Antenna Up: How Subscription Data Decodes Streamers' Success

How Antenna's Subscription Data Decodes Streamers' Success. Illustration by Mattias Adolfsson
Illustration by Mattias Adolfsson

The fledgling analytics company has Hollywood's ear, and ire, with an innovative approach to tracking streaming trends — like how long 'Hamilton' fans stuck with Disney+ after signing up.

Last summer, Disney CEO Bob Chapek called the Disney+ debut of the filmed version of Broadway musical Hamilton "a huge success." Just how successful? Disney, like many of its streaming peers, won't say.

One-year-old analytics startup Antenna, however, has found a workaround. The company has access to a trove of consumer purchasing data, which it uses to figure out which movies and TV shows entice people to subscribe to streamers. Antenna says it can calculate the percentage of those new subscribers who stick with a service, a holy grail for determining a project's long-term value. Hamilton, according to Antenna, drove more signups during its opening weekend than any other 2020 film released via streaming except HBO Max's Wonder Woman 1984, and 59 percent of those subscribers were still paying for Disney+ three months later.

"Everyone is trying to figure out the future of the movie business," says Rich Greenfield, a media analyst at LightShed Partners who was an early investor in Antenna. "I'm using [Antenna's data] to understand what the optimal strategy is for this industry."

Not long ago, box office grosses and TV ratings ruled Hollywood with an iron fist, giving suits in their corner offices and creatives in their studio-lot bungalows a clear picture of the town's winners and losers. But the rise of streaming has made it difficult to define (and measure) success.

For years, Netflix disclosed next to nothing about the viewership of its original titles, arguing that the number was of little significance for a service focused on attracting and retaining subscribers rather than selling ads. Entertainment giants that followed Netflix into streaming have been equally guarded with their data. In response to this opacity, a cottage industry of third-party data providers like Antenna has emerged, each promising exclusive insights about the biggest subscription streaming platforms. Ratings veteran Nielsen in September began offering weekly lists of the top streaming titles.

Jonathan Carson, Antenna's co-founder and chairman, says the company is responding to a need for new standards as the industry moves away from distributing via theaters or the wholesale cable bundle. "Virtually every other consumer goods category has market measurement to help companies understand what their market share is, what the different consumer segments are and how they behave differently," says Carson, who sold two prior startups to Nielsen. "Entertainment has never had that."

Instead of measuring interest in or viewership of individual shows, Antenna focuses on the relationship between a streamer and its subscribers. It works with budgeting and email apps to pull anonymous customer transaction data, allowing it to see when a person signs up for, say, HBO Max and how long they pay for it before canceling. With access to more than 5 million accounts, Antenna can extrapolate trends from those individual transactions — like when it noticed that signups to the Premium Plus plan of NBCUniversal's Peacock jumped by 9 percentage points in the two weeks after The Office debuted on the service.

There are some limits to Antenna's data, though. It doesn't yet provide the absolute number of subscribers a streamer attracts on a given day — because it can't measure all avenues through which a person might sign up — but it can use an indexed figure that shows relative trends. Co-founder and CEO Rameez Tase says the goal is to provide insights that "unlock healthier, more sustainable businesses" as companies transition to direct-to-consumer relationships with audiences.

Antenna launched in February 2020, in the middle of Hollywood's streaming boom. Its data quickly drew the attention of a town eager to proclaim early victors in the streaming wars. Investor Matthew Ball says the company offers "more detail, with greater nuance and behind-the-scenes credibility than I've seen in any other provider." He notes, "The most telling feedback has been from those irked by Antenna's accuracy."

The 15-person company, which in December raised $4.2 million in funding led by Raine Ventures, says it has about 15 customers (including streamers, distribution platforms and marketing channels) and its average contract is in the six figures. UTA became an Antenna client after a high-profile motion picture talent learned a studio wanted to forgo an agreed-upon theatrical window and release his film on PVOD, an increasingly common dilemma in Hollywood last year after the pandemic closed theaters across the country. "How do you value backend participation? Antenna provides a potentially powerful element of ascertaining what that would be," says Joe Kessler, head of the agency's data and analytics department, UTA IQ.

Though Antenna started with streaming, it plans to go after other segments of the subscription ecosystem like gaming, audio services and the wellness space. Says Tase, "We are really trying to measure the entire consumer subscription wallet."

A version of this story first appeared in the March 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.