What to Make of Streaming’s Viewership Decline?

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Last week was my most viewed streaming ratings report to date. I guess that’s what happens when you write about WandaVision! (And as a result get featured in WordPress’ reader application.) 

The theme of the week is “slow”. We didn’t have a lot of buzzy new titles, and as a result, total viewership of the top 30 titles is the lowest since we started tracking. But this is the eye of the data analysis hurricane, as Netflix announces 2021 Q1 earnings next Tuesday. I’m busily updating my “datecdotes” table—that’s the list of every title Netflix has provided viewership for—in preparation. 

(Reminder: The streaming ratings report uses data from Nielsen’s latest report, which covers the week of March 8th to 14th and is United States-focused. We also use Netflix datecdotes, daily top ten lists, Google Trends and IMDb data in evaluating content.)


IMAGE 1 - TV Ratings Last Six Weeks

For whatever reason, this week was a perfect storm of very little content launched. Amazon didn’t have any major launches and Disney was taking a break between WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Netflix’s two biggest new launches were The One—a British sci-fi import—and Last Chance U: Basketball. The latter two series both launched to 3.1 and 3.9 million hours, which are fairly small.

How small? I looked it up, and they’re the two smallest week one launches in terms of total hours in my database of 64 TV launches going back to March. So yeah, a light week.

Meanwhile, Ginny & Georgia continued its place on the top of the charts, though it’s fairly clear now that this series isn’t as big as Firefly Lane, though the “decay rate” of both is remarkably similar. Both started on Wednesdays, so this look is apples-to-apples, and you’d have to say that Firefly Lane benefitted from a stronger start.

The last fun question is about The Crown. Since a Nielsen week starts on a Monday, did the Meghan Markle/Oprah interview propel viewership of The Crown? Our friends at Reelgood— I hope to incorporate their data more in the future—said so using their data:


Does Nielsen back this up? I’d say, “Yes it did, but don’t get carried away!” Here’s the weekly ratings since The Crown launched:

IMAGE 3 - The Crown Ratings

The series saw a nearly 86% jump in viewing week-over-week. So hypothesis confirmed! But it’s also been a steady presence on the top “originals” viewing chart since it has so many episodes to stream. Indeed, for most of January and February, the series was averaging about 5.2 million hours of viewing.

The lesson? Yes, popular news events can drive streaming ratings, and we’ll see that in Netflix’s viewership, since they’re still the king of streaming. (We’ll check in to see if Prince Phillip’s death drove a similar bump, since it’s even closer to the plot of the series!)

Other Quick Notes on TV

Orange is the New Black is the latest Netflix Original to show back up on the ratings list long after it premiered its last season. This is very good news for fans of the theory that Netflix can drive lots of viewing to their library catalogue with “the algorithm”. (The quotes are because, while their data analysis is best in class, they’ve often hyped its abilities well beyond reality, one of the first topics I wrote about.) Like Lucifer, Cobra Kai, Longmire and The Crown—see above chart—each of these titles has a LOT of episodes. Indeed, the most valuable weapon in the streaming arsenal is a series that is 1. Good and 2. Has many seasons. With The Crown and Orange is the New Black, Netflix seems to have that. (Also, folks may love reruns too.)

– Though it should be noted that, while both of these series are currently controlled by Netflix, it’s unclear for how long. “Ownership” is a topic I plan to keep expanding on, but ITV/Sony and Lionsgate both own those series, and Netflix airs them under long term licensing deals.

– Lastly, for whatever reason, four of Netflix’s top series this week are now firmly about Britain. (Please don’t ask me to define that.) Two are about royalty (Bridgerton and The Crown), one is about baking (The Great British Baking Show) and one is a sci-fi series (The One). Americans won’t ignore foreign shows, as long as they speak English.


IMAGE 4 - Film First and Second Run

With only one new launch—Yes Day—the more fun story this week is checking in on the big launches from last week.

According to the Nielsen data, the average film loses 63% viewership per day from week one to week two. Meaning, if Coming 2 America performs to the average, it will have 15.1 million hours of total viewership next week. Anything over that means its decay rate is beating expectations; anything lower means it’s decaying faster than streaming films on average.

So how well did our two big films do? Well, Coming 2 America saw a 69% decline, but Raya and the Last Dragon saw a 53% decline. Indeed, the other animated film on this list saw a similar decay rate to 56% (Bigfoot Family had a 54% drop in viewership per day.) Remember, the “per day” metric is the best way to look at this, since if you looked at just total viewership, you’d think Coming 2 America and Raya were flat in interest, when viewership clearly dropped.

This is why for this week—and maybe permanently—I changed the film viewership to “per day” above. It just compares film launches better. The latest of which is another family title from Netflix. Yes Day apparently did well, since it is one of the few “datecdotes” Netflix provided so far this quarter:

In this case, it’s good to glance at the weekly top ten list to see where we’re headed. And according to the Daily Top Ten data (provided by FlixPatrol to me), we can see that indeed Yes Day will take over the Netflix daily top ten lists. (Remember, 70 is the max score.)

IMAGE 5 - FlixPatrol Headlook

Likely Yes Day will be the top Netflix film next week, though how many total hours of viewing that translates to will be fun to find out.

Other Quick Notes on Film

– Each week, we have a few “library” titles make the Nielsen top ten list, though we don’t have enough data to point out any patterns yet. Since the start of the year—when Nielsen provided three top ten lists instead of just one—we’ve had 15 library titles (meaning in my definitions, three-plus years from theatrical release) show up on a list. Nine only appeared for one week, and 5 have had two weeks of data, the latest being The Dark Knight. (Parker premiered this week.) The Dark Knight had a fairly low debut, only 2.9 million hours. 

– At this point, it should be clear that HBO Max is not letting itself be tracked by Nielsen. To date, the only title they’ve provided any data for is Wonder Woman 1984, and that’s only one week of data. Tomorrow’s Nielsen data drop would be the data drop for the Snyder Cut, and let’s just say I’m pessimistic we get anything out of Nielsen.

The shame is that HBO Max would presumably have a good story to tell. Of interest this week, Tom and Jerry was released on February 26th, so we’d have three weeks of potential data if Nielsen provided the HBO Max numbers. Here’s the Google Trend data for that title compared to the kids or family titles we’ve talked about today. Tom and Jerry got a TON of interest. Tell that story, HBO Max! Especially since it did well at the box office too!

IMAGE 6 - G Trends


Since it’s Netflix’s quarterly earnings time next week, it felt appropriate to look at longer term streaming trends. And the big question there is, “Is streaming having a slowdown?”

Take a look:

IMAGE 7 - Total SVOD

That certainly looks like a decline! Now, to be clear, we don’t know this for sure. What we can accurately say is, “The top 30 streaming series and films are down from the peak in December.” Presumably, folks could be streaming other library content or other streamers.

But if we take this data at face value—based on rumors, I’m inclined to do that—I’d say we can confidently state this:

– The streaming slowdown is mostly a “Netflix” slowdown.
– The streaming slowdown is mostly a “TV” slowdown.

Here is TV and film, and film actually hasn’t dropped as much. 

IMAGE 8 - Streaming Format

TV is down 51% since the peak in December, compared to only a 33% drop in film. (Film would be lower if you went back a few weeks.) That said, TV accounts for something like four times as much viewing as film on average, so that drop is felt more in the total viewership.

Let’s venture some guesses. Consider these hypotheses I hope to test over time:

– The content slowdown has finally reached Netflix. Take a gander at these tweets from friend of the website, Kasey Moore of Whats-On-Netflix:

– The logic is simple: fewer high profile, successful TV series launches means smaller overall audiences for Netflix. In other words, this is what happens when you don’t have a Bridgerton or a Cobra Kai driving lots of tune in. Given Netflix’s long lead time to produce and post-produce shows, this content slowdown was inevitable. The fewer big swings Netflix takes, the less big hits, so the fewer total hours viewed.

– Broadcast and cable TV may be taking some viewership now that their delayed fall seasons are airing. That would explain why other streamers haven’t replaced Netflix in the list.

– Maybe the pandemic finally slowing really is taking time away from total TV viewership. We’ll have to wait a pinch to see this data come, but it could be the case that folks are leaving their houses instead of staying under quarantine.

Coming Soon! 

Datecdotes galore are coming next week. Netflix has actually been fairly aggressive with dropping their version of ratings—remember, Netflix datecdotes are global, not U.S. based—but they have been adding about 4-5 for both TV and film each earnings report. I’ll update my metrics and hopefully do a preview article on Monday.

The Entertainment Strategy Guy

The Entertainment Strategy Guy

Former strategy and business development guy at a major streaming company. But I like writing more than sending email, so I launched this website to share what I know.


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