‘Friends’ delivers download bump for HBO Max as ‘Cruella, Quiet Place’ face big post-COVID test

HBO Max (T) downloads surged ahead of the much-anticipated “Friends” reunion episode, as Hollywood banks on moviegoers leaving their couches to check out two summer tentpoles.

According to exclusive data from mobile intelligence platform App Annie, the fledgling streaming service saw a boost in U.S. downloads on Thursday, the day of the special’s debut — up 30% from Wednesday’s levels.

The boost helped the app snag a #6 ranking among non-gaming apps by downloads across both iOS and Google Play — up 10 ranks from the day prior, App Annie said.

In addition, HBO Max climbed in the hourly rankings on iPhone downloads. As of 4AM ET Friday morning, the app was #1 among entertainment apps and #2 among all apps overall.

The positive data could help Warner Bros. justify the reunion’s ultra-high price tag, which debuted to mixed reviews and revived a debate about the show’s lack of diversity.

According to The Wall Street Journal, cast members Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry, and Matt LeBlanc were initially offered $1 million per person, but declined in hopes of a better deal. Warner Bros. soon countered with each individual reportedly paid between $2.2 million and $2.5 million for the special.

Meanwhile, HBO Max — which will likely be the focus of WarnerMedia and Discovery’s streaming ambitions once the deal closes — has been gaining traction in the streaming wars, just one year after the service first hit the market in May 2020.

According to a new note from UBS, citing Sensor Tower data, the platform had the most positive momentum in April — gaining a 19.3% share in U.S. app downloads, up from 12.9% in March.

The platform was one of the top streaming apps by consumer spend in the first quarter of 2021, trailing behind YouTube (GOOGL), Disney+ (DIS) and Amazon’s Twitch (AMZN), according to App Annie.

Amid the focus on streaming, Hollywood is testing the post-COVID waters with a slate of new theatrical releases. Cash-strapped theaters are banking on Disney’s “Cruella” and Paramount’s “A Quiet Place II” (VIAC) to deliver strong box office results.

With 71% of theaters open around the U.S., according to Comscore, the two releases will be a major test of consumers’ willingness to return to the movies after lockdowns first shuttered them nationwide.

“You have to remember that the theatrical release creates a lot of magic around the property,” IMAX (IMAX) CEO Richard Gelfond told Yahoo Finance in a recent interview.

“When you look at what the theaters are holding this year — ‘Bond’, ‘Top Gun,’ ‘Black Widow,’ — it’s those franchise kind of movies. I think they will open theatrically, build buzz and then will go to streaming,” Gelfond added.

“Cruella” will simultaneously be available on Disney+ as a premium VOD offering with a $30 rental fee, but “A Quiet Place II” will exclusively play out in theaters before landing on Paramount+ after 45 days — a new, shortened theatrical window that many experts say is likely to stick.

Industry analysts expect “A Quiet Place II” to collect $30 million over the weekend and $36 million through the Memorial Day holiday — a pandemic-era high-water mark to be sure, but a far cry from the typical summer blockbuster numbers seen before COVID-19.

The suspense-horror sequel “is the perfect movie to usher in this new era of moviegoing,” Comscore Sr. Media Analyst Paul Dergarabedian said in a note to Yahoo Finance.

“Horror movies always play best in the communal environment of the movie theater and with no home video option until further down the road and a theatrical-only start, the film will enjoy an automatic boost in interest and prestige — and not to mention exclusivity,” he continued.

Media executives feel confident that the return to the theater is something Americans will embrace as coronavirus restrictions continue to ease, and the vaccine rollout coincides with a steep drop in COVID-19 cases.

Still, hesitancy surrounding the safety of indoor theaters still exists, despite increased vaccinations.

According to a new Morning Consult poll, which surveyed roughly 2,200 U.S. adults, only 33% said they would feel OK going back to theaters in the next month. The outlook is a bit more optimistic post-summer, with growing numbers feeling more confident in returning to cinemas.

“The summer starts now, but it may continue through to New Year’s and I’m only half kidding,” Dergarabedian said. “This is a most unusual year, and the summer season will be no different.”


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