What Does The Batman Say About Theaters vs Streaming? And a “Russian Doll” vs “The Flight attendant” Showdown

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[Editor’s Note: As you may have read, I’m putting up a paywall on 16-Jun-2022. For the next month, you can expect a few reminders from me about this. I’m trying to balance the thin line between being obnoxious and also making a living writing about entertainment strategy.

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Despite a lot of new content being released this week—reminder, the week of 18-April—this week didn’t set viewership records. Well, it may have set them in the opposite direction…

Since 28-December-2020, which is when Nielsen expanded to 30 data points per week, this is the 17th lowest week, and the lowest week of 2022. The best performing show was Better Call Saul, at under 15 million hours viewed, which is low.

My theory? I think the streamers are still desperate to win awards, and since Emmy voting ends May 31st, lots of shows designed for Emmy voters/critics will be released in April and May. And it will get crowded. (And self-defeating, since even Emmy voters can’t keep track of it all.)

(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 April 18th to April23rd.)

Film

Folks, as you’re going to see below, we have a bit of a surprise from Nielsen this week. They included HBO Max data in their monthly “The Gauge”—which measures total viewership by each streamer—for the first time!

Dare we wonder if our long suffering lack of ratings data for HBO Max is at an end? One can only hope and dream…

In particular, man, I’d LOVE to know how well the big movie of the week, The Batman, did on streaming. For those who somehow don’t know, The Batman was released in theaters on 4-Mar-2022, then released on HBO Max six weeks later on 18-April—which, interestingly enough, was a Monday—then on HBO five days after that. (Saturday is HBO’s movie release day.)

So is it a hit?

Yeah, it’s big. Let’s start with TV Time’s data base. The Batman debuted in the number one slot immediately and stayed on the list for at least four weeks. 

Here’s how that compares to other top titles…

So 9th place overall. The Batman had a tremendously strong start—like Red Notice, Turning Red, or The Adam Project—but then dropped its fourth week of release.

Samba TV tells a similar story, with The Batman debuting to 700K households on its first day—which again was a Monday!—then got to 4.1 million in its first week. That performance only trails Warner Bros.’ dual-released Mortal Kombat from last year, which got 4.1 million households in just five days

To top it off, The Batman has an IMDb rating of a 8.0 on 474K, both elite numbers, on the level of other top notch comic book/superhero films. And you can add $370 million in domestic box office to The Batman’s accomplishments. For The Batman, a boffo theatrical release seems to have done little to temper enthusiasm for the film on streaming as well. 

Put it like this: would you rather have The Adam Project’s 37 in TV Time score or The Batman’s 35, plus another $185 million in theatrical returns just in America? 

I go for the latter. Let’s not go crazy on trying to learn “lessons” from this one film, but we can say that: 

1. Between this, Dr. Strange and even Moon Knight (see below), we’re still living in the super heroes’ world. 

2. The “theaters don’t hurt streaming viewership, and may even help it” thesis is gaining strength in 2022.

Quick Notes on Film

– Want an example for how this is a down week? Netflix’s biggest new release—and it was released on a Tuesday—is White Hot: The Rise & Fall fo Abercombie & Fitch. First, compliments to Netflix for fitting in two ampersands in the same title. Second, the film netted 4.9 million hours, which is pretty meh, good for 120th place in my streaming first run data set out of 158 titles.

– The most interesting new edition to the list is Sonic the Hedgehog. While Nielsen has this recorded as a Prime Video title—which means that’s where most of the viewing came from—Paramount+ also has Sonic The Hedgehog. Why this new found interest in a two-year-old title? What makes this interesting is that, as a library title, it had no reason to remake the charts except that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 came out on 8-April, along with a big marketing campaign…which encouraged viewership on Paramount+ and Prime Video. 

Again, does theatrical hurt the streamers or just promote their films?

– In the “welcome back” category, both Luca and The Adam Project made it back onto the film list, as you can see above. Luca had a two month absence and The Adam Project had a two-week absence. The only licensed adult title on the list this week is How It Ends (2018) on Netflix, another cheap action thriller, proving Netflix’s ability to take films that audiences didn’t really care for at launch—this title has a horrific 4.7 on IMDb—and give them a short second life. 

Choose or Die shrank into its second week. Here’s the rest of the recent first-run films:

– The biggest “Dog Not Barking” candidate of the week honor goes to Disneynature’s Polar Bear. (It was a light week in first-run films on streaming.) Why does this one get the honor? Partly because I don’t understand Disney’s branding on this one. It’s branded as Disneynature, which is fine, but then Disney+ categorizes it under “Disney”, not “NatGeo” tab. 

Here’s some friendly advice Disney: put your nature documentaries in your NatGeo tab, no matter who made them!

Television

In today’s slightly deeper dive, let’s look at two of the “Emmy contenders” emblematic of deluge of Emmy-contending titles getting released in April and May. 

Netflix released season two of Russian Doll—starring Natasha Lyonne, previously of Orange is the New Black—a critically well-received series with a very good IMDb score of 7.8 on 86K reviews. (The first season has an 84 on Metacritic “Universal Acclaim” from critics.) The previous season came out in 2019. Notably, Netflix binge-released the latest season on a Wednesday.

It went up against The Flight Attendant, HBO Max’s buzzy and critically well-received series starring Haley Cuoco. (The first season has a 77 “generally favorable reviews” on Metacritic.) It too released its second season the week of 18-April, and its first season came out in 2020.

Russian Doll is the perfect example of a series that started in the “pre-ratings era”—before March of 2020—hitting the cold light of numerical reality in 2022. Back in 2019, we could just wonder if people were watching it. And since it seemed buzzy and critically well-reviewed, you would see dozens of headlines blaring that it’s “Netflix’s latest hit”.

Don’t take my word for it; here’s a The New York Times headline:

But then season two of Russian Doll comes out last month and gets 5.1 million hours viewed in its opening week. That’s good for 29th place among “season two” releases in my data set, out of 43 total season twos. Or “meh”.

Compare this to Netflix’s other new releases this week. Selling Sunset got the coveted Friday release day and earned 6.4 million hours in three days. Netflix also released Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes, which got 11.4 million hours in its first week. For those keeping track, expensive, critically-acclaimed, Emmy contender has 5.1 million hours; cheap John Wayne Gacy docu-series? 11.4 million hours.

(Also, are we worried about depleting America’s precious resource of true crime stories? If we run out, will the streamers band together and start hiring serial killers just to make new content? By the way, that’s a hell of a pitch for a horror-comedy. If you’re interested in that contact my agent.)

Switching to The Flight Attendant, HBO Max doesn’t release data nor do they let Nielsen release their data. To compare Russian Doll to The Flight Attendant, we need TV Time as a second data source.

It’s what you’d expect. The Netflix show burns brighter for a shorter time period—partly because Netflix is roughly six times the size of HBO Max, see below—while the HBO Max show lingers during its weekly release. Further, as we get more week of TV Time data, we’re generally seeing that a two-week run for a Netflix show is on the weaker side of the debuts. The average is about three weeks. That said, Russian Doll has a 7.8 on IMDb, while The Flight Attendant has a 7.0, so fans also seem to like the former more.

In this case, I give the title belt to Russian Doll, but if Nielsen releases HBO Max’s data in the future and The Flight Attendant shows up, I could change my mind.

Quick Notes on TV

– Some fun licensed TV titles in the rankings this week, with an interesting (though obvious) lesson. First, Better Call Saul continues its strong run, but this week it actually dragged Breaking Bad back onto the list!

Netflix also got new episodes of Married at First Sight on 12-April, season 10, and it promptly made the acquired titles chart. Netflix shares Married at First Sight with Hulu (which has a lot more episodes) and episodes first air on Lifetime. Netflix also got new episodes of Heartland on 1-April-2022, so that Canadian teen comedy-drama import has seen a boost in interest too.

The other new addition to the acquired chart is The Fairly Oddparents, a Nickelodeon original that has episodes on Paramount+ and Netflix. Paramount+ recently released a reboot—The Fairly Oddparents: Fairly Odder on 31-March—and clearly interest in the new show boosted viewership of the old series. 

So the two fairly mundane observations? Newly-released content on Netflix spurs interest and reboots/new releases on other platforms can drive catch up interest in streaming overall. Interestingly, reboots on other streamers—in this case Paramount+—can drive interest on Netflix too.

– Lastly, Moon Knight has been out for four weeks, so its time for a check in. In “total viewership”, the series lags three other Marvel series, that each had bigger stars/Avengers (Loki, The Falcon and Winter Soldier and Hawkeye) and it has been viewed for 38.2 million hours, good for 31st place overall among season one series. 

As I’ve said before, though, this isn’t the best apples-to-apples comparison since Moon Knight only had 4 episodes available, whereas some Netflix series have eight or ten. Using “viewership per episode” instead, here’s the top fifteen series in my data set:

If the pro-Netflix case is, “Look, they still have eight of the top ten streaming shows each week”, then the bull case for Disney is that in viewership per episode they have seven of the top fifteen series, meaning a more efficient content spend.

(Also, I’m seeing a lot of casual, “Is the MCU done?” talk. Probably because Dr. Strange and Eternals had low CinemaScores and Moon Knight started slightly slow. Do I see it? No way. They’re still setting records! And viewership per episode records! Let’s wait a pinch.)

– The Dog Not Barking candidates this week are A Very British Scandal on Prime Video, The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans on Paramount+ and They Call Me Magic on Apple TV+. 

Competition 

Nielsen released their latest “The Gauge”, which measures total viewership across platforms. The big news is that HBO Max made the list! And debuted with 1.0% of all TV viewership.

Is this good? Bad? Or meh? I’d say we wait and see. The big reminder is that Nielsen is ONLY releasing HBO Max viewership here. Traditional HBO linear viewership need not apply. Does HBO Max account for 25% of all HBO hours consumed? 50%? More? Less? Who knows. So we’ll have to make some assumptions, but it is far from being 100% of all HBO viewership.

Anecdata of the Week 

Samba TV released their quarterly report on viewership. But before I get to their fun chart, I have a gripe. Most quarters they release some version of the chart with the most watched series and films by either the first week or month, or both.

This quarter? Crickets.

While I’ve definitely started using Samba TV’s data more, not including more actual viewership makes simple comparisons much, much, much harder. Currently, they’re in a fight with Nielsen and LG over whose ratings data works best, and I’d say, “Hey, everyone release more data!” In my dream world, Samba TV would release a top ten list each week and we can see how it stacks up to Nielsen. 

Anyways, they did provide this chart, which is the number of people by platform who only watched one show in the Top 50. They say this could lead to higher churn on the respective platforms, and I agree:

While we’re talking churn, The Information had a scoop from Antenna on Netflix’s churn. The story is that Q1 churn was up for Netflix following the price increase—which we knew—but specifically, Netflix is seeing more churn from people who had subscribed for 3+ years, which is new. And really worrying for Netflix.

Coming Soon! 

Next week, Apple TV+ will take the spotlight as the released another prestige title, Shining Girls starring Elisabeth Moss. More than any other streamer, Apple really seems to have taken up Netflix’s original content mantle, releasing lots of very expensive content. Also, Paramount+ will have The Offer and Hulu will release Under the Banner of Heaven (under their FX banner, pun intended). 

Again, May is going to get very busy with lots of new titles. 

Longer term, I’ve already got my eye on the next big theatrical film. Right now, I’d give Top Gun: Maverick the edge over Thor: Love and Thunder. The latter had a huge trailer opening, but I’ve never done the analysis to see how predictive that actually is. Meanwhile, Top Gun: Maverick had the best buzz by far of any film at CinemaCon. We’ll see, but both should be strong titles for their respective streamers in several months.

(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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