Global Streaming Subscriptions Passed One Billion in 2020

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Phillipa Soo portray Alexander and Eliza Hamilton in “Hamilton” on Disney+. (Disney+)

The number of streaming service subscriptions passed 1 billion worldwide for the first time in 2020, highlighting massive growth in Hollywood’s direct-to-consumer business as the COVID-19 pandemic kept moviegoers glued to their sofas.

Online video subscriptions soared 26% to 1.1 billion last year, according to a report by the Motion Picture Assn. on the theatrical and home entertainment market. The Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group represents the legacy Hollywood studios and Netflix.

The report, released Thursday, reflects the staggering effect that COVID-19 has had on the entertainment industry. It’s also the result of legacy media companies investing heavily in their own streamers — such as Disney+, Apple TV+ and HBO Max — and Netflix and Amazon bringing more original movies and shows to their apps.

During theater closures, Disney funneled movies such as “Hamilton” and “Soul” to its streaming service, while Warner Bros. debuted “Wonder Woman 1984” simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max. Sony sold the Tom Hanks picture “Greyhound” to Apple TV+, and Amazon acquired “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” for Prime Video. Disney recently reported 100 million subscribers for Disney+. Netflix has more than 200 million.

Meanwhile, global box office sales experienced a stunning downturn, dropping 72% to just $12 billion as multiplexes remained largely closed for the bulk of the year, according to the report.

That total includes an 80% dive for receipts in the U.S. and Canada, which contributed a paltry $2.2 billion. Less than half of the U.S. population went to the movies at least once in 2020, down 76% from 2019. International box office shrank less than the U.S. — dropping 68% — reflecting recovery in markets such as China that were able to reopen theaters after gaining better control of the coronavirus. China eclipsed the U.S. and Canada as the top box office market, with $3 billion in sales.

Movie houses in Los Angeles and New York have only just started to reopen due to relaxed restrictions amid the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, leading to hope that the industry can begin its long-awaited recovery.

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SOURCE: LA Times, Ryan Faughnder

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