Trading Places: Theatrical Releases vs. Streaming

During a typical year, theatrical movies rank among the top 10 industries for TV advertising. However, 2020 hasn’t been a typical year. And the result has led to a significant dip for studio spending on theatrical movie ads, while streaming services have seemingly picked up the slack.

Amid COVID-19 concerns, movies came to a halt in Q2 2020. As a result, theatrical movies have $549 million in national TV ad spend through September 30 — that’s still 15th in spend among all industries, but 34th in terms of impressions. Meanwhile, streaming has surged, ranking ninth by impressions and fifth by media value (spend) since January 1, at $958 million.

Compare that to last year, when movies spent $1.64 billion through the first three quarters, while streaming’s media value was $418 million. Streaming made up about .071% of impressions during the first three quarters of 2019 — exactly what movies measure at through three quarters this year.

The pandemic is one part of this, clearly, but there are other factors as well: Investment in streaming really took off in Q4 of 2019, with $551 million in media value that quarter. That was more than half of the entire year ($971 million), and also a number streaming is now set to eclipse in October alone. 

Since the start of Q4 last year, streaming services like Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock, Quibi and more have all been introduced. And with most of those services tied to the same studios downshifting movie release ad spend this year, the savings are being transferred to spots around these VOD platforms instead.

Interestingly, theatrical movies have put more emphasis on local, time shifted (VOD) and streaming. Last year, live linear impressions made up 85% of reach, but that number’s fallen to 79.3% in 2020.

The charts below show the point where theatrical releases and streaming switched places. Up top is a look at theatrical movie ad impressions from the start of 2019 through the end of Q3 2020. The second chart shows the same range for streaming services instead.

Amazon Prime Video has led the way in terms of impressions since the start of 2019, though Hulu and Disney+ (both owned by Disney) have surged as well — with over 80% of Disney+ impressions coming in 2020. Both Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ are among the top 20 brands on TV this year in terms of media value (spend).

Back to top