Do Sequels Still Work?

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Manifest had quite the summer. The show of the summer, if you will. It went from cancelled on NBC—with a cliffhanger—to thriving on Netflix. Most headlines/coverage repeated something along the lines that this proved that Netflix could make hits where broadcasters like NBC had failed.

At least, that’s the narrative.

But did it? I mean, what do the number say? Did more folks watch more Manifest on Netflix than NBC? It would be great to know the actual answer, instead of relying on our gut thinking…right? 

Well, I have an answer for you, but over at The Ankler, Hollywood’s most feared newsletter. Check it out. And if you missed it, I also released part II of my “most important story fo the week” column with other thoughts on the stories of the week at my website.

In the meantime, Netflix maintains its dominance on the streaming ratings, but its latest sequels and newest TV offerings failed to launch.

(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 August 9th to August 15th.)

Film

Let’s switch it up and start with film this week. August is the month when box office starts to drop from the summer highs, which may be the case with streaming as well. Take the latest teenage romcom, The Kissing Booth 3, the last film in The Kissing Booth series. Released on Wednesday August 11th, it premiered to 7.5 million hours viewed.

If that doesn’t seem like a lot, that’s because it isn’t. In my data set—which grows every week—that’s the 36th highest premiere for a first-run streaming title to date. TRomance and romcoms don’t seem to have as high of a ceiling as larger, bigger budgets films like Extraction or The Old Guard. Here’s a quick comparison:

If you followed the box office over time, this wouldn’t be that surprising either. Romcoms have always had their hits, but their ceiling/hit rate has never matched bigger budget, often four-quadrant, films. Since The Kissing Booth 3 did almost the exact same number at The Kissing Booth 2, 7.2 million hours, that ceiling looks intact. (Though the latter was released on a Friday.)

Of course, if you follow Netflix—or the trade coverage of Netflix press releases—you’d be forgiven for thinking Netflix teenage romcoms were smashing successes.

Back in Q3 of 2019, Netflix debuted what may be their first datecdote of all time, when they told us (officially) that their “summer of love” a series of teenage romcoms had been viewed by 80 million households worldwide. That sounds huge!

The obscurity worked and many celebrated this triumph as the latest sign that Netflix was taking over all film. 

This baffled me at the time. I mean, Crazy Rich Asians was a phenomenon, and many journalists and critics said, “80 million is so big! Clearly these are the most popular films in America!” It inspired inspired me to dig more into Netflix’s data, and I wrote an entire series arguing that Crazy Rich Asians was more popular than all the “summer of love” films put together.

Since then, as the above table shows, the “summer of love” sequels have mostly been aggressively “fine”. Thankfully, Nielsen ratings have provided actual viewing (in America) to compare all releases. Except for The Wrong Missy—which is more of a comedy than a romance, but tomato tomator—and Holidate—a holiday film—the ceiling for these films is about 7 million hours of viewing.

This didn’t stop the datecdotes though. The day before The Kissing Booth 3 premiered, Netflix announced that between The Kissing Booth and To All The Boys series (five films at that time), had been seen by a whopping 125 million households. (And 31 million had seen all five.) That’s not all! Netflix previously  provided datecdotes for To All the Boys: Always and Forever (51 million people) and The Kissing Booth 2 (66 million households worldwide).

Netflix PR executives bank on the fact that most journalists have the memories of gold fish. If they get told one data point in January, and another in July, they’ll never make the connection. Comparing datecdotes two years apart? Forget about it.

But I will. Now with the caveats that these measure different numbers of films, over different time periods and use different measurements. Converting everything to estimated 2 minutes of viewing, and here’s the datecdotes related to all the “summer of love” films:

So what’s the takeaway? Basically, these numbers don’t seem that great. Or fishy. In the summer of 2019, with around 130 million global subscribers, Netflix got 108 million to watch 70% of one of 11 romcoms. Then it released three sequels to those films, which got 125 million people to watch. Is that good? Better or worse than expected? I don’t know.

Take the 31 million people who watched all five. Is that high? Low? I don’t know again.

My takeaway? The 2 minutes viewed number is a fairly flawed data point, that’s highly gamed by sampling and not actual viewership. Which is why I look for other data points for whether things are successful or not.

Quick Notes on Film

– Film Premiere: Prime Video released Val—a documentary about Val Kilmer—on Friday August 6th. Meaning we should have seen it in the Nielsen rankings either last week or this week. If you follow film Twitter, this was a pretty buzzy documentary, but clearly that didn’t translate to the ratings. Call this a “dog not barking”. The surprising part is that the buzz showed up in the Google Trends data, but not the ratings for its opening weekend.

– Film Premiere: Netflix debuted Beckett as their latest in what I call “fast follow” films. Beckett stars the actor from Tenet, it looks like Tenet, and it’s about spies, like Tenet. But it isn’t Tenet, it’s Beckett. Honestly, if you say it fast, Beckett sounds like Tenet. (Two other examples of this? Outside the Wire, which looks/feels a lot like Gemini Man, but isn’t. Or The Silence, a thriller about people who need to stay quiet to hide from monsters. That isn’t A Quiet Place?) Anyways, Beckett debuted to 5.3 hours in its opening weekend, below even Gunpowder Milkshake. 

– As is usual, Netflix released two new acquired titles, The Net, a library title from 1995 and The Paper Tigers, an action film from 2020. The interesting film here is The Net, since while it was watched on Netflix you have to ask…why? This is a film with a 5.9 rating on 60K reviews. Moreover, as this review lays out, it’s dated and anachronistic. (For example, a character discovers they have HIV in the opening scene and commits suicide. That shouldn’t have been filmed even in 1995.) Does having unloved, lowly rated films like this really help Netflix? I know they say yes, but I worry.

Vivo had a great bump into its second week, growing 62% to 13.4 million hours. Sure, it’s a fraction of what the Disney titles generated on their animated second week (Luca had 28.6 million, Raya had 15.9 million and Soul had 22.4 million), but that’s still a sign it has some replay value. Let’s watch for the “binge release curve” next week.

Television

The Netflix domination continues for another week on the Nielsen ratings charts. Here’s the top 30 chart:

Though, at not quite the level it was last week as everything on top of the Netflix charts was down from where it was last week.

The most fun other story is Grace and Frankie, which dropped season 7 on Friday August 13th. No matter how you count, this is one of Netflix’s longest running series of all time, and it’s longest running current series. (And yes, how you count matters. Do you include foreign titles? Unscripted series? Originals that started life elsewhere?) Focusing on scripted Netflix Originals in the US—that started life on Netflix—here’s the list of most episodes:

This is the first time we’ve had Grace and Frankie in the ratings. At 7.8 million hours, it topped the one other season 7 in my data set, Bosch, which only had 7.1 million hours. Though, if this were a season one, it would only be good enough for 36th in my data set. And wasn’t good enough for a top ten finish either. In short, this seems like a good series for Netflix, but clearly it has decayed in viewership over its seasons. Which is probably why Netflix cancels most series after three seasons.

(If you want some more Grace and Frankie thoughts, check out this article for Decider from last year where I speculated how much G&F would sell for on the open market.)

Quick Notes on TV

– The rest of the TV side of the house was fairly quiet, which leaves us with a series of “dogs not barking”, meaning new titles that failed to leap into the Nielsen ratings. On the Disney side, we have two weekly released season one titles:

What If…? From Marvel (Wednesday 11-Aug-2021 – Weekly)
Reservation Dogs on Hulu (Monday 9-Aug-2021- Weekly)

Of the two, I’d expect What If…? To eventually show up, otherwise it will be Marvel’s first miss. And also another data point that animation has a ceiling. Based on Google Trends data, thinks don’t look bright for either:

– Netflix also released Bake Squad (Wednesday 11-Aug-2021) and Brand New Cherry Flavor (Friday 13-Aug-2021). Given the top ten ratings, I don’t expect we’ll see them in future ratings. (Brand New Cherry Flavor peaked at a score of “6” for tenth place the week of August 16th, and Bake Squad peaked at a score of “10” for tenth place the week of August 30th.)

– TV Premiere: Season 2 of Gabby’s Dollhouse dropped on Tuesday 10-August-2021 and made it on the originals list. The first season made the Nielsen charts for one week back in January (6.3 million hours), so we’ll see if this holds more like that initial outing or more like Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous. The second season is down from January launch, only 4 million hours, so probably not a great hold.

Hit and Run had a great jump…up to 9.2 million hours. Let’s check back on this one next week to see how it holds.

Competition

Friends of the website Kasey Moore looked into the volume of originals on Netflix and came up with the startling statistic that shows and films branded as Netflix Originals now make up 40% of the US library. Given that Moore’s website Whats-On-Netflix has one of the best Netflix databases out there, this is great stuff. (Also, this is by title, not by volume of content.)

Overall, this is Netflix’s plan: to decrease their reliance on content owned by other studios. The big caveat, and sort of the theme of the week, is that licensed titles continue to drive the most usage on Netflix.  (Again, see my big article at The Ankler.)

Anecdata of the Week

While this is streaming ratings report, I did have to report on this crazy story from early August, as the MLB had their highest linear TV ratings since 2005 with their Field of Dreams game. Multiple people texted me about it, we turned the game on, it looked cool and had a great finish. Mission accomplished, MLB.

And no, I don’t think this impacted the streaming ratings.

Coming Soon!

– To continue the Manifest theme (seriously, read this), here’s a chart of the top ten ratings. Manifest was almost on its way off the charts, then Netflix released season 3 and it’s back on top. Though notably, not the number one series, which is an honor which belongs to Clickbait. Obviously, the number for next week will be fascinating.

– Speaking of big releases, the other Netflix title that looks to do well is He’s All That a reboot/sequel to She’s All That, the greatest film of the 1990s. It dominated the top ten charts so we’ll get that data in about four weeks. (And can then compare it to The Kissing Booth 3! Call back!)

– Looking way ahead, there are two big library titles coming to streaming. The Harry Potter films are coming to HBO Max and Seinfeld is coming to Netflix in the US in October. In one case, it’s the owner taking back their rights (HBO/Warner Bros) and in the other its an acquired title (Netflix is the latest renter from Sony). While we’ll see the Seinfeld results—expect it to make the acquired list, at least at first—HBO Max still isn’t tracked by Nielsen, because they are cowards.

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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