A Streaming Royale Rumble: Who Won Cruella, He’s All That or Vacation Friends?

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Folks, last week I promised you a show down of straight-to-streaming films, and by golly, we got it. Given the datecdotes, Nielsen ratings and creative auspices of the films involved, the battle lived up to the hype.

(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 23rd to August 29th.)


Your contenders were:

Cruella on Disney+: Helmed by A-List talent (Emma Stone), this remake of the Disney classic is based on well-known IP and cost between $100-200 million to make.

He’s All That on Netflix: A remake of a 1990s cult classic, featuring a TikTok star in her first film role. 

Vacation Friends on Hulu: A  “buddy comedy” starring Lil Rey Howery and John Cena (who may be A-List?) not based on pre-existing IP (finally).

The great thing is that each film premiered on Friday, 27-Aug, making this an “apples-to-apples” comparison. So how did they do? Well first, here’s my Google Trends pull from last week, which predicted a Cruella win:


And compare that to the opening weekend actual results:

That’s why I like Google Trends. It isn’t perfect, especially for names with common phrases or easy misspellings. But when it works, it correlates fairly well with actual viewership. I mean look at that correlation above! It’s almost perfectly correlated!

This surprises me a pinch. When Cruella came out in theaters last May, it seemed aggressively “fine”. It only grossed $21 million in its opening weekend in the US, which in non-pandemic times, would have been almost a disaster. And on PVOD it wasn’t much better, only netting 4.7 million hours. 

But then when it comes on SVOD, it lands as the top film on the list, which would have been good for 17th all-time. Meaning it had more viewership than 80% of streaming titles that made my data set in the last year. And this was a middling theatrical title and follows the success of Raya and the Last Dragon, whose SVOD debut was the 9th best film debut in my data set.

If one were to develop a hypothesis—and for me this is stronger than a hypothesis because I’ve seen loads of a data at an actual streaming company—it seems clear that theatrical films perform as well, if not better, than titles released straight to SVOD. Meaning the value of “straight-to-streaming” exclusivity just may not may be smaller than is often speculated.

Take Vivo, which was also released in August, is also a family film, and likely cost about $100-200 million like Cruella. It’s opening weekend had only 8.2 million hours viewed. Meaning Cruella had a bigger opening weekend than Vivo on SVOD, plus 4.7 million hours of viewing in its opening PVOD weekend (with all the associated $30 payments) and $230 million in theatrical revenue. 

So you have to ask: would you rather have more SVOD viewership, theatrical revenue and home entertainment revenue…or less SVOD viewership? (Uh, the former?)

Let’s make it a pinch tougher. What if Luca released in theaters/PVOD at the end of June? 

Would have it have netted as much box office as Cruella? Almost definitely.

Would its ultimate SVOD debut have been as big? Probably not. 

But would it have been smaller than Rayas’ SVOD debut? Most definitely not.

Thus, would you trade 8 million hours of viewing on the opening weekend for 6 million hours of PVOD and say $400 million in box office? I think you would. And honestly that math is why Disney and Warner Bros have committed to 2022 theatrical releases.

But the story doesn’t end here. In October, we’ll see how well Black Widow and Jungle Cruise perform in SVOD. And Shang-Chi on SVOD as well, Disney’s current monster at the box office. And these will all go up against Netflix’s full slate of films. So lots of data still to come!

For example, I’ve been tracking the growth from PVOD to SVOD opening weekends. Raya and the Last Dragon did 3 times its PVOD number (5.9 million hours to 18) and Cruella did 2.9 (4.7 million to 13.6). That means that if “3” is the magic number, we should expect Black Widow to generate 27 million hours in viewing, nearly Luca’s total and Jungle Cruise would get to about 17 million, good for 10th place all time. Mulan, notably, did not hit the “3 multiple” and did less than 1 and its SVOD debut went largely unnoticed.

As for second place, He’s All That premiered at 54th out of 90 on its opening weekend. Just above To All The Boys: Always and Forever. Teen rom-coms may have a ceiling between 5-7 million hours in the US. That didn’t stop it from getting the “datecdote” treatment, with Netflix saying 55 million households globally watched in the first 28 days. That’s good for 24th among Netflix datecdotes.

And now the bronze medal winner. Vacation Friends got only 4.6 million in its opening weekend, good for 60th place in our list. The only defense for this lower number is that Hulu is about half the size of Netflix in the US, so a higher percentage of Hulu customers tuned into it. This led Hulu to providing another vague datecdote, calling it—via Deadline— the “the most the most watched original film in its opening weekend on the streamer to date”. Let’s update our Hulu datecdotes table:

The best title in Hulu history placed 60th all-time in opening weekends. That’s a flop in my book. Meaning the best title in Hulu’s history is still a flop. They have a ways to go.

Quick Notes on Film

Sweet Girl dropped from week 1 to week 2. That’s fine but not great. Lots of films in the top 25 drop like that, including Thunder Force, Army of the Dead and so on, but films that start losing viewership tend to keep dropping.

– Film Premiere: Netflix – Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed. Released on Wednesday 25-Aug, only getting 4.4 million hours (61st all-time) feels low compared to the buzz.

– Film Premiere: Annette on Prime Video. Do you see Annette in the table above? Look again. Still not there? You don’t see it because it ain’t there. This prestige-y title stars Adam Driver and was released on Prime Video on 20-Aug but never made the top ten list. So it’s a “dog not barking” or miss from Prime Video. Given it only had a $15 million budget, this isn’t the most expensive miss, but it’s still a miss.

– Netflix had two smaller original films miss the Nielsen ratings list too. Black Island (18-Aug) and Memories of a Murderer: The Nilsen Tapes (18-Aug too) never made the top ten. That’s a rare dual miss from the streamer of record.


Well, there is only one story this summer: Manifest. I’ve covered it here, here or here, then wrote about it in The Ankler here, and then followed that up with bonus content here. Manifest summer!

And now the cycle starts anew. Netflix released Manifest season 3 on August 22nd. This drove it back to the top of the Nielsen charts. Though not as high as before. When Manifest hit its peak in June, it was the third highest single week total of any content this year. Season three looks like it will peak as the 19th highest single week total this year. Which is still excellent, but not quite as high.

And this does look to be Manifest’s peak. Looking at the top ten data, Manifest will be the second most popular title next week, and then drop off:

As others have noted, that’s the second longest run at number one in the top ten list and it has the 3rd longest run of appearing in the top tens to date. 

Moreover, The Hollywood Reporter let folks know this title was popular in America and Canada, with 25 million households tuning in in the first 28 days. Is this good? We have no idea, because Netflix had never released a North America-only datecdote before. But there you go! And completion was good. How good? Well, trust Netflix. Here’s the key quote:

(Why highlight the “much has been made” comparing viewership? Because I don’t think much was made! As far as I can tell, my analysis of NBC to Netflix viewership at The Ankler two weeks back is the only such analysis.)

It’s not crazy to say that Manifest saved the summer for Netflix. But for this title, viewership likely would have been down compared to last year for America’s biggest streamer. This title wasn’t just a smart buy, it was crucial to help drive it’s subscriber numbers this quarter.

Quick Notes on TV

– TV Premiere: Netflix Clickbait. Released Friday 25-Aug, this US show filmed in Australia looks to be a breakout hits for Netflix. The most surprising thing to me is that Adrian Grenier is still acting. I thought he had quit Hollywood! But he’s back, and maybe this will revive Entourage jokes again. (Then it will get cancelled.) This is the 13th highest week one premiere in the data set (good) and looks to have a long run ahead (even better).

– TV Premiere: Netflix – The Chair. This is why I like ratings. Based on social buzz, you’d think The Chair was the biggest show on Netflix, not Clickbait. But The Chair didn’t show up last week in Nielsen’s ratings. (It was released on Friday 20-Aug.) In its second week, it only generated 5.2 million hours, good for 64th place out of a 79 season one premieres in my data set. It will need award wins to make it to future seasons.

– TV Netflix – Family Reunion season 4: Released on 26-Aug, it netted 3.3 million hours viewed. Frankly, I think Netflix has a comedy/sitcom problem and Family Reunion’s meager season 4 provides another data point.

– TV Unknown: Apple released season 2 of See, the Jason Momoa helmed, sci-fi series, which is probably their second buzziest title at launch after The Morning Show. (Both since surpassed by Ted Lasso.) Since Nielsen doesn’t track their ratings and See is a terrible title for Google Trends, we’ll likely never know.

– TV: CoComelon. I got a request to check in on everyone’s favorite toddler series, CoComelon. New episodes released in June on Netflix, and you can see the show has had a bump up in total viewership since then. Now, philosophically, I don’t believe in comparing shows intended for different age groups. Because preschoolers watch TV differently than children who watch differently than adults. Still, even with that caveat, CoComelon is a beast in the ratings.

Coming Soon!

– Next week: We get Nielsen data on Only Murders in the Building, to see how well Hulu’s best comedy series performs. Also, Money Heist, Netflix’s biggest international series will hit the ratings. As for dogs not barking, we’ll be on the look out for A.P. Bio on Peacock and Sparking Joy with Marie Kondo on Netflix. In film, the big wildcard is Cinderella, which required some fancy data cherry-picking to get a datecdote from Amazon/Prime Video.

– New releases – Lucifer. Of the film and shows releasing over the last week, the big daddy is Lucifer, another broadcast-to-streaming success story. I’ll look to repeat my “Did more people watch it on broadcast or streaming?” analysis when that happens. 

– New Release – Y: The Last Man. A critical darling from the comics world, from creative genius Bryan K. Vaughn, this work has been in development hell for years. (Decades?) Given the subject matter—a world without men—it couldn’t fit the times better. We’ll see if hits. (Interestingly, Vaughn’s other celebrated work is Runaways, which was also a Hulu title back in 2019, before we have ratings data.)

– New Release: The Morning Show season 2. Another show we’ll likely never get data for. I’m working on analyzing Apple TV+’s performance with non-Nielsen data, but in the meantime we’ll look for Google Trends/IMDb to see if this show lives up to its buzz in the media.

Here are the Google Trend predictions for the new series:

(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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