This week might be the peak of the summer streaming doldrums. Besides the usual big Netflix fare—Virgin River returning for season four and the estimated-$200-million The Grey Man debuting on streaming—no other big releases really broke through. They’re probably all waiting for Hot August Genre Wars. (Read my predictions here on how each show will do, plus I have more data on audience anticipation for these series at the end of this issue.)
Since it’s a bit slow, let’s take a quick detour and talk “library” titles, those sitcoms and procedurals that may not have been on the air for years, but which still drive millions of hours of viewing across streaming platforms.
(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, company datecdotes, and Netflix hours viewed data, Netflix Top Ten lists, Google Trends, Samba TV, and IMDb to determine the most popular content. While most data points are current, Nielsen’s data covers the weeks of 18-July to 24-July.)
Television – Two Fun Stories in “Library” TV
We’ve had a busy few weeks in the “acquired”, “licensed” or “library” TV game and there’s a lot to discuss. Let’s start with my definitions for those terms, so we’re on the same page:
– Licensed – A title that a broadcaster, streamer or cable channel pays a set fee to air for a given time period or number of times.
– Library – A title that airs or streams two years after it’s initial premiere.
– Acquired – Nielsen’s terminology for licensed titles that are NOT branded as originals or first-run in a territory.
Got all that? I often use all three terms, but they are definitely not interchangeable. For example, Orange is the New Black is now a “library” title, since new episodes last arrived in 2019, but Nielsen brands it as an “original”. I’d also add, some “originals” are in fact licensed deals, but I ignore that if the series is branded as an “original”.
What we’re really talking about today are the library/acquired titles that drive a TON of viewing on streaming. And we have two stories this week.
Two Updates on Criminal Minds Leaving Netflix
I can’t undersell how many Netflix customers watched Criminal Minds over the last few years. I made these stark conclusions for The Ankler a few weeks back:
Here’s how much viewing that was in 2021:
Going even further back, I had this crazy headline about how much acquired/library titles like The Office, Grey’s Anatomy, Criminal Minds and NCIS made of Netflix’s viewing:
It turns out the Nielsen data might undersell how big Criminal Minds was for Netflix. The folks at Plum Research reached out to let me know they think Criminal Minds impact was even bigger.
Data from their ShowLabs.TV platform—and I’m speaking to them about using their data regularly in this report, which could be the most exciting development in EntStrategyGuy news since I launched a paywall!—says that their data covers all devices and while their estimate roughly matches Nielsen for TV screens (they estimate 1.36 billion hours of Criminal Minds were viewed from March 2020 to June 2022), if they add in other screens that jumps up to 2.22 billion hours total. (As a reminder, Nielsen only covers viewership on TV screens, not mobile devices or laptops.)
Again, this was a massive show for Netflix no matter whose measurements you use.
Or I should say ‘is” because…and this is truly crazy news, Criminal Minds is back on Netflix! See for yourself.
It’s only seasons one through twelve, but I’d love to know what the negotiations for extending that series were! I can’t imagine the price, but the deal makes sense for both sides. Paramount+ benefits by having the seasons after season 12, plus they get a payday. Netflix keeps content that really helps retention.
Meanwhile, Friends and The Big Bang Theory Have Done Very Well on HBO Max
Starting the week of 30-May-2022, Nielsen started adding HBO Max data points to their weekly top ten lists. Now that we have eight weeks of Nielsen data, it’s worth checking in on their two biggest library titles, Friends and The Big Bang Theory to see how well they’ve done.
Before that, it’s worth noting that some folks were skeptical that the latter series would move the needle in streaming. Here’s Looper pondering if folks will actually watch it:
“The show’s binge-worthiness is untested, and there are reasons to believe it won’t perform all that well as a streamer…There’s also the respective reputations of the shows. Friends, Seinfeld, and The Office are all critically-acclaimed, with each one having street cred in the comedy community. The Big Bang Theory, however, is famously loathed by comedy nerds, and has never been a critical darling. And while The Big Bang Theory was one of television’s most-watched shows during its 12-season run, it earned those ratings on CBS — a network known for its older demographic — and its viewers’ median age in 2018 was 56. In other words, the show’s audience probably isn’t really the streaming type.
Only time will tell whether The Big Bang Theory hits HBO Max with a bang, or if it bombs big time.”
Deadline wondered the same thing. Let’s see how the last week’s acquired charts look, shall we?
So have folks kept watching these series? They have! Here are the viewership numbers through the first 8 weeks of data we have for HBO Max:
HBO Max isn’t as big as Netflix, so the shows don’t have quite the same level of viewership as Netflix’s big acquired titles. That’s to be expected, but it does show that Netflix, at its current size/usage, could have some pricing power over competitors. (As I put in the headline, this is kinda a good week for Netflix bulls in the streaming data.) That’s also why it’s notable that Friends missed the rankings for one week and The Big Bang Theory missed it for two weeks. (I asked Nielsen for some of the missing weeks of data to make this chart.)
The flip side is that for a tiny (again in usage terms) streamer to put two acquired titles on the charts is a big deal! Disney+ had a lot of hopes for The Simpsons, but it’s only made the acquired charts twice. Hulu has only had four titles make the acquired charts too. So this is a win for HBO Max. (In Hulu’s defense, if you counted day-after-air broadcast series it would have MANY more titles on these rankings.)
So the worries about The Big Bang Theory were totally unfounded.
This is partly why I love using data (and why so many pundits hate data): it takes preconceived narratives and sometimes obliterates them. When in doubt, let ratings be your guide, because it takes strongly held opinions and sometimes debunks them.
I should note, this isn’t a U.S.-phenomenon either. After writing about Friends and The Big Bang Theory a few weeks back, Digitali—another digital research company—pointed me to one of their articles form September-2021 that made the same case for Europe: sitcoms are hugely important to the catalogues of streamers.
The success of sitcoms on streaming, yet the lack of new Original sitcoms produced by the streamers is a strange gap in the market place. Currently, the streamers cancel their sitcoms early in their lives, partially due to low ratings. As a result they can’t build up enough episodes to become big retention drivers like Friends, The Office, The Big Bang Theory or Modern Family.
Yet broadcast still can make new hit sitcoms, like Ghosts on CBS or Abbott Elementary on ABC. Maybe the crucible of broadcast really does lend itself to weeding out the wheat from the chaff in comedy. Or the streamers need to embrace linear-feeds to encourage customers to watch more comedies. Meanwhile, the owners of those shows (Ghosts is a co-production with Paramount, Lionsgate and the BBC; Warner Bros TV made Abbott Elementary) will stand to benefit.
The rest of this post is for paid subscribers of the Streaming Ratings Report, so if you want to know about Virgin River‘s debut, the “Dogs Not Barking” in film and TV, if The Grey Man was a hit, plus a sneak peak at interest in House of the Dragon and The Rings of Power, and more, please subscribe.
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