If you read my “Who Won the Month” articles over at Decider—here, here, here, here, here or here—you’re probably wondering where one of my favorite data tools has been. That’s right, I’m talking about Google Trends data. It’s not perfect but when it works, it works wonders. And this week we have just such a job.
The focus of these reports is “streaming”, but streaming ratings don’t occur in a vacuum. Even as cord cutting has accelerated, more folks subscribe to cable TV in America than don’t. Those who don’t usually still steal borrow their parents log-ins when needed. Meaning a big TV event on broadcast could still, potentially, impact streaming ratings.
Was there an event during the first week of February? For sure: the Super Bowl.
(As a reminder, since Nielsen’s ratings have a four week lag, the Nielsen data is from the week of February 1st to February 7th, which includes the Super Bowl on February 7th. At the end, I’m testing a new feature for the series/films premiering between then and now.)
The winner of the week of February 7th was Netflix’s season 1 of Firefly Lane, which sure seemed like a bit of counter-programming to the Super Bowl, at 21.8 million hours viewed in its opening week. It also premiered on a Wednesday, likely to help find an audience before the weekend.
Meanwhile, Disney’s WandaVision is gaining strength week-over-week, rising to a season high of 9.8 million hours viewed, up from 7.2 the week before. (Though Bridgerton still had more total viewership.) How does this compare to some other weekly-released genre series? Glad you asked. Here’s the ratings data per week, along with the “per episode” viewership:
I gave three data cuts, because I can’t decide if factoring in season one episodes or only season two is a better look for an approximation of “viewers per episode”. Either way, the ability for WandaVision to grow its audience and potentially pass The Boys in viewers per episodes is impressive.
Even more impressive? WandaVision is about half the length of The Boys and 3/4th of The Mandalorian. I’m dabbling with a “ratings” score for TV series, which factors in the number of episodes and their length. When it’s ready—tentatively April—you’ll see that analysis.
Will WandaVision’s ratings hold up through the season finale? Probably. Here’s the Google Trends look for the big shows of January:
Tons to unpack here. First, Cobra Kai had a buzzier peak, but you can see that Bridgerton passed it in staying power. This aligns with the Nielsen data, which is why I trust both these sources. Meanwhile, if the Google Trends hold, WandaVision will keep adding viewership just like Disney’s previous tentpole series, The Mandalorian.
At first, I was going to type, “Disney’s hit rate on TV seasons is now 3 for 3 which is incredible”, but that would be wrong. One of the themes of this report will be to look for “dogs that aren’t barking” to quoth Sherlock Holmes. In this case, we forget that Disney has indeed launched other series, even scripted ones like Muppet’s Now. The majority of these have been smaller reality series. The better way to describe it is that Disney has successfully launched every “tentpole” series to date. If The Falcon and Winter Soldier can continue that trend, that’s a tremendous competitive advantage for Disney: Once per quarter Disney+ has a new series that makes it must tune-in for millions of households.
Other Quick Notes on TV
– Kids TV has a bit of a “dogs not barking” situation too. Specifically, whereas Netflix can routinely put kids series into the originals or licensed top ten—Cocomelon, Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous—Disney hasn’t yet. Explanations could be: 1. Disney has many more kids series, so viewing is more dispersed. 2. Kids watching Disney tend to rewatch movies or 3. More kids watch Netflix overall. We’ll need more data to figure it out. (In the meantime, check out Emily Horgan, writing at What’s On Netflix, for deeper look at kids data on Netflix.)
– Blown Away stayed on the top ten originals list of this week, which surprised me. Still its on the downward trend cycle like most other originals.
– Fate: The Winx Saga had a big drop off into its third weekend. It would have dropped off the “combined top ten” list this week.
As I opined last week, The Dig and Finding ‘Ohana did well for Netflix, rising to the first and second spots in the film list. However, the numbers are a pinch misleading. If you look just at the above chart, you’d conclude that there wasn’t much decay week-over-week in the ratings. Au contraire, as I’ve written, “The decay is real.” In this case, if you factor in the number of days the film is available, you see the decline. (In other words, total viewing per day.)
Let’s make a call: were The Dig and Finding ‘Ohana hits? I don’t think so. Truly popular films don’t just top out on the film list, but earn a sport on the combined Nielsen Top Ten list. Neither of these films did that, in the weakest week of 2021 so far.
Other Quick Notes on Film
– Is it just me, or is it genuinely shocking that Malcolm & Marie didn’t make this list? Talk about a “dog not barking”! It’s by the creator of Euphoria, with the lead star of Euphoria. That is about the buzziest show in the world—it won an Emmy!—and their film didn’t crack the top ten on its opening weekend for Netflix.
(Update: After hitting publish, I updated these two sections. Previously, I put that Malcolm & Marie was in its second weekend, when it premiered the Friday before the Super Bowl. Also, the next bullet point was supposed about Denzel Washington’s The Little Things, which was poorly written and unclear. We–meaning I–regret the error.)
– Fine, let’s just call this week the “dogs not barking” edition. The other film with a big January release was The Little Things on HBO Max and theaters simultaneously. But Nielsen didn’t report numbers for it either. In this case, it’s because Nielsen wasn’t measuring it. To get an accurate result, Nielsen needs a statistically significant amount of viewership on a given streamer to make the top ten lists. Right now that only includes Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu and Disney+. They made an exception for Wonder Woman 1984. Instead of Nielsen, Google Trends can give an idea how well The Little Things and Malcolm & Marie did:
In other words, The Little Things did pretty well! HBO Max has kept marketing these films like tentpoles, and awareness is doing really well.
Did the Super Bowl Impact Total Streaming Viewing?
Did the Super Bowl suck the oxygen out of the streaming room? Maybe. Here’s the total viewership of the Nielsen Top ratings charts for 2021, including all numbers, the top 13 (which is we know for certain) and the top five pieces of content:
Likely the Super Bowl caused a down week, but the numbers had been trending down since December’s big finish. Still, the lack of new releases by most of the major studios reinforced the decline. It’s a chicken and egg situation: did the Super Bowl cause down ratings, or did streamers avoid Super Bowl weekend, which caused down ratings
Either way, they were smart to do so. Here’s the Google Trends for the TV series, with the Super Bowl:
I’ve started to get some questions—and please send me more! Twitter or email—about some recent releases and my thoughts. Unfortunately, Nielsen has a four week publishing lag, and since I trust it the most, it delays this report. Here’s a sneak preview of major releases I’m monitoring for February to March:
– Raya and the Last Dragon. Last fall, one of my most read articles was this analysis determining how many folks watched Mulan on PVOD for Disney+. Will I replicate that analysis for Raya? Probably. Most likely, I’ll wait until we have the Nielsen data in four weeks.
– The Snyder Cut “Mistake”. HBO Max “accidentally” replaced Tom and Jerry with The Snyder Cut over the weekend. Which feels almost impossible from a project management work flow perspective. Both Tom and Jerry and The Snyder Cut are on my radar.
– Oprah’s interview with Meghan Markle (and that guy who was with her.) This was hugely popular. Interestingly, while it streamed on Paramount+, ViacomCBS doesn’t own it, Oprah’s Harpo Productions does. Where could it end up on streaming next?