Can Disney’s Weekly Releases Keep Up With Netflix’s Binges?

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Let me level with you: if Netflix took over the entire rankings list for another week—like they did the last two weeks—I probably would have quit. That level of dominance ceases to be impressive and just starts to be boring. (Fine, I wouldn’t have actually quit. But I would have complained.)

It reminds me of why I like the NFL. Sure, the NFL has its dynasties—the Patriots and Chiefs come to mind—but any team can make the Super Bowl in any year. That gives every fan base the hope that they too can turn it around. Speaking of the NFL, will it start to impact the streaming ratings? Probably not more than any other year. But don’t sleep on how huge football is in America.

(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 16th to August 22nd.)


The story of the week in TV is the battle of the weekly released Hulu and Disney+ series against Netflix’s binge released series. Since we focused on Netflix for the last two weeks, let’s dig into Disney’s efforts.

For Disney+ and Hulu, they needed some hits. Loki dropped off the list (as expected) back in July and then Disney+ had a two week dry spell. Hulu’s gap was even longer, as it’s previous title on the list—The Handmaid’s Tale—fell off the week of 5-July. Disney’s drought ended this week as Disney+’s Marvel’s What If…? (released on 11-Aug) made the list in its second week and Hulu’s Nine Perfect Strangers made the list in its first week of release (released on 18-Aug).

How did Disney+’s latest efforts fair? Well, it depends how you count. If you wanted to sound pessimistic, compared to Netflix in total hours, not well. In total viewership, through two weeks What If…? Ranked 73rd out of 76 data points. That’s low. (And surrounded by fellow animated titles Star Wars: The Bad Batch at 70th and Invincible at 76th.) Nine Perfect Strangers did better, premiering at 37th, nearly exactly middle of the pack. 

But wait…is this apples-to-apples?

Hardly. As we learned from my mini-Manifest manifesto, weekly viewership can seem less impressive than binge releases, but that’s often a mirage.

Disney released three episodes of Nine Perfect Strangers averaging 49 minutes per episode. What If…? is even smaller at 31 minutes per episode and only had two episodes released through the week of 16-Aug. If we switch to “viewership per episode”, a better metric for new series, Nine Perfect Strangers moves up to 13th in week one rankings and What If…? moves up to 37th. Here are Disney+ and Hulu’s season one releases for this year:

Given that Nine Perfect Strangers didn’t have Marvel’s branding, it had a strong pedigree, with strong IP (another book by the author of Big Little Lies) and a famous leading actress (Nicole Kidman). And it looks like it’s off to a good start.

Indeed, in their perfectly vague style, Hulu told us that Nine Perfect Strangers was their most their most watched original. It’s hard to see how they track that, given that they claimed something similar twice about The Handmaid’s Tale (twice) and The Handmaid’s Tale had higher viewership measured by Nielsen, but oh well. Here’s my table of datecdotes from Hulu, split into TV and film:

While that list of accomplishments might make Hulu feel better, besides Nine Perfect Strangers, the Hulu track record has been fairly poor going back to 2020. Like bad. For example, Reservation Dogs came out on 9-Aug, and it never made the Nielsen ratings nor even got a datecdote. This follows a run of shows that haven’t cracked the top ten like Shrill, Woke or PEN15. (The FX-on-Hulu shows are tricky and with linear viewership may not make the streaming ratings charts.)

Disney+ has their own struggles. Particularly their family titles like Turner and Hooch, Diary of a Future President, The Mighty Ducks series and Big Shot, which have been similarly shut out. Disney+ needs a few more non-Marvel series to pick up the slack and gain ground on Netflix.

Quick Notes on TV

– TV Premieres: Bake Squad and Brand New Cherry Flavor had “week 2” appearances on the Nielsen list. What this means is that while they premiered Wednesday 11-Aug and Friday 13-Aug respectively, they were too small to make the cut last week. This week, with 4.6 million and 4.0 million hours viewed respectively, they did make the list. Those are good for the 65th and 71st lowest spots among season ones with at least one week of data. (To compare to What If…?, Bake Squad had 8 full half-hour episodes and Brand New Cherry Flavor had 8 broadcast-length hours, meaning 40 minutes per episode. So viewership per episode won’t help boost their viewership.)

– Dog Not Barking: Modern Love. Prime Video released the second season of Modern Love on 13-Aug, a show that gets a modicum of critical buzz. But it didn’t make the Nielsen charts last week or this week. Since it was binge released, I’m fairly confident this is a “dog not barking”, meaning a flop, for Amazon. 

Hit & Run seems to have had a steeper than usual binge release curve, with a higher than average jump of 143% into its second week, then a 54% drop into it’s third week. I’d predict it falls off the charts next week.

The Flash dropped off Nielsen’s acquired TV charts after a three week run from when new episodes premiered. It never had a binge release curve, starting at 8.7 million hours going to 7.9 million hours and finishing with 7.1 million hours. So not all superhero shows are smash hits.


The big premiere of the week is Sweet Girl, released on Friday 20-Aug. It generated 11 million hours over its opening weekend, which was good for the 22nd biggest opening of 87 releases in my data set.

But 22nd feels low compared to what the Hard R action films accomplished last year. By Netflix’s own self-reported data, action films helmed by recognizable actors make up 5 of their top ten “datecdotes” of all time  Those five films were Extraction (99 million households) with Thor Chris Hemsworth, 6 Underground (83 million) with Deadpool Ryan Reynolds, Spencer Confidential (85 million) with Mark Wahlberg, The Old Guard (78 million) with Charlize Theron and Army of the Dead (75 million) with Drax Dave Bautista.

So when Khal Drogo/Aquaman Jason Momoa stars in action film, is it wrong to expect similar viewership levels? And yet…

With only a handful of examples, which means small sample size, it appears like the action films of 2021 haven’t reached the heights of 2020, except for Army of the Dead. Is this a function of more competitive streaming wars? Theatrical releases cutting into film viewership? Lack of Covid -19 lockdowns lowering viewership overall? Or weaker/worse films? 

“Yes” and “maybe” to all.

Quick Notes on Film

– Folks have asked me if I’m ready to retract calling Vivo a flop. Maybe? Like most things, it’s a complicated story not settled by simple pronouncements. The case for a not flop? With three weeks of data, Vivo is 14th all time on my film list, only behind The Mitchell’s vs the Machines, another pandemic-acquired, Sony-produced title. 

The only caveat with this number is that many 2020 titles dropped off after two weeks in my data set since Nielsen was releasing only top ten lists, so arguably Vivo would drop down further without that limitation. Through two weeks, for example, it ranked 20th overall.

But still whether 14th or 20th best, those aren’t “flops”. Fair. To defend myself, as a feature film that forewent theatrical revenue, I still expect a little better. Like these animated titles. 

I mean, folks paid $30 extra just to watch about the same about of Raya and the Last Dragon. So let’s stay it’s not a flop, but not a hit. It’s between “fine” and “good”, but not great.

– Film: The Kissing Booth 3 opened on a Wednesday, so we’re seeing a steeper than usual drop into its second week, dropping 80% in viewership per day, which is a big drop. 


The latest edition of Nielsen’s The Gauge is out, where they total all viewing by source for the previous month. Here it is:

And here’s my tracker of the last four The Gauge data, showing the remarkable stability in streaming viewership:

Overall, this number barely changed, but “Other” got a slight bump. Is that potentially Peacock’s Olympics viewership? We’ll never know.

Anecdata of the Week

Reelgood is a website/application that tracks streaming content catalogues and provides recommendations to users about what to watch/where to find it. As such, they can provide some insights into how content is performing based on what their users—they claim 6 million users, up from 2 million in 2020—are searching for and clicking through. They published a “2021 Q2 Insights” report—link here—and here are two data points I found interesting. 

First, when it comes to total streams, the number one streamer isn’t a surprise, but number four is:

As I’ll repeat until I’m blue in the face, HBO Max, you’re doing well! Stop being cowards and let Nielsen release your viewership!

Second, they pulled out the most popular production companies by streams, and it’s a fun list:

So why is this “anecdata”? Because I don’t have regular reporting from Reelgood (Yet! We’ve talked about partnering more) to evaluate all pieces of content. In the meantime, it’s great for higher level looks like this.

Datecdote of the Week

Is there a difference between anecdote and datecdotes? Anecdata is the plural, meaning an anecdote based on lots of data. Datecdotes are anecdotes based on a single data point. While I throw some shade on anecdata, at least they have lots of data backing them up.

Datecdotes, on the other hand, are meaningless numbers released by SVODs to celebrate success without actually providing context.

(Ironically, Netflix has released so many datecdotes with precise definitions that they make a data set now.)

Here’s a great one from India via Prime Video. Their film Shershaah broke viewership records in India! Does this tell us anything? Uh, not really? We have no real idea how many users actually use Prime Video in India, so we have less context than usual.

Coming Soon!

– Next week we have a serious showdown in the streaming ratings as He’s All That goes against Vacation Friends which goes against Cruella, which debuts for free on Disney+. Here’s a Google trends preview, which is predicting—tentatively—a Cruella win:

– Last week, I said that the NFL would come back and dominate. And dominate it did. The opening season game had 25 million viewers tune in. So when you hear datecdotes like Netflix saying that 25 million households watched an episode of Manifest in the first 28 days, the NFL gets roughly that same viewership in one game. Live. In one country.

If you still don’t believe, here’s the term football in context to the most popular films/TV series in America.

It’s a football world and SVOD is just living in it.

– Next week we’ll get some data on Clickbait, an Australian miniseries. It has the rare feat of beating Manifest in the Top Ten score for Netflix this summer, even when new episodes of season three of Manifest were released.

– As for shows premiering last week, Netflix has a lot riding on Money Heist. Historically this show hasn’t done well in the US, failing to make the Nielsen charts last year when new episodes dropped. But since Nielsen expanded “Originals” to its own list, we might get a peek next week. (Admittedly, the show is huge overseas.)

(As always, sign up for my newsletter to get all my columns, streaming ratings reports, and articles in your inbox.)

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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