‘King Richard’: How HBO Max Viewers Tuned Into Will Smith Tennis Drama

While Samba TV reported today that 707K U.S. households watched the Will Smith drama King Richard over the weekend, an even more interesting detail was how HBO Max subscribers tuned in: The OTT service tells us that a majority of subs watched the biopic about Serena and Venus Williams’ coach father from start-to-finish without pausing. Translation, King Richard had a view completion rate of 100%.

That’s intriguing for a film that has a 2 hour and 24 minute running-time. While movies with lengthy running-times might be keeping older audiences away at the pandemic box office, for HBO Max, subscribers were fully engaged.

“There are a lot of reasons in an on-demand world you’d have interruptions, and that clearly didn’t happen with this movie,” HBO Max Head Andy Forssell tells Deadline about the viewing habits with King Richard.

“There’s a strong output here with this movie that’s distinctive versus other day-and-date event titles, which are effects driven,” adds Forssell.

Typically, view rates have been measured by streamers over a small set of minutes, i.e. Samba TV clocks weekend viewership in 3M U.S. households over a five-minute increment. Their pool doesn’t includes mobile phones, tablet or computer viewership.

Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Smith, and written by Zach Baylin, King Richard has promptly thrusted Smith into the Best Actor conversation this awards season. Not only did the movie receive 92% certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, but it also racked up an A CinemaScore from theatrical audiences and an A+ from both the under 25 and under 18 ticket buyers. Rotten Tomatoes audience meter gave King Richard a near perfect score of 99%, while Comscore exits had moviegoers grading the film with 95% positive and an 84% recommend.

“That strong word of mouth is jet fuel, and it’s multiplied by people talking about the movie,” observes Forssell who expects the film to be watched in abundance by families on HBO Max throughout Thanksgiving week.

Despite opening to $5.4M as WarnerMedia winds down its 2021 theatrical-day-and-date HBO Max pandemic release strategy, note that all adult-driven awards season contending titles have been challenged at the box office. Similar to last year, their Oscar fates won’t be determined by low turnouts at the cinema. Remember how those poor headlines about the box office for 2015’s Steve Jobs slowed its awards season prospects? That’s not happening again this year, especially as streamers crowd the race with movies they’re not even reporting box office on. WarnerMedia has a well reviewed, well-received sports drama that they’re delivering straight into the homes of awards voters with HBO Max.

Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield in 'Judas and the Black Messiah'

Warner Bros.’ Judas and the Black Messiah, at a time when New York and LA theaters were closed this year, was watched by 653K during its first weekend on HBO Max per Samba TV (less than King Richard) and opened to $2M and ended its domestic run at $5.4M. The movie would go on to be nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, and won two for Best Original Song “Fight for You” and Best Supporting Actor Daniel Kaluuya. That pic also received an A CinemaScore.

In SambaTV’s measure of HBO Max day-and-date theatrical movies’ first weekend on the service, King Richard’s weekend is also ahead of such adult skewing titles as In the Heights (693K U.S. households) and Cry Macho (693K). Recently, 1M U.S. households watched Sopranos prequel Many Saints of Newark in its first weekend on the service. HBO Max did not make viewership figures available today on King Richard.

Similar to those who watched King Richard in theaters, which were 59% females, Samba TV reports that the Smith movie also skewed toward women (+7%) and African Americans (+54%). Comscore’s PostTrak reports that 40% of African Americans turned up for King Richard at theaters, ahead of Caucasians (36%), Latino and Hispanic (15%) and Asian/other (9%). Of the top 25 largest markets for King Richard on HBO Max, Samba TV says it was San Francisco (+73%), Detroit, MI (+56%) and Chicago, IL (+47%). The movie’s top ten grossing theatrical markets were 1. Los Angeles, 2. New York, 3. Atlanta, 4. Dallas, 5. Chicago, 6.Washington DC, 7. San Francisco, 8. Philadelphia, 9. Phoenix, and 10. Houston.

Warner Bros. Motion Picture Group Chairman and Chief Content Officer Toby Emmerich exclaimed, “Rei Green has directed a beautifully told, honest and heartfelt story of the Williams sisters’ early path to becoming the legends we all know today. Will Smith delivers a raw and real performance as both the loving father and driven champion-maker, Richard Williams.  We are really pleased with the initial results for the film and trust this is the first set of a long match that we’ll watch play out over the holiday season and beyond.”

Lupita Nyong’o’s high praise for King Richard:

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