HBO Max’s much-anticipated “Friends” reunion attracted 2 million U.S. households from May 27-31, according to Smart-TV viewer tracking service Samba TV.
The audience skewed younger, over-indexing with viewers age 54 and below, according the Samba TV. Viewers also tended to be more affluent, while Asian (+13%) and white (+7%) viewers over-indexed.
In both New Hampshire and Wyoming, 24% of all households watched the reunion, according to Samba TV data. But viewership was bigger in the United Kingdom, where 2.5 million households watched the special (It aired on linear TV in the United Kingdom, but only on streaming in the United States.).
By contrast, “The Mare of Easttown” finale drew 1.7 million U.S. households May 30-31 (that program aired on both HBO and HBO Max) while Cruella, on Disney+ Premier Access, drew 686,000 U.S. households May 28-31.
HBO Max will debut the “Friends: The Reunion” special on May 27, the one-year anniversary of HBO Max’s launch.
“Friends” stars Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer return to the iconic comedy’s original soundstage, Stage 24, on the Warner Bros. Studio lot in Burbank for an unscripted celebration of the show.
The special will feature a variety of special guests including David Beckham, Justin Bieber, BTS, James Corden, Cindy Crawford, Cara Delevingne, Lady Gaga, Elliott Gould, Kit Harington, Larry Hankin, Mindy Kaling, Thomas Lennon, Christina Pickles, Tom Selleck, James Michael Tyler, Maggie Wheeler, Reese Witherspoon and Malala Yousafzai.
Ben Winston directed the special and executive produced along with “Friends” executive producers Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane. The special hails from Warner Bros. Unscripted Television in association with Warner Horizon, Fulwell 73 Productions and Bright/Kauffman/Crane Productions. Aniston, Cox, Kudrow, LeBlanc, Perry, and Schwimmer executive produced the special. Emma Conway, James Longman and Stacey Thomas-Muir co-executive produced.
Halloween continues to be top of mind among home viewers, with Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray Disc boxed set of “Friday the 13th” movies catapulting to the top of the weekly “Watched at Home” chart during the week ended Oct. 17.
The 16-disc set with a limited run (initially set at 13,000 copies) is the first boxed set to ever top the “Watched at Home” chart, which tracks transactional video activity (both digital and on DVD and Blu-ray Disc) compiled from studio and retailer data through DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group. The chart was created in April.
Released to mark the 40th anniversary of the original “Friday the 13th” film by Shout! Factory’s horror imprint, Scream Factory, the collection includes all 12 films in the franchise — the first eight released by Paramount Pictures and the latter four by New Line Cinema.
Two other Halloween-themed titles remained on the chart: Disney’s Hocus Pocus, which slipped to No. 4 from No. 2 the prior week, and Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, from Warner, which fell to No. 13 from No. 8.
The rest of the chart reflects the continued lack of new theatrical releases, which studios are attempting to counter through aggressive catalog movie and TV show promotions. Indeed, catalog sales are up nearly 50% from the same week last year, according to the DEG.
Warner Bros.’ eight-film collection of “Harry Potter” movies soared to No. 2 from No. 10 the prior week, pushing last week’s most-watched film, Vertical Entertainment’s Ava, to No. 3.
Also debuting in the top five was Universal Pictures’ boxed set of all nine seasons of popular sitcom “The Office,” which debuted on the “Watched at Home” chart at No. 5. Universal initially released the collection on DVD in 2014 and again in 2018; on Nov. 10, the series makes its debut on Blu-ray Disc.
Middle Earth 6-Film Collection (including “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogies), from Warner Bros., debuted at No. 9. The collection has been rolled out over the past few years in several configurations, ranging from a six-disc set of the theatrical versions of the six films to a massive 30-disc set of extended editions, with hours of extras. The version that hit the chart is the six-disc edition of theatrical cuts.
Game of Thrones: The Complete Series, also from Warner, reappeared on the chart at No. 15. (The “Game of Thrones” set briefly appeared on the chart in early September, at No. 17).
HBO Max is reporting that former primetime ratings winners “Friends” and “The Big Bang Theory” are the No. 1 and No. 3 most popular shows among its subscribers.
The new original series “Love Life,” starring Anna Kendrick, is No. 2.
Eight HBO Max original shows (besides “Love Life”) are in the top 25 series since launch: “Doom Patrol,” “Looney Tunes Cartoons,” “The Not-to-Late Show,” “Legendary,” “Search Party,” “Close Enough” and “Expecting Amy,” among others.
While the data is self-reported, parent WarnerMedia said other HBO originals such as “Insecure,” “Perry Mason,” “I’ll be Gone in the Dark,” and “I May Destroy You,” are tracking well on HBO Max as well.
As previously mentioned by AT&T CEO John Stankey on last week’s fiscal call, subscribers are spending 70% more time spent on Max compared to HBO Now (based on Jan. 2020 HBO Now viewership). The data would suggest it’s just a matter of time before WarnerMedia folds Now into Max — as it did with HBO Go.
WarnerMedia said the typical Max user is significantly younger than HBO subs, with 23% falling between the ages of 18 to 24. The company expects to have 50 million Max subs by 2025.
Upcoming Max programming highlights include HBO’s “Lovecraft Country,” “The Undoing,” “The Third Day,” “We Are Who We Are,” “Industry” and new seasons of “Room 104 and “His Dark Materials”; as well as upcoming Max Originals, including the feature premieres of An American Pickle, Let Them All Talk and Unpregnant; a new season of “Sesame Street”; “Raised by Wolves” and “The Flight Attendant”; international hits “Gomorrah,” “The Murders at the White House Farm,” and “Boys”; and the “Selena Gomez Cooking Show” and “Friends Reunion Special” (working titles).
One positive trend that has emerged during the pandemic, home entertainment studio executives say, is that consumers seem to be gaining a better understanding of the difference between transactional and subscription streaming and are realizing that not everything they might want to see is available on Netflix or the other big SVOD services.
“Because consumers are spending so much watching digital video at home, they are acutely aware of which titles are available on the various platforms,” says Jason Spivak, EVP of U.S. distribution at Sony Pictures Television Distribution.
“It has become clear that consumers sheltering at home not only have become increasingly engaged in our catalog offerings to keep entertained, but also have progressively grown to become more savvy in navigating the spectrum of formats,” says Hilary Hoffman, EVP of global marketing, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. “As such, we have continued to invest and reward consumers to stay engaged in the category and have been working in lockstep with our digital and physical retail partners to ensure that we remain hyper-focused on delivering the broadest access and best possible in-home experience.”
“Consumers have become much more receptive to different price points,” adds Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s senior EVP of worldwide marketing Lexine Wong. “They realize not everything’s on Netflix, and it’s worth it to them to pay a transactional amount for something they really want to watch. They really have embraced all the ways to consume digital video.”
That includes the physical disc. “We are encouraged by the resilience,” Spivak says. “When you think of the structural impediments, stores being closed, online ordering taking longer to fulfill — consumers who love the physical disc are persevering and that business is holding up quite well.”
Studios were fortunate that two of the biggest retail sellers of DVDs and Blu-ray Discs, Walmart and Target, were able to remain open throughout the pandemic because they also sell groceries and thus were deemed “essential” businesses. Alanna Powers, SVP of brand marketing, catalog, at Paramount Home Entertainment, says studio marketers have already met with Walmart to discuss fourth-quarter plans, with a focus on catalog.
“We went through a whole planning session with the Walmart team,” Powers says.
But the biggest lift to DVD and Blu-ray Disc sales, studio marketers say, comes from e-commerce sellers such as Amazon.
“We’ve seen quite a boom in e-commerce,” Powers says. “Initially we were unsure about the supply chain and how retail would react, but we kept all our new-to-Blu-ray titles on the calendar and saw a very positive response so we’ve continued to fill the slate with additional titles.”
Indeed, in addition to monthly waves of “Paramount Presents” releases, Paramount recently has come out with a 25th anniversary edition of the Alicia Silverstone comedy Clueless and 40th anniversary editions of horror classic Friday the 13th and John Travolta’s Urban Cowboy. Clueless and Friday the 13th also are available in limited edition steelbooks.
“We’re really leaning more into the collector’s market,” Powers says. “That’s where e-commerce really shines.”
It’s not just movies, either. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment enjoyed a banner spring with TV product, says Jeff Brown, EVP and GM, Television. “The second quarter was a panacea for transactional television content, physical as well as digital,” Brown says. “Our business grew over 40%, year on year. And if you exclude ‘Game of Thrones,’ which had an extraordinary performance last year with the final season broadcast and transactional release, our business nearly doubled. This really shows peoples’ appetite for television content, and while obviously stay-at-home behavior contributed to this, there were several other opportunities we were able to capitalize on.”
One was the fact that Warner now distributes TV content from HBO and Turner digitally as well as physically.
Another is a strong slate of product, released just in time for viewers to enjoy while encouraged by state and local governments to stay in their homes. “Our top drivers included ‘Rick and Morty,’ ‘Friends’ and ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ as well as the animated original movie titles Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, which was probably our best-performing DC animated movie since Batman: The Killing Joke and Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge,” Brown says.
The third factor behind Warner’s strong TV quarter is a series of “Entertaining the World” promotions, Brown says, with a menu of promotional actions for digital retailers such as Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu and FandangoNow.
“We promoted shows such as ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,’ ‘Two and a Half Men,’ ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘The Wire,’ and Hanna-Barbera and DC animated classics,” Brown says. “We were able to look at the total Warner-HBO-Turner TV and animation library and come up with compelling retail programs, and we coordinated this on a semi-monthly ‘wave’ basis to provide an abundance of promoted content to retailers in a timely manner.”
Editor’s Note: This is part three in a four-part series, “Restocking the Shelves: With No Theatrical Releases, Studio Home Entertainment Marketers are Getting Creative.” The complete story will be available in the July print and digital editions of ‘Media Play News.’
“Friends” is giving the transactional side of the home entertainment business a very happy new year.
The landmark sitcom that helped birth the TV DVD category nearly two decades ago is once again a top DVD and Blu-ray Disc seller — and this time the sales boost is also being felt in digital sales, commonly known in the industry as “electronic sellthrough.”
The catalyst: the disappearance of “Friends” from its longtime exclusive on-demand home, the Netflix subscription streaming service. With streaming wars accelerating, AT&T, which owns the Warner Bros. studio that produced “Friends,” made plans for the show to come off Netflix once the license expired Dec. 31, 2019, and reappear on its own streaming service, HBO Max, which is launching in May 2020.
In the meantime, “Friends” is only available for on-demand viewing on disc and for digital purchase or rental — and that’s led to a significant spike in sales.
Jeff Brown, EVP and GM of Television and Animation for Warner Bros.’ home entertainment division, said sales began to rise shortly after the announcement in July 2019 that “Friends” would be leaving Netflix at the end of the year.
Through the end of 2019, he said, sales of the season and complete series sets more than tripled. And since the official departure of “Friends” from Netflix on Jan. 1, Brown said, sales have spiked even higher, on both physical and digital formats.
“Not bad for a 20-year-old TV show,” Brown said. “The discs really started selling well in the summer, when we announced the show was coming off Netflix and we launched a 25th anniversary promotion — but the digital really took off after the first of the year, once the show was off Netflix.”
The top seller is the complete series set, which Warner re-released on Blu-ray Disc and DVD in September. The package contains 10 seasons’ worth of shows, or a total of 236 episodes. On Amazon, the complete series set retails for $69.99 on DVD (40 discs), and $109.16 on Blu-ray Disc (21 discs).
Bundles of all 10 seasons also are available digitally through other retailers, like Apple iTunes and Walmart’s Vudu. They, too, are leading sales.
Individual season sets are also available for purchase on disc and through digital retailers, including Amazon Prime. DVD season sets sell for $13.19 on Amazon, with digital season sets going for $19.95. Consumers who want digital versions also can buy individual episodes at $1.99.
During the five months in which “Friends” is absent from the streaming world, Brown said, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will mount a “robust” promotional campaign he hopes will drive sales even higher.
David Crane and Marta Kauffman, co-creators of the perennial hit TV comedy, “Friends,” will be honored with the Parrot Analytics Global Iconic Award at the 2nd Annual Global TV Demand Awards taking place on Jan. 21 during the NATPE Miami 2020 Marketplace + Conference.
“Friends” debuted on NBC on Sept. 22, 1994 and ran for 10 seasons. The series finale aired on May 6, 2004 and was watched by 52.4 million viewers in the U.S. alone. The series received acclaim throughout its broadcast run, making it one of the most popular TV shows of all time and turning its ensemble cast into pop icons: Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer.
The series was nominated for 62 Primetime Emmy Awards, winning the Outstanding Comedy Series award in 2002 for its eighth season.
High-definition versions of all 236 episodes were made available to local broadcast stations beginning in 2012. Netflix added all seasons in high-definition to their platform in the U.S. on Jan. 1, 2015, after completing a landmark $100M deal for the series with Warner Media. Comedy Central began airing reruns in October 2019. Recently, the series left Netflix (as of Jan. 1) and will begin streaming on HBO Max in May 2020.
The series has also been a packaged media hit, selling hundreds of millions of dollars worth of discs, and helping to launch the “TV on DVD” market.
Held at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami, the Global TV Demand Awards honors the most in-demand shows of 2019, based on empirical global TV demand data. In 2019, “Friends” celebrated its 25th year, and the Global Iconic Demand Award is being awarded to David Crane and Marta Kauffman based upon their outstanding achievement in creating one of TV’s most consistently in-demand series.
Parrot Analytics’ measurement of demand for television shows includes social media engagement, video streaming and peer-to-peer protocols, photo sharing, blogging, and research platforms.
New Year’s Day 2020 started ominously for Netflix as it officially no longer can stream ongoing syndication hit “Friends,” the former NBC sitcom that introduced Rachel, Monica, Ross, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe to American living rooms and made household names of Jennifer Aniston and others.
The 26-year-old series stopped airing on primetime television 16 years ago, but has remained a lucrative product on syndication, packaged media and streaming.
Netflix lost exclusive “Friends” streaming rights to WarnerMedia’s pending streaming service HBO Max, which paid $425 million over five years to snag all 236 episodes of the series. “Friends” reportedly was the second-most-popular series on Netflix in 2018, according to Nielsen.
HBO Max reportedly spent billions more to secure exclusive streaming rights to “South Park” and “The Big Bang Theory”.
“How [‘Friends’ exit] impacts [Netflix] in terms of subscribers … will really depend on what else they have coming up that we’re not focused on,” Courtney Williams, Europe regional director for Parrot Analytics, told Vanity Fair.
Indeed, Netflix original series “Stranger Things” and “The Witcher” continue to congregate atop weekly Parrot Analytics charts tracking the most on-demand programming.
“I don’t think any specific content matters at all to Netflix,” Michael Pachter, media analyst at Wedbush Securities, said in an email. The analyst contends the bigger threat to Netflix is when other content creators collectively divert content toward proprietary services.
With Netflix increasingly losing Disney/Fox, NBC Universal and Warner Bros. content, consumers will feel compelled to try new services offering recognizable programming and/or favorite shows, according to Pachter.
The analyst believes Netflix will lose around two-thirds of its content (measured in viewing hours) and will have a tough time replacing that with content of similarly perceived quality. At the same time, Pachter says competitors such as HBO Max will take awhile to gain traction with consumers.
“We expect the [Netflix No. 1] status quo to be largely maintained until the end of 2021,” he said. “For now, Netflix provides tremendous value for its subscribers.”
As part of the 25th anniversary for former NBC sitcom, “Friends,” Warner Bros. Television for the first time is putting up for bid to the public props, costumes, studio-edition authorized reproductions, set decorations and production material from the series.
Created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman (“Grace and Frankie”), “Friends” helped make Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer household names. The show aired in primetime from Sept. 22, 1994 to May 6, 2004.
The show has been a home media retail juggernaut, in addition to generating lucrative runs in syndication and streaming video. WarnerMedia reportedly paid $425 million to land the show for its pending HBO Max service, beginning in 2020.
Proceeds from the auction will benefit The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people.
Bidding begins on Dec. 3 and runs until Dec. 17. Bidders who sign up for the auction are also eligible to win a production script. Complete contest rules can be found at PropStore.com/FRIENDS. Each item comes with a Warner Bros. Certificate of Authenticity.
Warner is working with film and TV memorabilia company Prop Store, which will offer more than 100 auction lots spanning all 10 seasons of “Friends,” straight from the Warner Bros. Archive.
“It’s an honor to be able to bring some amazing original pieces to the fans, such as Joey’s (LeBlanc) original Hugsy doll,” Brandon Alinger, COO of Prop Store, said in a statement. “We’re also happy to offer detailed studio-edition reproductions, including the Holiday Armadillo costume, Central Perk couch and 10 copies of Monica’s (Cox) peephole door frame, straight from the Warner Bros. Props department.”
Auction items include:
Numbered, limited edition silkscreen coffee cup modeled after the signature image featured on the wall of Central Perk. The print is signed by artist Burton Morris and includes a signed “Friends” catalog, Est. $3,000.
Studio-edition authorized reproduction of Ross Geller’s (Schwimmer) Holiday Armadillo costume, Est. $10,000-15,000.
Studio-edition authorized reproduction of Central Perk orange couch, Est. $6,000-8,000.
Joey Tribbiani and Chandler Bing’s (Perry) wood canoe and two paddles, Est. $4,000-6,000.
Rachel Green’s (Aniston) Hawaiian print dress, Est. $3,000-5,000.
Studio-edition authorized reproduction of door picture frame, Est. $2,000-3,000.
Studio-edition authorized reproduction of turkey with sunglasses, fez and stand, Est. $2,000-3,000.
Ursula Buffay’s (Kudrow) “Buffay The Vampire Layer” VHS tape, Est. $1,500-2,500. Joey’s bedtime penguin pal Hugsy, Est. $1,000-1,500. Monica and Chandler wedding invitation set, Est. $1,000-1,500.
A selection of lots will be available to view in the “Friends” Boston Pop-Up starting on Nov. 21.
With several high-profile over-the-top video services launching next month, WarnerMedia’s pending HBO Max service is looking to cut through the clutter with bold subscriber predictions.
HBO Max, which doesn’t launch until Q1 2020, is eyeing 80 million subscribers by 2025 — including 50 million in the United States, CEO John Stankey told Reuters. He plans to roll HBO’s 35 million pay-TV subs into the service — a significant challenge considering HBO’s existing pay-TV license agreements.
The service, which will feature traditional HBO content, movies, original programming and “Friends” reruns, will be made available at launch free to AT&T’s HBO pay-TV subscribers.
“The success of HBO Max is built on the ability for the company to rationalize why [AT&T’s DirecTV and Time Warner] belong together,” Stankey said earlier this year.
AT&T, which is holding a Warner Media Day on Oct. 29 to discuss HBO Max, hasn’t disclosed a price for the service. It will reportedly offer an ad-supported cheaper option in 2021 similar to what Hulu offers.