Why Video on Demand Data Won’t Be Public Any Time Soon

Wonder Woman 1984
Warner Bros. Entertainment

Gal Gadot and Chris Pine in 'Wonder Woman 1984'

While Comscore, Nielsen and Screen Engine/ASI are now tracking SVOD performance (mostly for clients), studios don’t yet have an incentive to share numbers like they do for box office returns.

With COVID-19 crushing box office revenue in the United States, studios have made drastic moves to get their product in front of audiences. What hasn’t followed is any real sense of how those films, whether released to streaming services or to on-demand portals, are performing among homebound viewers. That may be changing as big players in the audience measurement business follow consumers to their couches.

What’s unclear, however, is when — or even if — any of that data will make it out of executive suites. Unlike box office tallies, which are available to the public every week, numbers for movies on streaming platforms and for rental or purchase on demand remain largely hidden from view.

But third-party analytics firms are increasingly looking to track the space. Nielsen has begun measuring “theatrical movies on demand,” encompassing both films on SVOD platforms — as with the 2021 Warner Bros. slate on HBO Max — and titles available for rent or sale. The measurement is taken from the company’s national panel of TV viewers (a representative group of about 40,000 households), with the ability to break down viewing by demographics.

Comscore on Jan. 25 unveiled a “Movies Everywhere” service that will track films across release windows and platforms, with a goal of combining box office revenue with demographics on consumer behavior. Screen Engine/ASI, a leading entertainment research firm frequently used by Hollywood studios, launched its own service in April after the pandemic struck.

“We are talking to 3,000 people a week to see what they watch,” says Mark Orne, who heads Screen Engine/ASI’s COVID-era service, titled PostVOD. “I think it’s important for everyone to know what the landscape is, and not only which movies are being more viewed than others, but what is being contributed to their success and who is watching them and how they are finding out about them.”

Screen Engine/ASI’s service polls a few thousand people a week to track audience viewing habits and demographics for movies debuting on streaming or premium VOD. One recent finding by Screen Engine: There’s so much new streaming and PVOD content that people aren’t even aware of which movies are coming out, says Orne.

The data these firms are collecting is a potential treasure trove in an area of the business that has thus far been opaque. Streamers don’t provide much detailed data about their viewers, and hard numbers for VOD movies are virtually nonexistent.

“I think we need to get closer to standardizing a view across every platform and making it something more realistic,” says Shawn Robbins, chief analyst for Boxoffice Pro. “[The business is] going to come out of this [pandemic] evolving in some way — it’s not going to go back just like it was before. I think we’ll start to see a marriage of streaming and theatrical and find a happy medium for it. I’d want to see data that can make that happen.”

That’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. While Screen Engine/ASI publishes its audience survey results, sources tell THR that Nielsen’s theatrical VOD measurement is for clients’ eyes only at the moment. Some numbers may eventually become public, but there’s no timetable. Comscore also has no immediate plans to make its Movies Everywhere numbers public.

Nielsen’s weekly SVOD rankings, which occasionally include feature films, are also incomplete: At the moment they include only Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu. HBO Max isn’t included in any public data. Notes Robbins: “Until there is a diversity of objective viewpoints and higher degrees of transparency, it will be challenging to properly assess streaming performances.”

Top SVOD Movie Debuts of 2020
By Screen Engine’s count, WW84 ranked first among viewers in its initial 7-day launch.

1. Wonder Woman 1984 (HBO MAX)
2. Soul (DISNEY+)
3. Hamilton (DISNEY+)
4. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (AMAZON PRIME VIDEO)
5. The Midnight Sky (NETFLIX)
6. My Spy (AMAZON PRIME VIDEO)
7. The Prom (NETFLIX)
8. Extraction (NETFLIX)
9Phineas & Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe (DISNEY+)
10. The Old Guard (NETFLIX)
11. The Trial of the Chicago 7 (NETFLIX)
12. Roald Dahl’s The Witches (HBO MAX)
13. Hillbilly Elegy (NETFLIX)
14. The Lovebirds (NETFLIX)
15. Black Beauty (DISNEY+)
16Rebecca (NETFLIX)
17. I’m Your Woman (AMAZON PRIME VIDEO)
18. Holidate (NETFLIX)
19. Project Power (NETFLIX)
20. Enola Holmes (NETFLIX)

Source: Screen Engine/ASI, ranked by viewing for title's first 7 days of release.

This story appeared in the Jan. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.