K-Dramas, the Availability Heuristic, and the Streaming Ratings Wars

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The international content wave is coming!

Of the 39 streaming shows or films released during the week of 14-March, 16 were non-English language. For the week of 1-April, 10 of the 21 were non-English language. I wish I had been collecting this data for longer, but c’est le vie. I’m putting my data assistant on it.

To be clear, this international wave started building momentum well before Squid Game hit last year. It takes time to make a TV show. (Or to buy/license one.) Instead, it’s a reflection that, as long as Disney+/Hotstar/Hulu, HBO Max, Prime Video and Netflix make content for all their different territories, and buy global rights, those shows will end up streaming in America too. But do they do well in the U.S. of A.? I’ve answered that question before, but it’s always worth an update.

(Reminder: The streaming ratings report focuses on the U.S. market and 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 February 21st to February 27th.)

Television

Have I complained about the “Availability Heuristic” before? I have. I brought it up the last time I wrote about international shows. 

But it applies so well!

For example, right now, if I asked you, “How do South Korean show perform on Netflix in the U.S.?” you’ll think, “Yeah, Squid Game smashed! So great.” 

But that’s the “availability heuristic” at work. (My readers probably wouldn’t say that.)

When calculating probabilities, our minds recall prominent examples. The go-to example is plane crashes. Since they dominate news coverage, many people—based on their media diet—think they’re more likely to die in a plane crash than a car accident. The same thing happens with Squid Game. Since you can’t think of any South Korean series that bombed, but you can think of Squid Game, you think South Korean shows are more likely to be successful than not.

I thought of this when collecting streaming data for the month of February. In that deluge of international content I mentioned in the introduction, I couldn’t help but notice a few South Korean series:

Juvenile Justice – Released 25-February, a legal drama about family court.

Twenty Five Twenty One – Released starting 12-February, a drama about teens falling in love.

Forecasting Love and Weather – Released 12-February, it’s also a drama about romance, this time in a Korean weather office.

And honestly, while Forecasting Love and Weather is a nice title, it doesn’t hold a candle to its IMDb name:

Meteorological Administration People: Office Romance Cruelty

Now that’s a translation!

And maybe one that will stick in your mind. Because otherwise you probably didn’t notice those series. They’re “dogs not barking” since they never made the Nielsen ratings charts. Or TV Time. And I’m not just picking on these shows. A few weeks back, I provided another list of South Korean shows here. 

My goal today isn’t to provide the definitive answer to the question “How popular are South Korean series in the U.S.?” I don’t have enough data for that. Instead, I’m simply trying to plant some additional South Korean series in your head, so the next time you read about international content and its “success” in streaming, you’e better informed. (Reality is often far more complicated than easy-to-digest narratives.)

Don’t get me wrong; poor performance in the U.S. doesn’t mean Korean shows aren’t worth it for Netflix! These shows often perform well globally and often rank in the top non-English shows on Netflix’s global rankings. Meaning the global ROI could definitely be there.

As always, though I’ll point out that ROI has two parts, the return and the investment. The latter part is what worries me in our post-Squid Game world. Right now, it sure feels like Netflix, Disney, HBO Max, Prime Video and others are all spending a ton to get this content’s global rights. Squid Game likely helped drive up costs in South Korea. If everyone can’t find their own Squid Game, the ROI math may not work.

Quick Notes on TV

– The big Netflix original of the week was the the MGM-produced Vikings spinoff Vikings: Valhalla, released on Friday 25-Feb. It debuted to 13.3 million hours in the U.S., while getting to 80 million hours globally. So we can say that this show has a firmly global skew. We’ll see how it holds. I’d expect a “binge release curve” bump next week.

Inventing Anna continues the Shonda Rhimes hit parade, as I mentioned on its debut. As I thought could happen, through three weeks it has 109.8 million hours viewed, passing Reacher ( 72.8 million hours). That also beats Bridgerton (92 million hours) which I did not expect!

– Netflix usually does well with their true crime docuseries, but I have to admit that Catching Killers had one of the worst performances I’ve seen yet. It’s the lowest rated season 2 series in my data set, with only 5.0 million hours viewed in its second week. But don’t worry too much, as some other cheap crime show will soon do much better than we expect in the ratings.

– In previous released series news, Love Is Blind’s batch style release has done really well, with a third week getting to 22.8 million hours viewed. Space Force season 2 had an anemic second week. And The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel season 4 increased week-over-week:

Pam and Tommy, though, hasn’t returned to the list, though it popped back up on TV Time’s weekly charts.

– In an update to last week’s Bel-Air coverage, a follower on Twitter pointed out that if you drop the hyphen, the Google Trends look a lot better.

Well, that’s embarrassing. I consider myself the maestro of the Google Trends, and I usually catch little tricks like that! Ryan is totally right and I offer a big thank you for the tip. Another person pointed out that Peacock themselves have said this is on track to be one of their biggest titles:

 

This is why I like multiple data sources. Given that Google Trends looks high, I’d say the NBC-Universal marketing team did their job. But looking at the low IMDb scores and lack of TV Time rankings, I’d say viewers don’t really love it. But given that it’s “big for Peacock”, Peacock is still probably tiny.

– Licensed series check in: Downton Abbey keeps showing up on the list. That show is probably on my list for biggest shows of the 2010s due to all of its legacy viewing. My best explanation for the resurgence is both that it returned to Netflix last summer and that Julian Fellowes also has a show on HBO, The Gilded Age.

– The Dog Not Barking of the week is Severance, the latest buzzy Apple TV+ series that debuted on 18-Feb-2022. The show has great reviews and customers like it (8.2 IMDb rating) but just didn’t make the ratings. The caveats are it is a weekly released series (good for you Apple!) And it made the TV Time ratings this week. So it may have a slow burn. Maybe it will “Ted Lasso” and have a big season two ratings bump.

Film

This week I’m fascinated by four theatrical films and their recent streaming debuts:

Free Guy – Released theatrically on 13-August, it did well at the box office and premiered on 23-February on both Disney+ and HBO Max.

Nightmare Alley – Released theatrically on 17-Dec, it disappointed at the box office, got nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, and was released on streaming on 1-February on HBO Max and Hulu.

Westside Story – Released theatrically on 10-Dec, it too disappointed at the box office, but got an Academy Award nomination. It was released on streaming on 2-Mar-2022 on Disney+ and HBO Max.

The King’s Man – Released on 22-Dec, it too disappointed at the box office. It was released on streaming on 18-Feb on Hulu and HBO Max.

What’s the deal with the dual releases? These are all Fox (or Fox Searchlight) films that had previously gone to HBO under Fox’s Pay-1 output deal. But Disney paid to get these films on their streamer along with HBO.

Of the four, we only have Nielsen viewership data for Free Guy, which debuted to 17.1 million hours on Disney+. (Though I label it as non-exclusive, since it is on HBO too.) That’s good for fifth place among Pay-1/Early released theatrical titles, and would be 16th place among straight-to-streaming titles, just behind A Madea Homecoming.

So bust or not? I’d say, given Free Guy’s big theatrical numbers, I’d have expected it to do better than this, though the numbers are about what Shang-Chi did so, overall, not bad. That said, if Nielsen is only counting Disney+ viewership, then yeah I could see an equal amount of viewing on HBO Max/HBO. (I watched Nightmare Alley, for example, on HBO; my researcher/editor watched it on Hulu.) So this could be the floor for Free Guy. (And the Disney execs can also know that it made $323 million at the box office and at least $17 million in DVD sales.)

Can we take anything else from the data? Not yet. We know these films did well on the TV Time rankings:

But we don’t know much else after that.

Quick Notes on Film

– Doing nearly as well as Free Guy was Tyler Perry’s A Madea Homecoming. For the record, I’m a Tyler Perry super fan. Not of his content. (I’ll be honest I’ve never seen a Madea film.) But he’s on my “entertainment executives” hall of fame for the 2000s. His business acumen is impeccable. His creative instincts are superb as well. His latest film got 17.3 million hours in its first weekend and made it to third place on the TV time rankings.

The Tinder Swindler clocked in 5.6 million hours in its third week on the charts and added another 3.4 million this week. That slow burn feels right for a crime documentary like this.

– Meanwhile, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot did not see a second week “binge release curve” bump, and dropped to 3.3 million hours from 5.1. So I expect it to continue its downward slide.

 

– We have two great Dogs Not Barking this week. Specifically, two specials, Ali Wong’s Don Wong and Mo Gilligan’s There’s Mo to Life. In their defense, both were short. But on the other, they don’t really break through on the ratings charts. (Comedy specials, if they’re cheap, are still a good buy.)

– Two Dog Not Barking candidates this week. First, Peacock has The 355 “only on Peacock” as their advertising. It underwhelmed in theaters, so likely won’t have a second life on streaming, but it will be interesting if it does make any noise. On Hulu, there is the thriller No Exit, that interestingly has “20th Century Fox” branding, not a “Hulu Original”, which I think is the first I’ve seen. We’ll see if they keep that for future releases. 

Coming Soon! 

Well, The Book of Boba Fett still made the Nielsen Original TV rankings:

So maybe I can talk about it next week, and compare it to the other big streaming sci-fi series, Star Trek: Picard. That’s not the only big genre showdown this month, as Halo on Paramount+ will square off against Moon Knight on in the last week of March.

Lastly, while it isn’t streaming yet, I do have my eye on The Lost City. After seeing enough ads, I finally asked my wife if she wanted to see and she did. As The Quorum noted, this film will go someway to answering if theaters can pull in female audiences in particular. (It will also someday likely end up on Paramount+, which is distributing it.)

(As always, sign up for my newsletter to get all my columns, streaming ratings reports, and articles in your inbox.)

Appendix

 

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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