How Popular are Standup Specials on Netflix? Plus the End of “Manifest Summer”

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As usual, we have a lot of stories in the streaming ratings this week, from Squid Game’s second 50 million hour week to Black Widow showing back up on the Nielsen charts to Seinfeld’s debut to the usual flops and misses. Instead of those, we’ll look at the first appearance of a common piece of Netflix content: the first standup special to make the Nielsen ratings.

(Yes, yes, I hear you. The success or failure of Black Widow has more long term ramifications for film and streaming. True, but I went long so took my thoughts over to The Ankler. Check in there next week.)

(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 October 4th to October 10th.)


On 5-Oct, Netflix released Dave Chappelle’s latest stand-up special, The Closer. I don’t have to tell you that it was the subject of lots of internet commentary, backlash and protest. So how did it do? Better than most other stand-up specials, though that’s not saying much. Normally this is where I’d put a visual to show this…but I don’t have any other examples of standup specials in my Nielsen data set.

That’s right, this is the first time that a comedy special has made the Nielsen rankings. I double checked this a few times, and the math checks out. 

Consider that Netflix themselves said that Kevin Hart’s Zero F**ks Given was their most watched comedy special in 2020. Released on 17-Nov, it didn’t make the Nielsen Top 10 list that week, meaning it had a viewership below 7.8 million hours. In other words, right around the range of Chappelle’s special—which earned 6.7 million hours in its first week—and these two comics seem to deliver the most viewers for Netflix stand-up specials. For those wondering, here’s my guesses for the top stand up specials for Netflix, based on their datecdotes:

1. Dave Chappelle’s Sticks and Stones – Greater than 21 million viewers [highest all-time, according to Ted Sarandos memo]
2. Kevin Hart’s Zero F**ks Given: Viewership 21 million [highest comedy in 2019, Netflix PR]
3. Dave Chappelle’s The Closer: Estimated viewership 20 million [Bloomberg leak]

(Where does that 20 million come from? In the past, the average show/film sees roughly 50% of their total viewing in the first 28 days in the first week. Or twice their first week’s viewership in the first 28 days. So this is my rough guess.)

Compared to all films, The Closer was “fine”, ranking 46th of the 105 first run films in my data set. It probably is a little bit cheaper than some of the films around it in the rankings—Kate, Yes Day, Wish Dragon and Stowaway are a few examples—but not so much this gives it an advantage. Contrariwise, due to their length—only 72 minutes for The Closer and 69 minutes for Zero F**ks Given—standup specials will struggle in “hours viewed” metrics.

Either way, I wouldn’t use one data point to either condemn or praise Netflix’s investment strategy in standup. They can be very cheap to produce, even if they don’t drive monster ratings. But clearly their ceiling is lower than most films.

Quick Notes on Film

– Pay 1: Disney+ – Black Widow. With 11.3 million hours in its debut, Black Widow is the fourth highest “pay 1” debut out of 14 pay 1 films in my data set, trailing Raya and the Last Dragon at 18 million and even Cruella at 13.6 million. As I said above, I’ll provide extended thoughts at The Ankler next week.

– Licensed: Netflix – Titanic. Every week some licensed title is new to Netflix and it jumps onto the top ten film list. This week’s entry is a film called Titanic which arrived on Netflix on 1-Oct. I looked it up and its the third highest grossing film of all-time. Let’s keep an eye on this James Cameron fellow. And let’s assume it broke even before it added 5.8 million hours of viewing on Netflix.

– Licensed: Netflix – Premonition. The last film in the top 30 list is a Sandra Bullock starring supernatural thriller from 2007 that Netflix licensed for literally the month of October. Given that Bullock starred in Netflix’s biggest film to date, this is clearly buying Halloween-adjacent bait to feed fans who watched Birdbox. Not a bad strategy.

– “Dog Not Barking” of the Week: The “Welcome to Blumhouse” films over at Prime Video. Starting on 1-Oct, Prime Video released two horror films under its big production output deal with Blumhouse. Then on 8-Oct it released two more. (Bingo Hell, Black as Night, Madres and The Manor are the four titles.) Thus far, none of these titles has made the Nielsen ratings charts. Worse, on IMDb, the all seem to be poorly rated with few reviews. I mean scores in the 4s. Really bad stuff. Maybe these films gain steam though October, but I’m doubtful.

A little known secret for Blum’s success as a producer is that he buries his bad films without theatrical release. Which is genius! He makes the films for cheap, then puts all his marketing energy behind the potential hits. I’ve long admired his strategy. 

But he himself has noted this doesn’t work if he doesn’t share in theatrical upside. So for the streamers he does a “cost plus” model, meaning he cares less about restraining budgets. So do I think Prime Video overpaid for these films? Meaning they bought the duds that Blum wouldn’t take to theaters anyways? Yes I do.

– Biggest DNB Candidate This Week: Disney+ – Muppets Haunted Mansion. Cards on the table: my house is filled with huge Muppets fans. And we loved this spin-off of the Disney ride. Thus you can tell I’m being fair when I say that I think this film flopped with customers. Like the Blumhouse titles, we’ll see if it picks up steam during October.


If I know internet readers in general, they’re looking for Squid Game superlatives here. Well, I’m not gonna give you that. Scroll down to the quick notes below.

Instead, I’m taking the longview. And that means Manifest. For the first time since June 6th, we don’t have Manifest on the “acquired TV” ratings charts. That’s right, the end of “Manifest Summer” and what a run it was. Here’s the total hours by week:

I put on Squid Game and Outer Banks as two fun comps.

This does also beg the question. Back in September, I speculated for The Ankler that more folks watched Manifest on NBC than on Netflix. But I acknowledged that when Netflix released the batch of season 3 episodes the gap between NBC and Netflix would close. Which happened! Manifest added 42% more hours viewed since season 3 launched, going from 218.3 million hours to 310.2 million hours. Here’s the updated charts:

So while this report is about streaming ratings, I think the above is great context for how much streaming ratings still have left to grow. Broadcast drives a tremendous amount of tune in. Sure, it seems like Netflix drives all the viewership, but given the limited time period for most shows, it’s still comparable with broadcast TV’s steady viewership. I mean, for Netflix’s whole run is only about 30 million more hours than folks who watched Manifest live or within 7 days on traditional TV. That’s pretty close, isn’t it?

Still not convinced? Consider this factoid comparing Squid Game’s viewership to NFL football viewership from Rick Porter at The Hollywood Reporter:

I know some of you want visuals. Here’s Squid Game, Manifest and Sunday Night Football peaks in comparison:

So was Manifest was a huge hit for Netflix? Yes. Did it arguably come at the perfect time, given Netflix’s overall light summer schedule? Yes. Is broadcast TV completely dead and buried? Not quite. All those things can be true simultaneously.

Quick Notes on TV

– First Run: Netflix – Maid. This limited series released on 1-Oct didn’t chart in its first week and ballooned up to 31.7 million hours in its second week on the ratings charts. That’s nearly as impressive as what Squid Game accomplished:

I did not think when I created that chart two weeks ago I’d get to use it again so quickly. As I mentioned two weeks ago, jumps this big are relatively rare. Also as I mentioned last week, Maid got the datecdote treatment, with Netflix announcing 67 million households sampled 2 minutes. 

For a show that doesn’t seem to have a ton of buzz, I feel like this jump demands some sort of explanation. My best guess—emphasis on guess—is the “tune in” effect of a big show. In olden days, this meant the spot between Friends and Seinfeld on the NBC Must See Thursday. Nowadays, it’s shows bringing customers to a streamer.

So when a show goes viral like Squid Game or maybe The Mandalorian, it brings in customers to sample the other shows on the streamer. I think this happened when Tiger King brought folks in, who then stayed to watch Ozark. And The Queen’s Gambit and The Crown brought in folks to watch Virgin River. Again, I don’t have enough data to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt, but it’s my current working theory.

– Speaking of Squid Game. It topped 50 million hours for the second week. What a slow start to what a high peak. We’ll have time to check in on Squid Game in the future, but yes it’s a huge hit. Thought four weeks it’s now the second biggest show in our data set, trailing Tiger King but passing Bridgerton. 

– Licensed: Netflix – Seinfeld.  After missing the list last week, Seinfeld leapt to the number two spot in acquired TV with 9.8 million hours viewed. If the top ten data is an indication, Seinfeld should drop off the list in the next few weeks, but we’ll see. I’d add, Seinfeld making the list pushed The Simpsons off the list.

– First Run Returning: Netflix – On My Block. On 4-Oct, Netflix released the latest season of On My Block, and It made the Nielsen Originals list with 12.9 million hours, good for 5th place among season 4 launches. Though this is a bit down from season 3, released last March, which benefitted from Covid-19 streaming boom of 19 million hours. 

– Dropped Off the List: Prime Video’s Goliath dropped off the Nielsen charts after only one week, which is pretty bad for a season 4 series. Also, Marvel’s What If…? has also departed this multiverse.

– Biggest “Dog Not Barking” of Last Week: This was a bit of a tough call, since there weren’t any major releases that should have made the top of the list. So we’ll look at two kids titles. For Disney+, Lego Star Wars: Terrifying Tales (debuted on 1-Oct) is probably the biggest swing and a miss for Disney. (They have another film too.) That said, we’ll give them all of October to see if these All-Hallo’s-Eve titles pick up steam. The other kids title is The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo. HBO Max doesn’t release viewership, so we can’t officially prove this is a dog not barking, but the buzz for this series seems greater for adults than kids. 

– Biggest “Dogs Not Barking” This Week: I’m monitoring Disney’s Among The Stars and Netlfix’s Sexy Beasts as the two titles that failed to chart this week.

Datecdote of the Week 

If we’re talking Manifest, we may as well glance over at broadcast TV for a show I’ve been calling NuManifest, NBC’s La Brea. Buzzy, high concept speculative fiction series that will probably end too soon? Yep Manifest and La Brea have a lot in common. They also both did well—for current broadcast—in the ratings:

That’s right: for context five million people tuned in live to watch La Brea. Sure, none of those viewers are journalists for the trades, but those five million people exist. 

Also, speaking about La Brea gives me a chance to show this brilliant run down from Rick Ellis of All Your Screens, showing NBC’s poor history with big budget dramas in recent years:

Lastly, for a good thread on La Brea using Parrot Analytics data, here’s their analyst Julia Alexander analyzing their data:

Coming Soon! 

The pace of new streaming “originals” seems to be slowing down a tad in the end of October. Not completely stopped—especially for Netflix!—but definitely slower than before. Of the titles we’ll check in on next week, season 3 of You on Netflix is probably the biggest, though Hulu’s Dopesick, based on my anecdotal experience, seems to have the most marketing push. Oh, and we’ll get data for Peacock’s Halloween Kills…if Comcast dared to release their data.

Speaking of Halloween, that’s the other fun trend to monitor which is how the deluge of Halloween/horror-themed content performs. Does Hocus Pocus stay on the list? Do any of Prime Video’s “Welcome to Blumhouse” titles show up? Or what about Netflix’s kid and adult themed fare? We’ll see. 

(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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