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Is Zack Snyder’s ‘Justice League’ A Hit For HBO Max? Well, It’s Complicated…

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The only “win” that matters for Zack Snyder’s Justice League is that it exists.

Bloomberg is reporting that HBO Max had the biggest jump in video streaming last week, mostly thanks to the debut of Zack Snyder’s much-discussed four-hour cut of Justice League. The AT&T streaming platform recording an 8.9% jump in folks launching the mobile app. As always, that’s not necessarily “new subscribers” as plenty of folks who already had access to the Warner Media service due to existing HBO subscriptions or AT&T wireless service have/had yet to activate it. Moreover, we can make the same statement about the 1.48 million “new” downloads of the HBO Max mobile app, a jump of 64% from the prior week.

Moreover, we now have word from SambaTV that the film nabbed around 2.2 million viewers in the first full week, which at $9.37 a pop would be around $20.7 million opening week gross. Wonder Woman 1984 earned around three million viewers (equal to around $28.1 million in theaters) in its first full week back in December. Now SambaTV only measures SmartTV viewership with specific opted-in “automatic content recognition.” Still, we’re not talking tens of millions (or hundreds-of-millions) of viewers. Again, for all the talk about streaming being the future, we’re often dealing with viewership (especially outside of Netflix) that would be miserable for almost any other distribution method.

However, all things being relative, is that good or bad? Like almost everything in the streaming era, it’s complicated. However, bending over backward to be fair, let’s presume that all 1.48 million new downloads were also new paying subscribers. At $14.99 a pop, that’s a monthly haul of around $22.2 million for a film that cost AT&T an extra $70 million to complete. Will all of these newbies keep their subscriptions over the next 12 months? That’s certainly what everyone hopes as WB releases geek-friendly movies like Godzilla Vs. Kong, Mortal Kombat, Space Jam: A New Legacy, The Suicide Squad, Dune and The Matrix 4 between now and Christmas.

If so, then best-case-scenario is that Zack Snyder’s Justice League brings or contributes to around $266 million in annual revenue. Now there are a bazillion caveats to all of this. First, folks can download and sign up for HBO Max via mobile devices, computers and HDTVs. Moreover, we cannot presume that every single newbie would otherwise have not signed up for HBO Max if not for Justice League. Maybe they wanted to binge The Not-Too-Late Show With Elmo. Nor can we guarantee that everyone that showed up will stick around.

Granted, it’s presumably a very small angry minority, but the folks now harassing AT&T and Warner Bros. over not “restoring the SnyderVerse” (IE – releasing a director’s cut of David Ayer’s Suicide Squad and green-lighting two more Snyder-helmed or at least Snyder-inspired Justice League movies) and threatening to cancel subscriptions and boycott Warner Bros. content are not helping their cause nor the overall reputation of the fanbase. They represent an “If you give a mouse a cookie…” lesson in negotiating with a very complicated (and arguably entitled) fan base.

While it was shorter and more mainstream, Patty Jenkins’ Gal Gadot/Chris Pine superhero sequel was also concurrently available in theaters. Justice League also nabbed, so says Samba TV, a lot less post-debut views, around 400,000 versus 800,000. I’m less concerned with the much larger jump in subscriptions for the Christmas release, as I imagine there was plenty of demographic overlap for the DC Films flicks.

Moreover, once you’ve got someone to sign up for Wonder Woman 1984, they aren’t a new subscriber for Godzilla Vs. Kong or Justice League. That’s also why I was less concerned about “less new Disney+ subscribers for Mulan than for Hamilton.” At some point, retention is as important than recruitment, which is why Warner Bros. didn’t just pick a few theatrical movies to throw in theaters and on HBO Max.

And yes, that AT&T made the call in December of last year to throw every 2011 theatrical release onto the streaming platform automatically made the SnyderCut of Justice League much less of an event. Plenty of folks who might have subscribed just for the SnyderCut instead did so for Wonder Woman 1984, Mortal Kombat, The Suicide Squad and/or Godzilla Vs. Kong. It went from the main HBO Max event of early 2021 to an also-ran. It went from a god among insects to a god among other gods.

This was always less about massive viewership than months of free media attention for the Warner streaming platform. The Snyder fandom was always a vocal and passionate minority, but online passion for the likes of Dredd, Kick Ass and Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World didn’t translate to box office earnings. Sometimes the fans get a win, as we saw with CBS granting a second season to Jericho or NBC renewing Timeless. However, more often than not, mistaking online discourse social media trends for general audience interest or consensus is exactly the lesson Disney (hopefully) learned with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

Unless you’re someone who just can’t live without a director’s cut of Suicide Squad or a Zack Snyder-directed (or at least supervised) Justice League 2 and 3, the very existence of Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the victory. It exists, it’s pretty good and both audiences and critics seem to be enjoying it. Moreover, its clear improvements over the theatrical cut in terms of visual polish, action set pieces and expanded screen time for Ray Fisher’s Cyborg offers a certain lesson in how not to react to a disappointing franchise film. It’s an arguable “told you so” moment for the fans, who really ought to take the well-earned win. Still, it’s another example of how the so-called streaming revolution still lags behind old-school distribution.



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