Want a little secret? I have a ton of fun writing these weekly ratings reports. More fun than I should. Each week, I have little mysteries to solve and unpack. Eternals had a big number this week, but is it doing better than Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings? Did How I Met Your Father do well even if it missed the charts? What do we make of The Royal Treatment’s underwhelming U.S. numbers?
The mystery deepens when you consider how many clues we have to parse. Nielsen data provides one hint. IMDb ratings provides another. And Netflix’ international data adds another piece of the puzzle. I can bring multiple pieces of data to bear on these questions. No one data source answers each question, but together they do.
Solving mysteries is fun, and so is writing this report. I hope you have as much fun reading it.
(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 January 17th to January 23rd.)
By raw hours of viewership, Ozark is the biggest series this week. It joined the 40 million hour club for crying out loud! I should write about that.
Eh, next week. It’ll still be there.
The more fun question to answer—which, even though I remind you each week, is technically four weeks back—is Hulu’s How I Met Your Father (HIMYF), which was released on Tuesday 18-Jan. It missed the Nielsen ratings chart…so does that mean it flopped?
Normally, you’d expect me to call it a “dog not barking”—meaning a title that missed the ratings, so it escaped our notice—but you’d be somewhat wrong this week. HIMYF did miss the Nielsen ratings, but has two (and arguably three) data points that argue in its favor:
– While it didn’t make the list, it’s ancestor, How I Met Your Mother, did with 5.4 million hours viewed on the week of 17-Jan.
– It’s a weekly release of a half-hour series.
(The arguable data point? It got renewed for a second season of twenty episodes. Arguably, yes this means it did well. But the streamers renew almost everything in an effort to show that they’re “creator friendly”, so take this how you will.)
Most sitcoms don’t do well in the Nielsen ratings charts—I wrote about Netflix’s sitcom problem a lot last year—and HIMYF is a sitcom that’s being released weekly. That’s two huge marks against it. I’m not surprised at all it didn’t make the Nielsen charts.
So why write about it? Because it may have done okay.
Looking at the TV time charts, it held the fifth place spot for two weeks, then has stayed on the list for four weeks. That’s a strong showing:
According to Samba TV, it had 420K households watch the series premiere. I don’t have a great data set built out (yet) for Samba TV’s TV data points, but my gut is that’s not bad for Hulu shows either. (Comparatively, 2.2 million households watched Ozark, which was a monster debut. See below.) If HIMYF can hold or grow that viewership, it could make the Nielsen charts in future weeks, a la Only Murders in the Building.
But it has some work to do. On the popularity front, it only has an IMDb rating of 5.1 on about 7K reviews. That’s really bad, especially compared to its predecessor, which had an astoundingly good 8.3 on 650K reviews. Or Only Murders in the Building, which currently has an 8.1 (on 60K reviews). Comedies do take a bit to get their footing (I’m looking at you Seinfeld, Simpsons and Parks and Recreation) and we’ll see if future episodes pull up the rankings averages, buzz or popularity and hence viewership.
Quick Notes on TV
– Part of me had begun to question Ozark’s spring of 2020’s performance. Coming at the height of U.S. lockdowns, it and Squid Game set records that it will take years to break. Could the newest season of Ozark reach that same potential? The answer, through one week is, yep! It is the first title of 2021 to join the 40 million hour club, and the 3rd highest single week of viewership since December of 2021. Here are the forty million hour club shows, with Ozark season 3 in grey, and the current season in black:
In fact, Ozark was already driving Netflix viewership before the new season launched, as it had 5.0 and 5.4 million hours in the two weeks before launch. So while the 2020 numbers were in fact Covid-19 elevated, it wasn’t a fluke, like Tiger King, whose second season utterly failed to launch. This show is popular, with an excellent 8.5 IMDb score on 250K+ reviews.
Last point, because I gotta throw some shade. Netflix will keep telling us and leaking to outlets that they will never, ever, ever even consider releasing shows weekly. Not gonna happen. Ignore crazy writers—like me!—saying they should consider it. Of course, we could listen to words or observe actions.
And Netflix decided to release the current season of Ozark in two batches of seven episodes. Just like Money Heist, which had two 5 episode batches last year.
Once upon a time, Netflix series were 13 episode events. (Orange is the New Black, House of Cards and Daredevil, just for a start, had 13 episodes.) Then they went to 10 episodes for their series. Now, they’re making longer seasons, but releasing them in smaller batches.
(And yes, if Netflix had released this show weekly, I think the additional buzz is the U.S. would help drive even higher viewership.)
– Archive 81 had a big second week, leaping up to 17.3 million hours from 5.5 million the week before. That’s much higher than average—typically a show adds 50 to 100% more hours—and we’ll see how it decays from here. This is similar to Stay Close, which also went from 5.8 hours to 16.5 million too.
– Speaking of shows starting with around 5 million hours in their opening week, Too Hot to Handle—the reality dating series which binge released on Tuesday 18-January—opened to 5.5 million hours. How does this compare to previous seasons?
– Bluey made the list again this week, this week with 6.4 million hours. Is it the new Cocomelon? No, cause that show got 11.4 million hours. And I don’t expect Bluey to last that long. But if you’re the type who wants to look for evidence that Disney+ is cutting into Netflix’s share of children’s viewing, this is it. Netflix hasn’t had a series—outside of Cocomelon, which it shares with Hulu, Prime Video and Roku—like Bluey.
– Netflix’s Cheer made the list with 10.0 million hours, down from 10.5 million hours the week before. Season one had a lot of buzz (released pre-pandemic in January of 2020), and this debut is just “good”, ranking 16th among season 2 launches. I’d say the previous season had more social media buzz than actual viewership.
– Miss of the Week: After Life season 3. Not a “dog not barking” because it made the list this week. But given that it missed the charts in its first week and only netted a 4.7 million hours this week (and never made the Netflix global charts), I’ll call this a miss.
(Honorable mentions in misses go to Apple TV’s Servant and Disney+’s The World According to Jeff Goldblum, which both released new episodes.)
As I hinted at last week, Nielsen had a data entry problem and had to double-check a few films’ numbers. (See below.) I won’t lie, this does has me second guessing the numbers to see if they make sense. Fortunately, as I mentioned in the introduction, the wealth of data sources mean we can judge the true popularity of films on streaming better than ever before.
(And seriously, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. We have streaming ratings data! I put it in context!)
(Though nothing compares to box office and home entertainment sales in 1990s/2000s. Actual cash is the best predictor.)
So The Royal Treatment. Released on Thursday 20-January, it shot to the top of the Nielsen rankings charts, and we were treated to think pieces on “what went right” for this new romantic-comedy.
But according to Nielsen, it only earned 5.5 million hours in its opening weekend. Does that make sense? Could this be an undercount?
It could be, but I think it’s about right. To start, the ratio with past hit films is in the ball park. Red Notice had 25.9 million U.S. hours in its debut, and then 148.7 million hours globally, or ratio of .17. Don’t Look Up had a ratio of .28 (30.7 million U.S. hours to 111.1 global). And so on. The Royal Treatment had a ratio of .13, which is right in the middle of the pack of the top movies released the second half of 2021, so that feels right.
Not to mention, the other metrics aren’t great for it. It has a 5.2 rating on IMDb with 6.8K reviews. That implies to me this film could have had lots of folks start it, but not finish it, leading to less U.S. views than say Red Notice comparatively. Also, on TV Time, The Royal Treatment had a short run of only two weeks, even though it topped the charts on its debut:
Lastly, having immersed myself in Nielsen data for the last 18 months or so, Nielsen data errors tend to happen when a film shifts windows, going from PVOD/TVOD to free SVOD, like Eternals, or switching from one streamer to another. The Royal Treatment doesn’t have that problem.
So to sum up, The Royal Treatment was Netflix’s number one film for the weekend of 21-January, but that doesn’t mean it was a huge hit otherwise.
(And if Nielsen offers a correction/update to this, I’ll provide an update!)
Quick Notes on Film
– Well, Encanto continues to perform. Scratch that, dominate. Specifically, it’s added viewership each of the last two weeks. I don’t want to hyperbolize, but we’ve literally never seen that before in the publicly available Nielsen charts. Especially not for a film this big. We’ll deep dive in a future article (either here or at The Ankler) on how big this is. Is Encanto the biggest title since Moana? Frozen? The Lion King? We’ll find out.
– And now the Eternals. Cards on the table: in my opinion, Eternals makes Thor 2: The Dark World look like Captain America: Civil War. And if you ask, “Well, do you like Marvel?”, I’m one of those people who watched Avengers: Endgame in theaters in 2021, as I wrote about in my article for The Ankler. I also loved Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, so I assumed that latter title would crush Eternals in the rankings.
Eternals—which as I wrote last week, missed the Nielsen charts due to a data processing issue—debuted to 24 million hours, good for 7th place all time and well ahead of Shang-Chi’s 17.9 million hours debut, proving me wrong.
But this is where other variables come into play. Shang-Chi had to go up against The Jungle Cruise (which had 15.1 million hours) and Red Notice (which had 30.7 million hours). Sure someone could watch all three in the same weekend, but who has that amount of time? And comparing second weekends, Shang-Chi had 14.6 million hours, where Eternals dropped to 9.3 million hours. So lets’ give it a couple of weeks to see how Eternals trends.
– For the licensed title of the week, as I ask many weeks, does quality matter? And no, I don’t mean “critical acclaim”. Critics can diverge from what customers think. But does it matter if customers watch a show or film and it’s…bad? The latest example is After We Fell—a pay 1 title with an IMDb score of 4.7—and Under Suspicion—a straight to video release from 2001 with a 6.5 IMDb score. These films got 3.2 and 3.0 hours respectively…but does that keep people subscribed to Netflix, or help reinforce a sense that Netflix is running out of good content?
– Miss of the Week: The Tender Bar. Like Eternals, a data issue keep kept this title from the Nielsen rankings last week. Here’s the updated film chart:
So George Clooney’s Oscar contender just snuck on the list with about 3 million hours viewed, about the same as Under Suspicion did this week. Given the talent, I’m willing to call this a miss, though it isn’t a dog-not-barking.
– By the way, was last week the last week for Red Notice and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings to grace us with their presence in the Top Ten lists? We’ll see.
– Also, with this update, we can confirm that not many folks watched The Scottish Play (as thespians call it) The Tragedy of Macbeth on Apple TV+.
– As for Dogs Not Barking, let’s go a pinch esoteric, shall we? What if I told you Netflix released on 21-January a film with this description..
A directorial debut by an Indian-American filmmaker, a dramedy, with very low IMDb scores, without Netflix branding, from Ava Duvernay’s production company.
Am I referring to Donkeyhead or Definition Please? That description describes both of these movies! Here’s an N.Y. Times article on them. And they’re both really unpopular. Seriously, one film has 170 reviews and the other has 139. Just interesting.
Nielsen released their latest “The Gauge” chart, which measures viewership in hours across streaming, broadcast and cable. Here’s their chart:
And my tracker over time:
The key takeaway is that the big conclusion to 2021—remember the last week of December is the “new sweeps”—helped the streamers start the year off strong in terms of growing viewership.
Looking to next week, content will be a pinch light. Netflix has not one, but two spoofs on deck, with The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window (thank you for that title by the way Netflix) spoofing murder mystery miniseries and Murderville, a spoof on detective series.
But we have some bigger shows and films inbound. As the TV Time charts above show, The Tinder Swindler will take over the film charts. But it will have competition. In fact, this week featured the lowest number of Netflix films (3) on the TV Time charts since I’ve been tracking:
Releasing this week, on cable, The Walking Dead continues its death march and Prime Video has The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel season 4. I can’t wait to see how that series performs, since this is the first time it’s had new episodes in the streaming ratings era.
Looking even farther forward, Paramount announced a ton of release dates in their Investor Day/Earnings Report this week, including putting their TV series Halo on the calendar for 24-March. That show has a lot on its shoulders to diversify Paramount+ from being a “Star Trek”-mostly service.
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