Who Won the Quarter: “Shadow and Bone” or “The Falcon and Winter Soldier”?

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Listening to a recent podcast I heard a common refrain: we have no idea what is doing well in streaming!

Frankly, this is soooooo 2018. 

We’re in the “streaming ratings era” now (™ EntStrategyGuy) and have been since March of 2020. Between Nielsen, Google Trends, Netflix top tens, Antenna, Samba, Reelgood and ParrotAnalytics—to only name a few off the top of my head—we have tons of ratings.

(Fine, you want to know which podcast? The Bill Simmons Podcast featuring Matt Belloni. And Belloni is a “must listen” for entertainment.)

Television 

(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 May 24th to May 30th.)

In a bit of a departure, today’s quick look will actually investigate two series that aren’t on the latest Nielsen “Top Ten Originals” list. Specifically, The Falcon and Winter Soldier (whose last week was May 3rd with 3.4 million hours) and Shadow and Bone (whose last week on the Nielsen rankings was May 17th with 3.3 million hours). 

Why?

Because these two series are vying for the top “new release” spot in TV this quarter. And they have as many similarities as they have differences. Both are “genre” series (one is super hero and the other is teen fantasy), both were season one releases, and both were based off preexisting IP.  Of course, one was a weekly release from the most popular franchise (the Marvel Cinematic Universe) on Disney+, and the other was a new franchise binged released on Netflix.

Now that both shows have come and gone, can we judge who did better? Sure, just total up the key metrics. In this case, here’s the total viewership per week, with Jupiter’s Legacy tossed in for some context:

As I’ve been writing for a few weeks now, binge released series tend to burn brighter, but for shorter time periods. Weekly released series tend to linger…if they’re popular. Which The Falcon and Winter Soldier was. And credit where credit is due, Shadow and Bone lasted for 5 weeks before dropping off into the algorithmic black hole that is Netflix’s library titles. (Most weekly releases last about 3 weeks.)

To state the obvious, The Falcon and Winter Soldier was more popular than Shadow and Bone, because people watched for more minutes. I don’t make this comparison lightly; I’m hesitant to compare series because everything from release style to number of episodes can stymie the analysis. In this case, given that Shadow and Bone had 8 episodes averaging 52 minutes in length and The Falcon and Winter Soldier had 6 episodes averaging 52 minutes, that’s close enough to make this a fair analysis…

Given that The Falcon and Winter Soldier had about twice as many viewers per episode as Shadow and Bone, that’s good enough to say it won this battle. Long term, is that good enough to win the streaming wars? Well that’s a much bigger question for a much longer article. But something to ponder for sure.

Quick Notes on TV

Premiere! Lucifer on Netflix. For the second time in the “streaming ratings era” a Netflix show has reached six seasons. Most shows don’t make it to season six in general and streamers seem to have even quicker cancellation buttons than broadcast or cable. (I say “seems” because some folks have disputed this and I haven’t done the data work myself to prove or disprove it.) 

Even Lucifer is a bit of an outlier, given that it had four seasons on broadcast with 57 episodes before even arriving on Netflix. Technically, Netflix is calling this “part II of season 5”—part I was released in August—and given the volume of episodes (up to 83 now), it leapt to the top of the Nielsen rankings with 21.4 million hours. For those keeping track at home, this is the first series to top 20 million hours since Firefly Lane and Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel topped that threshold in February.

– Premiere! The Kominsky Method on Netflix. It debuted to 8.3 million viewers in week one. That’s good for fifth place among “season 3” debuts on Netflix since March of 2020. (Behind Ozark and Cobra Kai, for example.)

– Premiere! Panic on Prime Video. I hadn’t heard of Panic before this week, and apparently it is another “horror” themed drama from Prime Video. Like Them and The Underground Railroad, it was binge released versus weekly released, showing that Prime Video really is picking and choosing release strategies.

– In “dogs not barking”, Ryan Murphy’s latest limited series for Netflix, Halston, only lasted for one week in the Nielsen charts. That’s a pretty steep decline for one of their biggest showrunners.

– Lastly, we have some fun in the “acquired” titles charts. Specifically, Spongebob Squarepants makes his first appearance on the list. This is notable because this series is primarily on Prime Video, though episodes are also hosted on Paramount+. (Which isn’t tracked by Nielsen.)

Film

Though clearly not the biggest film on the Nielsen “top ten” this week, the most interesting story in streaming ratings is Disney’s Cruella. Released on May 28th simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+’s “Premier Access” program (a $30 fee to watch via Disney+).

Not to state the obvious, but Disney makes a lot more money in PVOD than going straight to streaming. (Netflix too! My math on that here.) That’s why theatrical, home entertainment, and now “PVOD”—premium video on demand—are so valuable to studios. And why even films with smaller openings in PVOD are still arguably as successful as big straight-to-streaming launches, since the revenue per customer is much higher.

Knowing that, it leaves us really two questions:

  1. How well did Cruella do compared to past Disney+ PVOD outings?
  2. What does this tell us about the future of PVOD outing?

The first question is relatively simple to answer. Just compare Nielsen data…

Actually I guess it isn’t so simple. While Cruella was behind Mulan, it was also available in theaters, and netted $21.5 million on its opening weekend, a $21.5 million Mulan didn’t get. Cruella was also 28% lower opening than Raya and the Last Dragon—according to Nielsen—but also made $13 million more at the box office. To top it off, yes Soul was huge, but it also debuted during the “Christmas Break Binge” and cost customers an extra $0. 

Let’s do this instead: we’ll wait a few weeks to see how Raya’s SVOD debut and Luca’s day-and-date release perform. And in a few months, we can see if Cruella gets a bump when it goes to SVOD too. Heck, we can toss in Black Widow and The Jungle Cruise in a few months too.

The second question is much trickier. Honestly, I shouldn’t even have brought it up, since I could spend an entire article on it. But the answer to that question could impact Disney’s entire release strategy, so it matters.

To try to figure it out best I could, here’s a collection of data points for HBO Max’s and Disney’s PVOD/day-and-date titles:

Huh. Not a lot of clear trends. In general, things that are popular tend to be popular, but given that theaters are reopening at various rates, the different release styles (PVOD vs day-and-date) and a lack of data, nothing leaps out. I tried to make the connection between Samba TV and Box Office Opening weekend (in the US) and here’s the correlation:

Yeah, not enough data points to draw a trend yet. Unfortunately. The lesson? We really need Nielsen to start covering HBO Max. And not to make too crazy of a guess, but Black Widow will likely obliterate both box office, Samba TV and Nielsen ratings when it premieres on PVOD next week.

Quick Notes on Film

Dog Gone Trouble. Here’s a fun story. Back in 2019, the film Trouble was released internationally but it likely had trouble finding US distribution. Netflix swooped in and bought the rights and renamed the film Dog Gone Trouble. It did 5.4 million hours of viewing in its first weekend.

Army of the Dead only dropped 13% week-over-week, which is good for a Netflix film opening this large. (This is a bigger second weekend than every film above it in my data.) 

Anecdata of the Week

I spent the introduction telling you we know more now than ever about streaming. But of course we don’t know everything. And the week of May 24th to May 30th provides a perfect example: the last episode of the Mare of Easton premiered, and we’re left to pick at datecdotes to judge how well it did. Reviewing the leaks, here’s what HBO claims:

– The series grew in viewership every week, peaking at 3 million during the finale weekend.
– The final episode is the most watched “episode” of TV of any HBO or HBO Max original.
– 1.7 million TVs tuned in according to Samba TV’s panel.

The challenge is that Mare of Easttown falls into a nether region between traditional ratings (that don’t typically cover linear HBO viewing anyways) and streaming ratings (since it was also available on HBO Max). 

But we’re not even finished with HBO yet. Arguably the Friends reunion was even bigger! That’s what Samba TV says, saying the reunion netted 2 million TV’s watching. The best look I have for that comes from Antenna, who charted sign-ups:

Coming Soon!

– First, Disney+’s big recent outing is Luca, which skipped theaters to go straight-to-streaming. The big comparisons for it will be The Mitchells vs the Machines, Raya and the Last Dragon and Soul. 

– Second, Amazon’s longest running Prime Video series debuted its last season “binge-style”, releasing Bosch on Thursday June 24th. We will get viewership numbers for this series and it will be our first look at how this long running series has held up over time. 

And yes, if you didn’t realize this was one of Amazon’s best performing series, ask your parents or grandparents about it. Still don’t believe me? Here’s Google Trends:

– Third, but we won’t get a look at Paramount+’s longest running original, The Good Fight, since Nielsen still isn’t tracking Paramount+. So we’ll see what we can find.

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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