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‘Hamilton’ Was Huge for Disney+

Netflix’s biggest wasn’t an original movie but … ‘Unsolved Mysteries’?
August 12, 2020
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(Hannah Yoest / Shutterstock)

Standard disclaimer, as always: We have no idea how well anything on streaming platforms does, really.

Netflix doesn’t release particularly useful numbers, occasionally dropping eye-popping stats like “72 million people watched The Old Guard zomg!” while burying in the fine print that those 72 million watched “at least two minutes” of the movie. Amazon releases no solid numbers about Prime video. Apple releases no solid numbers about AppleTV+, though they still manage the credulous “wow, the numbers are great!” story every once in a while. Ditto Hulu. Disney releases no solid numbers about Disney+.

We’re in a different world now, one without solid Nielsen ratings (and those are less solid now for non-streaming TV anyway, thanks to on-demand viewing and rampant DVR time-shifting) or box-office data. We have to grope around for information like the blind men feeling different parts of the elephant. Who is watching what? What is moving the needle? Simply put: What’s a hit?

We felt the tail of Hamilton in the weeks after its debut on Disney+.

“From Friday through Sunday, the Disney Plus app was downloaded 752,451 times globally, including 458,796 times in the U.S., according to analytics firm Apptopia,” Variety reported. “That means that in the U.S., the total Disney Plus downloads were 74% higher than the average of the four weekends in June 2020 over comparable time periods (Friday through Sunday), per Apptopia data.”

An interesting data point to be sure, doubly so since Disney had quietly ended the free seven-day trial period a few weeks ahead of this. These were paying customers they were racking up.

We felt the leg yesterday, when Variety reported some numbers from 7Park Data suggesting that Hamilton blew the competition out of the water.

“A staggering 37% of the research firm’s panel of viewers in the U.S. watched the filmed musical last month, almost three times the number that watched the second widest-reaching title of that month, Netflix’s true-crime docuseries Unsolved Mysteries (14%),” Kevin Tran wrote. The Old Guard clocked in at 10.6 percent of viewers.

(A brief aside: It’s very interesting to me that Netflix’s biggest hit wasn’t the splashy, expensive comic book movie they debuted in July that earned plaudits from the pundits for its commitment to diversity but the reboot of a trash TV series. It’s almost like Netflix is the new broadcast network or something.)

Now, Hamilton’s number in and of itself isn’t that interesting or useful. But Hamilton’s number in conjunction with the other numbers—easily besting Netflix’s most popular offering, Unsolved Mysteries, and more than tripling Netflix’s The Old Guard—gives us a sense of how Disney+’s $75 million acquisition played in relation to everything else in streaming.

And, in the end, that’s how we judge a hit, right? It’s not so much pure viewership, but viewership in relation to everything else. What are people flocking to at the expense of other viewing opportunities? What’s “driving the conversation”? What are our current cultural touchstones?

By that measure, then, we can rest assured that Hamilton was, in fact, a pretty fantastic success for Disney. I have no terribly strong opinion on how accurate 7Park Data’s data really is: their numbers come from a survey of 15,000-25,000 households connected to streaming devices (smart TVs, Roku sticks, etc.). Which is to say, I don’t think you should extrapolate from this and conjecture “Well, if 37 percent of Disney+ subscribers watched it, that means that 22 million people must have watched!”

But as a snapshot of what this census of viewers was watching, it’s undoubtedly useful and instructive. And snapshots are all we really have at the moment.

Sonny Bunch

Sonny Bunch is the Culture Editor of The Bulwark. Before serving as editor-in-chief of the film site Rebeller, he was the executive editor of and film critic for The Washington Free Beacon. He is currently a contributor to The Washington Post and his work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, Commentary Magazine, The Weekly Standard, and elsewhere. He is a member of the Washington Area Film Critics Association