What A Difference A Covid Year Makes in the Ratings

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Folks, we’re on the cusp of a big moment for our data analysis. For the first time, I’ll be able to compare the latest week’s Nielsen’s rankings to the previous year’s trends. Combined with the fact that we have more than years worth of Netflix Top Ten data too—I use FlixPatrol to get my top ten data—this means we can start grounding our data analysis in year-over-year changes.

(Reminder: The streaming ratings report compiles data from Nielsen’s weekly top ten viewership ranks, Netflix datecdotes, Netflix Top Ten lists, Google Trends and IMDb to determine the most popular content. While most data points are current, Nielsen’s data covers the week of March 22nd to 28th.)


One problem with the streaming wars is folks didn’t start releasing data really until last year. And they didn’t even start at the beginning of 2020. My first full month of Nielsen data, for example, is April of 2020. To look on the bright side, though, this means we can finally compare one month of viewership to another: April of 2020 to April of 2021. Which I plan to do at the end of May, since Nielsen has a lag of four weeks with their streaming data.

(I know, these dates are confusing.)

For a taste, though, I can give you some highlights of the top ten list data. (Nielsen provided me their historical top ten lists under the condition that I don’t share the entire list.)

The incredible thing about a year ago—at peak Covid lockdowns—was how much more streaming was going on. On Netflix specifically. The top ten list from a year ago accounted for more than three times as much viewing as the similar weekend this year. But don’t give lockdowns all of the credit. Netflix had two huge shows at the time, Ozark (which was number one on the list and had 30 episodes to binge) and Tiger King (which was number two, but was a viral sensation, so had very high viewership per episode.)

Other than that, the lists are surprisingly similar. NCIS, Grey’s Anatomy and Criminal Minds are on both lists, because licensed content has always accounted for a big percentage of time on Netflix. A CW show is on both lists (All American in 2020, Supernatural in 2021). Netflix had one film earn the last spot in each list, both of which underperformed (Coffee and Kareem in 2020, Bad Trip in 2021). Netflix had one kids series on each list (Boss Baby: Back in Business in 2020, Cocomelon in 2021.) About the biggest change is that The Office left Netflix at the end of 2020, so it couldn’t make the list.

The open question for me is whether or not the big, big swing in consumption is due to the fact that Covid lockdowns pushed everything higher, or whether having big shows at the top of the charts end up driving up engagement, and hence viewership of other shows. My gut is the latter, but I hope to either prove or disprove it in future deep dives, and honestly we’ll need a lot more months of data to know for sure one way or the other.

Quick Notes on TV

– As we speculated last week, Invincible did indeed make the Nielsen viewership charts going into its first full week on the Nielsen measurements. Like other superhero TV series, it will be fascinating to see if it grows its week-over-week numbers. I expect we may see some, but this show is a far cry from Amazon’s big hit, The Boys.

– As foreshadowing, Amazon renewed Invincible for two more seasons. I could make both bull and bear cases for Prime Video renewing Invincible. The bull case is that Amazon has a hit, so they renewed it for two seasons. Good job team! The bear case—which matches my cynical personality—is that a hit on Amazon would be an also-ran on Netflix. Or, on Netflix, it would be a cultural juggernaut. Meaning, Prime Video needs to renew any series that makes the top ten list simply to compete.

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier was bumped to the second spot, but it was exactly flat week-over-week, with 10.5 million hours consumed. For a weekly released series, that continues to be an impressive performance, and likely many fans are watching each new episode. Disney announced this week they are planning to make a Captain America 4 film with the same creative team, so clearly the series met expectations.

– In the opposite of renewal news, Netflix announced that it cancelled The Irregulars this week. That’s about the quickest Netflix has cancelled something, and it is right after Netflix got 28 days of viewership, so you can see the importance of that time period in Netflix’s thinking. Based off this news and the top ten data, it is likely that Who Killed Sara? will take the top spot in the original rankings next week.

Country Comfort is the latest Netflix sitcom to fail to find an audience, debuting to just 4.2 million hours viewed in its first full week. (And failing to make the list in its first week, or in its third week.) This is the second Netflix sitcom with Middle America themes (The Crew had NASCAR themes) that has failed to launch in a row.

Formula 1: Drive to Survive made the top ten last week, and failed to earn a second week on the list. (And likely won’t again.) This surprised me a pinch, given how many times I heard this series referenced in sports media. (And even read a headline claiming this one show saved Formula 1. Head shake emoji.) That said, failing to make the top ten list for multiple weeks is much easier to swallow for Netflix financially for a sports documentary than a scripted sitcom, since the former is much cheaper.


This was overall a pinch quiet of a week for film. The biggest recent Netflix launch was Bad Trip, which made the list for the second week in a row, experiencing the typical “flat” total viewership week-over-week, meaning viewership per day was lower

Looking ahead, Thunder Force will likely make the Nielsen rankings in two weeks, then Synchronic, and then Stowaway. (Each of these films will “win the week” on the top ten list in April.) However, I’m not sure any of these films will reach the action-film heights of Extraction or Spenser Confidential from last year.

Quick Notes on Film

– The appearance of Hop, an Illumination-produced, Universal-distributed film animated title from 2011, got me interested in how much licensing Netflix does from Universal. Especially since it made it all the way up to the number three spot for film. Looking ahead and behind, The Little Rascals, Rush and American Me all will do well enough to  make a top ten list. So will Focus Feature titles like The Zookeeper’s Wife. Even the straight-to-streaming Barbie & Chelsea: The Lost Birthday film is distributed by Universal. In other words, Universal is pretty valuable for Netflix.

– This performance explains why Netflix made one of their big moves for the year and why Universal’s decision on film will be so fascinating. The big film licensing news of the last few weeks has been Netflix’s big deal with Sony for their films after theaters (and then Disney’s big deal with Sony for after that). Seeing how much viewership these library and Pay 1 films do, you can see why Netflix offered that big pay day.

– As Universal Studios ponders what to do with its second window rights—it has been deliberating selling them versus keeping them for Peacock or another service—this is good context for how valuable library titles still are.

– Next week may be the week when Coming 2 America finally drops off the list, as it is almost off the list this week. This is also really the first week where you can see the difference between kids titles (with heavy rewatch) and a title made for adults.

Coming Soon!

– Hulu released the fifth season of their buzziest, and potentially most popular series, The Handmaid’s Tale last Friday. However, for all the awards it has won, The Handmaid’s Tale has had underwhelming Google Trends performance. (Though it has a respectable 187K IMDb reviews as of this writing.) Here is a look at Google Trends through the last 5 years, and you can see that The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t quite in the same level as other super buzzy dramas:

– Amazon is also continuing their streak of releasing formerly intended for theaters Paramount films with Without Remorse debuting this week. Based on the Tom Clancy books—and Prime Video has the Jack Ryan series as well—and starring the very popular Michael B. Jordan, I wouldn’t bet against this being the top premiering film this week, but it will be interesting to see if it bests Coming 2 America. Based on the Google Trends data, I wouldn’t bet on it:

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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