Where the hits are streaming — historical view

How many box office winners from the last few years are available for legal online viewing?

Last week, I looked at how many 2010 box office winners were available for legal streaming in the United States. The news was bad for Netflix as it had less than 10 percent of the available titles.

As a reminder, this is what the 2010 aggregate data looked like:

Netflix Amazon iTunes Vudu DVD
Top 10 1 7 7 7 8
Top 25 2 14 14 14 17
top 50 4 25 25 25 34
Top 100 9 48 46 46 74

But one question that was left unanswered was whether there was a bias in the data selection as it presented data that was specific to a single year. So in order to assess the strength of the different services, I decided to look at the data for the 5 previous years, hoping to discern a pattern. However, because it’s a lot of data to crunch, I decided to limit my research to top 10 over that time (in data point, this means a universe of 60 titles or 240 data points.).

2009

So let’s start with the  2009 data:

Rank Title Netflix Amazon iTunes Vudu
1 Avatar No No No No
2 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen No No No No
3 Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince No Yes No No
4 The Twilight Saga: New Moon No Purchase only Purchase only Purchase only
5 Up Yes No Purchase only No
6 The Hangover No No No No
7 Star Trek Yes Purchase only Purchase only Purchase only
8 The Blind Side No No No No
9 Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel No No No No
10 Sherlock Holmes No No No No
TOTAL 2/10 rental: 1/10
purchase: 3/10
rental: 0/10
purchase: 3/10
rental: 0/10
purchase: 2/10

And here, something interesting happening. Not only did Netflix not fare that much better but all of the other rental services fared much much worth.

I was now very intrigued. Was 2009 an unusual year or was there a pattern here? Were older title getting less available as time went on?

In order to answer those question, I decided to pull a lot more data, going all the way back to 2005 so I could have 5 year’s worth of data to look at.

2008

Rank Title Netflix Amazon iTunes Vudu
1 The Dark Knight N Y Y Y
2 Iron Man N Purchase only Purchase only Purchase only
3 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom
of the Crystal Skulls
N N Purchase only N
4 Hancock N Purchase only Purchase only Purchase only
5 WALL-E N N Purchase only Purchase only
6 Kung-Fu Panda N N N N
7 Twilight N Purchase only Purchase only Purchase only
8 Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa N N N N
9 Quantum of Solace N N Purchase only N
10 Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! N Purchase only Purchase only Purchase only
TOTAL 0/10 Rent: 1/10
Purchase: 5/10
Rent: 1/10
Purchase: 8/10
Rent: 1/10
Purchase: 6/10

2008 seems to be marked by a departure from the concept of renting movies online, with only 1 title (the Dark Knight) being available across all the services. Netflix does not even have access to that one, ending the year with no box office topper in its offering. Apple has a clear advantage over its competitors in the selling of titles.

2007

Rank Title Netflix Amazon iTunes Vudu
1 Spiderman 3 N Purchase only Purchase only Purchase only
2 Shrek the third N N N N
3 Transformers N N N Rental only
4 Pirates of the Caribbean:
At World’s End
N N Purchase only Y
5 Harry Potter and the
Order of the Phoenix
N Y Y Y
6 I Am Legend N Y Y Y
7 The Bourne Ultimatum N Y Y N
8 National Treasure:
Book of Secrets
N Rental only Purchase only Y
9 Alvin and the Chipmunks N Purchase only N Purchase only
10 300 N Purchase only Y Y
TOTAL 0/10 Rent: 4/10
Purchase: 6/10
Rent: 4/10
Purchase: 7/10
Rent: 6/10
Purchase: 7/10

The amount of titles available for rent on non-Netflix services increases a little for the 2007 catalog (Netflix continues to be a non starter) and the number of titles for sales seems to be pretty consistent across all services.

2006

Rank Title Netflix Amazon iTunes Vudu
1 Pirates of the Caribbean:
Dead Man’s Chest
N Rental only Purchase only Y
2 Night at the Museum N Y Y Y
3 Cars N N Purchase only Purchase only
4 X-Men: The Last Stand N Y Y Y
5 The Da Vinci Code N Purchase only N Purchase only
6 Superman Returns N Y Y Y
7 Happy Feet N Y Y Y
8 Ice Age: The Meltdown N Y Y Y
9 Casino Royale N N Purchase only N
10 The Pursuit of Happyness N Purchase only Purchase only Purchase only
TOTAL 0/10 Rent: 6/10
Purchase: 7/10
Rent: 5/10
Purchase: 9/10
Rent: 6/10
Purchase: 9/10

iTunes and Vudu have back-catalogs that allow for 90 percent coverage when it comes to purchasing the titles. Amazon brings up the rear with a respectable 7 titles. What’s interesting here is that there seems to be a clear divide between sales and rental availability.

2005

Rank Title Netflix Amazon iTunes Vudu
1 Star Wars: Episode III -
Revenge of the Sith
N N N N
2 The Chronicles of Narnia:
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
N Rental only Purchase only Y
3 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire N Y Y Y
4 War of the Worlds N N N N
5 King Kong N Purchase only N Y
6 Wedding Crashers N Y Y Y
7 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory N Y Y Y
8 Batman Begins N N Purchase only N
9 Madagascar N N N N
10 Mr. & Mrs. Smith N Y Y Y
TOTAL 0/10 Rent: 5/10
Purchase: 5/10
Rent: 4/10
Purchase: 6/10
Rent: 6/10
Purchase: 6/10

2005 appears to be another equalizing year for non-netflix VOD services. However, it doesn’t mean that they are great, in that only 6 out of 10 titles are actually available.

Conclusion

With all that data in place, we can get a clearer picture of what’s available:

Title Netflix Amazon iTunes Vudu
2010 1/10 Rent: 8/10
Purchase: 6/10
Rent: 7/10
Purchase: 8/10
Rent: 7/10
Purchase: 8/10
2009 2/10 rental: 1/10
purchase: 3/10
rental: 0/10
purchase: 3/10
rental: 0/10
purchase: 2/10
2008 0/10 Rent: 1/10
Purchase: 5/10
Rent: 1/10
Purchase: 8/10
Rent: 1/10
Purchase: 6/10
2007 0/10 Rent: 4/10
Purchase: 6/10
Rent: 4/10
Purchase: 7/10
Rent: 6/10
Purchase: 7/10
2006 0/10 Rent: 6/10
Purchase: 7/10
Rent: 5/10
Purchase: 9/10
Rent: 6/10
Purchase: 9/10
2005 0/10 Rent: 5/10
Purchase: 5/10
Rent: 4/10
Purchase: 6/10
Rent: 6/10
Purchase: 6/10
Total for rent 2005-2010 3 25 21 26
Total for sale 2005-2010 N/A 32 41 38
Percentage for rent 2005-2010 5% 41.67% 35% 43.33%
Percentage for sale 2005-2010 N/A 53.33% 68.33% 63.33%

As far as Netflix is concerned, the trend doesn’t get better as you head back in time. In fact, the data suggests that their streaming catalog gets worse as time goes on. While it is true that the company has only recently started getting into the streaming business, they will need to do a lot of work in order to catch up to their competitors. The fact that their business model is radically different (Netflix takes a membership/all-you-can-eat approach while its competitors allow for a-la-carte purchases, more in line with traditional TV-based video on demand services) may also make life more difficult for them.

On the bright side, it appears that 2009 was a strange year as far as the other services are concerned and there are more titles available for rent as you go back in time, with the possible exception of the Apple iTunes store, which tends to favor selling over renting. All the players will need to do more work, however, if they want to broaden their appeal as none of them could deliver half of the available box office winners over a 6 year period.

Another interesting trend is the relative consistency in terms of availability: Amazon, Apple, and Vudu all appear to have access to the same times and, for the most part, they also all seemed to be denied access to the same titles. I’m not sure whether this points to fairness in the market or some kind of manipulation in the movie industry but it’s an interesting phenomenon worth noting.

All and all, if video on demand is to serve as a core component of the cord-cutting phenomenon (the idea that people are abandoning cable TV for online streams only), there is still much work that needs to be done.

About the Author

Tristan Louis

Writing and working on the internet since 1993, I've launched 6 companies, of which 2 (internet.com and Earthweb) went public and two were sold (Net Quotient and MoveableMedia). My latest, Keepskor provides tools allowing anyone to develop mobile and connected TV games without writing a line of code. This is my personal site and all opinions here are mine.

  • Daniel

    I am very appalled by the distributors’ wording of rent vs. sell. If they were only the slightest bit honest, the choices given to the user would be “Rent” and “Rent for a little longer”. I’m gleefully awaiting the first of these services to go belly-up, and people starting to realise how far their definition of “owning” actually went when they discover that the 100s of dollars they spent on flicks they thought to have bought simply disappear into thin air.

    • http://www.tnl.net Tristan Louis

      It is an interesting question but I suspect that the players going away is equivalent in terms of risk to a technology becoming outdated (eg. videotapes vs. DVDs).

      • Daniel

        It might, but if the business world is anything, it’s uncertain. It doesn’t need a complete bankruptcy, maybe just a hostile takeover or a merger (like when Walmart acquired Vudu and removed the adult section), or simply a drop in sales. It has happened in other digital distribution industries, and I have little doubt that it will happen for streaming movies.

        Some years ago, the Yahoo! Music store and the MSN Music store closed down, including their DRM activation servers. I am certain many of the people who spent a lot of money on buying music there were not aware that their files would only be playable for as long as Yahoo! or Microsoft wished them to be. When the stores closed down, many people lost pretty expensive digital music collections, which they probably wouldn’t have bought (or at that price) if they knew how soon they would all disappear. A similar thing happened last year in the Casual games download market, when Reflexive Arcade closed down and, with 30 days advance notice as per their license, people were no longer able to activate any games they once purchased from the store.

        As much as I feel sorry for all the people affected, I really think that these things happening sooner rather than later is a good thing in the long run. People need to be better informed about what it is exactly they are getting when they are purchasing digital goods.

        • http://www.tnl.net Tristan Louis

          Good point.