College football returns this week. Will it impact streaming ratings? Probably not. If anything, it’s the reverse: football comes back and broadcast ratings go up!
But it got me thinking. Because college football is boring now. The seemingly same four schools go to the College Football Playoffs every year. Boring! (But is it good ratings? ESPN certainly seems to think a few juggernauts drive ratings. Maybe this is a “me” problem.)
Sort of like how Netflix dominates the streaming ratings. This week was a bit of a return to the summer of 2020 when Netflix owned the Nielsen top ten list almost every week. Look at the TV charts: it isn’t until the 18th spot that we finally get a non-Netflix title.
Unlike college football, Netflix’s dominance has been ebbing this year. And as Nielsen adds more streamers, it could/will ebb further.
You’ll notice one other trend: except for Outer Banks and Virgin River, the top TV titles are not “Originals”. That’s fascinating, especially since this week we have three new licensed titles premiering on Netflix. Let’s dig in to what that means.
(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 July 26th to August 1st.)
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The value of the leading streamer’s catalogue is not just the Originals it makes, but also the “second run” TV series it streams. (Second run means the second home for a TV series after it premieres on broadcast or cable TV.)
We forgot this for a pinch, since Covid-19 shut down all TV production. Which meant that some key Netflix second-run titles, like Grey’s Anatomy and The CW shows (The Flash, All American, etc) didn’t premiere new episodes in the fall of 2020. The latest week of Nielsen data—remember for the week of July 26th—conveniently saw three big licensed/second-run titles premiere on Netflix: The Walking Dead season 10 (premiering on July 26th), The Flash (premiering July 28th) and, most importantly, All American (premiering July 27th).
I’d add, Grey’s Anatomy debuted a new season earlier in July. Chicago Med had new episodes on July 22nd too, though it’s available non-exclusively on Peacock and Hulu too. Add it up and that’s a lot of licensed content at once!
Further, most of these series hadn’t had new episodes in a long time. The Walking Dead had new episodes arrive on Netflix back in October of 2019. Grey’s Anatomy, The Flash and All American hadn’t had new episodes on Netflix since the spring of 2020. Like all filmed productions, The CW had to shut down for Covid-19, and this delayed everything. (The CW shows premiere on Netflix eight days after their last episode on linear TV.)
What’s particularly fascinating is that these second-run titles act a lot more like “originals” then many licensed titles. In 2020, the “core four”, as I called them, were Grey’s Anatomy, Criminal Minds, NCIS and The Office. The Office has since gone, but the other three series, with hundreds of episodes, routinely drive a steady amount of viewership on Netflix. Which again isn’t surprising, as syndicated content served this function for decades. Netflix didn’t reinvent the wheel, so much as package it as streaming disruption..
“Originals”, on the other hand, tend to follow the binge release curve. Meaning they see a big jump from week one to two, then steadily decline. These second-run titles can be really valuable for Netflix, since they’re much cheaper than wholly-owned originals. Want an example of one recent success? Obviously, that’s Manifest. Here’s its domination of the US Top Ten charts.
This begs the question, since All American is now on top of the ratings—just above Outer Banks, see below—is it officially bigger than Manifest?
Heck no! That headline was deliberately hyperbolic.
But honestly, it’s complicated. As I’m wont to say, you gotta compare things apples-to-apples. When it comes to second run TV, comparing various series launches means holding the variables of total episodes, length of episodes and release patterns constant. Here’s viewership per episode of select second-run titles with new episodes released this year:
This look gives a good accounting of how shows either grow or fade over time.
So then the question becomes, fine, that’s decay on these recent titles. What about just total viewership. So here’s a quick pull of the top licensed titles on Netflix, by ownership, through the first 8 weeks. (While some shows on The CW are owned by either CBS, Warner Bros or both, I lumped them together)
Is Manifest the top dog? Probably. It definitely benefited from the fact that it dropped all new episodes at one time. Customers have likely been watching The Flash, The Walking Dead and All American before the most recent season debuted on Netflix, which lowers their potential viewership.
Quick Notes on TV
– Premiere: Outer Banks season 2. Outer Banks is quietly one of Netflix’s quietest big hits. I say quietly because the series never got the “datecdote” treatment, even though it had the 10th biggest opening weekend on Nielsen last year, with 17 million hours viewed. (And critics don’t like it either.) Season 2 dropped on Friday July 30th and sustained the momentum, debuting to 23.7 million hours. That trails only The Umbrella Academy, Dead to Me and Cobra Kai among season two launches. According to the Top Ten data, it will hold the top spot in the US for the next two weeks, so we can expect total viewership to grow too.
– Premiere: Love is Blind – After the Altar. These three new episodes follow up on another lock-down reality success for Netflix. The first season just missed the window for Nielsen data (premiering in February), but even six weeks after release the first season of Love is Blind generated 13.8 hours of viewing. With these new episodes. Love Is Blind netted 5 million hours of viewership.
– Never Have I Ever season 2 is decaying as you’d expect, dropping 42% from 9.5 million hours in its second week to 5.5 million hours in its third. Overall, this is a much smaller shows than some other second-run or first run series (like say All American or Outer Banks above), but it still got renewed by Netflix this week.
– Since we’re obsessing with first-run series acting like library titles, I should note that The Crown—season 4 released on November 15th for 40 total episodes—has been a staple on the “Originals” top ten list this year. But it fell off in May and I forgot to note that. Here’s a look at how well it has done over time:
– Premiere: Cocomelon on June 1st. Specifically, Cocomelon dropped three new episodes on Netflix. On Netflix, Cocomelon comes in nearly one hour long episodes, and Netflix has nine of these. Nielsen had some problem calculating their data, and have revised their numbers up to 630 million for the week of May 31st and 758 million for the week of June 7th.
– While I was updating these data points, I also moved Cocomelon to “non-exclusive” in my databases. Cocomelon has a broadly available release strategy, with episodes available in different formats on Hulu, Prime Video and The Roku Channel. (Frankly, it’s a brilliant strategy to drive awareness.) So while a large portion and probably the majority is on Netflix, at least some is from those other places too.
We’re going long, so let’s go quick on film. Luca finally fell off my tracker—it’s now more than six weeks old—but we still have The Tomorrow War. But after that blockbuster, the film side of the streaming house has been quiet.
Disney did have two PVOD titles—PVOD meaning premium video-on-demand, costing $30 to rent on the same day it premieres in theaters—in the Nielsen top ten. That’s the good news. The bad is that The Jungle Cruise only debuted to the fourth highest PVOD ratings yet.
I know everyone still wants a definitive “Has this strategy has failed or succeeded?” take, but I can’t deliver it yet. Until we get more data, evaluating the tradeoffs between theatrical box office, SVOD viewership, home entertainment and PVOD sales will be impossible. But we’ll get there, especially when we get more Pay-1 viewership data.
Quick Notes on Film
– Premiere: Resort to Love. Premiering on July 29th, this rom-com featuring Christina Milian and Jay Pharaoh opened to 2.9 million hours, good for 69th place among all first-run opening weekends. (But hey, at least it made it. I’m building a data set of shows/films that fail to get any viewership, and many films don’t even get that. For example, America: The Motion Picture.)
– Premiere: The Last Letter From Your Lover. Here’s another example. This British rom-com failed to chart last week and only made it to 2.8 million hours in its second week. (And it stars Felicity Jones and Shailene Woodley. Legit actors.) Overall, this was a quite week in film.
– Lastly, the Twilight films have almost all left the Nielsen charts too. Which feels fairly abrupt.
Given that the Olympics started on July 23rd, we should start to see some impact of the summer games on the ratings, if they’d show up. So do we see that?
Not really. I mean, in the middle of the spring, we saw lower troughs than we saw last month. Now, I do think that the return of a few big shows helped—all those licensed shows, for example—but it is still possible some streamers avoided the Olympics time frame for new premieres as well.
– Hulu has had two big original release. Earlier in August, Nine Perfect Strangers—a Big Little Lies-esque drama—premiered and set another Hulu “datecdote”. Then this week Hulu is debuting a murder mystery with Martin Short and Steve Martin. It will be interesting to see if those shows can sustain or build in the momentum of The Handmaid’s Tale. Frankly, of the major streamers Hulu feels well behind Disney+ and Prime Video. For context, here’s Nine Perfect Strangers up against the other big shows of the moment:
(And man Outer Banks could do very well according to this.)
– On August 4th, Netflix debuted Cooking with Paris, the latest entry in the “cooking with celebrities” genre. Yet, it never charted on the Netflix Top Ten. Meaning we’re on track for (potentially) the biggest flop of Netflix Originals. Fun!