To quote Will Ferrell in Old School, Hulu is going streaking! Specifically, they’ve launched their second successful TV series in August. Toss in an okay film performance and The Handmaid’s Tale’s good run, and they’ve had a successful summer. Of course, a Hulu “success” isn’t a Netflix success, or even a Disney+ success. Let’s explain that, plus look at Cinderella’s debut on Prime Video.
(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 30th to September 5th.)
(Also, apologies this is late. My father had surgery last week, and I couldn’t get this draft finished before I helped take care of him.)
How about this for a factoid: Nielsen has released 36 Top 30 lists in 2021 so far. Meaning we’ve had 1,080 entries make one of the Top Ten Original, Acquired or Film lists.
Hulu only has 23 entries.
(How have other streamers fared? See the “competition” section below.)
Given that track record, I was skeptical that Only Murders in the Building could crack the top ten. Despite the creative pedigree—Martin Short, Steve Martin and Selena Gomez—I didn’t know if a half-hour, weekly-released comedy would show up on the Nielsen charts. (With three episodes at launch.) Yet, I’ve heard from folks that it’s actually funny? Which is rare for a comedy nowadays. (Especially Emmy nominated ones.) The data backs up those rumblings, as Only Murders in the Building has a terrific IMDb score of 8.3.
Despite my doubts, it made the weekly Nielsen Top Ten Originals list! With a total viewership of 7.4 million, good for 36th out of 81 season one premieres in my data set.
This was good enough for the “datecdote” treatment, with Hulu claiming that Only Murders was their most viewed “comedy” on their platform. So let’s update our Hulu datacdote tracker:
Sharp-eyed viewers may notice that Only Murders in the Building is actually higher than Nine Perfect Strangers from two weeks back. How about that? Hulu clearly plays games with the number of days and definitions to craft perfectly vague datecdotes that keeps talent happy. Fortunately, we have actual viewership data to peruse. Looking at that data, I could spin the Hulu case in either the “bull” or “bear” way.
If you’re a bull on Hulu—meaning “optimistic” for the non-finance heads—this is a great week for Hulu. Since Nielsen started tracking the data, Hulu has two series on the Original list and the this is the first time Hulu has had three entries in all the top ten lists. Following The Handmaid’s Tale, this is clearly their best stretch in the streaming ratings era.
Further, these series are being released weekly versus Netflix’s binge-released series. Meaning you have more viewers watching fewer episodes to match the totals of Netflix’s series. Here’s the table of Disney+ and Hulu’s season one weekly releases:
Whereas Only Murders in the Building was the 36th highest release by total hours, when you move to initial release measuring “viewership per episode”, it rises to 12th place, just ahead of Nine Perfect Strangers at 13. (The MCU series are 1st, 2nd and 6th, if you’re curious.)
If you’re a bear on Hulu, this one show doesn’t change the needle. If Nielsen were still only providing us a weekly top ten list, Hulu wouldn’t have any shows or films on it. So it can compete for the top 30 list, but not the top ten overall.
That’s still a sign of how much they need to catch up to Netflix. Further, Only Murders in the Building had a bit of help with their Tuesday release day, which provides a few extra days to add viewership compared to most Netflix, who releases most big series on Fridays. For both Only Murders and Nine Perfect Strangers, the key to moving from “good” to “great” status (in my unofficial judgement) is to hold their viewership over the next few weeks. Nine Perfect Strangers is doing okay at that, having total viewership of 7, 6.2 and 5.3 million hours over the last three weeks.
If I’m Hulu, I’m definitely glass half-full on this data. To repeat myself from pervious ratings reports, plenty of Hulu series like Shrill, PEN15, Reservation Dogs and more couldn’t even crack the top 30 lists. Having two big releases competing with Netflix titles is a start.
Quick Notes on TV
– TV Premiere: Money Heist season 5 on Netflix. For Netflix’s biggest international title, you’d still expect it do better than 7.5 million hours, given that it has over 41 episodes at this point. Let’s see how it holds into next week before we pass judgment on it (and all international originals on Netflix).
– TV Premiere Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror. Released on September 1st, this was Netflix’s entry into the battle for 9/11 documentary supremacy. (Apple TV+ also has a film—9/11: Inside the President’s War Room, also released on September 1st.) At 7.5 million hours, it actually had more total viewership than Only Murders in the Building, showing cheap documentaries can work.
– TV Premiere: Last week I failed to shout out The Defeated, a European Original that was called Shadowplay outside the US. It missed the lists in its first week, netted 3.2 million hours in its second week, then dropped off the list this week. This title also complicates the “international originals do great in the US” narrative that Netflix has consistently pushed. Some international titles definitely thrive—especially English-language originals like The Crown—but plenty more do not. (And yes, Netflix currently has a huge global original, see the “coming soon” section below for details.)
– TV Update: I owe a correction for The Chair. I speculated that it may not get a second season if ratings don’t pick up. Well, since it’s a limited series it won’t get a second season. That’s good, since it already dropped out of the top ten lists. Like The Defeated, it missed the Nielsen ratings its first week, got 5.2 million hours its second week, then disappeared. So yes, I definitely think it was a flop. (By the way, you know Netflix execs are desperately trying to find a way to do a second season of The Queen’s Gambit the way HBO desperately made a second season of Big Little Lies happen.)
– TV Update: Marvel’s What If…? remains shockingly consistent, with total viewership of 3.8, 3.9 and 3.9 the last few weeks. That’s much smaller than other Marvel titles, but a good hold.
– TV Update: Grace & Frankie. After going through the usual “binge release curve”, Grace and Frankie stayed fairly flat this week, with 7.0 million hours, down from 7.8 last week.
– On to the “dogs not barking”, or the shows that failed to net in the Nielsen ratings: the champion for this week is probably Titletown High, a Netflix sports docs-series released on 27-Aug. Sports documentaries have been a strong category in the past for Netflix, but this one didn’t make the rankings at all.
– For DNBs I’m monitoring, the biggest is Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, released 31-Aug-2021. If you just read the New York Times—or have Twitter—you’d assume this influencer could sell anything. And yet her show—with admittedly only three episodes—failed to chart the Nielsen rankings this week.
Prime Video continued its role as the streamer of formerly theatrical titles, the latest being Cinderella, which had 7.4 million hours of viewing, good for the second place film this week, or the 12th most watched piece of content this week. (Meaning it would have missed a “top ten” list.)
That’s the 38th highest title out of 92 launches in my data set, which is fine-to-good, but not great. And given that it’s a formerly theatrical title, well, it should do better.
(In fairness to Prime Video, likely a few Warner Bros/HBO Max straight-to-streaming titles would have underperformed too. Which means it’s time for my weekly call out of HBO Max leadership: let Nielsen release you data! What are you afraid of?)
Here’s a comparison to the streaming films released last week:
In all, better than Hulu’s title, but smaller than Disney’s Cruella. Depending how you count, either Cruella or He’s All That feel like okay comps—family or teen films—and this did better than one, but worse than the other. Compared to Amazon’s other straight-to-streaming purchases, though, this film pales. Coming 2 America opened with 23.6 million, The Tomorrow War at 20.5 million, Without Remorse 12.5 million and Borat 2 at 9.5 million.
As always, the counterfactual we can’t prove either way is what would have happened if Sony had released this to theaters. I personally don’t think it would have been a monster at the box office, and still probably would have netted about 7.4 million hours viewed whenever it came to streaming. (Right now, Sony films still go to Starz under their old Pay-1 output deal, the deal that will shift to Netflix in 2022.) And given that we don’t know how much Amazon (over) pays for all these titles, we can’t really judge return on investment either.
Quick Notes on Film
– Film Premiere: Netflix – Afterlife of the Party. Released on 2-Sep, this original comedy on debuted to 4.8 million hours, good for 56th in my dataset. That’s not a great launch, but also not disastrous as this film likely wasn’t that expensive.
– Film Premiere Netflix – SAS: Rise of the Black Swan (formerly SAS: Red Notice). This UK action film had to change names when it debuted on Netflix in the US because Netflix has a much bigger “Red Notice” coming out soon. As a “Pay 1” film from Sky Cinema, SAS debuted on home entertainment back in April and came to streaming on 27-Aug. Since it only has a 5.1 on IMDb, presumably it isn’t very good, but still got 4.8 million hours of viewing.
– Film Premiere Netflix – Green Lantern. Released back to Netflix on 1-Sep, Green Lantern, the very poorly rated adaptation of the DC (and my favorite) superhero made the Netflix Top Ten list for the week of 30-Aug and 6-Sep, but notably didn’t make the Nielsen Top Ten Film list this week. Interesting! Green Lantern bombed when Warner Bros first released it, with a 5.5 IMDb score and only earning $220 million globally at the box office. It almost single-handedly killed off the DC superhero boom, until Avengers proved that, no, comic book movies can be great. (And later Ryan Reynolds proved to make an excellent super hero in Deadpool, but I digress.)
With SAS, I think it is worth asking what the true value is in a couple million households watching not-good to actively-bad action films. Does that really help keep people subscribed, or fuel long term feeling that there is nothing to watch on Netflix? I don’t know but it’s a question I’m monitoring.
– Film Update: Netflix’s Bob Ross documentary (with too long of a name) dropped off the Nielsen ratings this week, only lasting one week on the list. On the one hand, a cheap documentary didn’t cost much, so that’s fine. On the other hand, given how much the Twitch crowd watches Bob Ross reruns, you’d think his legacy could launch a film “into the conversation”. But the Bob Ross effect may not last long outside of its strange Twitch sub-culture.
Since I pulled the data for the number of entries in Nielsen lists this year, I may as well make a chart out of it:
As always, I can spin the data either way. If you’re Netflix, that’s continued dominance. If you’re the other streamers, the same chart in 2020 looked even worse. So take your pick of which narrative fits your biases.
Datecdote of the Week
Netflix released a monster datecdote this week at Vox’s Code Switch conference. Specifically, Ted Sarandos revealed the top ten film and TV series by both number of accounts watching two minutes and total hours viewed. The number of accounts information was all old information, but the total hours is brand new and fascinating:
There is a ton more to unpack about these lists, but I’ll do that in future articles/guest articles, because there’s a lot there.
(Fine, one fun fact to impress your friends: the average age of titles on the TV Top Ten Titles by accounts is 2020.1, whereas the average age of TV series by Hours Viewed is 2018.9. A year apart! Why? Who knows, but it’s a fun fact.)
– Next Week: Can Hulu keep the momentum rolling with Wu-Tang: An American Saga? Lucifer releases its latest season; can it keep up the momentum from its May release? Will HBO’s Malignant thrive or die in its dual-release? And how many new series can Peacock release in one week? All those answers will come next week.
– As for the big recent release, Squid Game. Before it hit Netflix, if I asked you if Squid Game was…
– A reality series on deep sea fisherman from Japan.
– A kids series starring a lovable cartoon squid
– Or a sci-fi dystopian action thriller from South Korea
…what would you have said? Probably not the last option. And if I told you that was the top title on Netflix, would you have believed me? Yet it’s currently the top title in the US on Netflix’s top ten lists, having scored a 59 the week of 20-Sep and a 60 last week. We’ll see how it performs on Nielsen in a few weeks, as it could be Netflix’s biggest non-English language series.