Deep Water is Hulu’s Biggest Film, Which Means Hulu’s Films are in Hot Water

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Before we dive into he streaming ratings this week, check out my two articles from last week. 

U.S. Streaming Subscriber Estimates For Q4 Of 2021”. This is my semi-regular take on the number of paid, U.S. subscribers for the major streamers. Here’s the key visual:

If you want the gory, “how did I make these” details, click here to read the whole thing.

– At the Ankler, I wrote Will NFTs Save Entertainment? Of Course Not, my first take on crypto, NFTs, the blockchain and entertainment. 

As for content this week, overall it felt a pinch quiet on the streaming front. Maybe the calm before a coming Bridgerton, Moon Knight and Halo storm…

(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 March 14th to March 20th.)


The big film of the week is a psycho-sexual thriller Deep Water, starring Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas. That’s some big name talent! So how did it do?

If you’re thinking, uh, 3.4 million hours doesn’t seem great, well yeah, it’s not. This is the 111th film out of 135 week one debuts, in other words, it landed in the bottom 20% of all films in their opening weekends. Specifically, the “18th percentile”. (Note, this isn’t all films released on streaming, given that quite a few are “dogs not barking” which means they launch and never make a ranking.)

Here are all the Hulu films that have ever charted on Nielsen:

But here’s where it gets complicated. See, according to Hulu, Deep Water is their biggest opening weekend of all time:

Huh. That means we can update this table of Hulu datecdotes:

(I’m so happy I got to update this datecdote tracker again! Seriously, there is no other news outlet that actually makes this comparison.)

So according to Hulu, this is their best film, but according to Nielsen, it’s their second best. Every so often, I stumble across articles that argue that discrepancies like this between Nielsen and Netflix’s global data (or Hulu datecdotes and Nielsen data) invalidate the whole process. Something like, “A ha! A data discrepancy! We can’t know anything!!!”

Okay, let’s calm down. Honestly? I don’t think these differences are that big.

Nielsen, for example, estimates how many people are watching a film or show at a given time, and Disney’s data does not. Meaning if Nielsen thinks more people are watching as a couple (which makes sense for Vacation Friends) it could score higher in the average viewership. Nielsen also tracks TVs, and Disney tracks laptops. So if Deep Water skewed younger (more mobile device use), that could also explain the discrepancy. Likely both explanations (and some others) explain it.

But seriously does it matter?

I mean, what are we talking about here? A million hours viewed? None of Hulu’s top films are very popular! Whether Nielsen gets the exact order that Disney does doesn’t really bother me…because I really, really, really don’t think Deep Water is a hit. And we don’t need some complicated explanation for why: it wasn’t very good.

Toss in a bad online narrative—making fun of the lack of sex in an erotic thriller—and a limited run on TV Time, and this isn’t a hit for Hulu, despite the headline.

One thing to watch going forward—especially as 20th Century (formerly Fox) Studios becomes essentially a “straight-to-Hulu” film producer for Disney—will be how Disney divvies up films between Hulu and Disney+. As I noted a few weeks back, Hulu seems to be taking the “cost-effective” route, meaning thrillers (Run, No Exit), horror films (Fresh) or prestige plays (Palm Springs). Meanwhile, it seems like all the blockbusters are going to Disney from 20th (Free Guy, West Side Story).

While cost-effective films do have good bang-for-their-buck, they tend to have lower ceilings than big blockbusters. Right now, Disney needs to figure out some good blockbusters to put on Hulu to help grow that service. Cheap (and underwhelming) genre fare alone won’t do it.

Quick Notes on Film

– Before this week, if I had said that a Jason Segel/Lily Collins thriller was squaring off against a weird, family-friendly dog movie on Netflix, which would you have picked as the ratings winner? Did you say the dog movie? You didn’t, did you? But yet Rescued by Ruby got 5.1 million hours viewed, and Windfall didn’t make the list this week.

Rescued by Ruby wasn’t the only family film to make the rankings, as Disney’s remake of Cheaper By the Dozen did make the rankings in its first weekend too, with 4.0 million hours. Two notes on this. Disney+ film releases seem to have two tiers. The first is Pixar/Disney animation behemoths like Raya and the Last Dragon, Luca, Soul, Encanto and Turning Red. Then there is everything else, especially live action, like Black Beauty, Flora & Ulysses, Godmothered, and The One and Only Ivan, which have a hit or miss track record. That said, by putting a live-action series into the top ten, this is at least a hit as far as Disney family live action films go.

Second, I’m ignoring the abnormally low IMDb scores, since I think it got downvoted for political reasons. (The Daily Caller called it a “woke disaster”.) Along with Rescued by Ruby, both films did have a TV Time run as well, meaning these films did hit with audiences and we can trust the Nielsen data:

– The last new release to rank was the Swedish action/war film Black Crab, also released on Friday 18-March. It too has a horrid IMDb scores—5.6 on 16K reviews—but for Netflix foreign titles this isn’t the exception, but actually the rule. (More to come on that in a future report.) 

Here’s the viewership per day of films released in the last four weeks:

– Both The Adam Project and Turning Red dropped slightly or stayed flat week over week. (The Adam Project went from 22.7 to 22.3 million hours and Turning Red went from 28.4 to 27.9.) Those are actually very good performances, and in line with past blockbuster films like Red Notice (dropped 2.2 million hours), Soul (dropped 5.4 million hours) and The Tomorrow War (dropped 2.2 million hours).

– As for licensed titles making the list, two action/thriller titles did pretty well, with A Walk Among the Tombstones (a 2014 Liam Neeson-helmed action thriller, that grossed $62 million) getting 7.0 million hours and London Has Fallen (a 2016 Gerard Butler-helmed action film, that grossed $200 million) getting 3.3 million hours.

– After a slow start to the year, a number of major TV shows and films—meaning big budgets—have failed to chart, giving us some big, legitimate “Dogs Not Barking” (or flops, defined by films that fail to chart, so we never really know how horribly they actually did). As I mentioned above, Netflix’s Windfall missed the rankings this week. As Deadline reported, this film was sold for 8-figures. 

(Actually the best line? Deadline wrote it was purchased for a “major” 8-figures. What’s major? That’s anywhere from say $18 to 90 million! Helpful advice: it’s either low, mid or high 8-figures going forward.)

The other Dog Not Barking this week is Prime Video’s Master, another Sundance prestige play. After a bit of an absence, welcome back to the “Dog Not Barking” feature Prime Video!


What’s the old rule of thumb for trend pieces in Hollywood? That three of a kind makes a trend? We hit that threshold recently when WeCrashed (on WeWork), Super Pumped (on Uber) and The Dropout (on Theranos) all debuted recently on streaming services (Apple TV+, Showtime and Hulu respectively). Do I see some important trend here? Nah, these shows were in development for years and this is a coincidence that they all came out around the same time. 

Longer term, adapting documentaries, podcasts or even investigative journalism into dramas has been and will be a trend going forward. Personally? The fact that something is “based on a true story” doesn’t make me want to watch it—especially given how much is not, in fact, true in the final film—but I’m not the audience here! Mine is the deviant opinion, if I can use such a word.

Of course, it’s not super clear to me these “BoaTS” shows are actually working. The Dropout lasted for one week on Nielsen, only has a 7.5 IMDb score on 8.8K reviews, but has lasted for four weeks on the TV Time charts. WeCrashed didn’t make the Nielsen rankings in its debut—not surprising honestly with only three episodes on a small service—but also never made the TV Time charts and has a 7.1K IMDb score on 3.9K reviews. Super Pumped is on Showtime, so didn’t show up in the streaming charts, but has even lower IMDb scores at a 7.2 rating on 2.4K reviews.

So do these three mediocre debuts doom the push to turn podcasts and documentaries into series? Or turning tech company disasters into series? Hardly! All it would have taken is one show to work and we’d have a justification of the strategy. In this case, The Dropout seems to have done the best, but not well enough to justify the strategy. But one hit could quickly change this analysis.

But damn, where is that hit? I mean, when you consider that arguably Netflix’s Bad Vegan—see next—bested all of these series in viewership, it makes you question some prestige TV spending decisions! 

Quick Notes on TV

– Netflix’s crime docuseries streak continues this week with the Wednesday-released Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives. First off, bravo to that title. A colon and alliteration? And each word ends in a period? As for its performance, it was watched for 10.2 million hours in its opening weekend. Not bad for a cheap unscripted show.

To boot, I will say it seems like Netflix is having fun with these docuseries. The Tinder Swindler? Bad Vegan? Worst Roommate Ever? Those are fun titles. Streaming TV should be fun.

– In reality/game show news, Netflix’s latest entry to the field Is It Cake?—starring EntStrategyGuy fav and SNL cast member Mikey Day—did really well, getting 8.0 million hours in its first weekend. (It debuted on a Friday.) Yeah, 8 million hours is only the 46th highest rank season one in my data set (out of 121), but again this is a cheap, cheap, cheap reality game show. (I assume. If Netflix let budgets run wild, well, shame on them. And I don’t have the reporting chops to find out.) For a low-budget reality show, this is a strong debut. 

Of course, it’s a competition game show, so did Netflix release it weekly or in batches? In batches, because of course they did. 

– In slightly weirder than “Is It Cake?” pitches, Netflix’s unscripted reality series Life After Death with Tyler Henry missed the ratings in its debut week, but made the ratings with 7.6 million hours in its full second week. This is good for 79th place overall. I doubt it hangs around for long either in the rankings. But it was likely cheap, so not a bad investment from a financial point of view.

That said, having seen (and loved) Nightmare Alley and learned that carnival folk are actually fairly adamant that you should never perform a “spook show”—pretending the supernatural magic tricks are real—is Netflix running a spook show? As John Oliver has pointed out, so-called psychic mediums are big business, but can do real harm. If Netflix is running a spook show, shame on them for trying to convince people this is true, and not a fun diversion. 

Rant over.

– As for past shows, The Last Kingdom had a bit of a drop, which is fine. Upload and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel continue to have strong multiple weeks for Prime Video. (It looks like Upload will best Space Force in the battle of Greg Daniels shows.) Vikings: Valhalla had a short run as well and it’s moving off the list. Meanwhile, among licensed titles, the second-run Good Girls held steady week-over-week.

– The other big streaming story for the week of 14-March for Disney+ was the triumphant return of all the Marvel series that originally aired on Netflix, including Daredevil (3 season, 39 episodes), Jessica Jones (3 season, 39 episodes), Luke Cage  (2 seasons, 26 episodes), Iron Fist (2 seasons, 23 episodes), The Defenders  (1 season, 8 episodes) and The Punisher (2 seasons, 26 episodes). 

Now, if it were me, to gin up interest, I would have rolled these series out in batches or weekly. And then run a “Talking Dead”-style after show to give viewers a reason to rewatch the shows. Or something. Anything to make it an event. Instead, Disney+ released them all at once, and I’d be surprised if they make the rankings in the future.

– Well, folks we have a big official “Dog Not Barking” this week with Formula 1: Drive to Survive. But this series is so big that one little paragraph can’t contain my thoughts on it. (It will either be a future “visual of the week” or article at The Ankler.) This series is singlehandedly—emphasis on the single there—credited with not just reviving F1 in the U.S., but making it a HIT!!!!! 

But consider: it just debuted on Netflix and isn’t even among the ten best streaming shows in America. So either the show isn’t doing all the work, or the Formula 1 renaissance is a bit overstated. Or both!

– The biggest Dog Not Barking” candidate of the week is Life & Beth which debuted on Hulu on Friday 18-March. Starring the hilarious Amy Schumer, like many Hulu comedies, it’s more of a dramedy and doesn’t scream laugh out loud funny. It also only had a one week run on TV Time, which still qualifies for “dog not barking” status based on my analysis. (A two-week run is really the bare minimum on that ranking system.)

– Three other fairly big shows are on my “miss” radar. Minx on HBO Max, Human Resources on Netflix and DMZ also on HBO Max. Minx and DMZ never made the TV Time rankings and Human Resources only made it for one week. Of the three, yikes to DMZ in particular, given that it only has an 5.4 IMDb review on 2.5K reviews, and never made the TV Time Rankings.

I’ll be honest, through three months, my “dogs not barking” feature was looking pretty dismal. Most of the big shows hit! Where were the major, major flops? Well, between these four shows and Windfall this week, I think we finally have some legit misses.

Coming Soon!

Well, we know the story for next week, Bridgerton. It’s going to do HUGE numbers, have no doubt. Apple TV+ will also release Pachinko, and that thing is expensive, so hopefully it does the ratings for them. Later this month, I’m still eagerly looking forward to analyzing both the Oscar’s impact on ratings and the genre showdown between Halo and Moon Knight.

(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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