Who Won The Streaming War for Christmas?

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Yesterday, Netflix released their earnings report for 2021. Often, a Netflix earnings report isn’t good or bad, just more of the same. (I’ve written that article a few times.) Yesterday was different; it was a blood bath. Already down to $500 per share from its peak of $650 in November, it cratered to $400 this morning.

Why bring up stock price in this report about streaming ratings?

Because content is king.

On Twitter yesterday, sarcastically asked if the streaming wars were over. Uh, they’ve only just begun! If you’ve been reading this report since March—or my Ankler piece two weeks back—you know that, if anything, the wars are only heating up. 

And where will those wars be fought? If you’re a streamer, I’d argue 50% of your future success depends on the content you already have or will make. It’s the most important part of any entertainment company. The streamers that successfully launch shows and films—and do so in a consistent way with an above average hit rate—will succeed in the long run.

Okay, enough preamble. Time for the results for the last two weeks of December. Since I went long, we’re breaking this up into two parts. Up first…Christmas movies!

(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 December 13th to December 26th.)


Here’s the thing about Christmas or holiday movies: they really do matter. The top Christmas films succeed at the box office, at home entertainment, on cable, and now on streaming. I even wrote last year about how you could tell the history of the entertainment business through its Christmas films.

It can’t be undersold how much Christmas took over the film charts, in a manner that even surprised me. 

Seven films! And this wasn’t a December phenomenon as folks started binging Christmas films in November:

Eh, we can do better than that. Here’s the stacked bar chart showing how many films per streamer:

As I’ve done for the last three weeks, I’m going to call out winners and losers. But instead of just saying, “Hey they won”, I plan to give out a bunch of winners. My approach this week will be to hand out awards like the Rose Parade, where seemingly every float gets an award. Lots of streamers will get awards this week.

Before we get specific, though, here are some thoughts on the larger trends:

1. Kids stuff does well in the Nielsen metric of total hours viewed. Lots of Christmas films (but not all) are family films, so that helps drive viewership.
2. But library content doesn’t usually do this well. So Christmas films are unique in that each year they regain their cultural relevance. That’s a long life span (if they’re successful).
3. This was a two horse race for overall winner, between Disney+ and Netflix.
4. Each still followed their same strategies: Netflix overwhelmed by volume, with Disney relying on their library.

Disney+ – Most Viewed Christmas film

Home Alone wins the top prize. Kids watched it, then rewatched it, then rewatched it again. It made the list for 6 weeks, totaling 36.1 million hours viewed. 

And this helped boost its sequel Home Alone 2 and spinoff Home Sweet Home Alone (released on Disney+ Day) onto the list. This is the power of a library in a nutshell. (And the power of buying 21st Century Fox, who owned it.) The Santa Clause also made the list for a few weeks.

As I mentioned above, Disney competed with Netflix to make it on this list, and they did so without going crazy on new productions. By my count, the number of scripted new Christmas films Disney+ has released since launch is three: Noelle (2019), Godmothered (2020), and Home Sweet Home Alone (2021). One per year, a pace they can afford because of their strong library.

Netflix – Best Overall Performance

Netflix, on the other hand, goes crazy. Releasing who knows how many films per year over the last few years. (I could venture a guess, but I’m not sure I missed one or two.) Just this year they released:

Love Hard (5-Nov-21)
Father Christmas is Back (7-Nov-21)
The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star (18-Nov-21)
A Boy Called Christmas (24-Nov-2021)
A Castle for Christmas (26-Nov-21)
Single All the Way (2-Dec-21)

And those are the titles that made it onto Nielsen for a week. They also released or acquired the U.S. streaming rights to David and the Elves, How to Ruin Christmas, Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You, Robin Robin, Snowbound for Christmas, The Claus Family, The Claus Family 2 and A California Christmas: City Lights. Again, those are the ones I caught, I may have missed a few. A few of those are foreign titles, that don’t tend to do well in the U.S., but still that’s a lot!

As I said, they won by volume. Here’s the total hours viewed, by streamer during Christmas:

Still giving Netflix the title for total hours, but emphasizing their volume, is a pinch like damning with faint praise. So let’s give Netflix credit: they’re starting to build a library like Disney. The Christmas Chronicles made an appearance on the Nielsen Top Ten for a few weeks, a sign it is now a “go to” Christmas film. A California Christmas did too, likely helped by its sequel. That’s a great sign for Netflix.

HBO Max – Best Under-The-Radar Performance

In my categorization, Elf—the number two film in the current charts—is a “non-exclusive” title. And Elf wasn’t on Hulu in December. It was actually on HBO Max, where I watched it. It was also available on Starz and AMC+. (Some people who buy Starz through Hulu could have watched it.) Likely, this was due to pre-existing licensing deals by Warner Bros before their HBO Max plans were fully finished.

But here’s the thing I can’t prove, but strongly suspect: I think this was an HBO Max-driven victory. HBO Max has been having a very solid to good year with its theatrical decisions, and Elf is very popular (Warner Bros owns it, by the way). Toss in the fact Warner Bros also owns National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and that’s a heck of a one-two streaming punch for Christmas. They also acquired the rights to Miracle on 34th Street (a Fox film, so at some point that will return to Disney+). Toss in good reviews for 8-Bit Christmas, and I think they secretly had a great Christmas slate.

And they said as much. Earlier this month, HBO Max announced that December was HBO Max’s highest viewership month to date. I think Elf and other Christmas films helped drive that.

I almost don’t have it in me to bemoan that Warner Media doesn’t let Nielsen release their data, but it just feels like a strategic mistake at this point. Many of their films probably would have made the Nielsen rankings, which would just prove they belong on this list.

Prime Video – Best Come From Behind Victory

Prime Video quietly acquired the rights to It’s A Wonderful Life, which aired on NBC and Prime Video. So after almost being shut out, the story of George Bailey gave Prime Video an entry on the Nielsen charts. Smart grab by Prime Video, but big miss by Peacock. (Shout out to Matt Belloni who has been hammering Peacock for a while.)

Peacock – Biggest Loser We Don’t Know About

Peacock owns the rights to How The Grinch Stole Christmas, but it wasn’t actually streaming on their service this year. (I know Nielsen had it as Netflix, but it wasn’t.) What a miss. Toss in that they’ve known how powerful It’s A Wonderful Life Is and they let Prime Video grab that. They did have the original, The Housewives of the North Pole, but I’m not sure anyone watched it.

Peacock could have used Christmas to bring in a lot of customers but they missed.

Apple TV+ – Biggest Loser We Do Know About

Apple bought the rights to A Charlie Brown Christmas and made a new special (Snoopy Presents: For Auld Lang Syne). Neither made the rankings (they’re probably too short), and Apple tried with some other new shows. But as a service without a library, they’re at a disadvantage in this fight.

Quick Notes on Film

Don’t Look Up released on Christmas Eve on Netflix with a slew of talent. As I mentioned last week, it’s trending to become Netflix’s most viewed show through 28 days. Here’s an update of the global chart from last week:

Unfortunately, Nielsen had a data issue with their top ten list this week, and will update Don’t Look Up data next week. So hold on for the U.S. analysis. As I was going to publish today, Nielsen said the last few weeks have some undercounted films. 

So there may be updates to this analysis. If so, I’ll put corrections on my website.

– We’ll also have to see if Encanto gets a data refresh too, as it feels low at 6.8 million hours viewed in its first weekend. (It was released on Friday 24-Dec.) That said, clearly families were watching Christmas movies, so it might have a big second week, when families move off Christmas films and onto binging shows with catchy songs. Soul, released on Christmas Day last year, had a whopping 27.8 million hours in its first weekend. That’s a big gap to be explained just by Christmas being on a Friday versus a Saturday.

– In other slow starts for animated titles—and again maybe data issues—Netflix released Back to the Outback on 10-Dec-21, and it made the rankings in its second week with 8.1 million hours. In its defense, this isn’t much behind Vivo (8.2 million hours in its first week, 13.4 in its second) or The Mitchell’s and the Machines (8.6 then 13.4 million hours). Again, with Christmas as an excuse, we’ll see if these films put together huge third weeks with all kids home from school. I expect they will. 

(Nielsen reported last week that the last week of the year was the biggest streaming volume they saw in 2021.)

– In ongoing kids films, Disney+ and HBO Max shared the rights to Ron Gone Wrong, which released on Wednesday 15-Dec. Coming from the Fox side of the house, this film fell under their previous output deal with HBO, and the studios/streamers compromised to let both services have it. Since it’s non-exclusive, we probably won’t get ratings on it. That said, it did “fine” on the TV Time rankings:

(This is my new “TV Time” rankings chart, to show what films are doing well over time. A “ten” means it was the number one film on their ranking, and a “one” means it was the tenth place show.)

– Another film that did well in the TV Time rankings? The Matrix Resurrections on HBO Max and theaters on 22-December. Where didn’t it do well? IMDb, where that film has a 5.7 on 170K reviews. That’s bad.

– What about the old Matrix movies? They were on Hulu in December, if the internet is to be believed. And it looks like the new film may have boosted at least one of the old films, though maybe fans though Matrix Revolutions was The Matrix Resurrections. Who knows.

– Also during this period, anything related to Spider-Man had a good weekend. As I hope to write about next week, the film I’m calling Spider-Man: Into the Profitverse was huge. Like globally $1.6 billion huge, with Covid lockdowns and no China. Crazy. As a result, though, fans caught up on all the old Spider-Mans too, which were available in a variety of different places.

– Hey, we got a comedy special! Jim Gaffigan: Comedy Monster debuted on 21-Dec, and made it on the Nielsen ratings chart. This is the second comedy to make the list after Dave Chappelle’s special charted in the fall, and this one wasn’t bedeviled by tons of controversy.

– In the awards race, Prime Video released Being The Ricardos a biopic on Lucille Ball of I Love Lucy fame on 21-Dec. It has a mediocre IMDb score (6.6), but generated 10.1 million hours, which is very good for prestige films trying for awards. We’ll see how it ages.

– Dog Not Barking of the Week: Shatner in Space, released 15-Dec on Prime Video. We didn’t have a ton of strong contenders for this prize this week, but this amount of self-dealing (a documentary about someone taking a ride on Jeff Bezos poorly shaped rocket ship) is worth calling out as a flop. 

We’ll be back on Monday with the TV winners and losers, some juicy competition data, the anecdata of the week and the coming soon.

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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