Is Prime Video Having Its Best Stretch of Content In the “Ratings Era”? – The Streaming Ratings Report: 12-May-2021

This week, Them, from Prime Video made it up to second place on the “Originals” top ten list from Nielsen. Which left me wondering: Is Amazon’s Prime Video having their best stretch ever?

Let’s find out. That plus Thunder Force’s “good” debut, The Handmaid’s Tale having an (allegedly) strong debut, and speculation about Invincible’s future in today’s “Streaming Ratings Report”.

(Reminder: The streaming ratings report compiles data from Nielsen’s weekly top ten viewership ranks, Netflix datecdotes, 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 April 5th to 11th.)

(Sign up for my newsletter to get all my writings and my favorite entertainment business picks from the last 2 weeks or so. Next issue goes out early next week.)

Television

So is this Amazon’s best string of series and film releases in the “Streaming Ratings Era”? That’s my just made up name for the time since March 2020, when both Nielsen and Netflix started releasing top ten lists.

The arguments for:

– With Them (the horror TV series released April 9th, a Friday), Amazon has put three big releases into the top 30, including Coming 2 America, Invincible and Them. This will almost assuredly extend to Without Remorse, which some analytics firms said won the weekend.

Them was the number two original this week, only behind The Falcon and Winter Soldier. This is the first week that Netflix didn’t put an “original” series into the first or second slot.

The arguments against:

– While the series are making it onto the list, they still aren’t as popular as the top Netflix series. Looking at season one series that made the Nielsen top ten in their first week, Them was the 27th highest week one out of 37 series that charted in their first week of release.

Invincible as well never actually made the combined “top 10” list. (It was somewhere in the 20s.) And it dropped off the Nielsen rankings in its third week. (Though it could return. See Quick Notes below.)

Weighing these two arguments, I’d say Prime Video is NOT having their best run, because one tremendous series can do more than any number of smaller hits. Think of it this way, The Boys season 2 had more viewership in one week than Them and Invincible put together. There is a chance The Boys will have more viewership through four weeks than every other Original Prime video has released since March of 2020. 

Again, this is a hits driven business and that’s a hit.

The key question is what happens next. I pulled a few shows around Them’s Week 1 release totals:

If Them takes off like The Queen’s Gambit, then Amazon has a hit. If it drops off like The Irregulars, then it could be a miss. Or somewhere in between. It probably won’t have the slow growth of Disney Originals, either because it was a binge release, not a weekly drop.

Strategically, I’m curious if Amazon Studios can build on its success so far. They appear to be stymied by the same challenges as other streamers, specifically the Covid-19 production slowdown. Like their fellow streaming brethren, production on subsequent seasons was paused for six months or more due to Covid-19. (The only information I could find said Upload started production earlier this year.) 

Can you imagine if subsequent seasons of Hunters, Hanna and Upload were debuting right now, the same time as Invincible, Coming 2 America, Them and Without Remorse were airing? Instead, most of those shows are delayed into 2022.

Quick Notes on TV

– Will Invincible make it back onto the Nielsen list as it keep releasing episodes weekly? Maybe. Invincible seems to have really taken a boost after its season final on April 30th, according to Google Trends. It currently has an 8.8 IMDb score on 37K reviews. An 8.8 rating is really strong, though that isn’t a huge volume of reviews. My hypothesis (for future testing) is whether or not animated series have a “ceiling”. Frankly, some older viewers (like my dad) think animated shows are for kids. That could hurt shows like Invincible or Bad Batch with older audiences.

(Don’t worry, I’m tracking animated versus live-action series, and when I have enough data I’ll run the test.)

– Another week, another sitcom from Netflix, this time Family Reunion, starring Tia Mowry, releasing Part 1 of its second season. (Season 3 in my categorization.) I’d call this a soft launch for a season 3, though honestly we have a very limited data set here and there is a chance that the March 2020 Covid-19 window just artificially boosted all TV viewing last year.

(My goal is to add data cuts/insights/databases each week with this report, and this week’s new “data cut” is to sort TV launches by season! This is a much more apples-to-apples comparison.)

– The good news is Netflix should—caution should—have a big hit in Shadow and Bone, the latest teen/young adult drama with supernatural/fantasy elements in it. As you’ll see in The Handmaid’s Tale section in “Coming Soon” below, its Google Trend interest peaked above The Falcon and Winter Soldier. It is also one of the top series since the start of April in Top Ten list performance, with only two weeks on the list.

Film

Perusing the interwebs, I came across this headline from Variety. And…well read the headline first:

I get it, leverage the title of the top film in the article if you can. Puns are good! But is it accurate? Well, that’s what you’re reading me for.

Here is the list of the top two weekends of every “first run” film in my Nielsen database:

As you can see, it’s a “good” debut. That’s what I’m calling the big middle of films/shows that launch between 15-20 million hours. This is clearly Netflix’s best film launch this year. Is that “thunderous” though? Bird Box was thunderous; this isn’t quite that. Breaching the 20 million hour threshold is looking like the difference between good and “elite” debuts.

(You may note all the 2021 films highlighted in the list. Does this mean Netflix is actually doing better? Since Nielsen began releasing a weekly top ten for film, 2021 new film releases are showing up more reliably.)

Putting the known “datecdotes” from Netflix alongside the Nielsen data, we can see that Thunder Force has a pinch of a US-centric performance, since similar series around its range were in the 70+ million global viewers category. Since Thunder Force had a Friday launch, my guess is it will see about the same viewership total next week, but a decline in “viewership per day”.

Quick Notes on Film

– Looking ahead—using Netflix’s Top Ten data—the “release a new film per week’ strategy means each film gets basically one week in the top spot for Netflix. It looks like Synchronic will bump off Thunder Force, which will be bumped by Stowaway which will be bumped by The Mitchells vs The Machines. But how will third party launches impact this? It remains to be seen.

– Does Netflix need licensed content? I don’t know, but it’s interesting that the bottom three spots on the Film list are licensed content, from three different studios: The Little Rascals (Universal), Friends with Benefits (Sony) and Legally Blonde (MGM). Going forward, it will be fascinating when Netflix Originals appear on this list alongside licensed content. (Of these three movies, only Friends with Benefits is new to Netflix, so that’s not quite an explanation for why some licensed titles pop on the list.)

Coming Soon!

The Handmaid’s Tale (Update 2)

We don’t have results for The Handmaid’s Tale, yet. But we did get a delicious “datecdote” from Hulu: it is now their most watched piece of content! 

Reading the Deadline coverage, it turns out I had missed another Hulu datecdote as well. The Happiest Season had bested Run for the best opening weekend. (And for those keeping track, Run bested Palm Springs, which bested Parasite, which was the number two film all time for Hulu.)

But we now have our first original TV series to make it on this vague-as-can-be Hulu record book. The latest season of The Handmaid’s Tale is now Hulu’s most watched piece of content through its first week. That leaves us this new, updated table:

What will this translate to in actual viewership? We have to wait three weeks still to get that definitive answer. Reading the tea leaves, I remain pessimistic. Take The Happiest Season. Again, even if it was Hulu’s top series during Thanksgiving weekend, it failed to chart in the Nielsen top ten that week. (Though it likely would have made a “film only” top ten list like they have now.) According to Samba TV—cited in Deadline, though that’s anecdata, meaning we don’t get regular weekly reporting from them—The Handmaid’s Tale was twice as popular as The Happiest Season.

Further, given that Nielsen tracks an originals only list, and the lowest ranked original often only gets 2 million hours each week, this shouldn’t be too hard for The Handmaid’s Tale to clear that low threshold. (Indeed, it is almost guaranteed.) 

But how high could it go? Well, the top Netflix series from that weekend, as per their top ten list via FlixPatrol, were Shadow and Bone, The Circle, and Beauty and the Baker. So comparing that Google Trend, along with The Falcon and Winter Soldier, you get this Google Trends look:

My prediction is it makes the top ten list for originals, but may miss the combined top ten list. It almost certainly isn’t the number one series in America.

(Again, not to be egotistical or self-congratulatory, but if you only read Deadline’s coverage, you wouldn’t have this context?)

The Bad Batch

The other big recent release from Disney is the animated series Star Wars: The Bad Batch, which is, as the title suggests, another Star Wars animated series. It will be great to get our first data on an animated Disney Original title, if we get any. It will also help answer the question for whether or not animated titles have a ceiling, as I speculated above with Invincible.

Jupiter’s Legacy

Writing my series on who Netflix could buy via M&A, the notable piece was that Netflix bought Millarworld, the IP company owned by Scottish comic creator Mark Millar. His first project in that deal came to Netflix last week, and by all rights it looks expensive. And it is already on top of daily top ten charts. But is it a hit? I pulled the Google Trends above, adding in Jupiter’s Legacy too, and I’m surprised how low it is:

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: