The World Turned Upside Down: Hamilton, Disney+ and the Great Democratization of Musical Theater


Jeffrey Silverman, PhD
Director, Data Science & Analytics
Jul 29, 2020

Hamilton has been a runaway hit for years, but its arrival on Disney+ since the 4th of July weekend has given the musical new momentum, especially as it reaches a new audience that hasn't seen the stage production. While there’s been plenty of buzz around the Disney+ release of Hamilton, its popularity caused us here at Samba TV to wonder: What has the streaming availability of this adored musical done for its exposure in the mainstream? 

As it turns out, the effect is greater than most people imagined. According to a detailed Samba TV analysis, more people in the U.S. watched the streaming version of Hamilton during its first two days on Disney+ than have seen the Broadway production (almost 2,000 performances) since it debuted five years ago. Our analysis also found that more people likely watched Hamilton on Disney+ through the first couple weeks than have seen it live on stage, across all of its U.S. productions, both Broadway and touring. 

Here’s how we performed our exclusive analysis.

U.S. Households Watching Hamilton on Disney+

First, to get the total number of households that watched Hamilton on Disney+, we looked at the number of new households (i.e., households that hadn’t watched it before) that viewed it each day after its release on the platform. As you can see, early viewing was strong: 

Using the above chart, we added all the previous days to give us a cumulative reach, or a running total of how many unique households watched it from premiere through July 14:

The right-most bar demonstrates how many unique households have watched Hamilton on Disney+ from July 3 through July 14—an astounding 2.86 million in just 12 days. This figure represents only viewership on a TV, rather than a tablet, laptop or phone, so this figure remains conservative at best. 

People Watching Hamilton on Stage

In determining Hamilton’s reach on stage in the U.S., we turned to a number of resources. In New York, Broadway World states that just over 2.6 million people have seen Hamilton on Broadway since it opened in the summer of 2015. These numbers go through early March 2020, when theaters closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, in Chicago, the Hollywood Reporter and ABC News report that another 2.6 million saw Hamilton on stage during its three-year run in that city.  

Then, of course, there’s the rest of the country. According to Wikipedia, beginning in March 2017, there have been multiple U.S. tours running for about three years (until theaters closed in March 2020, that is). Assuming that the show schedule and theater sizes were similar to Chicago, another estimated 2.6 million people have seen Hamilton on stage in the U.S. via these various tours. While there have been multiple simultaneous companies touring, there are also fewer shows in their schedule due to travel between cities, meaning the various tour groups taken together represent about the equivalent of the singular Chicago presence. 

Taken together, we’re looking at about 7.8 million people who have seen Hamilton on stage in the U.S. This number represents a reasonable upper limit, as it would include people who have seen the live production multiple times as well as international theater-goers visiting the U.S., both of which would be difficult to remove from the estimate with any reasonable certainty. 

Translating Individuals to Households

Of course, because Samba TV viewership data is at the household level, while the above musical attendance is by person, we needed to do a conversion to compare apples to apples. Recent US Census data, as compiled here, show that there are around 2.54 people per household during the years that Hamilton has been on stage. Also, just because a household viewed Hamilton on Disney+, we cannot be sure that everyone in the home watched it, which adds some variance to this calculation. Therefore, we assumed anywhere from two to three people represent a household that watched Hamilton on Disney+, which results in the following:

  • For the 2.6 million people who saw Hamilton on Broadway in New York City, this equates to between 900,000 and 1.3 million U.S. households
  • For the 7.8 million people who saw Hamilton on stage anywhere in the U.S., this equates to between 2.6 million and 3.9 million U.S. households 

One thing is clear, the release of Hamilton on Disney+ has provided tremendous exposure to this relatively new piece of American culture, and at an affordable price. This immense reach in such a short period of time, particularly for a production that has been the subject of tremendous buzz ever since its Broadway debut five years ago, speaks highly of the power of streaming media to deliver important cultural and artistic movements to the masses. 

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