Net­flix’s ‘Bird Box’ suc­cess gets Hol­ly­wood cluck­ing

Cecil Whig - - ACCENT - By MICHAEL LIEDTKE AP Tech­nol­ogy Writer

— Net­flix said 45 mil­lion sub­scriber ac­counts world­wide watched the San­dra Bul­lock thriller “Bird Box” dur­ing its first seven days on the ser­vice, the big­gest first-week suc­cess of any movie made for the com­pany’s nearly 12-year-old streaming ser vice.

Net­flix, which typ­i­cally re­fuses to pro­vide view­er­ship num­bers, made the rare dis­clo­sure in a re­cent tweet as movie pro­duc­ers, writ­ers, ac­tors and in­vestors con­tinue to size up a com­pany that has al­ready re­shaped the way the world watches video.

The first-week au­di­ence means nearly one-third of Net­flix’s 137 mil­lion sub­scribers watched the movie from Dec. 21 through Dec. 27 — a hol­i­day-sea­son stretch when many peo­ple aren’t work­ing and have more free time. Had 45 mil­lion peo­ple ac­tu­ally gone to a theater in the U.S. to watch “Bird Box,” it would have trans­lated to about $400 mil­lion in box-of­fice rev­enue, based on av­er­age ticket prices.

But peo­ple


were watch­ing the movie on a ser­vice for which they al­ready had paid and had the luxur y of do­ing so with­out leav­ing their homes. That makes watch­ing “Bird Box” more com­pa­ra­ble to watch­ing a tele­vi­sion pro­gram, Wed­bush Se­cu­ri­ties an­a­lyst Michael Pachter said.

By that yard­stick, the view­er­ship for “Bird Box” is less im­pres­sive. For in­stance, the Su­per Bowl typ­i­cally


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6:35, 7:45, 9:45 at­tracts 100 mil­lion to 110 mil­lion view­ers in the U.S. alone. The an­nual tele­cast of the Academy Awards has drawn a U.S. au­di­ence of 26 mil­lion to 40 mil­lion in re­cent years. And those to­tals are for a single day, not a week.

Tele­vi­sion view­er­ship and the­atri­cal box-of­fice num­bers are typ­i­cally cal­cu­lated by third-party firms, un­like the “Bird Box” fig­ure

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re­leased by Net­flix. The Los Gatos, Cal­i­for­nia, com­pany has stead­fastly re­fused to di­vulge its view­er­ship be­cause it re­gards the data as a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage in de­cid­ing what pro­grams will at­tract sub­scribers. All Net­flix will say about its “Bird Box” num­ber is that it counted only ac­counts that watched at least 70 per­cent of the movie. Mul­ti­ple view­ers shar­ing a single ac­count are counted once.

Net­flix so far has made its big­gest splash with highly ac­claimed TV se­ries such as “House of Cards,” ‘’Stranger Things,” and “The Crown.” ‘’Bird Box” is the lat­est ex­am­ple of the com­pany’s re­solve to be­come a big­ger player in movies, too.

To pull it off, Net­flix is bor­row­ing bil­lions of dol­lars to pay for orig­i­nal movies and TV se­ries. But be­yond money, Net­flix needs to ap­pease direc­tors and ac­tors who want their work to also be seen in movie the­aters, both for their larger screens and for award con­sid­er­a­tion. That’s why Net­flix has been ar­rang­ing for films like “Bird Box,” ‘’Roma,” and “The Bal­lad of Buster Scruggs” to have lim­ited runs in the­aters first.

That’s a strat­egy that Ama­zon had

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5:45, 8:30 6:25 al­ready been fol­low­ing, en­abling its “Manch­ester By The Sea” to win Academy Awards for best ac­tor and orig­i­nal screen­play in 2017. An ESPN doc­u­men­tary, “O.J.: Made In Amer­ica,” also won an Os­car in 2017 af­ter ap­pear­ing in the­aters be­fore its de­but on the TV net­work.

By break­ing tra­di­tion and dis­clos­ing view­er­ship num­bers for “Bird Box,” Net­flix clev­erly cre­ated even more buzz, Pachter said. “They are masters at get­ting at­ten­tion and they knew re­veal­ing the num­bers would get the me­dia to write about it,” he said.

That, in turn, gets the at­ten­tion of movie pro­duc­ers and direc­tors, as well as lur­ing back in­vestors who had sold off Net­flix in re­cent weeks as part of a broader sell-off of tech stocks. The com­pany’s stock closed Wed­nes­day un­changed at $267.66, but has dropped 37 per­cent from its peak in June — a slump that has wiped out nearly $70 bil­lion in share­holder wealth.

Net­flix quickly found it­self grap­pling with an­other prob­lem Wed­nes­day as it ac­knowl­edged cen­sor­ing an episode from its “Pa­triot Act” se­ries in Saudi Ara­bia to com­ply with laws in that coun­try.

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This file im­age re­leased by Net­flix shows San­dra Bul­lock in a scene from the film, “Bird Box.” Net­flix lifted the usu­ally tightly sealed lid on its view­er­ship num­bers in a re­cent tweet that dis­closed 45 mil­lion sub­scriber ac­counts had watched the thriller, “Bird Box,” dur­ing its first seven days on the ser­vice. That made the film the big­gest first-week suc­cess of any movie made so far for Net­flix’s 12-year-old streaming ser­vice.

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