How To Measure The Success Of WarnerMedia's Simultaneous Streaming-Theater Move

Get out your entertainment calculators -- it’s going to be a bumpy, dark streaming ride when considering what fresh, theatrical-intended movies mean to a streaming service.

The real measure of how WarnerMedia’s release of 17 movies, in-theaters and with its HBO Max streaming platform, is underway.

The first 2021 release -- a serial-killer thriller called “The Little Things” starring Denzel Washington -- debuted last weekend, earning $4.7 million of box-office revenues across 2,171 theaters in the U.S. and Canada, according to IMDb’s Box Office Mojo.

That may not sound like much when considering what the average wide-release theatrical movies typically rake in, pre-pandemic. About 38% of U.S. and Canadian movie houses are now open.

This sum is much lower than the average overall box-office gross -- around $20 million to $30 million for an average wide-release contemporary fictional film. And anywhere from $120 million to $200 million for those big comic-book/superhero franchise movies.

So here is the second part of the equation: What can it do for HBO Max? In viewing terms, perhaps not much -- just 1.4 million households viewed “The Little Things” on its opening weekend, according to Samba TV.

By way of comparison, this is down from the 2.2 million households that streamed “Wonder Woman 1984” over Christmas Day weekend. The movie garnered $16.7 million in traditional theatrical box-office revenue over its initial weekend period in 2,013 theaters.

Consider that “WW 1984” was a major, highly anticipated theatrical movie, with lots of national TV promotion. Many other movies starting this year won’t get that kind of publicity or consumer awareness.

Perhaps the key financial measure isn’t with those viewing the movie, but those homes signed up to see these movies in 2021.

One obvious measure is that if roughly 1 million new subscribers sign up for HBO Max ($14.99/monthly) that equates to $15 million per month -- enough to register a decent opening theatrical weekend for a modest wide-release movie. Overall, that would means $180 million per year.

But, of course, there are a lot more financial metrics as well as cost that should go into this equation -- including production and marketing costs. Also, it would be good to determine the value of long-term subscribers -- whether they will hang around, after sampling anticipated movies.

More importantly, how does all this affect theatrical box-office business, after a movie’s initial launch theater/streaming month? After that period, theaters get to run the movie exclusively.

WarnerMedia has said this streaming/theatrical plan is limited -- at the moment -- to just 2021. Guessing what happens next depends when and where the theatrical business ends up in the third or fourth quarter.

Even then, we would need more granular film detail to see where performance ends up. Maybe it is, in fact, the little things.

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