Apple TV+ Steps Up Their (Streaming Ratings) Game

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I know what you’re here to read this week: my analysis on Squid Game launching from 3.4 million hours in its first weekend to 31.8 million hours in its second week. Yikes, that’s a jump!

Well, I’m going to disappoint. My Squid Game thoughts were so good, I sent them over to the Ankler. (Trust me, there might be my favorite chart I’ve made this year in there.) But that doesn’t mean this week’s ratings report is wanting for good content. On the contrary, there were TONS of topics this week, from Netflix releasing the latest batch of TV and film “datecdotes”, to a rare Disney+ licensed series making its first appearance in the Nielsen ratings, to some big “dogs not barking”. And more!

From a ratings point of view the most fun story isn’t Squid Game, The Simpsons or Y: The Last Man…it is Apple TV+ joining the Nielsen ratings game. 

(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 20th to September 26th.)


For those who don’t know, this week Nielsen reported viewership on an Apple TV+ series. Further, they clarified that Apple TV+ will be included in their (public) ratings going forward. 

Hey HBO Max, you like apples? Nielsen is releasing Apple TV+ data. How ‘bout them apples?

Here’s the Top 30 for the week, with Apple TV+ in black.

(Some folks have asked me questions about the Nielsen chart above. I use the same three Top Ten lists that Nielsen releases weekly—TV Originals, TV Acquired and Film—but I combine them into one top list, to make a “top 30-ish” list.)

That’s right: for weeks (months?) I’ve been calling out HBO Max for not releasing their streaming ratings data. And this week they doubled down on that position, saying it wouldn’t be “apples-to-apples”. In fairness, they aren’t completely wrong. Given how many folks still watch on linear TV, in terms of pure streaming ratings their shows just won’t touch streaming-only shows. Still!

But Apple TV+ went ahead and said, “Hey, we think we have some hits, and we’ll let you know about them.” Given their small market size, I love this move for Apple TV+. It will help build momentum for their shows, if they are indeed punching way above their weight.

For the first entry, it’s the little comedy that could, Ted Lasso, getting a “post-Emmys” bump with a reported viewership of 8.5 million hours. (The Emmys aired on 19-Sep, and Nielsen ratings for this week started 20-September. Ted Lasso won the Primetime Emmy for Best Comedy.) Considering that season 2 released on 23-July, that’s a pretty good number. Which makes me think this show is genuinely popular. Nielsen has also said that if they released Apple TV+ data earlier, then Ted Lasso would have shown up for more weeks.

Frankly, I don’t have much more to add about Ted Lasso. Since this isn’t its premiere week, we can’t learn as much as a new release. (Again, it’s a genuine hit for a growing service.) But I do want to speculate about what comes next for Apple TV+. For example, on 17-September, Apple TV+ released The Morning Show’s second season on a weekly release schedule. As Google Trends showed, despite the buzz, The Morning Show trails in general interest behind some other big shows right now.

In its first full week of release, The Morning Show didn’t make the Nielsen ratings, but Ted Lasso did because of its Emmy win. Normally, for a weekly released series, I’d give it a pass, but this is The Morning Show’s second season after a two year delay. We’ll see if it can end up making the list in future weeks. If it doesn’t, I wonder how many customers are actually streaming it.

Going forward, we can now evaluate other Apple TV+ Originals. For example, over at The Ankler, Richard Rushfield posed this interesting question:

Is Apple TV+’s Foundation the biggest flop in film and TV history?

I promised Richard I’d look into, but without hard data I had a pinch of a problem. The Google Trends for this series are pretty wonky. (It turns out folks just search for “Foundation”. Presumably for their homes?) 

But! But! But! If Nielsen is tracking ratings, we’ll have a floor for total viewership. Meaning we have another data point to look evaluate Foundation in a more rigorous fashion. If it never cracks the top 10 for any week, then yeah that’s a pretty expensive miss.

Anyways, welcome to the ratings big boy table, Apple TV+. 

Who could show up next? Peacock has been the most aggressive mover against Nielsen’s measurement system, so I’d expect them to keep holding out. Which is a shame, because it looks like Halloween Kills did well two weekends back. (As I’ll report in a few weeks, Samba TV announced that Halloween Kills had 1.2 million customers tune in during its first weekend.) Paramount+ and Discovery+ are still likely too small to net much viewership too.

For the near future, I’d say we have to take comfort in these five streamers in the Nielsen ratings.

Quick Notes on TV

– Week 2: Squid Game. Going into its first full week of ratings, Squid Game had an order of magnitude more viewership, up to 31.8 million. Some accolades for this: this is the 8th highest single week of viewership for the calendar year. (Manifest, Bridgerton, Cobra Kai and Virgin River had higher single weeks.) Meanwhile, for the second week of release, this is the second highest total after Bridgerton’s epic 44.1 million hours. At this scale, that’s like comparing Titanic’s grosses to Avengers: Endgame’s box office grosses: we’re talking about huge hits here.

Bridgerton doubled its viewership from week 1 to 2, then dropped to 27.8 million hours. We’ll see if Squid Game can hold its high viewership and pass Bridgerton. I think it passes Bridgerton’s total next week due to the growth in buzz, but think Bridgerton may finish with a higher total viewership through 8 weeks. 

– Licensed but Wholly Owned: Disney+ – The Simpsons. Coming in at 20th place in the rankings this week is Disney+’s first “acquired” title. Which may surprise folks, since Disney owns it. This gets to some obscure, but important, jargon at the heart of the entertainment industry. Studios can own shows that aren’t originals on their streamers (like The Simpsons) or not own shows that are originals (Orange is the New Black for Netflix.) Because of Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox, it owns The Simpsons, but since it debuts on the linear Fox network, it isn’t an “original”. Long term, we’ll see if The Simpsons can compete with other licensed series to Netflix like NCIS or Grey’s Anatomy (owned by Disney) or if this is a blip. (Interestingly, overall usage of Disney+ shrank when students returned to schools, as I covered last week.)

– TV Returning: The Great British Baking Show season 12. Released weekly on 24-Sep, given the large number of episodes, TGBBS drives lots of viewership for Netflix. We’ll have more to say about this one as the weekly releases progress.

– In Hulu news, Nine Perfect Strangers dropped off after a five week run, accumulating 29.2 million hours, good for 28th place among season one launches. That puts it ahead of Sex/Life, Who Killed Sara?, and Warrior Nun (yes, that’s a real Netflix show) and about tied with Fate: The Winx Saga. We’ll see how long Only Murders in the Building holds on.

– TV Premieres: Netflix – Monsters Inside: The 24 Faces of Billy Milligan and Midnight Mass. In non-Squid Game Originals, a true crime documentary and psychological horror series both made the Originals chart with 4.2 and 9.4 million hours, good for 54th place and 24th place respectively.

– Dog Not Barking of the Week: Hulu – Y: The Last Man. Lock it in! While releasing episodes weekly, Y: The Last Man failed to make the Nielsen charts in its second week. Worse, it was cancelled by Hulu, a rare one season cancellation for that streamer. Given how little buzz I see for it, I don’t think it rebounds in the ratings. 

– Dog Not Barking Candidates: Here are the Originals that failed to rate in the Nielsen ratings charts or generate a lot of buzz. First, Goliath is the Prime Video-Streaming, Billy Bob Thornton-starring, David E. Kelly-created legal drama. It released on Friday 24-Sep. Given the volume of episodes/creative auspices, presumably it would make the list. Netflix is also on the fourth season of Dear White People, released on 22-Sep. Meanwhile, Disney+ released all episodes of Star Wars: Visions on 22-Sep. If Marvel’s What If…? tested customer appetites for animated content—and it fell off the rankings this week—this one pushes it to the limits. Lastly, Peacock released a UK series Code 104. We won’t get ratings, but many they have a lot of originals.


On Tuesday, Netflix released its quarterly earnings report. As usual, we got a handful of “datecdotes” on the film side. (And several more on the TV side, which I’ll tackle next week.) Overall, this is another down quarter for films.

The highest rated film from the current quarter was Sweet Girl with 68 million global viewers watching 2 minutes or more, good for 13th place out of the 65 “non-sketchy” film datecdotes in my data set. 

As such, you can see the downward trend in the percentage of viewership by top films over time:

I’d add, Netflix didn’t release very many film datecdotes either, only release 5 during the quarter. For context, in 2020 Q2, Q4 and 2021 Q1 we got 8 datecdotes per quarter, and this quarter we’re only at 5. Given that I think Netflix releases top films in particular, this is a sign of weakness.

Quick Notes on Film

– First Run: Netflix – Intrusion. If we weren’t focused on datecdotes, the big film release of the week was probably Intrusion. A thriller starring Frieda Pinto, it has a very, very low IMDb rating of 5.2 with 9.2K reviews. As such, it only netted 5.5 million hours in its first week, good for 52nd place out of 101 releases.

– For a small victory, we now have over 100 “first run” streaming films in the Nielsen data set. Hurray!

– First Run: Netflix – The Starling, My Little Pony: A New Generation and The Father who Moves Mountains. All these films were fairly low in the movie chart, with 4.2, 3.5, and 2.3 million hours respectively. The Father Who Moves Mountains sounds like essentially a Romanian Taken. Which is a good reminder that many foreign titles don’t generate huge viewership in the U.S.

– As for past films, Cruella had the usual “binge release curve”, but is now holding steady at the bottom of the list like many past Disney+ Originals. We’ll see how long it can hold on. Kate had two weeks of steeper drops than usual, which probably explains why we didn’t get the datecdote treatment for it.

– Dog Not Barking Candidate of the Week. It’s Prime Video with another entry. We called out Annette four weeks ago as a “Dog Not Barking” and called out The Voyeurs last week. Now Birds of Paradise—a drama about an elite ballet academy in Parisis their latest original that didn’t open on the Nielsen charts. And they have a lot more Amazon Original Movies in the pipeline, many of which aren’t buzzy. Perhaps the reason Prime Video bought so many formerly theatrical films is that its Original films just don’t move the needle.


Given the Apple TV+ news above it’s worth highlight this delightful leak from Apple TV+. Despite being one of the wealthiest companies in the world that is deficit financing a move into streaming—meaning willfully losing money on it—they don’t want to deficit finance that much. So they told IATSE in the union negotiations that they can’t pay more because they only have 20 million US and Canadian subscribers. This is a great scoop I’ll use to update my subscriber charts. Of course, since I focus on “paying subscribers”, I’ll still lower the number dramatically, since most folks are still likely on free trials.

Coming Soon!

– Next week looks like a quiet week for new releases, which should give us time to check in on Netflix’s latest set of TV datecdotes. The big U.S. release is the licensed-from-Sony Seinfeld coming to Netflix. In film, HBO Max’s latest is The Many Saints of Newark, which we won’t have Nielsen data for so we’ll use Samba TV’s numbers.)

– Longer term, Netflix released new episodes of Locke and Key, which just missed the ratings window last spring. (It released episodes on 7-February.) So it will be fun to see how a second season of that YA series performs, especially with the Squid Game lead in.

(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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