It’s the end of the year, and I’m feeling charitable. When you write on ratings and strategy, you toss out a lot barbs, snark and sarcastic comments. Today, I want to make amends and issue some (half-hearted and heavily-caveated) apologies.
Before that, I just had an article published on Whats-On-Netflix explaining the pros and cons for Netflix’s switch to the “hours viewed” metric. Check it out!
(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 November 1st to November 7th.)
On 1-Nov-2021, IMDb TV released the first set of episodes for their biggest TV show, Judy Justice. For those not sitting at home in the middle of the day, that’s the new courtroom drama starring Judge Judy of Judge Judy fame.
If you’re at a cocktail party in Hollywood, no one will come and congratulate you about syndicating Judge Judy. Will they talk to you about The White Lotus? Or Manchester by The Sea? Or any other buzzy/prestigious/award contender-ey film or show? Absolutely! Or how about a Beatles documentary? (See below.) Folks love the Beatles, so that’s a topic that’s buzzy as hell.
But they don’t care about Judge Judith Sheindlin.
You know who does? Viewers. Older viewers, sure, but lots of them. Here’s the syndicated ratings for the week of 1-Nov:
At any given airing, 7 million people on average were tuning in to watch Judge Judy. And those are reruns now! Reruns because her new episodes are going to IMDb TV, the poorly named and confusingly positioned “AVOD/FAST” service from Amazon’s Prime Video Studios media division. By that description, you can tell I’m not a fan of how they’ve run that ad-supported service. Prime Video is confusing enough as is without free content with ads. Added in a silly name and I think IMDb TV hasn’t done as well as other ad-supported services, despite the built in advantages of Amazon’s huge cash pile and distribution on Fire TVs.
That said, I love this move.
Hence a slight apology to their licensing/creative teams for this acquisition. It feels brilliant to me. And it barely got coverage in the trades. Seriously, compare the number of articles written on Judy Justice to the number of articles on Succession. (See below too.) But what will make more money in Hollywood? I’d bet on Judge Judy.
And while we don’t know what Amazon paid for it, we know that the library rights to old Judge Judy episodes sold for $100 million and reportedly Sheindlin earned nearly $50 million per year at the height of syndication.
Now the big caveat. Do we know if anyone is watching Judy Justice, the new spinoff? Nope. Nielsen doesn’t measure IMDb TV, only Prime Video. My other go-to tool, Google Trends, doesn’t work either because the series has been on so long and constantly it’s just background noise.
But I did find one bright spot in the data.
Judge Judy has been on since the Clinton Administration (literally) and on IMDb, to date, it has 4.4K reviews for a 6.1 rating. Yeah, Judge Judy viewers don’t use the internet I guess. But here’s the crazy number: Judy Justice already has 1.3K views for a 7.6 rating. That’s pretty good for just over a month, to get nearly 1/3rd as many views as your previous show had over its lifetime.
(Conspiracy EntStrategyGuy does feel compelled to point out that Amazon also owns IMDb. Connect your own dots there.)
The final word? I don’t think we’ll ever talk about Judge Judy in this column again, unless ratings measurements change. (Boy, would I love FAST streaming ratings weekly too!) This show is not the next Squid Game, don’t misunderstand me. But I bet Paramount+, Discovery+ or Peacock wish they had this show.
Quick Notes on TV
– We finally seem to have a slow week for Netflix on the TV side of the house after their, I’ll say it, epic October. The biggest new show of the week is Narcos: Mexico, released on Friday 5-Nov. For a new release with only 3 seasons to fall outside the top ten (the combined top ten list, mind you) is not very good. Among season three seasons, that’s good for 13th out of 14 shows in my data set.
– Globally, Narcos: Mexico will stay in the ratings through the month of October. However, even then it will only peak as the 3rd most watched show on Netflix, after debuting at 9th in the Netflix charts. That feels “fine” to me, but we’ll need some more data to make that official. Here are the combined Netflix ratings this week:
– Another new show on Netflix was season 5 of Big Mouth, also released on 5-Nov. In this case, it’s debut was even softer than Narcos: Mexico, as it only had 6 million hours on debut in the U.S. and only 19.6 million globally. Animation doesn’t seem to travel as well as the biggest animation proponents advocated during the start of lockdowns. Inside Job, which I mentioned last week, only lasted one week on the ratings charts in the U.S. That’s bad. Prime Video launched another animated title that is a “dog not barking” too. More to explore on this topic.
– Big Mouth and Narcos: Mexico are two examples of shows that in the “pre-ratings era”, we assumed were doing very, very well. Because they got renewed. With the ratings data, we can see the current results are much more “meh”. For those who say that ratings don’t matter, uh, yeah they do.
– Where is Arcane? The animated series based off the wildly popular League of Legends video game failed to chart this week. Released on a Saturday with only 3 episodes, I’m not too worried about this slow start and I bet this title shows up next week in the U.S. ratings.
– If you want a perfect example of a “binge release curve”, my name for the habit of new launches to have a big jump in their second week, then to drop down in their third, look at Locke & Key. It’s third week was literally the exact same as its first week in the U.S.
– Dog Not Barking of the Week: Fairfax on Prime Video. Another animated title, this one came out on 29-Oct and still hasn’t made the Nielsen ratings. It also only has 512 reviews on IMDb, low for a show of this type. Or any type. However, Prime Video did sign a first look deal with the creators. So maybe not the best use of development funds?
– The biggest dog not barking candidate of the week is Dickinson, which came out on 5-Nov-2021. Starring Hailee Steinfield and going into its third season, this show is very buzzy so I’m very curious to see if it can be the first show since Ted Lasso to make the ratings. (It’s actually on my to watch list for whenever I get Apple TV+ for free.)
– The other shows to miss this week include a stream of kid series. Animaniacs had a new season on Hulu, Apple TV+ has Hello, Jack! The Kindness Show, and Netflix also had a new season of Ridley Jones.
And now for my second apology. In early 2020, I wrote a column asking if anyone was watching Apple TV+, based on some rumors and initial data that indicated the answer was a resounding no. Meanwhile, I’ve been generally unimpressed with their strategy, especially the lack of library content on Apple TV+.
But maybe I’ve been too harsh?
Their run of original content has done well, spearheaded by Ted Lasso, which has been on the Nielsen rankings for going on 7 weeks now. And now they’ve added their first film to the tracker, the Tom Hanks-starring Finch!
Debuting on Wednesday 5-Nov, Finch earned 2.2 million hours, good for 9th place in the film charts this week and 98th place out of 112 first run films in my data set. So are those Netflix or Disney+ numbers? No, but no one thinks Apple TV+ is close to them in size. So it’s good for Apple TV+.
Let’s not go crazy with the champagne just yet, though. Where is Foundation? Invasion? The Morning Show? Are any of these shows going to make the ratings? Apple TV+ is spending a fortune making shows and barely any have made the list.
And even their best movie—starring Tom Freaking Hanks—is 98th place on this list.
Apple TV+ has had a great 2021. That’s true. Is it enough? Not remotely.
Quick Notes on Film
– The biggest film on Netflix this week is The Harder They Fall, which was the most watched film or show this week. With just shy of 20 million hours viewed in the U.S., that’s good for 8th place among first run films on streaming in the U.S. That’s quite good and competitive with The Tomorrow War, Enola Holmes and The Midnight Sky.
Two caveats though. First, it was released on a Wednesday, so it had a bit more time to rack up viewership. Second, it netted 64.8 million hours globally, only good for third place in the rankings this week, lagging behind Army of Thieves in that film’s second week.
– Army of Thieves, meanwhile, continues to be meh in the U.S. With 7.6 million hours in its second week, it’s ranked at 38th place of the 112 first run films in my data set.
Comparing Army of Thieves to The Harder They Fall, it seems clear they are on different trajectories. Army of Thieves is bigger globally than in the U.S., with 11% of its viewership in the U.S., whereas THTF has 31% of its viewership in the U.S.
– The two “old library titles to take their spots on the lists this week are American Gangster (a 2007 Universal title) and When a Stranger Calls (a 2006 Sony title). The former had 2.4 million hours viewed and the latter made the Netflix Top Ten list with a score of 14. Is it valuable to have a 15 year old movie with a 5.1 score on IMDb be one of your top ten films over a week? Over the long term I’d say no, but that’s the question for the future of streaming.
– And hey, while were talking library titles, let’s talk global library titles. In the U.S., some of the major theatrical film library rights have gone to support upcoming streamers, like Disney taking all their films to Disney+. Or Warner Bros and HBO Max. (A notable exception is Universal that couldn’t decide what to do, and split the baby in half, with Peacock getting some rights, Prime Video getting others and Netflix getting some other rights.)
You can see why in the global ratings, which are clearly dominated by high grossing box office titles. The example for the week of 1-Nov-21 on Netflix was Transformers: The Last Knight. While the smallest U.S. gross in this series, this 2017 films still earned $600 million globally. It had 14.1 million hours viewed. So did 21 Jump Street, with 11.7 million hours viewed.
– Dog Not Barking Candidate of the Week. We had a light week last week, so no official dogs not barking, but I have my eye on Prime Video’s latest Oscar bait, The Electrical Life of Louis Wan, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. He’s a big name, but as we’ve seen, Oscar films just don’t drive viewership on streaming. (Don’t believe what you’ve been told by the streamers, trust the data.)
Datecdote of the Week
Have I mentioned that Warner Media won’t let Nielsen release their HBO Max viewership data? I have? Okay good. Because they still aren’t. Except in the rare case of Wonder Woman 1984, because it did so well.
And we know they do this to paint themselves in the most positive light possible? Okay good.
Honestly, HBO—the non-Max side of the house in particular—has remained very good at keeping one show in the zeitgeist. In 2019, it was Chernobyl, then Euphoria, and Watchmen. Last year it was then Perry Mason and Lovecraft Country. This summer was Mare of Easttown and The White Lotus. HBO’s hit rate of new releases to “zeitgeist-y” titles is still top of the industry.
Their current buzzy show of the moment is Succession. And HBO wants us to know it’s doing just great. They told all the outlets via PR that across platforms—meaning streaming and linear TV with recordings—that it did very well:
In the past, I’ve dabbled with trying to collect all these HBO datecdotes, but they’re too haphazard, and won’t provide me a list of them. Instead, I’d point to the ratings on linear, and note that they don’t really seem to be going up over time, as the premiere still only had 564K live viewers:
So the math question is: would those 1.4 million viewers have translated to more than 5.2 million hours of viewing, which is what Ted Lasso did this week? Probably not. Since presumably 500K folks watched live and another say 500K watched on delay, that leaves about say 400K folks watching on streaming. They’d have to binge 9 episodes in one week to catch up. Is that impossible? No, but unlikely. And that’s probably why HBO isn’t releasing this data.
– Next week we’ll get an epic movie showdown. Netflix’s Red Notice will square off against Disney+ day, which includes Shang-Chi and The Jungle Cruise. Spoiler—based on Samba TV and Netflix global data—Red Notice will win. But by how much?
– Last week, I forgot to mention The Beatle’s documentary Get Back. Whether it had a slow burn that took Disney by surprise, or Thanksgiving is tough to do promotion, already this week I’ve seen a lot of social media and publicity for it.
Richard Rushfield asked me if it’s simply buzzy on his social media feeds—and a reminder, Twitter is not real life—or genuinely popular. My initial take from Google Trends—and keep in mind these topics are wonky search terms—is maybe it is popular. Or about half as popular as Disney+’s Hawkeye, which is great for a music documentary:
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Here are the charts I made, but didn’t mention in the report.