Streaming Just Manifested Its Best Week in 2021

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– For the first time in 2021, weekly top ten viewership surpassed the same week’s viewership in 2020.

Manifest, the recently cancelled NBC series produced by Warner Bros., is a hit for Netflix and has the third biggest single week of viewership since 2021 started. But it does benefit from having a lot of episodes to binge.

Luca had the third biggest opening weekend of 2021.


You may have noticed this report came out on a Friday instead of the usual late Wednesday release. Given that the bulk of this report leverages Nielsen’s minutes viewed data, getting it out on Friday felt a little more timely. Let me know what you think of the new release date and any other thoughts on social or send me an email.

(Also, this report is absolutely a work in progress. Every week, I’m working on adding more data sources from more analytics firms to make this report truly a “poll of polls”. More to come!)

Here’s the most interesting headline this week: for the first time in Q2, streaming ratings for the top ten shows are higher than the same week in 2021! For most of the quarter, year-over-year total viewership was down because viewership from April 2020 to June 2020 experienced the “COVID-19 streaming boom”. But it turns out a few really popular TV shows and films can change things…

(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 June 7th to June 20th.)


How about this for a statistic:

Manifest’s second week of viewership was the third highest total hours viewed of any piece of content since the week of December 28th.

That’s a huge number. Yet, this happened:

A show is popular on Netflix—really popular—and yet now it has been cancelled, which begs all sorts of questions. Like…is Netflix a better platform for series than broadcast? Should Netflix buy Manifest? Or should NBC/Warner Bros keep making it?

Listen, those are a lot of great questions. So many that I can’t answer them all in one column. But they capture a general mood/feeling, which is that Netflix can launch big hits and that broadcast networks cannot. At the extremes, folks assume Netflix can launch every show into a big hit. At even further extremes, Netflix “super-Bulls” assume Netflix has already won the streaming wars and should be valued at $1,000 a share. (It’s currently around $500, for those who don’t track daily.)

Manifest is a big hit for Netflix. But I’m not sure it was bigger on Netflix than on NBC. (I need a few more weeks of data to make that comparison.) Moreover, Netflix’s “hit rate” with “second run” TV is even more complicated. For every Manifest, there is a Baker and the Beauty. 

(Not sure what The Baker and the Beauty is? That’s my point.)

Given the outlook, Manifest will be popular for weeks to come, so we have plenty of time to unpack this phenomenon. Since my head is spinning with a ton of disparate thoughts, let’s tackle this list-style.

– First, this is a big number. Like I said, the third highest since the year started and the 10th overall since March 2020. It turns out that having a bunch of very bingeable TV episodes leads to big total viewership numbers. And yes, more total viewership is better, since it means more usage, which means higher retention.

– The caveat is that Manifest has a bunch of episodes, 29 specifically, which is a lot, relatively. If you change the metric to “Viewership Per Episode”, Manifest drops to 44th overall through the first two weeks. 

– Alternatively, you could compare Manifest to shows with a similar number of episodes. Ranking series by episode count, among series with 20-30 episodes, Manifest is 4th place. The caveat here is that Ozark and On My Block benefitted from the March “COVID-19 streaming boom” in viewership.

– This is the sixth time an acquired title has “won the week”. So it isn’t that unusual for a “second run” or “licensed” series to earn the top spot in streaming viewership. Past titles that have earned this honor include NCIS (twice), Grey’s Anatomy, Good Girls (a second run title like Manifest) and Criminal Minds.

– There is definitely a scenario where certain “second run”—meaning series that premiered on cable or broadcast, wait a year and then appear on Netflix—experience newfound popularity. Folks will point out You from 2019 and now Manifest. 

– Be careful, though, of the “availability heuristic”, which can result in bad decision-making. When you’re determining if someone has a skill—in this case, Netflix making second run series hits—you don’t just look at winners, you look at all the examples. Hits and misses. For example, Dirty John is a second run show, but it only made it into the Nielsen rankings for two weeks, with 20 million total hours. And now it’s gone.

– To go even further, I’m not sure my list captures every second run Netflix title. I’m only tracking the shows popular enough to make it into the Nielsen or Netflix Top Ten lists. Meaning some releases could have snuck below our radar.

– For second run shows without a lot of episodes, their decay looks a lot like “the binge release model”. Like The Baker and the Beauty (lasted for two weeks), Dirty John (lasted for two weeks), Good Girls (lasted for six weeks), Outlander (lasted for five weeks) and Start Up (lasted for four weeks). Manifest, though, looks like it will crush those numbers given that, according to the Netflix Daily Top Ten Lists, it will be the number one show in America for three straight weeks from June into July.

You’ll note that that’s a lot of insight, but only focused on streaming. And no comparison to broadcast ratings. I’m not ready to compare the two yet because, fundamentally, comparing streaming ratings to linear viewership isn’t apples-to-apples. 

Will I get to that analysis? Absolutely. But like I said, we’ll have a few weeks to run that analysis. The Manifest data story is just getting started, while the show itself is ending.

Quick Notes on TV

– Premiere: Loki on Disney+. Yes, one of the slightly strange results of Nielsen’s four week delay in ratings is that we’re writing about Loki‘s premiere now, but its season finale was on Wednesday. (It only had 6 episodes.) This is Disney+’s best launch in “viewership per episode” terms, coming in at first place through its first two weeks.

– Premiere: Black Summer. The sophomore season dropped 8 episodes on June 17th and looks like it’s underperforming, with only 5.4 million hours viewed in its first week. It dropped off the “top ten lists” after two weeks, so they can’t launch everything.

– Piercing through the middle of our weekly release chart is a line of lime green for Hulu. That’s right, The Handmaid’s Tale continues to show the value of a weekly release in generating buzz. It’s even rising a pinch over time. 

Downton Abbey is up to 21 million hours viewed, good for third place this week. Yes, this series is “non-exclusive” since Peacock, Prime Video and Netflix stream it. But likely this latest boost is due to new episodes premiering on Netflix on June 1st, as I mentioned last ratings report. Given that Downton Abbey never made it on the Nielsen charts before it appeared on Netflix, most of this viewership is probably Netflix-driven.

– Here’s the fun insight you won’t find elsewhere: Downton Abbey only appeared on the Netflix top ten charts three times in June. However Netflix calculates their top ten list, it does not prioritize much older licensed series. 


That was a lot of Manifest thoughts, so we’ll have to pick up the pace for film. The big news is that Luca is a big, big hit. It’s the third biggest film week one, only trailing Wonder Woman 1984 and Soul. 

The biggest question I have is on one of the key inputs: how much are the streamers spending on marketing these straight-to-streaming films? It honestly wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out that Disney and HBO were marketing their straight-to-streaming films as much as if they were theatrical releases. (And some are both PVOD and theatrical, so yeah.) Netflix, notably, doesn’t have to do that. But it also only has one film in the top five of opening weekends. 

(And maybe none after Black Widow comes out…)

(And maybe even fewer if HBO Max let Nielsen release its viewership figures. Seriously, HBO Max, what are you afraid of?)

The other question for the future is how this impacts the “PVOD vs SVOD” discussion. Here’s the table from Raya and the Last Dragon’s SVOD debut, updated:

Without any data on it—and marketing spend is a tricky business—I’d argue that Luca had the most marketing spend, followed by Raya’s theatrical/PVOD debut (which felt low at the time), and finished by Raya’s SVOD debut (which probably had minimal spending). If this is true, then it begs all sorts of questions:

Luca had about 4.4 times as much viewership as Raya’s PVOD debut but more marketing.
– But Luca had about as much total viewership as Raya’s SVOD debut plus Raya’s PVOD debut. Meaning, did Disney leave, essentially, 6 million hours of PVOD on the table?
– If Disney had marketed Raya more, would it have had even higher numbers?

We’ll never know. Either way, Disney will take a monster opening weekend whenever it can, and Luca is another hit for Disney+.

Quick Notes on Film

– Premiere: Fatherhood starring Kevin Hart released to 14.6 million hours, a pinch below some other recent big releases. (Behind Army of the Dead and Thunder Force, for example.) Netflix released a datecdote estimating that 61 million households will watch Fatherhood through 28 days, ahead of Thunder Force, but behind Army of the Dead. But that’s a global number so we’ll see how it holds up in Nielsen’s U.S. ratings.


Since Nielsen has been releasing viewership since March of 2020, we can compare the “top ten” series of 2020 to 2021. (Nielsen changed from a top ten to three top ten lists in 2021.) First, here’s among all streamers:

That’s the week-by-week totals. Here’s the monthly total, broken out by streamer:

But what about Netflix specifically? Glad you asked. Here’s the top ten data from 2020 compared to the top ten Netflix series this year:

That last look is as “apples-to-apples” as I can make it for Netflix. Meaning that this shows that top series on Netflix are down from this time last year. And likely this is driven by a weaker content slate and a fall from the “covid streaming boom”. Either way, usage of the service as a whole is likely down.

Why did I jump the gun on June’s release totals? Next week Netflix has their quarterly earnings report, and since we believe that content drives retention, which drives subscriber numbers, this information matters. It looks like most of Q2 2021 was generally down from this time last year for Netflix, but it ended on a higher note. Though, as friend of the site Andrew Freedman of Hedgeye noted, this didn’t translate into higher mobile app downloads, as it did for Disney+:

Mobile downloads are good proxy for total downloads/new subscribers—as Hedgeye has modeled in the past—so take that for what you will.

Coming Soon!

Black Widow. If we didn’t have so much Manifest to cover, we’d have dug into what it means that Disney finally released PVOD numbers in addition to box office numbers. We’ll wait four more weeks to get the Nielsen ratings for some real fun.

– The other buzzy streaming launch was the reboot of Gossip Girl on HBO Max. But HBO Max doesn’t release viewership data for reasons I don’t quite understand. Even if they split ratings with their linear channel, I have to assume their film would tell a positive news story.

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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