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Hanks Versus Samberg: Who Won The Streaming Weekend?

At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Andy Samberg’s time-loop comedy, Palm Springs, took Park City by storm, wowing critics and studio heads alike, making it the most talked about debut as well as the one that sold for the highest bid: $17,000,000.69

Big plans were afoot for its theatrical film release later in the year.

And nothing felt more like a sure thing for traditional movie lovers than Tom Hanks’ turn as the Commander of the naval destroyer Greyhound, of the similarly titled movie, a film poised to take advantage of Hanks’ WW II acting and producing bona-fides, and his status as everyone’s favorite All-American movie-star patriot.

Then Covid-19 hit.

Suddenly, two of the summer’s most promising cinematic treats looked to be postponed indefinitely, destined to be next year’s left-overs versus this year’s movie feasts.

Instead, each found new life on their respective streaming services. Palm Springs debuted on Hulu this past Friday; Greyhound premiered on the Apple AAPL TV Plus platform the same day.

For the first time since the virus struck, we had a good, old-fashioned square-off between two high profile movie titles…except this time, it was a competition that took place at home, instead of at your local cineplex.

It’s a good thing for both films that they side-stepped another movie that had its eyes on a theatrical release, but premiered on streaming instead: Hamilton. 

Letting Hamilton have its own spectacular 4th of July weekend to itself wasn’t only a smart move by both Hulu and Apple TV Plus, but it seemed to also show artistic and historic respect for the seismic appearance of such a significant musical-turned-film, on America’s birthday.

But when it comes to how Palm Springs and Greyhound fared against each other, it’s pretty plain to see that both films can claim bragging rights.

Hulu and Apple TV Plus had all but been forgotten in the face of various streaming stories the past several months.

Disney Plus launched on November 12, 2019 with great fanfare and an amazing show, The Mandalorian, only days after Apple TV Plus’s lackluster launch, November 1st, 2019.

Quibi, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman’s dubious short-form streaming entry, came out on April 6th, 2020 and its future has been debated ever since.

HBO Max came to life on May 27th, with its biggest attendant story being whether or not it would keep Gone With The Wind on the platform (they chose to keep it, after adding some strongly-worded cultural disclaimers.)

Meanwhile, several critical pieces about Peacock have been written, here and elsewhere, in anticipation of its July 17th debut. 

Netflix NFLX and Amazon AMZN , comfortably established and still far and away at the top of the streaming mountain, have remained competitive with their new and returning shows, but have largely ceded the media stories to the upstart launches, seeming to understand that their perch is far from being challenged on a meaningful basis, any time soon.

But where does all of this leave Hulu and Apple TV Plus?

Hulu has been able to afford to quietly regroup, as it’s owned by parent company Disney, and it makes sense that Disney has put much more promotion and care behind its new streaming service, Disney Plus, as opposed to its more mature and firmly established acquisition, Hulu.

Along with that, Hulu is being reinvented and re-imagined, largely by being the repository of a robust library of FX titles that Disney has migrated over to the Hulu platform.

That said, executives at Hulu must be delighted that the service regained viewership and stature with Palm Springs, one of the year’s most warmly reviewed titles and one that reaffirms Hulu’s identity as the more “adult” streamer, of the two Disney-owned platforms.

The more desperately needed boost comes to Apple TV Plus, a streamer that has virtually been forgotten in the face of all of the other streaming news and debuts. 

While Greyhound didn’t create nearly the same amount of buzz and anticipation Hamilton or Palm Springs did, Greyhound’s premiere still made consumers alert to the fact that Apple TV Plus exists and remains in the game. 

As Hamilton says, “I’m not throwin’ away my shot!”

Will Apple TV Plus survive the streaming revolution? What about Quibi and HBO Max – – how will they fare in the coming duels? And who knows what’s in store for Peacock, with its suspicious tag-line, “Can’t Not Watch” (By the way, would Lin-Manuel Miranda ever tolerate a double-negative in one of his raps?)

We’ll see where the other streamers are a year from now, and whether the occasional high profile movie title will be enough to keep them relevant, or if they will have indeed, thrown away their shot.

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