Did Squid Game Steal Money Heist’s Crown as Netflix’s Biggest International Title?

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Today, it’s all about a foreign international title and its performance in the U.S. What’s that you say? Something about an octopus match? A cephalopod competition? 

Squid Game you say?

Let me check. Give me a few minutes.

Okay back. Yikes, Squid Game is popular! As I was writing this article, Netflix released a vague tweet that over 111 million accounts sampled 2 minutes. That’s the most global viewers for a Netflix title in 28 days yet!

But that wasn’t the show I was talking about. 

While I use multiple ratings sources in my analysis, my favorite is Nielsen, since it includes actual hours viewed, not just rankings. We won’t get Squid Game data until next week at the earliest, and given its slow start, we really won’t understand its true performance until two reports from now. (Say around 22-Oct.)

But that’s okay! Last week I only briefly touched on Money Heist (or La Casa de Papel in Spanish), Netflix’s formerly biggest international title. As long as we’re drawing broad conclusions from the success or failure of Netflix’s international strategy in the U.S. based on the success or failure of one TV show, we should start with Money Heist.

(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 September 6th to September 12th.)

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


For all the success that we’ll see with Squid Game—and trust me I’ll have more on it—for the most part, international/foreign language series tend to not perform nearly as well in the U.S. (Again, the main focus of this report.) Take this statistic:

Over the last 18 months, the highest rated foreign language TV series premiere in the U.S. was Who Killed Sara? at 28 out of 82.

And that’s not for a lack of options. Netflix releases hundreds of foreign films and TV series in the U.S. every year. It spends money to subtitle and dub most of those originals. And for the most part, they don’t top the charts and most fail to even make a Nielsen or Netflix Top Ten list.

That brings us to Money Heist, which debuted new episodes in the U.S. on 3-Sep. And to use business jargon, it under-indexed compared to the rest of the world. As a reminder, when looking at global data from Netflix, Money Heist is one of their biggest titles, in the company of The Witcher, Bridgerton, Stranger Things and now Squid Game. Here are the two “Top Ten All Time” lists Ted Sarandos unveiled this week:

So did Money Heist blow up the charts with its latest release? Hardly. Here are the Nielsen Top Ten lists for the last two weeks:

If we didn’t know that Money Heist was a global phenomenon for Netflix, we’d consider 7.5 million hours a fine launch for an international title. 

But here’s the thing: in April, Money Heist—again Netflix’s formerly biggest international title yet—didn’t even make the Nielsen rankings. Here’s the Nielsen Top Ten list of Original series:

Broadening out, we could compare Money Heist to other series with a similar number of seasons released on Netflix. Lucifer season 5 netted 26.5 million hours and Fuller House season 5 did 16.6 million hours in their first week debuts. Among season four TV series in the database, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, 13 Reasons Why and The Crown did 17.3, 16, 15.7 and 13.5 million hours respectively. So those series all almost doubled Money Heist:

Money Heist isn’t the only international smash hit to underperform in America. Lupin ranks second in total unique customers to watch two minutes globally. Yet, in the U.S., its first batch of episodes were only the 52nd highest release in the U.S. Lupin’s Part II was 18th out of 23 season two launches. Also, for all the supposed success of Lupin, the decay of viewers from Part I to Part II should really worry execs at Netflix:

What’s the point here, Entertainment Strategy Guy? As always, nuance.

If you read the internets, you’ll find pundits citing Lupin, Money Heist and Squid Game as proof Netflix’s international strategy is working. And on a global basis, it may be. Netflix is—among other forces—opening up more Americans to watching watching international/foreign language titles than ever before, something foreign audiences have had to do for decades.

The nuance being the U.S. market. While Netflix’s broad international strategy make work, I’m not convinced those same foreign language originals are a good investment in the U.S. On the one hand, Netflix can regularly launch obscure international titles into the top ten lists in America. On the other hand, those international titles rarely last or compete with top, top titles.

Honestly, Squid Game will be Netflix’s first foreign language original to top the TV charts. Depending if you’re a glass half-empty or half-full type of person, that could be an indictment of the strategy in the U.S. or a vindication.

(Last note: Did Money Heist struggle because the title seems so…silly? Money Heist? What else do you heist? La Casa de Papel, the name in Spanish—meaning The House of Paper—sounds much better. Come on Netflix, title better.)

Quick Notes on TV

– Premiere: Netflix – Lucifer Season 6. On 10-Sep, Netflix released their sixth season (though I categorize it as season 7, since they broke season 5 into two parts) of another acquired title, Lucifer. Remember when I did the analysis comparing viewership on Netflix to NBC for Manifest? Well I plan to do a similar analysis eventually, comparing Lucifer viewership on Netflix to Fox, but give me a few weeks. Lucifer netted 17.5 million hours viewed, which bests the two other season 7 series in our data set (Bosch and Grace and Frankie, 7.8 and 7.1 respectively). 

So that’s good, though you can see viewers dropping out of Lucifer, as Season 5 part 1 (Aug-2020) generated 26.5 million hours viewed, Season 5 part 2 (May-202) generated 21.4 hours and now we’re down to 17.5 million hours.

– Premieres: Everything on Peacock. Collecting data, one of the themes that stuck out was Peacock and the volume of spinoffs they’re putting on that service. And they’re strange spin-offs of lots of NBC-Universal properties, like Days of Our Lives: Salem, Top Chef: Family Style and American Ninja Warrior Junior. Listen, these shows have small IMDb ratings, so likely they’re very poorly watched. Seriously, Top Chef Family Style has 13 reviews on IMDb. Not 13 thousand with a K, 13. Yikes.

– Premiere: Netflix – The Circle season 3. Released on 8-Sep, this is Netflix’s third season of this reality series that, based on my casual read of the “conversation”, fails to register. Season 3 netted 4.9 million hours, down from season 2’s 7.4 million hours in week one. That’s good for only 9th place out of 13 season 3 releases in my data set. In its defense, it’s a semi-weekly series, with four episodes releasing at one time. Let’s see if it grows some over time.

– The Disney and Hulu weekly shows. Nine Perfect Strangers had a pinch of an uptick in its fourth week. So did What If…? Going into its fifth week. (Maybe the episode on zombies helped?) Only Murders in the Building declined from 7.4 million hours to 5.6 million. For all three weekly releases, we’ll see if any gain momentum toward the end of their seasons.

– It’s official, Sparking Joy with Marie Kondo is a flop! Released on 31-August, I waited a week to see if this self-help title from the internet’s favorite organizer would breakthrough on the ratings before declaring it DOA. Well, it’s dead. The lesson? Social buzz may not equal viewership. (The one defense? It only released 3 episodes of this season, so not a ton to watch here. Still!)

– The biggest “Dog Not Barking” candidate this week is Hulu’s Wu-Tang: An American Saga season 2 released on 8-Sep. This show felt buzzy to me, and it has an okay rating in IMDb (8.3) but a very low number of ratings (5.1K, bad for a series starting in 2019). It didn’t make the Nielsen charts, so we’ll see if it shows up next week.

– Other Dog Not Barking Candidates. The streamers were busy the first full week of September. Disney+ released Doogie Kameāloha, M.D. and it didn’t make the list. Netflix released Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space, On The Verge and Metal Shop Masters too. It also released three kids projects, a special Octonauts: Above and Beyond, Kid Cosmic and Pokémon Journeys: The Series. And lastly Prime Video release the reality series LulaRich. We’ll see if any of these series can breakthrough in their second weeks of release.


The big theatrical/streaming release of the week that was was Malignant on 10-Sep. HBO Max won’t let Nielsen release its data (because of cowardice? I wouldn’t say that, but you can), so we don’t have volume metrics. 

However, SambaTV always tells Deadline what they tracked for opening weekends and they told Deadline that 753K households watched. Not terrible, but well below quite a few other straight-to-HBO Max titles like The Conjuring (1.6 million), Those Who Wish Me Dead (1.2 million) and just ahead of In the Heights (696K).

Quick Notes on Film

– Film First Run: Netflix – Kate. The top film this week was Kate, another “Hard R” action flick from Netflix. At this point, I’m just puzzled why these action films can’t crack the 10 million hours viewed threshold when they drove huge viewership for Netflix last year. With 7.1 million hours, Kate is the 42nd highest film premiere in my data set of 94 first run films, exactly middle of the pack. (For past looks at action films, see my streaming ratings report here or here.)

– Film First Run: Netflix – Worth. Worth came out on Friday 3-Sep, and it’s first week failed to chart on the Nielsen Film Top Ten. It has some star power (Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci) and it has a 9/11 connection, but with only 4 million hours viewed, through two weeks that’s 80th place out of 94 examples.

– Licensed titles: The latest licensed titles to make the top ten are An Unfinished Life from 2005 (starring Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman!) and School of Rock from 2003. (And finding out that School of Rock is from 2003 makes me feel…old.)

– “Dog Not Barking” candidates. This week we’re monitoring The Voyeurs, a first run title from Prime Video and Come From Away from Apple TV+. Unlike HBO Max, Apple is just too small for Nielsen to measure. DNB Candidates Both were released on 10-Sep, so we’ll see if a full week of data helps their ratings.

Anecdata of the Week

I loved this anecdotal flex from ESPN this week where, as Patrick Crakes pointed out on Twitter, ESPN generated as much unique viewership in one weekend as Netflix has U.S. subscribers:

As always, sports are popular!

Coming Soon!

– Next issue we could get Squid Game results, but given its slow start, we might not see it take over the Nielsen ratings for the week of 20-Sep, two issues from now. In the meantime, next week Hulu’s Y: The Last Man squares off against Netflix’s Sex Education both of which will vie for time with Apple TV+’s The Morning Show.

– Start your timers: Black Widow was released on SVOD (meaning for free) on 8-Sep. This will be a huge number to establish how well Pay-1 films with full theatrical releases perform on streaming. I can’t wait!

Reading All Your Screen’s newsletter, I was a pinch surprised to see the list of titles Disney is releasing on one day. 

Why release The Jungle Cruise and Shang-Chi to streaming on the same day? Along with a new Home Alone? And a host of new shorts and new episodes of Jeff Goldblum’s show? The goal is to drive buzz to one day, but this feels too cramped. We’ll see if it works in December!

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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