The Witcher is One of Netflix’s Best Series in the U.S., but Where Does It Rank?

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In December, streaming felt a lot like yesterday’s titanic Buffalo Bills vs Kansas City Chiefs game. It started off slow, but then finished with a slew of big, big titles. Netflix released The Witcher and Emily in Paris, Paramount+ released 1883 (a Yellowstone spinoff), and Disney+ released The Book of Boba Fett. That’s a lot to cover, so let’s get to it. If you missed film, click here.

(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.)


The Witcher is a hit.

Specifically, it joins the “40 million hours” club, a self-devised metric I created. (Inspired by Nielsen, who created a “3 billion minute” club. But we prefer hours to minutes around these parts.) After a first week of 36.5 million minutes (good for the 8th highest week this year), it grew 24% to 45.6 million hours in week two (good for the 3rd highest week of the year). Here’s the 40 million hour club in context:

That’s really good!

When a series does this well, we start to get into the superlative range. Distinguishing whether it is a “Mount Rushmore” series—meaning one of Netflix’s top four current series—or just a great series. Off the top of my head, Netflix’s top four current series (from a U.S. perspective and in my opinion) are Stranger Things, Squid Game (it will get subsequent seasons), Bridgerton and The Witcher.

Does the data support putting The Witcher that high up? Looking at top season one, two or three series, The Witcher comes in 5th place in the U.S. through two weeks:

Two shows surprised me on this list. First, The Umbrella Academy outpaced The Witcher. I’m willing to toss out Ozark and Tiger King as being Covid-19 flukes, but The Umbrella Academy was from August of 2020, so Covid-19 can’t explain this success. In the U.S., at least, it’s vying with The Witcher for top “genre” crown. (Behind Stranger Things, of course.) Also, You is just very, very popular as well. And it holds up even better internationally.

Speaking of global viewing, The Witcher season 2 is Netflix’s seventh best single season of all time, but well behind Squid Game, behind Stranger Things season 3 and Bridgerton season 1, and just ahead of Maid and You season 3.

This brings us to the puzzle of the week. If Netflix had a successful content quarter on both film and TV, why didn’t this drive more subscribers globally? As Netflix themselves touted in their earnings report last week:

So their two biggest film releases to date, then five of their top sixteen single seasons…and the result was adding only 8 million subscribers globally and 1.2 million U.S. subscribers? I have two charts which help explain this. First, let’s take our forty million hours club, and rearrange it by release date:

During Covid-19 lockdowns, customers just streamed a lot more than they do now. The more customers use a service, the lower the churn rate. Naturally we can expect usage and engagement to come down as lockdowns ease. 

Moreover, the timing of big releases seems like it can impact Netflix’s subscriber totals. Here are the top series, released since mid-September by Netflix, with total viewership per week.

In other words, the strong start to the quarter definitely helped Netflix grow their U.S. and Canadian subscribers—or retain them—but some of the effect wore off so Netflix “only” added 1.2 million total subscribers (up from 74.0 million, or 1.7%). Indeed, in future quarters, we may find out that because of all the great content, Netflix was able to add 1.2 million subs. Maybe if instead of multiple tentpoles, Netflix only had one tentpole in Q4 then their subscribers numbers are flat or down.

As for The Witcher, it is officially one of Netflix’s tentpole series. The question is can they space out their tentpoles to keep subscribers subscribed and add more. We’ll see.

Quick Notes on TV

– Netflix released a new reality series on 15-Dec, Selling Tampa, a spin off of Selling Sunset. I never really evaluated Selling Sunset, so let’s look at both. In its first week, Selling Sunset was viewed for 9.2 million hours, then decayed from there. Selling Tampa debuted to 4.1 million hours, then dropped off the list. Listen, these shows are cheap, but these still aren’t “hits”.

– I also never followed up on Big Mouth, which released back in November. It had a three week run, and a perfect “binge release curve”. This curve is somewhat of an artifact of how Nielsen measures shows (it releases weekly summaries), but I think it’s super useful to understand the “average” show. And that’s what a binge release curve is, “The average” performance of a Netflix Friday binge released series. The true winners go beyond it.

– Netflix’s Emily in Paris released its sophomore season on 22-Dec. The first season was overwhelmed by The Queen’s Gambit and only had 11.3 million total hours viewed in its second week according to Nielsen, good for 55th overall in my data set. But Netflix said the series was a success and was viewed by 58 million households in its first 28 days. So it got a second season and it is already off to a better start than its predecessor, debuting to 15.6 million hours in its first three days. That’s good for 8th place among season 2 series in my data set, behind Virgin River (21.6 million hours) and The Mandalorian (17.2 million hours). 

– We’re seeing an interesting divergence between Hawkeye and The Wheel of Time as they close in on the end of their runs. In its latest week, Hawkeye edged up to nearly 15.6 million hours viewed, whereas The Wheel of Time is around 10 million hours. We’ll see how the post-Christmas bump treats both series. If The Wheel of Time can make an appearance in the Nielsen rankings next week, that will be Prime Video’s longest running series in the Nielsen ranks. (With the caveat that The Boys season 2 likely would have lasted longer, but Nielsen didn’t release a Top Ten list for Originals in 2020.)

– A lot of ink has been spilled about how ViacomCBS “screwed up” massively by licensing Yellowstone to Peacock. And fair enough, that was a mistake. (Though at the time, Yellowstone wasn’t a “guaranteed” hit yet.) In fairness to Paramount, they’re trying to right the wrong via spinoffs, the first of which is 1883, which debuted on 19-Dec. We won’t get ratings for this series, but it debuted at fifth in the TV Time rankings, and held onto the list for 3 weeks so far. For Paramount+, that isn’t bad.

– The last series in the Nielsen Originals chart is Twentysomethings: Austin, released by Netflix on 10-Dec. At 3.1 million hours for one week, this thing isn’t a huge hit. To be honest, the idea of taking four men and four women and moving them to a strange new city doesn’t strike me as the most original idea in the world. You just feel like after hearing the pitch, the tag will be “Where twentysomethings stop being fake and start being real”. 

– Onto the acquired/licensed titles of the week. For the week of 13-Dec, the formerly broadcast procedural Bones returned to the rankings with 4.6 million hours viewed. I classified this as “non-exclusive” since it’s on Hulu and Prime Video, meaning its the rare non-Netflix licensed title. 

– Also premiering on the list is Ink Master, an acquired title originally that started airing on 1-Dec with seasons three and four. Still those two seasons helped get a spot on the acquired TV list, though it will likely drop off after a few weeks. (For those curious, this title originally aired on the Paramount Network, like Yellowstone!)

– Another new-ish title to the Nielsen Acquired charts is The Blacklist, which hadn’t been on since the start of November, then before that in January. It’s made the Nielsen rankings 9 times this year.

– Dog Not Barking of the Week: MacGruber on Peacock. Did you know that this SNL character-turned-movie-character has his own TV series, released 16-Dec? Eight episodes starring Will Forte and Kristen Wiig? Well, that’s true. I only ask because this series really seemed to not move the buzz needles and it never made the TV Time top lists. So I’m calling it the biggest miss of the week.


The theme of the last week was Netflix’s very bad earnings report. And the most devastating line was that Netflix finally admitting that competition has impacted their growth in some countries around the globe. We can see this in demand for various streamers’s content, as I’ve been pointing out over time. This chart by Just Watch—an app like TV Time—shows the demand for various streamers over time:

Again, this isn’t the end of the world. Netflix will continue to be a force, if not the leader in, streaming for the near future. But will streaming be more competitive? As I’ve insisted for a few years, yes it will. The Just Watch chart shows that.

Coming Soon! 

In the next issue, we head into the last week of the year, the biggest week in total volume for streaming. We’ll see how Netflix’s big films did in that week along with Disney’s The Book of Boba Fett. Further, Netflix released the latest season of Cobra Kai on 1-Jan, and that should have big numbers too. I’m also working on the winners (and more losers) of 2021, for a future issue.

(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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