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Disney+, HBO Max and other streamers get waves of subscribers from must-see content, but keeping them is hard

Streaming-video services get a surge of subscribers when they launch a hotly anticipated show or movie. But many of these new customers unsubscribe within a few months, according to new data, a challenge even for the industry’s deep-pocketed giants.

The data, which subscriber-measurement company Antenna provided to The Wall Street Journal, illustrate the extent to which the streaming wars require all players to consistently churn out popular and often expensive programming to keep fickle subscribers satisfied.

“You constantly need new content,” said Michael Nathanson, an analyst for MoffettNathanson. Streaming services not only have to build vast libraries of old shows and movies, he said, they also “need a couple big, nice theatrical movies every quarter to make it feel like it’s really valuable.”

Major releases have been a reliable driver of streaming subscriptions, particularly for newer services. Walt Disney Co. ’s Disney+, for instance, won far more new U.S. subscribers when the musical “Hamilton” came out than any other day since early 2020, when the service was still getting off the ground.

AT&T Inc.’s HBO Max saw a jump in U.S. sign-ups when “Wonder Woman 1984” was released on Christmas Day 2020, according to Antenna data.

So did Apple Inc.’s Apple TV+ on the day “Greyhound,” a World War II movie starring Tom Hanks, came out in July 2020.

Many of them don’t stick around very long. Roughly half of U.S. viewers who signed up within three days of the release of “Hamilton,” “Wonder Woman 1984” and “Greyhound” were gone within six months, Antenna data show.

Disney, Apple and AT&T’s WarnerMedia, the parent of HBO Max, declined to comment.

Even if streaming services only retain half of the users they sign up during big bursts, that still translates into sizable numbers of longer-term subscribers.

All streaming services see a portion of U.S. customers unsubscribe every month and have been signing up more users than they lose over time. But viewers who join a service right after a big release tend to leave significantly faster than the average streaming customer, according to an analysis of Antenna data. Fox Business

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