Streaming viewership for David Chase’s “The Many Saints of Newark” is coming into focus, as is the massive bump it gave the series that inspired it, “The Sopranos,” according to WarnerMedia’s metrics.
While the film’s theatrical rollout last weekend earned $4.6 million at the domestic box office, its performance on HBO Max underscores an important advantage the WarnerMedia platform has against its competitors — the ability to resuscitate its deep bench of adult-skewing, culture-defining series.
An origin story behind a young Tony Soprano and his father figure Dickie Moltisanti, “Many Saints” finished last weekend as the top performing film title on HBO Max — netting more than triple the audience of the next most viewed title, the streamer said. The movie has also outperformed other comparable films in its budget range, including recent releases like Hugh Jackman’s “Reminiscence” and Clint Eastwood’s “Cry Macho” (both underperformers at the pandemic-stricken box office).
More interestingly, perhaps, is that the nearly 15-year-old “Sopranos” broke HBO Max records for weekly viewing of a series, and nabbed the highest daily viewership in service history last Sunday. The Emmy winning show, topped by the late James Gandolfini, rose 65% in week-over-week viewing as “Many Saints” became available to subscribers. As with all streamers, exact viewership was not available and cannot be independently verified.
“We knew there would be interplay, but we were surprised. ‘The Sopranos’ is such a popular series. It pops in and out of the Top 10 from time to time, and it’s not a juggernaut like ‘Friends’ in terms of breadth, but it does very well,” Andy Forssell, executive vice president and general manager of WarnerMedia Direct-to-Consumer, told Variety.
The executive added that “Many Saints,” produced by New Line Cinema, provided an opportunity “for people to be introduced to the series, or in many cases reintroducing it. It was absolutely the highest week for ‘Sopranos’ ever on the service. Im not shocked by that, but Im quite surprised that it topped that much that fast.”
While much of this year’s conversation about HBO Max has been in relation to WarnerMedia’s seismic decision to release all of the 2021 Warner Bros. Pictures film slate concurrently in theaters and on HBO Max, the release of “Many Saints” and boon for “The Sopranos” provides a case study in how the company can leverage its creative assets.
Read on for a Q&A with Forssell:
“The Many Saints of Newark” was greenlit before the day-and-date strategy for HBO Max came about. Did you know early on it would have this kind of dual effect?
I think independent of the day-to-day strategy, it’s kind of a no brainer for us to feel passionate about this. People want more “Sopranos” in whatever form that David feels there is a good story. We were super excited long before this, but it is a really good fit with day-and-date. All of the complexities of getting to the strategy that this year imposed, we want people to see this. Plenty saw it in theaters, a much larger amount saw it on the service and will continue to see it on the service. It’s a really good fit in this context.
Opening weekend ended with your announcement that David Chase has signed a new creative deal. What can we expect?
I’ve heard a few of the ideas but nothing we can talk about publicly other than that he’s earned the right to realize whatever ideas he has, and we’re excited to see him do that.
To touch on marketing, the campaign for this movie added the phrase “A Sopranos Story” to the title only a few weeks before the release. Was that intentional and did it affect performance?
There was an uptick from marketing because it was a really helpful and appropriate framing from [Warner Bros. worldwide marketing head] Josh Goldstine’s team. I have a large content marketing organization that is historically HBO, and they work closely with Josh. We drive a lot of what we call “growth science.” Like, how do you use the data to be really smart about how we’re fielding media? How we’re testing and doing loops there? That piece you saw was some great creativity from Josh and team that really paid off. Really simple framing.
“Many Saints” is very close to an original film while still being related to a big TV property. Obviously, you’re dealing with several iconic libraries. Is the larger strategy to exploit these?
It’s in the eye of the beholder. There’s a large audience that would agree that the HBO team has decades of muscle memory, doing what they do so well. It’s an interesting mix in that we have the HBO library and all that represents, and then we have the Warner Bros. TV library. We feel very lucky. It makes weeks like this very fun because there are so many diehard fans of “The Sopranos,” but that show is being discovered by high school and college kids right now. I’m not sure why. “Friends” swept middle schools a decade ago, and it’s interesting to see those things happen.
In terms of engagement, there’s also a built-in game for diehard “Sopranos” fans of identifying younger versions of their favorite characters in “Many Saints.”
That’s one fun thing about this. Obviously, to some extent, it’s an origin story for Tony and by the end of the film you understand a lot more about how he became who he became. But ultimately, it’s a fascinating character in Dickie Moltisanti. It’s so much fun to draw lines across the generations. That could’ve been done as caricatures, but David navigated that so well.
What does a movie like “Many Saints” mean for what HBO Max considers an original film?
In the traditional theatrical world, studios support movies and they either win or lose. In our world, there is some element of that, we want the title to be great and want it to perform. But it’s also part of our day-and-date slate this year. Our viewers have clearly voted that they come in for the slate, there are a couple of titles that attracted them, but the slate alone is a reason for them to stick around. At the end of the year that will start to wain, it’s not 17 or 18 films anymore, it’s just the tail. But we’ve seen that clearly and “Many Saints” fits into that as a great part of the mix. The slate has been invaluable for us in a big way, especially in a year when SVOD and all TV where new shows hitting any service were light because of the shadow of the COVID production shutdown. The film slate has value.
The other angle to look at it from is the interplay between a great film like this and a long-running series like “The Sopranos.” As users, we love those characters and those worlds. Sometimes, we sit down and sign up for two or three hours of a story well told. There are other times when what we want is a service to provide us many weeks or months of enjoyment watching something episodic. “Many Saints” was number one — by a long shot — as the biggest title on the service. That’s a great combination and its going to continue for weeks, so its going to have longer legs because of that interplay.
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