The last week of the calendar year—the week after Christmas Day to be precise—is the “new sweeps” for TV.
Why? Because lots of folks get new devices, be they iPads, iPhones, smart TVs or connectable updates for old TVs and turn them on. When they do, they download new apps, like Netflix, Disney+ or HBO Max. Then customers start watching. Toss in the fact that many/most folks are off work and kids are off school and that means a streaming binge.
The data supports this. As Nielsen reported when they released “The Gauge” for December, the last week of December had the highest streaming volume in their measurement history.
Some of you might note that the original “sweeps” months—November, February and May—were about setting advertising rates. Streamers—well subscription video-on-demand streamers—don’t have to worry about advertisers. But they do have subscriber counts to worry about. The last week of the year is the last opportunity for Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock and other streamers to add subscribers before the of the year.
So who won this new sweeps? Netflix and Disney. And both won by leaning into their strengths. In TV, Netflix overwhelmed by volume (particularly for returning series) and in film, Disney dominated film via kids animated films. Let’s start with film, but first some updates to the data from Nielsen.
(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 27th to January 3rd 2022.)
After Nielsen released their streaming top ten lists last week, some wondered why Don’t Look Up didn’t perform better. This felt off given that Netflix has the most subscribers (and likely users) in the U.S., this film was one of their most popular globally and It also felt like everyone was talking about it online. (Though we know that sometimes doesn’t translate to viewership.) Encanto also felt smaller than it should have been, given that all the kids kept singing “We Don’t Talk About Bruno”.
Sure enough, Nielsen double-checked their data and provided viewership updates to four films released in December:
– Don’t Look Up
– The Unforgivable
– Ron’s Gone Wrong
I want to spend a minute to explain why this update matters for a a specific reason. Specifically, it is VERY hard to correct bad data after it is released into the world.
Back when I worked at a streamer, I saw this problem happen on a regular basis. I was once in a meeting with senior executives and the research team presented a new metric for evaluating original TV series. Unfortunately, one of the key tables was completely wrong. The analyst had misspelled the data from the SQL database. Two weeks later, the research team reissued the tables and explained the mistake to the same executives.
Two weeks after this correction, in another meeting, the senior team was having a heated discussion about renewals. One executive in the room cited the wrong data to argue for renewing a show. The head of research gently reminded them that the original analysis was wrong.
A week later another executive again cited the wrong data.
Call this an EntStrategyGuy rule of data: the first time someone hear’s a data point, half the time they’ll never remember an update.
I’ve seen an even more insidious example when it comes to automated emails summarizing viewership for executives. If something goes wrong with the automated emails—or a show or film starts slowly—sometimes the executives will still later believe the show or film underperformed.
You only get one chance to make a first impression, even with data.
Fortunately, before I published last week, I knew that the Don’t Look Up data was wrong and suspected that the Encanto data was also off. (I’m also going edit those past articles after this gets published.) Unfortunately some folks, especially those reading via email, won’t get these updates. Or even if they do, they may not dislodge that first impression. Again, unfortunately.
I want you to know I’m not mad at Nielsen. Nor should you be. Nor should you listen to the Nielsen “haters” who will use this to slam Nielsen. While often TV ratings is small data, what Nielsen does is very much big data. They have tens of thousands of respondents capturing thousands of data points a week on thousands of TV shows, leading to billions of interactions probably. That’s a lot to process! Mistakes happen.
The important things is Nielsen was upfront with the mistakes and let us know. Good for them.
Now, let’s dwell a bit on the updates to ground the real results in your head.
– For the week of 20-Dec, last week’s streaming ratings report, Don’t Look Up and Encanto did really, really well. Really really really well. Phenomenal if you will. Don’t Look Up went from the fourth movie to the number one movie that week, and Encanto was 2nd. Ron’s Gone Wrong would have been 8th. The last place film—The Santa Clause—wouldn’t have made the list, so bonus data!
(Oh, and did you notice How the Grinch Stole Christmas shifted from “non-exclusive” to Peacock? Some readers emailed to say it was available on Peacock. And not elsewhere. Though it was available to purchase. This is the first appearance of Peacock in my data set.)
– For the week of 13-Dec, The Unforgivable went from up to 14.5 from 9.4 in its second week of release. No new films were added to the tracker, though. The Unforgivable went from the 7th most watched TV show or film to the 2nd overall.
– For the week of 6-Dec, The Unforgivable would have been the fourth biggest film in the week of its debut. It would have bumped Home Alone 2: Lost in New York off the list, so again bonus data!
I kinda like having extra data points, though it means I need to be careful sorting certain data looks. For those curious, I have Nielsen top ten lists from 3-March-2020 until 21-Dec-2020. For one of those weeks, we have 11 data points (when Wonder Woman 1984 got a special data point from Nielsen). We now have 52 weeks of thirty data points (top ten lists for film, originals TV series and acquired TV series) for 2021. For two of those weeks, we have 11 film data points and for one week we have 11 data points for TV originals. (The first week of Squid Game.)
Did I have to write that last paragraph on the minute details on how much data I have? Probably not, but now you know.
The biggest film of the week was Disney+’s Encanto. It skipped past Don’t Look Up, which won the week before. (See the next section.) Both released on 24-Dec, though Encanto was “early”–within 90 days of its theatrical start–and Don’t Look Up was a first-run streaming exclusive. Those are now the top two films on streaming of all time in their first two weeks:
I see two trends in this data. First, the total hours definitely gives kids movies a leg up over adult films. Yes, Red Notice and Don’t Look Up both took the top spots for straight-to-steaming films, but Luca, Soul, and now Encanto all claimed spots too. Kids films do even better in the first four weeks data too due to heavy rewatching.
Second, I don’t want to put an asterisk on it, but clearly films launched after Christmas have a natural advantage. Like films opening in theaters on Fourth of July weekend or the week before Christmas. Captive audiences help. It’s not like Don’t Look Up, Encanto, Soul and Wonder Woman 1984 wouldn’t have done well, but probably not this well.
Meanwhile, Disney’s lead in kids animation seems to only grow with each release on streaming.
Consider what Netflix released in December: Back to the Outback and Seal Team. (Not the SEAL Team on Paramount+; Seal Team, the South African-produced animated kids film.) Seal Team hasn’t made the ratings yet and likely won’t. Back to Outback only made the Nielsen rankings for 8.1 and 4.6 million hours in weeks 2 and 4. Not great.
Netflix has said they’re planning to compete aggressively in animated films. Releasing six or more animated films per year. A key strategic question is what these six films are: is Netflix planning to make six Vivo/Mitchell’s vs The Machines/Encanto/Soul’s per year…or six forgettable straight-to-video streaming movies per year? The difference is hundreds of millions of dollars in production budget, but also multiples higher viewership.
I think it means the latter. Seal Team has some legit voice talent, but was made in South America. Back to the Outback was made in Australia (go figure). Wish Dragon and Extinct were both Chinese co-productions. Netflix is betting by upping the voice talent/dubbing it can compete with Disney+ for kids, without spending the same dollars. I don’t see that bet working in the data yet. Do you?
Meanwhile, if you want a spicy hot take, Encanto is the best argument for the “theaters before streaming” crowd yet. It’s tied for the top film through two weeks of release (and will almost certainly pass Don’t Look Up in first four weeks total viewership) and it had a theatrical release! Sure the window was short—only 31 days—and impacted by Covid-19…but it happened.
If you’re thinking, “Hey, EntStrategyGuy, didn’t you promise a deep dive into release models once we had Black Widow’s release data?” You’d be right. Now that we have Encanto, and a full year of data, I’ll try to write that article. But Encanto is the best argument so far.
Quick Notes on Film
– Don’t Look Up—released on 24-December, like Encanto—did very well. It passed Red Notice for total viewership through two weeks of release. Tied with Encanto, interestingly enough, both besting Red Notice. As I said above, its second week bump would have been good for the 31st best launch of the year, which is very good for a film. Its debut weekend ranked fifth overall, trailing Wonder Woman, Red Notice, Soul and Luca.
We’ll likely have more opportunities to judge Don’t Look Up, especially if it gets nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. It will be the most popular Netflix film since The Irishman to get a nomination for that prestigious prize.
– What about Prime Video’s contender, Being The Ricardos? It declined from 10.1 million hours in its first week to 6.2 in its second. That’s good for 30th all time through two weeks.
– I covered a lot on The Unforgivable above, but it did better than we initially thought. Still, though four weeks, it has 24.3 million hours of viewership, good for 25th overall in Nielsen’s viewership. Given that this film is currently the fifth most popular Netflix film of all time based on their global data, clearly it did better overseas than in the U.S.
– The last interesting detail on the film side is that Red Notice, Jungle Cruise and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings all returned to the Nielsen Film Top Ten list. Clearly, while kids often binge lots of films, when adults had the extra time, they watched the big recently released films. Interesting!
We still have a lot to cover, but given the extra Nielsen material, I’m going to write a two part streaming ratings report again. Next time we’ll cover Cobra Kai, The Witcher, The Book of Boba Fett and more.