Here’s a weird one for you: Netflix released five shows on a Wednesday, 27-Apr-2022.
You don’t normally see that. Netflix also had two big releases on Friday, as did Prime Video and Apple TV+. Interestingly, Paramount, Hulu and HBO Max released their big shows this week—reminder the week from April 25th to May 1st—on a Thursday.
The subtle jockeying for position will be a fun subplot to watch as the streaming wars get more and more competitive. And yes, besides Netflix, I don’t think streamers should release new shows on Friday. It shows—in my judgement—which streamers deliberately consider their programming schedules, and which are (likely) simply copying the other streamers. I’m doubtful that Apple TV+ has “data” or a strategy behind their Friday releases. I think they said, “Hey, when do other streamers release shows? Well, let’s do that.”
There’s a thin line between “best practice” and “groupthink”.
(Usually, I put this reminder to “subscribe” at the end of an article, but given that I announced a paywall, I’ll put it right up front. For the next few weeks, you can sign up to get the Streaming Ratings Report in your inbox for the lowest individual price of all time, $120 per year. This offer will expire on June 16th. Don’t wait and sign up now.)
(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 25th to May 1st.)
In classic, EntStrategyGuy fashion, I’m ignoring the big release of the week—Ozark joining the 40 million hour club—and pivoting to…
The string of shows they’ve released over the last 8 weeks or so has been incredible. And by incredible, I mean an incredible amount of money spent. Since Severance came out—arguably their biggest hit of the year by TV Time data—Apple TV+ has released the following scripted, primetime TV series…
Now I understand why Apple TV+ made those Jon Hamm commercials; that’s a cavalcade of stars. If my podcast and newsletter feeds are any judge, Apple TV+ has taken Netflix’s position as the “most adored streaming service” by the chattering classes. Personally, I can’t wait to watch Slow Horses, which means this is good content for coastal Millennials.
But my tastes don’t equal streaming success. For me—emphasis on the “strategy” part of my name—the key question isn’t “Can they make expensive shows with stars?” but “Have we seen data that those expensive shows with stars are bringing in viewers?”
The answer, this year at least, is no.
Since Ted Lasso’s second season left the Nielsen rankings on 8-Nov-2021, Apple TV+ hasn’t had a weekly release make the Nielsen rankings; none of the series have had enough viewership to crack Nielsen’s top Original charts. Yes, some of these series are released weekly—a strategy I recommend—but so was Disney’s Moon Knight, Hulu’s The Drop Out and Prime Video’s Outer Range. They all made the Nielsen rankings. As did Apple’s Ted Lasso.
The TV Time rankings are a bit more sympathetic to Apple TV+, since they measure interest as opposed to actual viewership. Even here, though, Apple TV+ struggles.
Here’s the total scores for Apple TV+’s series in TV Time’s data base, which goes back to Oct-2021:
So despite a stream of shows, Apple TV+ has basically failed to generate a new hit. They’ve certainly drawn in TV critics and some industry professionals with their awards-contending series, but it’s not working broadly. The IMDb scores above are pretty indicting too, as nearly all the series have below 10K total reviews. Meaning that TV Time, Nielsen and IMDb all indicate the same thing:
None of these shows were popular.
Here’s Google Trends showing the gap between Ted Lasso and these recent shows:
Of the nine shows above, I think you’d say that two “broke through” to the cultural conversation (Severance and WeCrashed), but of the two, we only have data that Severance had any lasting popularity (via TV Time data and IMDb scores). For all the buzz WeCrashed received in the business press, not many regular folks watched it. Considering the likely costs for all of the above shows, one for nine is not a sustainable hit rate. It’s awful.
The one caveat—or I should say explanation—is simply that Apple TV+ is likely small compared to its peers. (And I use “likely” only because Apple TV+ won’t officially confirm its size.) The best estimates we have are that about 10 million users as of last year paid for Apple TV+ in the U.S., with about twice that having access with free trials because Apple basically gives Apple TV+ away for free.
Bottom line: if you think Apple TV+ is “crushing it” because you personally like their content—something I’ve heard a few times—that’s fine for your personal recommendation. But if you extrapolate that out to, “I think they have a good business strategy”, I’d ask you to reconsider.
To help spread out the shade—of which I’ve unfortunately thrown a lot this issue—Apple TV+ isn’t the only streamer desperately making award-contending shows that released the week of 25-April in hopes of Emmy nominations. Hulu had Under The Banner of Heaven, Paramount+ had The Offer, HBO Max had Made for Love and Prime Video had Undone, the last of which is fairly similar in premise to Apple TV+’s Shining Girls. All these shows missed the Nielsen rankings and Made for Love is the only show to make TV Time’s rankings, and only for one week.
Quick Notes on TV
– The release of Ozark’s last batch of episodes—for those keeping track, this is season “4b”, part two of the fourth season, which, for data reasons, I categorize as a “season 5—went out with a bang. Specifically, after releasing on Friday 29-April, the last season netted 42.9 million hours. That’s the fifth best single week of the year so far, and the 9th best since the start of 2021.
We’ll have more to say in future weeks about this last season of Ozark, but it’s doing fantastic for the second time this year.
– The only negative comment I have is this: why did Netflix release the last batch of episodes for Grace and Frankie on the same day? In this case, the conventional wisdom—don’t release two big shows or films on the same day!—still holds true.
As I mentioned last time Grace and Frankie came out, it’s quietly Netflix’s longest running scripted series at 94 episodes. Notably, that’s three more episodes than Orange is the New Black, which finished with 91 episodes. It debuted to 11.7 million hours in its opening, which is a good debut for a series with this many seasons.
Notably, Netflix does NOT own Grace and Frankie; Skydance TV does. Meaning someday, probably five years away, we could be watching Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda on another platform or channel.
– The biggest season one of the week for Netflix looks to be Bullsh*t: The Game Show hosted by Howie Mandel. (Meaning it likely wasn’t cheap.) And again I have a strategy recommendation for Netflix: if you’re trying to take a page from past game show phenomenons—like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?—you gotta give it some time to breathe. Anyway, it debuted to 5.9 million total hours, good for 62nd place in my data set of 131 season one releases.
– Here are a few notes from previous releases and their holds. Russian Doll dropped after its first week, which surprised me. (That show really isn’t a hit.) Our Great National Parks dropped after two weeks on the list, which isn’t too surprising for a documentary. Outer Range continues to hold on, but at a lower level. Moon Knight, meanwhile, added viewers in its fifth week.
– I love pointing out when a series has a perfect “binge release curve”, to which we can add Anatomy of a Scandal from Netflix. As a reminder, this is the curve when a series releases on a Friday, and then decays over time, which still usually means a bigger second week, into a much smaller third week. For a Netflix series, this is also an “average” release, meaning in most cases not a hit. (Average, in entertainment, means bad, since your hits are MULTIPLES bigger than your average.)
– Netflix did have a fairly small foreign TV series hit in the U.S., The Marked Heart. This is a Columbian drama-thriller with a 6.3 on 1.4K reviews on IMDb, which isn’t bad. It got 4.6 million hours in the U.S, while it had 85 million hours globally for Netflix in its 2nd week.
– On the licensed content front, we’re looking at an all Netflix sweep, including New Girl, which is back after a one month absence. The acquired charts show, more than any other look, the power that Netflix has in the streaming wars, as it’s the biggest streamer by volume, and about twice as big as the next streamer.
– Last week, I left Heartstopper off my list of potential “Dogs Not Barking”. Given that it just got a two additional season order from Netflix, I probably should point out it missed the Nielsen ratings in the U.S., after it had a fairly small international run. Clearly, Netflix sees potential in this series, and it has good critical and fan buzz. (It has a tremendous 8.9 on IMDb on 36K reviews.)
Remember in the early 2010s, when we argued over what Netflix wanted to be long term? Lots of folks said they wanted to be HBO. But someone—sorry I don’t remember who—said Netflix didn’t want to be HBO. They wanted to be HBO, PBS Kids, the Discovery Channel, USA Network, the Hallmark Channel, A&E, with dashes of HG TV and Food Network.
The one channel they forgot, though, was Cinemax. Or should I say Skin-emax, the soft core pornography nickname of Cinemax back in the 80s, 90s and 00s, before HBO quietly wound down that part of the business.
How else to explain the second best Netflix original film this week, 365 Days: This Day?
Back in 2020, Netflix bought 365 Days, a Polish erotic thriller, after it had a theatrical run in Poland. In it, a mobster kidnaps a woman and imprisons her to get her to fall in love with him. Lots and lots of sex ensues. As a result, this first film had, literally, a 3.3 on IMDb on 82K reviews! The sequel debuted on 27-April, and netted 3.0 million hours in its first weekend, and is sitting on a 2.5 on 1.4K reviews on IMDb.
Now, these IMDb scores are low because these films have a lot of sex, and some folks will downvote erotic movies, regardless of the quality because of the sex.
I had a deeper dive on Netflix’s foreign films—a check-in from a few weeks back—but it got cut for space. (We’ll cover it in a future report.) But 365 Days: This Day is emblematic of a question for Netflix going forward: do films with low IMDb scores/ratings hurt Netflix? I think they do. Building a reputation for putting out sub-par content won’t help retain subscribers long term. In the past, when a studio made a bad film, they didn’t try to push it on customers, they buried it. Netflix needs to learn that skill.
Quick Notes on Film
– The biggest new film release of the week was the too wordy, The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes, also one of Netflix’s Wednesday releases. This documentary debuted to 4.2 million hours, tied for 99th place out of 161 first-run films in my data set.
– The “Dog Not Barking” candidates on the film side are the coming-of-age rom-com Crush on Hulu (released on a Friday, starring Auliʻi Cravalho) and David Spade’s comedy special Nothing Personal released on Netflix.
For today’s look at the competitive landscape, we have two different analyses of content libraries. Overall, digging much deeper into content libraries—and explaining the strategic implications—is on my data/research roadmap. (You’d probably be surprised how much work putting up a pay wall and publicizing it takes.)
Let’s start with this very, very, very good look by friend-of-the-website Kasey Moore. He’s tracked Netflix’s film catalogue since 2015. Here’s the best image, but read the whole thing:
Kasey also looks at how old the films in Netflix’s library are as well. Basically, this shows what happens when the old/traditional studio-conglomerates decided to launch their own streamers: Netflix lost a lot of library content.
Coincidentally, a few weeks back Reelgood—who tracks all the content on the streamers—sent me a similar look, but for all streamers. I’d just mentioned to my researcher pulling this data, and they already had it!
Here are their totals of films and TV series, by IMDb score:
In a nutshell, the streaming wars are getting more competitive, but Netflix and Prime Video still have a lead. It also shows that volume doesn’t necessarily lead to success on its own, as Prime Video has lots and lots of titles, but about the same amount of quality titles as Netflix and HBO Max, in Reelgood’s IMDb estimates.
Next week continues “May’s month of Emmy Last Chances”, but some non-prestige shows will slip through, like Netflix’s The Pentaverate, Paramount+’s Star Trek: Strange New Worlds and Amazon FreeVee’s Bosch Legacy. (Not to spoil next week’s report, but my dad is upset there are commercials!!!)
Not to mention this Memorial Day weekend. Between Stranger Things, Obi-Wan and Top Gun: Maverick, that’s top flight (pun intended) content. As I wrote earlier this week, Top Gun: Maverick could do a lot to reassure theaters owners that older audiences will return to theaters if it has a big opening.