As often happens in scientific/data endeavors, sometimes you work for hours/days on a project with no results, then, all of a sudden, it comes together and you make tons of progress rapidly. And, usually, the “tons of progress” doesn’t happen without the days of drudgery.
That’s what happened to me over the last week or so. After a few days of struggle, yesterday morning I had a breakthrough, which delayed publishing this article. Unfortunately, most of the benefits won’t be immediately obvious, as they’re updates to my backend system to help me analyze more data better and faster. (Don’t worry, a few juicy tidbits may sneak in this week.)
(Reminder: The streaming ratings report primarily covers data from Nielsen’s latest report, which covers the week of February 8th to 14th and is U.S. viewing only.)
If three words define my goal for this report, they are “Context, Context, Context”. You can go to the trades to find a summary of Nielsen’s data. This week, you would have learned that the top two series (again for the week of February 8th to 14th) on Netflix were Firefly Lane and Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel with nearly identical 21.4 and 21.5 million total hours viewed.
So the question is: are those good or bad numbers?
Well, thanks to the data work of the last week or so, I think we can start to provide some answers. Context!
Let’s start with the new launch. Using my Nielsen database, I collected all Netflix “first run”—meaning Netflix Originals—series in my database going back to March 2020. Why season one/limited series only? Because it just isn’t “apples-to-apples” to compare The Crown, which has 40 episodes as of this writing, to a show with only four. (This was only one of the data projects of the last week.)
According to Nielsen’s data, 23 TV series netted a spot on a weekly top ten (in 2020) or top ten “originals” spot (in 2021). Of those, Crime Scene did phenomenal. It had the third strongest opening in total hours viewed and the second strongest opening for series in the “viewership per episode” metric I also calculate. Here’s the total viewership of those 23 series:
But there’s a catch. (With data, there always is.) In addition to the “season” launched, I added the day of the week. Thus, I can cut the data in quite a few different ways. In this case, see if you can spot my thesis:
Yep, I arranged the new series by release day of the week.
Why does this matter? Nielsen’s data covers a week’s worth of viewing, but that means that shows released earlier in the week have, by dint of time period measured, more of a chance to succeed in the rankings. Thus, we need a new metric, one I’ve used before called “average viewership per day”. Here’s that look in chart form:
Takeaways? Well, yeah, Crime Scene is one of Netflix’s bigger hits. More impressively, it did that with a very small number of episodes. But the extra few days of viewing definitely helped. Toss in the small number of episodes, and it will likely decay quickly. (As have past true crime documentaries.) We’ll watch for that. That said, Netflix does have a true crime niche that clearly is working, and it’s likely much cheaper to make true crime docs than big budget scripted TV.
What about our second big series, Firefly Lane? It had a big second week. Again, the question is, how good is 21.4 million viewers in the second weekend?
To answer this, I pulled the second week of data for the 30 first run Netflix series with Nielsen data in their first or second week of release. That gave me this table:
Of the 15 new series (season 1 or limited) launched since March 2020, Firefly Lane had the eighth-best second weekend. However, unlike many other series which grow their audience into the second weekend, Firefly Lane was essentially flat. Using “viewership per day”, it declined 30%, when the average series drops only 23%. Bottom line? It’s a good show, and maybe a great one. But it isn’t “elite”, like Bridgerton.
(For those who are curious, I have data for 33 first-run TV series. Seven series in that data set had an opening weekend in the top ten but then dropped off after week two, and eight series didn’t make the list in their first week, but did in their second weeks. Two shows didn’t have numbers until week three and I don’t have data for Tiger King‘s second weekend.)
Also, using the weekly top ten data, do we think these two shows will hold on? For Firefly Lane, yes; for Crime Scene, no. Crime Scene could, though, outperform Firefly Lane during the week of February 15th.
As I said above, we’re just scratching the surface here. As Nielsen continues to publish three weekly top ten lists, our ability to judge successful launches (and bombs/busts) will only grow.
Other Quick Notes on TV
– WandaVision added its sixth episode and grew its total viewership to 9.9 million hours from 9.8 million the week before. That’s impressive, and it will be fascinating to see if Falcon and Winter Soldier mimics that growth. In other words, part of me thinks that something like 7-9 million folks are watching just one episode on Disney+, which would make it one of the most-watched series by unique viewers.
– In the sign of a down week besides the top of the charts, Lucifer made its first appearance on a top ten since new episodes came in August, showing up as the tenth series in the “Originals” top ten list, with 3.2 million hours viewed.
– Looking at the releases by weekday, you can see above that Wednesday really is “true crime” documentary day on Netflix, with releases like Fear City, Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, Night Stalkers and Crime Scene.
– Regret the Error 1: When new episodes of Cobra Kai premiered, I changed the label from “second run”, meaning episodes premiered on YouTube TV first, to “first run”, because new episodes premiered on Netflix first. But I didn’t update weeks three to five, so my data table made it look like it dropped to zero. That’s been fixed this week.
The big Netflix original launch for this week was the third part of To All The Boys I Loved Before. I’m not ready to deliver as much context for film as TV this week—trust me, we’re getting close—but since Netflix released it on a Friday, To All The Boys will likely take the top spot in next week’s Nielsen rankings. (For this week, I cut all films released in 2020 to focus on new releases in 2021 so far.)
As for the third weekends of the two films we monitored last week—The Dig and Finding ‘Ohana—both are still on the list, but decaying week over week as expected.
As for films we didn’t expect, the top film on streaming wars…checks notes…looks it up on Wikipedia…squints eyes in confusion…checks notes again…War Dogs. Yes, the Miles-Teller-and-Jonah Hill-helmed, Todd-Phillips-directed drama from 2016. It was new to the platform and got the “new to Netflix” bump.
Here’s the consolidated top 30, which shows how light film was compared to TV this week:
Other Quick Notes on Film:
– We had another international film to make the top ten film list, Space Sweepers from South Korea with 2.3 million hours viewed. According to my data, this is the first South Korean film to make the Nielsen rankings.
– Oh, and we have one of the first non-kids Disney+ films to make the list, Avengers: Endgame, also with 2.3 minion hours viewed. This reinforces one of my working theories that, when they were on Netflix as part of that huge output deal, the Disney films drove tons of repeat viewership.
– Regret the Error 2: I jumped the gun on Malcolm & Marie (M&M), but luckily I wasn’t too wrong. During Super Bowl weekend, I made a note to myself that M&M was going up against that big sporting event. But then, researching for my database, I saw on Wikipedia that M&M had a limited release in theaters on January 29th and somehow recorded that as its release. In reality, Netflix released it on February 5th, the Friday before the Super Bowl. Thus the Nielsen ratings from February 8th-14th cover M&M‘s second weekend of release, and I previously wrote that Super Bowl weekend was its second weekend of release.
To compound the mistakes, my article last week was confusing in that I transitioned from a bullet point on M&M into a bullet point on The Little Things without clarifying that I had switched films. For clarity: Malcolm & Marie was a Netflix film, but starred the talent from HBO’s Euphoria (lead actor and director). Meanwhile, The Little Things was Warner Bros.’ second release on HBO Max and theaters simultaneously. With that context, here’s the Google Trends chart I showed last week:
The unfortunate thing is that we don’t have data on either film—Malcolm & Marie on Netflix and The Little Things on HBO Max. Nielsen doesn’t track HBO Max yet, and M&M likely didn’t have enough viewership. We can extrapolate that for M&M’s interest/buzz (as shown by Google Trends) clearly exceeded its actual performance (as shown by the lack of Nielsen data).