Where the hits are streaming

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about how Netflix is in the process of moving from a DVD distribution company to primarily a streaming service. The question, though, is how close this future truly is.

In order to assess their progress, I decided to look at how many of the 2010 top box office earners were on the service. Figuring that we also needed a yardstick to compare Netflix offerings against, I took the top three online streaming services and got the data for each of them (generally speaking, rentals are around $3.99 to $4.99 and purchases seem to be around $14.99).

First, I pulled up the Box Office data and then put each title in the search engine for each of the services. I also looked up DVD availability from both Amazon and Netflix to ensure we had a yardstick we could measure against in terms of online vs. offline availability of titles. The assumption here was that some box office hit might not be available in either form due to the fact that they were recently released. I also made a decision to reject titles that are available on a pre-order basis as it is not yet possible to watch them. For future reference, all this data was pulled together the third week of January 2011.

2010: Box Office Winners availability

Once I did all this work I had a table for the  2010 box office numbers winners and it looked like this:

1Toy Story 3NoRental onlyYesYesYes
2Alice in WonderlandYesNoPurchase onlyPurchase onlyYes
3Iron Man 2NoYesYesYesYes
4The Twilight Saga: EclipseNoYesYesYesYes
6Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1NoNoNoNoNo
7Despicable MeNoYesYesYesYes
8Shrek Forever AfterNoYesYesYesYes
9How to Train Your DragonNoYesYesYesYes
11The Karate KidNoYesYesYesYes
12Clash of the TitansNoPurchase onlyNoYesYes
13Grown UpsNoYesYesYesYes
14Tron LegacyNoNoNoNoNo
16Little FockersNoNoNoNoNo
17The Last AirbenderNoYesYesYesYes
18True GritNoNoNoNoNo
19Shutter IslandYesPurchase onlyPurchase onlyPurchase onlyYes
20The Other GuysNoYesYesYesYes
22Jackass 3DNoNoNoNoNo
23Valentine’s DayNoNoNoNoYes
24Robin HoodNoYesYesYesYes
25The ExpendablesNoYesYesYesYes
26Due DateNoNoNoNoNo
27The Chronicle of Narnia:
Voyage of the Dawn Treader
28Date NightNoYesYesYesYes
29Sex and the City 2NoYesYesYesYes
30The Social NetworkNoYesPurchase onlyPurchase onlyYes
31The Book of EliNoNoNoNoYes
32The TownNoYesYesYesYes
33Prince of Persia:
The Sands of Time
35Percy Jackson & The Oplympians:
The Lightning Thief
36Paranormal Activity 2NoNoNoNoYes
37Yogi BearNoNoNoNoNo
38Eat Pray LoveNoYesYesYesYes
40Dear JohnYesPurchase onlyPurchase onlyPurchase onlyYes
41The A-teamNoYesYesYesYes
42Knight & DayNoYesYesYesYes
43Black SwanNoNoNoNoNo
44Dinner for SchmucksNoYesYesYesYes
45The FighterNoNoNoNoNo
46The Bounty HunterYesNoNoNoYes
47The TouristNoNoNoNoNo
48Diary of a Wimpy KidNoYesYesYesYes
49The Sorcerer’s ApprenticeNoRental onlyYesYesYes
50A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)NoYesYesYesYes
51The Last SongYesNoPurchase onlyPurchase onlyYes
52The WolfmanNoNoNoNoYes
53Get him to the GreekNoYesYesYesYes
54Resident Evil: AfterlifeNoPurchase onlyPurchase onlyPurchase onlyYes
55Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married TooNoYesYesYesYes
56Tooth FairyNoNoNoNoYes
58Easy ANoYesYesYesNo
60Legend of the Guardians:
The Owls of Ga’hoole
61Life as We Know ItNoYesNoNoNo
62Letters to JulietNoYesYesYesYes
63Wall Street: Money Never SleepsNoYesYesYesYes
65Hot Tub Time MachineNoNoPurchase onlyPurchase onlyYes
66Kick-AssNoPurchase onlyPurchase onlyNoYes
67The King’s SpeechNoNoNoNoNo
69Saw 3DNoYesNoNoYes
70Cop OutNoNoNoNoYes
71Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty GaloreNoYesYesYesYes
72Edge of DarknessNoNoNoNoYes
73Death at a FuneralYesPurchase onlyPurchase onlyPurchase onlyYes
74Step-Up 3DNoYesNoNoYes
75The Last ExorcismNoYesYesYesYes
76LegionYesPurchase onlyPurchase onlyPurchase onlyYes
77The CraziesYesNoNoNoYes
78Gulliver’s TravelsNoNoNoNoNo
80For Colored GirlsNoNoNoNoYes
81The Back-up PlanNoYesYesYesYes
82Vampires SuckNoYesYesYesYes
83The AmericanNoYesYesYesYes
84Green ZoneNoNoNoNoYes
88When in RomeYesNoPurchase onlyPurchase onlyYes
89Love and Other DrugsNoNoNoNoNo
90She’s Out of My LeagueNoNoNoNoYes
91Scott Pilgrim vs. the WorldNoYesYesYesYes
92Charlie St. CloudNoYesYesYesYes
93Morning GloryNoNoNoNoNo
94DaybreakersNoPurchase onlyPurchase onlyPurchase onlyYes
95How Do You KnowNoNoNoNoNo
96Nanny McPhee ReturnsNoYesYesYesYes
97The SwitchNoNoNoNoNo
98Brooklyn’s FinestYesNoPurchase onlyNoYes
100Ramona and BeezusNoYesYesYesYes

Aggregate Rental data

When you tally it up, the rental chart looks as follows:

Top 1017778
Top 25214141417
top 50425252534
Top 1001048464674

The first thing one notices here is that Netflix seems to have a long way to go before having any claim to strength in that particular arena. With only 9 percent of the top 100 2010 movies, Netflix seems to come on the short end of the stick when it comes to making streams of box office winners online. In a future post, I will examine whether this is because their strength is more in older titles than in recent ones but, as far as the data currently show, the subscription model offered by Netflix would probably have a hard time fighting with a premium cable TV movie channel.

The story gets more interesting when one starts looking at the Video on Demand data for services like Amazon on demand, iTunes, and Vudu. My selection of those particular services was largely due to the fact that they are available in systems that can connect to your television. For example Amazon is available on the Roku box, iTunes is available on AppleTV, and Vudu is available on the Boxee box.

What I consider to be the most striking finding in this is the relative consistency of offerings across the board. None of the VoD players seem to have any particular advantage over the other. All of them batted in the 45-50 percent range, as far as the 2010 hits are concerned. By comparison, just under 75 percent of the movies were available on DVD at the time I did this research, giving DVDs a 1/3rd advantage over VoD at this time. One can only hope that the trend will go to that gap closing over the next few years.

Sales Data

Another interesting point is the closing of the gap between DVD and Vod when it comes to availability of titles on an ownership basis:

Top 106888
Top 2515161718
top 5027293035

Here, the data seems to show increased availability of titles on an ownership basis as opposed to a rental one. The VoD services performed 10 percent better on availability, coming much closer to the number of titles offered over DVD.


While Netflix has been heralded as the leader in online streaming, the reality on the ground is much more complex. The Netflix model is predicated on an all you can eat model but if what you want to eat is a movie that was in the top 100 at the box office last year, viewers are left with only crumbs. The rental model offered by other internet based streaming companies is more in line with the traditional video on demand offerings available on cable television and the data seems to highlight that Hollywood is more comfortable with that model than it is with the Netflix one. This could present a strategic challenge for Netflix as it tries to negotiate more streaming contracts.

While DVD is still the king of the roost, the gap between DVD and online streams is slowly closing. The list I’ve created here can serve as a baseline against data next year to assess whether more titles will be made available. There also appears to be a preference in the film industry towards making titles available for sale instead of rent. I believe that this may be a short-sighted view as rental models can generate more income over the long run. It will be fascinating to see how all this develops.

Update: A more recent version of this post is now available.

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