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‘Soul,’ ‘WW84,’ and ‘Hamilton’ - Which 2020 Blockbuster Was the Stickiest For New Streaming Subscribers?

Ben Bowman

With the world stuck at home, 2020 was perhaps the most important year for the streaming video industry. Disney+ capitalized on the captive audience, throwing out some big-time blockbusters to boost their subscriber numbers. Last year also saw the debut of HBO Max, and after many, many delays, they debuted “Wonder Woman 1984” on the same day it landed in theaters.

These choices were not made lightly. Existing subscribers could enjoy the films without an additional fee, while using a theater-exclusive model might have been more lucrative in a pre-pandemic world. The big question is whether an in-service debut would draw and retain users for the long haul. If users merely made a one-month “rental” of a service, the strategy would be a financial backfire.

The analytics firm Antenna tracked the new streaming sign-ups from July to December, and it’s clear “Hamilton” and “Wonder Woman 1984” drove massive numbers of new subscribers to their respective platforms. (The numbers are U.S. only.)

“WW84” drove the most sign-ups of any 2020 film. “Hamilton” pulled in 71% of that number, while “Soul” drummed up 35% of Wonder Woman’s total.

But the real question is whether those new subscribers stuck around? Today, Antenna ran the numbers.

New subscribers for “Soul” stuck around at the highest rate of the three films: 69%. “WW84” was extremely close, with 67% of those new subscribers sticking with the service. But “Hamilton” may have backfired for Disney+. Only 62% of new “Hamilton” subscribers” stuck with Disney+ two months after joining the service. Nearly a quarter of subscribers who joined Disney+ on “Hamilton’s” opening weekend canceled within one month.

You could probably have predicted this. New subscribers for “Soul” would have found many similar Pixar films in the Disney+ catalog. Those who joined HBO Max for Wonder Woman’s newest adventure also had access to several movies featuring DC heroes and villains. But if you joined Disney+ in search of more hip-hop musicals, you’re going to come up empty. It’s tonally very different from the rest of the Disney brand.

Another strategy may be in play as HBO Max eventually pulled “WW84” from their regular rotation. If you can grab users with content and keep them and remove the content that pulled them in, that might be the best possible scenario for the streamers. If an HBO Max subscriber wants to see Wonder Woman in action, the only option is a digital rental. Disney+ subscribers still have access to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s masterpiece and Pixar’s latest film.

Disney did try to split the difference by offering “Mulan” and “Raya and the Last Dragon” at a premium tier, but Antenna’s tracking shows that “Mulan” didn’t make much of a dent beyond the normal subscriber churn. The film was also available to regular Disney+ subscribers who were willing to wait a few months.

The industry is laser-focused on subscriber numbers, so the best long-term strategy remains to be seen. But if Disney wants to bring back some lost viewers, they may need to add more hip-hop musicals about our founding fathers. The Hall of Presidents is just waiting for a sick beat.

  • Wonder Woman 1984

    December 16, 2020

    A botched store robbery places Wonder Woman in a global battle against a powerful and mysterious ancient force that puts her powers in jeopardy.

  • Hamilton

    July 3, 2020

    Presenting the tale of American founding father Alexander Hamilton, this filmed version of the original Broadway smash hit is the story of America then, told by America now.

  • Soul

    December 25, 2020

    Joe Gardner is a middle school teacher with a love for jazz music. After a successful audition at the Half Note Club, he suddenly gets into an accident that separates his soul from his body and is transported to the You Seminar, a center in which souls develop and gain passions before being transported to a newborn child. Joe must enlist help from the other souls-in-training, like 22, a soul who has spent eons in the You Seminar, in order to get back to Earth.