This week represents a fun squaring off of streamers. Not the usual battle of the titans–Netflix versus Disney+–but Hulu and Prime Video, featuring two releases couldn’t be more different. Let’s dig in.
(Reminder: The streaming ratings report compiles data from Nielsen’s weekly top ten viewership ranks, TV Time trend data, Netflix datecdotes and hours viewed data, Netflix 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 31st to February 6th.)
Let’s not bury the lede here:
Prime Video’s Reacher is the biggest first week for a season one release in our data set.
That honestly surprised me. It joined the “30 million hour” club after only three days of release. For those curious, of the 2,181 weekly data points in my Nielsen data set, only 52 titles (film or TV) have surpassed 30 million hours viewed. Meaning Reacher immediately earned a spot in the top 2.4% of weekly performances.
Even more impressive: that’s the first time that’s ever happened in week 1 for a debut season.
Most shows take bit to get their legs under them. Bridgerton had 20.1 million hours in its first week before leaping to 44 million hours in its second. Squid Game had an anemic 3.4 million hours before leaping to 31.8 million hours. The Queen’s Gambit also started at 9.2 million hours before leaping to 30.8 million in its second week. (We don’t have The Witcher, Stranger Things or Orange is the New Black ratings, so they could have passed this threshold too. But the service was also smaller back then. Shoulder shrug emoji.)
And now I’m close—this close—to saying that Prime Video is going streaking. Because look at the performance of The Wheel of Time:
That’s two good launches in a row—though Hanna season 3 was a bit of a dud—and I’m optimistic The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel will continue the streak. (It debuted at number three on TV Time and has a 8.7 IMDb score on 100K reviews. Marvelous scores for a non-genre series.)
Now for the cold water. While Reacher’s opening is just phenomenal, it makes The Wheel Of Time or The Boys season 2 numbers even more impressive in context. Consider, with only three episodes released, The Wheel of Time did two-thirds of Reacher’s week one numbers.
Also, this show is a co-production with Skydance and Paramount, like Jack Ryan, one of Amazon’s other successful shows. This isn’t a criticism so much as a strategic disagreement between me and Amazon. Lots of networks and streamers rely on co-productions, but long term, if you’re really building a moat in the streaming wars, streamers should try to make their own stuff.
Now onto Hulu.
Billboards for Pam & Tommy are all over Los Angeles. And when I finally read the pitch and saw the casting, I thought this thing could be a hit. But I haven’t watched and don’t hear a lot of people insisting I should watch it either. It’s being released weekly, with three episodes at the start.
So how did it do? Viewers watched for 5.2 million hours, good for 9th place out of 13 among season one weekly release. This is a bit lower than the few Hulu weekly releases in our data set:
Now for the worse news. With a 7.5 rating on IMDb, it’s not reaching the “must watch” threshold, merely the average. Meanwhile, it only spent one week on the TV Time ratings, in tenth place. Not great either. I’d expect a drop off.
If you want a lesson, and this is fairly evergreen, go for cop/psuedo-cop shows instead of prestige dramas or dramedies. Yeah, not breaking a lot of ground here, but it turns out Americans like to watch police officers (or former police officers) who skirt the rules to battle criminals. And Reacher has 30 million hours to prove it.
Quick Notes on TV
– Well, Ozark continues to do fantastically. And I promise next week it gets the mini-deep dive treatment, since a divide has emerge about its U.S. performance versus its global numbers, and I think that speaks to the difficulties of running a global streamer. I’d also add, even just looking at the American numbers, it sort of stuns me how quietly it’s become just a monster in America:
It’s had more viewership, but about 1/10th as many think pieces. Is this because the type of people who watch Ozark (and I’d add Yellowstone) don’t tweet about it, unlike Squid Game?
– If you’re a Netflix exec, you’d counter my above praise of Reacher with this: if you add Raising Dion and Sweet Magnolias together, they netted 40.9 million hours. That’s way bigger than Reacher. Again, Netflix wins by volume.
Both shows returned after a hefty absence. Raising Dion debuted in the fall of 2019, and got the datecdote treatment, with 32 million global households watching two minutes. Sweet Magnolias came out in May of 2022, and netted 48.8 total hours in its three week run, good for 15th place among season ones in my data set. The worry for both shows is that they had fairly limited runs in the TV Time data (Raising Dion had one week; Sweet Magnolia had a three week run), so I’d expect them to drop off after this week.
– Murderville came out on 3-February, the second of two spoof shows in a row, following The Woman in the House Across the Street from The Girl in The Window. It debuted to 5.9 million hours in its first week. While low—ranking 54th in my data set of 114 season one debuts—it only had six half-hour episodes, so that’s not terrible. As long as the budget wasn’t too huge, this performance seem solid.
– In exclusive to this newsletter news, I asked Nielsen about Netflix/Dreamworks co-production Gabby’s Dollhouse. As analyzed by Emily Horgan over at What’s On Netflix, Gabby’s Dollhouse quietly became the best performing Netflix Original for kids aged 2-11. (Also trumping anything on Disney+, though Disney+ doesn’t have that many “Originals” only for under-11 year olds, mainly Disney Junior shows that migrate over, like Bluey.) Gabby’s Dollhouse earned 4.7 million hours in its season 4 debut, fine for a kids series.
– In licensed content news, The Vampire Diaries makes its first appearance in the Nielsen rankings. The series ended after eight seasons in 2017, and has stayed on Netflix under the previous licensing deal ever since. According to Whats-On-Netflix, based on past CW shows, it could have left in March, but that hasn’t been confirmed yet. Still, welcome to the Acquired TV charts another CBS/Warner Bros TV series!
– Folks asked me if I could tell them anything about The Legend of Vox Machina, and I wish I could but it didn’t appear in any of the databases I track. It has a great 8.6 IMDb rating, but only 14K reviews, which is lowish for genre series. Sorry I can’t say more, but I can only opine on what the data tells me.
(By the way, after saying last week that I love email feedback, I got a few responses. Thank you! I want to let everyone know I read every email, but may not respond to everyone due to time constraints. But I love the feedback!)
– I’m tracking a few “dog not barking” candidates for next week, including Dark Desire (got the datecdotes treatment by Netflix previously), Raised by Wolves (feel buzzy and has Ridley Scott’s name slapped on it), Your Attention Please (which has the fewest number of IMDb scores I’ve ever seen), and Suspicion (on Apple TV+).
I’m currently writing up a few strategy documents for this report—deeper dives on my approach and philosophy when it comes to data—and it reminded me of the importance of my overall goal:
A “poll of polls” for evaluating streaming.
Right now, I’m primarily use Nielsen viewership, mainly because it’s been the most consistent data source with an actual number attached to it. (Rankings are useful, but don’t capture differences in magnitude.) I’m building out additional databases as we speak and the goal is to evaluate streaming content by comparing all these data points holistically.
The Tinder Swindler—a film which debuted on Wednesday 2-February on Netflix—is a perfect encapsulation of why this approach makes sense. It’s another Netflix crime documentary, this time about an Israeli conman who used a dating app to con women. Like The Royal Treatment—a Netflix Original that debuted two weeks prior from two weeks before—I’m not sure how well it did. Both hit the top of the TV Time charts, for example. Here are their two respective weekends:
And both films also shot to the top of the Netflix global rankings too, with 45.8 million hours for The Tinder Swindler and 42.4 million global hours for The Royal Treatment.
But then the Nielsen rankings came out, and both shows underwhelmed. The Tinder Swindler debuted to 6.8 million hours, good for 56th place out of 138 films overall and fourth place for the week:
So what’s going on? Why the disagreement? Well, first off, Nielsen could have a data error. Just this week they announced that The Unforgivable had an undercount way back on 6-Dec, which would have made it the top film that week. We can’t discount this scenario. (The analogy seems to be the U.S. unemployment report. Just this week we got another upward revision of 90,000 jobs in past quarter, in addition to another great jobs month.)
Here’s that update Top Ten Film table:
But I think both The Royal Treatment and The Tinder Swindler could have the right Nielsen ratings, and it’s just that they weren’t that big in the U.S. Given that Netflix is the biggest streamer both globally and in the U.S. by total subscribers and usage, it makes sense that they can usually field the biggest new film in streaming most weeks. Sometimes those films are HUGE (Red Notice did 148.7 million hours globally and 30.7 million hours on Nielsen) and sometimes they’re The Royal Notice and The Tinder Swindler.
For example, both The Royal Treatment and The Tinder Swindler only spent two weeks on the TV Time chart, signs that they didn’t have staying power:
Red Notice stayed on the list for eight weeks, for comparison. Google Trends shows similar weakness, especially for The Royal Treatment, with a bit better performance by The Tinder Swindler:
Though again, sometimes Google Trends merely show folks googling to ask, “What the heck is this?”
Ultimately, I think The Tinder Swindler is probably what it is. Documentaries have a lower ceiling than big budget films. The highest rated documentary in my rankings is currently American Murder: The Family Next Door, with 13 million hours in its first week, 25th overall. So it would be impressive if a small documentary could compete with big budget spectacles like Encanto, Red Notice and The Eternals. It also has a 7.2 on IMDb, which is in the “fine” zone. But fine doesn’t usually lead to blockbuster ratings.
(Side note: In what other ratings article does someone tell you the highest-rated documentary released by Netflix over time? That’s context you get nowhere else.)
Now, if Nielsen comes back next week and revises the data, then I’m going to wait to opine a bit longer going forward. But having multiple data sources (a poll of polls) is what enables me to do that. And why this report is unique among all ratings reporting out there.
Quick Notes on Film
– Maybe The Tinder Swindler did a little worse in the ratings because everyone on Netflix was just watching the new licensed content! Specifically, Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 returned on 1-Feb to Netflix for a two-month run, earning 3.3 and 7.6 million hours viewed respectively. I tried to figure out if/when these were on/will return to Peacock, but it’s a bit tricky. Remember, Universal parceled out their movie rights between Peacock, Netflix and Prime Video/IMDb TV in their new Pay-1 deals. (Dreamworks go to Peacock and Netflix; other Universal titles go to Prime Video.)
– Actually, those weren’t the only new licensed titles to make the list. The Lucky One earned 3.7 million hours and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen netted 4.5.
– In other fall off the ratings charts news, Don’t Look Up ended its run after 6 weeks on the charts. The Royal Treatment too fell off after only two weeks. (Again, its low numbers were probably accurate.)
– Meanwhile, Encanto is not just breaking records, smashing them. When a film is elite, it doesn’t just do a bit better, it does multiples better than its peers. In this case, that’s other kids series but even comparing to other Disney animated titles, Encanto has distinguished itself, being rewatched for 20 million hours every single week.
(As someone who is asked by my little monsters to play the music a lot, I’m semi-curious if Disney+ can see if folks are rewatching just the songs. If they are, Disney why not release a “music cut”? And while you’re at it why not put out some sing-along shows? Those are better product improvements than an ad-supported tier.)
Time to update our count of titles in the Nielsen top 30 by streamer. Here you go:
Here’s what I’d say. The Christmas week was clearly an outlier of Christmas films, which probably was the worst week for Netflix we’ll see until more streamers get added to Nielsen or until next Christmas. That said, it does look like we’ve stabilized with Netflix films or shows making up about 20 to 21 slots on the list. If it slides into the high-teens, that would be a bad sign for Netflix taking over all of TV.
Again, I promise next week to dive mini-deep into Ozark. We’ll also have Inventing Anna, Star Trek: Discovery and Love is Blind. An interesting crop of shows. On the film side, it will also be an interesting mix as Prime Video (I Want You Back), HBO Max (KIMI), Netflix (Tall Girl 2) and Peacock (Marry Me) all have big/semi-big releases.
Meanwhile, the health of the theatrical experience will again be tested with The Batman. For those keeping track at home, this character has been around for over 70 years, and made well-performing films in the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s. Can his streak continue?
(Meanwhile, the single best Batman piece of media in the last 20 years might actually be the Arkham Asylum video games.)
(As always, sign up for my newsletter to get all my columns, streaming ratings reports, and articles in your inbox.)