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From Singing Trolls to ESPN’s Game of HORSE: New Data From This Weekend’s Two Big TV Events

Whether you are one of the millions of basketball fans forced into cold-turkey withdrawal from live-action sports because of the COVID-19 lockdown or one of the tens of millions of households entering the second month of quarantine with young children at home, this past weekend introduced two new trends designed to address today’s dramatically altered sports and entertainment landscape.,

On Friday, Universal Pictures released directly to digital the celebrity-packed sequel to Trolls which had previously been slotted for a theatrical release in April. The 2016 original film grossed more than $340 million at the box office. Universal was originally hoping the family-themed musical would open to similar numbers but shifted gears to an all-digital release this week.  According to Samba TV’s analysis of on-demand viewing over the weekend, the sequel premiered in more than one million homes from Friday to Sunday, more than doubling the entire first week’s viewership of the digital release of Sonic the Hedgehog which had its digital debut on March 31, following just six weeks in theatres. 

According to Variety, Universal claims Trolls World Tour is the No. 1 title across major on-demand video platforms. Variety also reports that Universal claimed that the “movie had the biggest opening day and weekend for a digital title, generating approximately 10 times more than the next-largest traditional premium home video release.”  

While it is still early to fully understand the financial impact of a digital-only release – even one with these numbers – it would certainly appear there is pent up demand for first-run features with millions of US households more than willing to shell out twice the average ticket price for on-demand fees.

Shifting from the big screen to the big court, ESPN took a shot at a new approach to “live” sports this weekend to regain audiences lost due to the global lockdown.  On Sunday ESPN featured a new basketball HORSE competition hyped as a shootout between a “slew of sharp-shooting NBA and WNBA stars, both current and retired, including Chris Paul, Trae Young, Tameka Catchings, Zach LaVine, Allie Quigley, Mike Conley Jr., Chauncey Billups, and Paul Pierce.”  While there were some who lamented the quality of the production, no one is doubting the massive unsatiated appetite that exists for live sports content of any kind. ESPN’s Sunday night round one HORSE competition was a major ratings winner capturing nearly 1 million households and driving up total viewership by more than 600% from the same time slot one week ago. 

As COVID-19 continues to impact our lives it is clear that every aspect of entertainment and marketing, from a singing troll to a game of HORSE, is seeking to reinvent itself to meet the moment.


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