Original Movies Are Becoming Streaming’s Most Popular Content, Led by Disney+

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Yinchen Niu/Variety Intelligence Platform; Soul, Luca, Raya and the Last Dragon: Disney Studio

Even if they could be making more money from original movies if they were released via traditional theatrical distribution, it should come as some consolation to Disney that its movies have become the biggest draw among original programs on leading streaming services.   

That’s according to data provided exclusively to Variety Intelligence Platform by connected TV analytics provider TVision, which found that films on Disney+ attracted more viewers than even the most-watched original series from Netflix that TVision tracked across its panel of 5,000 U.S. households during the months of June and July. 

Far and away the most popular title was animated Pixar film “Luca,” which was viewed by panel members nearly 148 times as much as the average title TVision measured during July after premiering on Disney+ on June 18th. That made a much bigger splash than Dreamworks’ “Boss Baby” sequel on Peacock and Netflix’s action film “Gunpowder Milkshake,” the second- and third-biggest TVision-ranked titles of that month, respectively. 

Disney+ was similarly dominant in June with “Raya and the Last Dragon,” which became free to view on Disney’s SVOD in June after debuting via Premier Access in March. “Luca” was never on Premier Access. 

TVision measures viewing across all major U.S. SVODs and AVODs. The analytics company tracks viewing of nearly 25,000 titles among 5,000 households (14,000 individuals) on connected TVs.   

“Raya” in June still bested top TV series like “Loki” despite having a shorter runtime because TVision’s ranking is based on average audience size, not time spent. TVision arrives at its average audience size figures by averaging the number of panel members that viewed a movie or series of episodes in a given time frame (rather than simply adding up the number of viewers watching episodes in a series). TV series are not advantaged over movies in TVision’s rankings because of this methodology.  

It was surprising that “In the Heights” was Warner Bros.’ only day-and-date film of the year in TVision’s top 10 rankings of June and July, while three Disney day-and-date films (“Raya,” “Black Widow” and “Cruella”) cracked those rankings.  

Day-and-date Warner Bros. movies only stay on HBO Max for one month after premiere, but films like “To Those Who Wish Me Dead” (out May 14) “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (June 4) could have still cracked TVision’s June top 10 ranking, for example. 

“Raya” wasn’t just big in the context of June streaming titles. When looking at movies and TV shows that premiered during the first seven months of 2021 and are measured by TVision, “Raya” was the most-viewed title among panel members. 

That means that, from January to July, more panel members watched “Raya” than “Yes Day,” “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” and “Thunder Force,” which are all titles that Netflix has touted by disclosing viewership stats. 

But when examined against the backdrop of movies debuting within the last 12 months and measured by TVision, “Raya” isn’t as popular. Pixar’s “Soul,” which skipped theaters to debut on Disney+ on December 25, is the title that was viewed most by TVision panel members over the last 12 months.  

That suggests that, like “Raya,” “Soul” was more popular among the panel than “Project Power” (75 million viewers in first month) and “Enola Holmes” (projected 76 million), two of Netflix’s most-watched movies ever. 

It's worth noting that indexed audience size figures are only comparable among titles included in a certain time frame of analysis, because each title's indexed audience size figure is calculated based on viewing during specified time frame. That's why the audience size figures for “Luca” vary in each chart of this article. 

On January 2, shortly after “Soul” debuted, Disney reported reaching 94.9 million subscribers, up nearly 9 million from the total it reported weeks before in early December. Disney CEO Bob Chapek during that earnings call cited “Soul” as helping boost Disney+ subscriber acquisition and retention. 

But the competition among streaming movies has seriously heated up since then.  

Warner Bros. has since begun its day-and-date release strategy with big films like “Godzilla vs. Kong.” Netflix recently for the first time ever dropped a movie three Fridays in a row for its “Fear Street” movie trilogy.  And the July 2 “Boss Baby” sequel premiere marked the first day-and-date release that Peacock has participated in.  

Perhaps that’s why July 2021 marked the first month in at least 19 months that movies made up the entirety of TVision’s top 10 ranking.  

So it’s fair to say that the recent streaming success of certain Disney films couldn't have come at a better time for Disney+. 

After all, the streamer’s most recently reported 103.6 million subscriber count for Disney’s fiscal Q2 was over 5 million short of analyst expectations. The Information on July 2 also reported that Disney+ had almost no growth in North America in 2021. 

But that report, which cites Disney+ numbers that ran through early July, may not account for subscribers that came to Disney’s SVOD within the past couple of weeks to view “Raya” or “Luca” for free. Those numbers also likely don’t reflect much of the gain Disney+ received from the July 9-debuting “Black Widow,” which generated $60 million in debut weekend Premier Access revenue (suggesting nearly 2 million paid for the film). 

So it’s possible that Disney+ saw a meaningful influx of subs during the start of its fiscal Q4.