Streaming Ratings Were Down 40% in April

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We’ve hit an exciting point in the “streaming ratings era”:

We can now compare 2020 to 2021.

Meaning we have better “context” than ever before. In 2020, we had to speculate if year-over-year viewership was up or down. Now, we know.

Visual of the Week – Streaming Was Down 40% in April 2021

Here are my “Data 5Ws” for the above look:

What – Top Ten Film or TV Series per week
What – Total Hours Viewed
Who – In 2020, Netflix and Prime Video. In 2021, Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video and Disney+
Who – Provided by Nielsen
When – April 2020 compared to April 2021. (For four weeks.)
Where – The United States

Essentially, I compared the first week in April 2020 (starting Monday, April 6th) to the first week in April 2021 (starting Monday, April 5th) and so on, then I just took the totals for each month. In case you don’t remember April of 2020, here are the top series and films of last year compared to this year:


This is a hits driven business. 

Last spring, Netflix had Ozark going into its third season, the Tiger King phenomenon, and Extraction. This year, they had Shadow and Bone, Jupiter’s Landing—both freshmen series—and Thunder Force. 

When you have big hits, it drives more viewing in streaming. This extra usage resounds to other shows’ benefit (like Outer Banks last April). Can I prove this? Kind of. Here’s the breakdown of “Originals” to “Acquired” titles and film. Notably, film usage is almost the same, but originals are way down:

How have other streamers impacted the top ten list?

Partly, some of the story is that Netflix’s viewership is going down because other streamers are jumping in. Last year, Nielsen only tracked Netflix and Prime Video. Then they added Hulu and Disney+. They are definitely each taking some of the top viewing. Here’s the percentage of the top ten lists in April 2020 to April 2021. 

Potential Caveat: Is this a measurement error?

Perhaps the issue impacting Nielsen’s linear ratings is at work here. If you aren’t familiar, Variety reported in April that Nielsen had potentially been undercounting linear TV viewership during the pandemic. The Media Rating Council—an industry rating body—found issues in potential underreporting by Nielsen too. Given how large this drop in viewership is, it is possible that perhaps the same measurement issues are at play, but in reverse. When it comes to polling, correlated errors are always a problem.

Frankly, polls work best when you can keep as many variables constant. The problem with last spring was a huge new variable I call “the Covid caveat”. That could definitely be a factor here.

That said, other data points back up these trends. 

Both Disney+ and Netflix saw subscriber slowdowns starting in the spring and the leaders cautioned that trends are slowing. Other firms measuring usage have speculated that this slowdown is real too. As more data comes out, we should be able to confirm if this trend was real or not.

What is driving the slowdown in streaming viewing?

Explanation 1: Well, obviously “Hot Vax Summer”. And that’s not just to be flippant, but to acknowledge that as the world “reopens”, folks will return to activities that they had previously skipped. This ranges from the outdoors (beaches and vacations) to nightlife (going to bars and clubs) to other entertainment (movies and concerts and such). Even a small uptick in other activities can have an impact on streaming.

Explanation 2: Covid shutdowns finally hit Netflix this spring. Instead of anticipated follow-ons to their big series, like Ozark or Money Heist, Netflix is rolling out series in multiple parts like Who Killed Sara? Notably, this slowdown impacted the other streamers last fall—Disney initially planned for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier in August of 2020—but Netflix’s longer production timelines mean it finally impacted their content calendar.

Do I plan to keep these comparisons coming? 

Absolutely, looking at both monthly and quarterly comparisons. 

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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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