie Eilish: the world a bit fuzzy debuted on Apple TV Plus. The documentary became the “most successful title for young adult audiences that Apple has so far had on its list of movies and television series,” according to Term, attracting a “record 33 percent of viewers new to the service.”

Sounds awesome right? It would if Apple provided some kind of context for statements such as “greatest success” and “record” subscribers. Instead, we are left wondering:

  • How many subscribers does Apple TV Plus currently have?
  • How many people actually saw Billie Eilish: the world a bit fuzzy?
  • How many of those new subscribers have free Apple TV Plus trial plans?
  • How do those audience numbers and subscriber additions compare to any other title?

Without any of this context, 10 million people could have seen Billie Eilish: the world a bit fuzzy or 10,000 people. I was one of them! But there is a big difference between those two figures. In a pre-broadcast world, if the documentary were to be released in theaters or debuted on a network like MTV, there would be real statistics. There are weekly box office reports and breakdowns from Nielsen to provide public information on how well a movie or TV show is performing.

It’s not just Apple either: With a stronger push to streaming, there’s no reason for companies to release numbers. As more original series and movies are released on streaming services, and as more movies are pulled from theaters before moving to a streaming service, the idea of ​​what is considered an official success becomes much more difficult. to trace. These are just a few examples from the last few months:

  • From Hulu Happier season it was the “most viewed movie of all Hulu purchased and original movies” during its opening weekend.
  • Just a few weeks before Happier season, From Hulu To run set the record for “the most viewed movie on Hulu during its opening weekend.”
  • HBO Max’s The little things It “quickly rose to number one” on its opening weekend, according to WarnerMedia executive Andy Forssell.

Right now, there is no reason for companies to post numbers. It is a pick ’em on will strategy. A movie or TV show works amazingly well, and that’s a good reason for a company like Disney or Netflix to throw a bang. (Video game publishers use a similar strategy of boasting numbers.) Netflix will note that 99 million household accounts viewed at least two minutes of Extraction within the first four weeks of its release. Sounds really good! Unfortunately, it is also the most direct streaming service on the audience. But how many people finished seeing Extraction compared to the number of people who would have put it on and after five minutes decided to just watch The Wizard again or do something completely different?

None of this matters to streaming companies. Netflix has more than 203 million subscribers and is growing. Disney Plus, Hulu, HBO Max and Peacock are also growing, based on quarterly earnings. Apple has never announced how many subscribers Apple TV Plus has, but third-party analyst firms have repeatedly pointed out that a significant portion of its subscriber base is using free trials.

The box office doesn’t dictate quality, but it does track global cultural phenomena. As Todd Boyd, professor of popular culture at the University of Southern California said NPR, “They are like a great event that for many people it is an option for them to say that ‘I participated in something in which many other people also participated’, and this allows them to define themselves as part of a group. ” In the case of Avengers Endgame, people came together to try to make it the most successful movie of all time, tracking daily box office numbers.

Last year, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos told analysts that the company is making the equivalent of billion-dollar movies. The Billion Dollar Movie – A New Star Wars, Fast and Furious, Marvel or DC title: speaks of the power of a cultural phenomenon, of a true pop culture moment. It’s a sign of something celebrated and experienced with millions of people around the world – people who went to see a movie and probably sat for the entire event. As Bilge Ebiri wrote in Vulture, having public data on people who watched a full movie on Netflix or Hulu or HBO Max “tells us not only if a movie or show reached the right people, but also whether or not those people stood their ground, maybe even, gasp, I enjoyed it. “

With the future of cinemas so uncertain, this will only become a bigger problem that will carry over to streaming platforms. Even less data will be available on which stripes of people are watching. As a result, more viewing experiences will feel increasingly isolated. People like to participate in popular culture, see the success that everyone else is seeing, but figuring out what is a success and what is not is increasingly difficult to determine.

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