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.
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.