Today’s battle is the fight we’ve been waiting for since 2017. Two of the most expensive shows of all time from two of the biggest franchises of all time squaring off…and debuting within two weeks of each other! Lord of the Rings versus Game of Thrones. The Rings of Power vs House of the Dragon. (RoP vs. HoTD) Traditional pay cable vs. streaming video. Giant media conglomerate versus one of the world’s largest corporations.
Let’s get ready to rumbleeeeeeeeee…
How do we score this fight? Easy, we find every metric we can, and see which show did better. My goal today is to fill out this table…
…then declare a winner for the “debut” time period. For this exercise, I’m going to break two of my traditional data rules:
– First, I’m using everything I could find. This includes data sources I use week-in and week-out (Nielsen streaming, datecdotes, Samba TV, TV Time, IMDb, Google Trends) and sources I normally don’t use each week (like linear ratings, Wikipedia page traffic, piracy, Parrot Analytics). These two shows are that important; they deserve the extra comparisons.
– Second, if global numbers slip in…so be it. Again these shows are so big that they deserve that larger look, even thought I normally focus on just the U.S.
Unlike both Rings of Power and House of the Dragon, let’s not waste any time before we get to the action. Here’s the data.
Of all the numbers today, these viewership numbers are clearly the most important.
Data Source 1: Nielsen Streaming
Let’s start with the most obvious data source: streaming viewership in America during the debut weekends for each show. And here’s the great news for The Rings of Power:it debuted as the fifth biggest weekend launch in the “streaming ratings era”. (That time period goes back to March 2020.)
This is also the highest launch for a weekly series, which is even better news for RoP. All of the series ahead of it (Reacher, Jeffrey Epstein, Firefly Lane and Crime Scene) were binge-released, and two of those series were released on a Wednesday. I know a lot of folks hoped it would debut at number one for all time—given its budget that feels fair—but often big shows take a week to really gain steam. For example, Bridgerton or Inventing Anna didn’t debut in the top five, but ultimately became big, big hits. Squid Game and Tiger King also had slow starts.
Really, we should look at a metric which accounts for the number of episodes at launch. For a weekly release like this—The Rings of Power debuted with two episodes—I prefer “viewership per episode”. Here’s that look:
And…The Rings of Power moves up to second place. It couldn’t quite take down Loki, which had huge viewership but only released one episode in its first week. (Loki was also released on a Wednesday.) When it comes to just streaming debuts using Nielsen’s data, I’m going to give the prize to Rings of Power.
If you’re on team House of the Dragon, you’d rebut me by focusing on “release day”. RoP came out early on a Friday, whereas HoTD came out Sunday evening, literally as late as a show can debut and still count as “debuting” in that Monday to Sunday week-frame. If we’re factoring in “days available”, House of the Dragon actually takes the prize, since it released its debut episode for only one day, giving it a “viewership per episode per day” of 5.5 million hours to The Rings of Power’s 3.5 million.
Data Source 2: Nielsen Linear Viewership
Of course, House of the Dragon also added several millions hours of viewing via live, linear viewership and DVR catch-up in its first week. Here are our updated linear viewership charts through Episode 6:
And that doesn’t include DVR viewing, meaning we don’t know how many hours were consumed later that week. Still, by default, we have to give this round to House of the Dragon.
This does beg the tantalizing question: if you added up all the folks who watched the episode on any (legal) means in the opening weekend (or say first three to seven days), who won?
We don’t know. Rings of Power wins on streaming, but House of the Dragon also has traditional linear TV. We could try to estimate how many folks watched the first episode of House of the Dragon that first week, but that would require too much guesswork.
My gut is it’s close, but if you add in live, linear and DVR viewing, House of the Dragon probably comes out on top.
Data Source 3: The “Vague Datecdotes”
If you’ve been following the streaming wars for the last few years, you know that streamers love to trot out super vague datecdotes whenever they release a big title. And as assuredly as a ring of power will corrupt a human wearer, Amazon and Warner Bros Discovery provided vague data points touting their latest successes.
– Amazon said that 25 million folks globally watched RoP in the first 24 hours.
– Warner Bros Discovery said that 10.2 million Americans watched HoTD in the live or on the first day.
Should we value those numbers more than the Nielsen data above? Hell no, mainly because I don’t trust media companies to keep their own score.
I reviewed the HBO datecdotes two weeks back, and since then HBO has leaked to Variety that viewership has gone up by 5%, 3% and 3% since episode 3…but they’ve never said how many viewers watched episode three!
So here’s a chart of that, assuming that same-day, cross platform viewing saw a similar 25% decline as linear viewership did:
On to Amazon. We can update our handy-dandy Amazon “datecdotes” table:
Prime Video hasn’t told us much, have they? Especially since they’ve been at this for ten years or so…
Moreover, their data points really torture themselves to not tell us anything. Amazon claimed that both The Wheel of Time and Reacher were “one of their top five shows”; my guess is that those shows ended up behind The Grand Tour and The Boys in terms of global viewership at time of launch, and then Rings of Power leaped them all, except for maybe Thursday night NFL games.
Should we compare these two datecdotes on RoP and HoTD? Normally I’d say “Nah”, because it’s apples-to-hammers: a global number versus a U.S.-only number.
But that’s not stopping me today.
At least on a U.S. perspective. It depends on what we think Prime Video’s US-to-Global split is. Say the high would be 60%—meaning 60% of their viewership of a given show comes from the U.S.—and say the low is 25%. My gut? It’s likely something like 40%. (For a deeper dive on this, check out my last calculation on U.S. subscribers back in July.) That would give us this comparison of opening weekend viewers:
(This is a “choose your own adventure” chart for Amazon. Decide what percentage you think Prime Video’s viewing in the U.S. and that’s the bar chart to compare.)
What about the reverse? As in how many folks watched House of the Dragon globally? Again, we’d do the math, but just in reverse. I would add, I’ve seen a few numbers out there that HoTD crushed it in several global markets—like the UK—as Game of Thrones did before.
Still, since we don’t know the U.S. to global splits for either show, I’m going to call this category a push. But our next data source says says not so fast…
Data Source 4: Samba TV
Samba TV has released data points for both HoTD and RoP for both the first and second episodes through “L+3” or four days of release. Here’s that comparison, highlighting both shows and a few other shows:
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