The “Binge Release Shape” Comes Into Focus – The Streaming Ratings Report for 9-June-2021

I want to assure you, good readers, that this report is not becoming “bi-weekly”. And “bi-weekly” in the sense that it comes out every other week. (If folks keep subscribing—and want it—I could see a world where we publish twice a week. Man “bi-weekly” is a confusing term.) 

If you read my last two articles, you’ll know that between some vacations, a Federal holiday and other work, I had to pause this update for a week. Which just gives us twice as much to chew through in the same amount of words. Let’s get to it.

(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 weeks of April 26th to May 9th.)

Television

Like I said, I had two weeks between ratings reports. What did I do besides write articles on M&A and try to relax? Make a brand new color scheme for the “Last 5 Weeks” of first run TV:

If you can’t tell, it is now color coded by streamer. For the last few weeks, this really shows the diversity in streamers with “first run” TV series making the Nielsen top ten, but still the dominance of Netflix overall.  

Besides The Handmaid’s Tale—I’ll get to it—the story of the last few weeks is the rise and decline of Shadow and Bone and impending rise and crash of Jupiter’s Legacy. The latter series was one I worried about a few issues back, given its lack of Google Trends buzz. 

[Millar’s] first project in [his overall] 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…

Turns out I was right to be worried. Interestingly, Jupiter’s Legacy did about as well as Shadow and Bone in their first weeks. (11.6 and 12 million total hours viewed, respectively.) Now, we don’t know how well Jupiter’s Legacy will do in week’s two and three, but we do know is that Jupiter’s Legacy has already been cancelled, and Shadow and Bone was renewed, with the datecdote dropped that globally it has had 55 million households watch at least 2 minutes, good enough to be the 8th most watched Original TV series for Netflix all time. Combine that with a much smaller budget than Jupiter’s Legacy, and likely Jupiter’s Legacy’s juice wasn’t worth the subscriber squeeze.

Interestingly, Shadow and Bone hasn’t been a monster on the Nielsen ratings charts. Which I kind of called too. Not to be “that guy” who quotes my past issues too much, but on May 26th, I wrote:

Looking ahead, [Shadow and Bone] claimed the top spot on the weekly top ten lists for the weeks of April 26th and May 3rd. My gut is it has a great second week, but then a drop off when Jupiter’s Legacy comes out.

I speculated this based on what I’m beginning to call the “Binge Release” pattern. With two more weeks of Nielsen data, Shadow and Bone is proving to be a fairly typical binge-released series. Here’s a handful of TV series which had similar Week one total viewership to Shadow and Bone, and had at least three weeks of viewership data. All these series had between 7.3 and 12 million total hours viewed in their first week. (Them was the lowest and Shadow and Bone had the highest.)

Kinda crazy how close they are, isn’t it? I included one outlier series, to be the exception that prove the rule. The Queen’s Gambit was simply a force, and you can see that it took off like a rocket and consequently stayed high. Also, while we don’t know how Shadow and Bone will perform into its fourth week, the other shows on this list kept dropping and did not make the list in their fourth week. Some may be data artifacts—like Away and Floor is Lava in particular—but it is safe to say that binge released series have serious drop offs in week 3 and 4.

And successful weekly releases do not. Which you can also see in Falcon and Winter Soldier and Wandavision growth week over week.

(And I plan to quantify this in detail in future deep dives.)

What does this mean for Jupiter’s Legacy? One of three things. Either it stays on the exact same path as Shadow and Bone, which means it simply was too expensive for an “okay” performance, it doesn’t grow as quickly as Shadow and Bone into its second week, or it drops off a cliff in week 3. The next two weeks should tell the story.

Quick Notes on TV

– If I hadn’t spent the last issue writing about Disney+’s latest series—The Falcon and Winter Soldier—I was very ready to devote my “A Block” to The Handmaid’s Tale. Sure, I’ve checked in on Disney+, but what about their older but less accomplished streaming brother, Hulu? Late April/May saw the debut of two Hulu Originals, The Handmaid’s Tale and Shrill. To its credit, The Handmaid’s Tale actually beat Shadow and Bone and Jupiter’s Legacy in total hours viewed in its first week. (Caveat: With many more episodes and a Tuesday release. Alternative caveat: It is a weekly release.) I think with one more week of data to see if Shrill makes the top ten and how The Handmaid’s Tale performs into its third week will make the analysis a pinch better.

– Speaking of Star Wars: The Bad Batch, it did have a strong opening, coming out at 4.2 million hours viewed in the US in its opening week. Stronger than I would have guessed for an animated series with only two episodes at an average of 30 minutes would do. But it is “Star Wars”, so it shouldn’t be that surprising. (Notably, it did premiere on a Tuesday, which gave it more time in its first week to accumulate viewership.)

– For a quick preview of Shrill, here’s the Google Trends. As a huge fan of Aidy Bryant’s SNL work, I hope the show does well, but just comparing it to other Hulu shows, Shrill has about two-thirds the interest of those shows:

Them also had the precisely perfect binge release. And notably it was a Prime Video title, not a Netflix series, implying that this performance pattern is fairly typical of streaming at this point, especially series released on Fridays. However, the downside of a binge release is series fade from interest quickly, and Them only had three weeks on the Nielsen top ten lists.

Selena: The Series released its second (and apparently final) season on May 4th, which was a Tuesday. This gave it nearly a full-week of viewership, and it drove total viewership up to 10.7 million, which is good but down from season 1’s total viewership of 13.7 million in its first week. That’s good for the 9th highest week 1 out of the 16 series that have had season twos in my Nielsen database.

– By the way, there is one series which definitely does not match the binge release pattern, and that’s Netflix’s The Circle…because it was NOT binge released! That’s right, it was released in four installments:

As a result, The Circle managed to sustain relatively steady viewership for a Netflix title over four weeks.

Film

Two big releases vied for the top spot over April, Without Remorse from Prime Video and The Mitchells vs The Machines for Netflix. Or should I say, Paramount’s Without Remorse and Sony’s The Mitchells and the Machines, since both Covid casualties. 

Overall, Without Remorse likely disappointed for Amazon, effusive headlines from the trades not withstanding. In context, this is Amazon’s second best opening weekend for a film that we have ratings for, but it still only about half of the viewership that Coming 2 America received. So a “good” launch, but probably not the home run they hoped when buying a film from the same franchise as their tentpole series Jack Ryan.

If you want a bright side for Amazon, well it is IP. Their top three feature film releases in the Nielsen era are Coming 2 America, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and Without Remorse (an entry in the Jack Ryan franchise.) Meaning all sequels or franchise properties. And they just bought a lot of IP from MGM, of indeterminate quality.

Quick Notes on Film

– When possible, I want to call out the “dogs not barking”, meaning the TV shows or films that failed to launch. In this case, given that the Academy Awards were held on April 25th, the Nielsen ratings for films for the week of April 26th should have shown any “awards” bump to the films, in particular Nomadland. And yet…\

In other words, winning an Oscar doesn’t have enough juice to beat Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.

Stowaway and Synchronic are the latest Netflix films to have two week runs, then drop off the feature film top ten. We’ll see if Things Seen & Heard performs better, but I’m skeptical. It turns out Netflix’s “film-a-week” strategy really means a film needs to thrive in the first week or it disappears.

Coming Soon! 

– The big release this week is the MCU’s latest, Loki, dropping today. Notably it is being released on a Wednesday, unlike the previous Friday releases. Star Wars: The Bad Batch also released its first episode on a Tuesday, then went to Friday releases. The Handmaid’s Tale released on a Tuesday as well. This may be a new, deliberate release strategy by Disney to avoid the Friday traffic congestion of Netflix/Prime Video releases. If so, interesting.

– Also releasing last week: Raya and the Last Dragon to all Disney+ subscribers. It will be interesting to see if it has a second life on the film list, and I’d bet yes, given that a few Disney animated titles like Frozen, Moana and Soul have traded spots routinely this year.

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