The annual figures were reported by the Digital Entertainment Group, an industry consortium representing a swath of studios, retailers and tech platforms. The digital outlay (including rentals, purchases and subscriptions) increased 33% over 2019 and was driven by streaming, with spending on subscriptions rising 37% to $21.2 billion. During 2020, WarnerMedia launched HBO Max and NBCUniversal rolled out Peacock, with both joining Disney+ and Apple TV+ in a push to compete with established players led by Netflix.
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Premium video on demand (PVOD) was not included in the totals, but the DEG said spending on digital rentals of theatrical film titles grew more than 25% in the fourth quarter and 40% for the year.
Universal, which upended convention last spring with theater-free releases like Trolls World Tour, estimated the 18 films it has put out on PVOD in the past 10 months have brought in more than $500 million in revenue.
The surge in streaming investment by media companies amid the ongoing shutdowns of movie theaters re-routed a range of top theatrical titles like Hamilton, Soul and Wonder Woman 1984. Disney even added a $30 charge for subscribers of Disney+ last summer to view the “premier access” release of Mulan. While the company has not released specific metrics for the live-action adaptation, it has said it will continue to look for opportunities to revisit the release tactic in the future.
Transactional video on demand spending rose 18% for the full year, and electronic sell-through (the window used by high-profile releases like Warner Bros’ Tenet) increased 16%.
The fourth quarter of the year, traditionally a holiday period when the domestic box office lights up, reflected a pronounced shift to home viewing. Total consumer spending in the quarter climbed nearly 16% to $7.8 billion, up more than $1 billion over the same period in 2019. In addition to notable Christmas Day releases Soul and WW84, Universal in the holiday quarter put out its Croods sequel after a limited theatrical run, and Netflix continued its film spree with Mank and The Midnight Sky.
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