I usually don’t read anything about Nielsen’s streaming ratings before I write the Streaming Ratings Report each week. (In their press releases, Nielsen usually includes some insights to the data.) My goal is to find my insights/stories/narratives before I see what’s dominating the coverage.
But this week, I couldn’t help noticing the headline Nielsen attached to their weekly press release:
4 Platforms x 1B minutes = a historic week in streaming!
Here’s their top ten:
That is impressive! Of course, I convert everything to hours, so for me, the better threshold is either 15 or 20 million hours, and even using that, having six titles (shows or films) across four different streamers get over 15 million total hours in one week does feel important for the streaming wars. This battle is really heating up!
So let’s dig into the data, with updates on Cobra Kai, Thor: Love and Thunder, Pinocchio, End of the Road and more.
(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 September 5th to September 11th.)
Television – An Update on “Hot August Genre Wars”
I’m probably getting too excited each week about updating the gigantic showdown between The Rings of Power and House of the Dragon. But each week, I find something new to get excited about. The first week, it was House of the Dragon’s (HoTD) debut. Last week, it was comparing HoTD to The Rings of Power (RoP). And this week, we have enough data points to start looking at weekly trends!
Because honestly, after the launch, what matters is how many folks keep watching.
And it matters now much more than the past. This is one of the real differences between streaming and linear TV.
(Why the word “real”? Because so many “disruptions” weren’t actually “disruptive. See advertising, binge releases and theaters for just three examples.)
The real/lasting difference is that, due to their serialized nature, TV series struggle much more to grow viewership in the streaming world than the old linear landscape. Thinking back to the late 90s, for example, if you didn’t watch season two of Friends, you could still hop on to watch season three. Or four. Or five. And folks did! Because it was on at 8 P.M. and they needed something to watch.
Not so with big, serialized shows. If folks decide to stop watching a show, they don’t come back. They have too many other options. And you don’t start a show in its third season if you need to watch seasons one and two to understand what the hell is going on. (Lost could be a cautionary example here, and probably a reason broadcast networks avoided, and still avoid, serialized television.)
This leads to the key metric for serialized series: season completion rate.
How many folks finish episode six? Or eight? Or ten? (Or thirteen? Remember when Netflix had 13-episode-long TV seasons?)
You can see the grim logic. If, say, 25 million people started watching The Rings of Power in the first 24 hours, and say, of those 25 million, only 15 million finish season one, then how many folks will start season two? Not 25 million! And probably less than 15 million. (And yes, wayyyyy more than 25 million folks started The Rings of Power. That was the number of unique viewers Prime Video claimed in the first 24 hours.) If only 10 million finish season two, how many will start season three? And so on.
Last week, we explained which big genre shows launched well. That’s step one. Step two is keeping that audience around.
We could make a quick quad chart to explain the goal here. On one axis, we can chart the size of a TV series debut. On the other, we can chart the growth per episode:
The dream spot is the upper right: you start strong and, somehow, grow over time. That’s the best. Even if you start small, but grow over time, that’s good too. If you don’t start big or grow, well, that’s bad. And if you start big and shrink, that’s not ideal either, but it’s especially painful if your show isn’t a limited series.
Here’s the most total hours viewed through eight weeks for season one “weekly” releases. Let’s start with Disney+:
And now Prime Video and HBO Max:
That can be a bit noisy, so I decided to try out a new data cut. In this case…we’re looking at growth over a season. To account for multiple days of release in the first week, I’m going to look at growth from the second week until the week of the last episode to debut. Here’s that look:
Some quick takeaways from this look:
– Through four weeks, House of the Dragon looks like Quad 2 show: it started big and is still growing.
– We don’t know for The Rings of Power yet. Based on some “interest measures”, I’m a bit worried, but we won’t know for sure until we get more data.
– She-Hulk started small, but it looks like it will end up in the Q4 spot: growing each week after a slow start.
– For other Disney+ series, Obi-Wan Kenobi is probably the biggest disappointment, given how big it started, but it didn’t keep viewers around. Meanwhile, Loki was the best of both worlds. WandaVision grew the most. I was surprised that The Book of Boba Fett grew over its season too.
– For Prime Video, The Wheel of Time had a pretty big drop into its second week, then slowly declined, but had a strong last week of episodes. (Dropping from 11 million hours to 10.5 million fine.)
I’ll leave with this last hot take: I have a feeling that House of the Dragon may pass Rings of Power in total streaming hours in an upcoming week. This won’t be apples-to-apples (HoTD will have one more episode than The Rings of Power), but will still be noteworthy, especially since HoTD will still have linear TV ratings to add on top.
That’s it for today, but in future weeks, I’ll…
…add Rick & Morty to the comparisons, because that’s a fascinating show.
…look at both production and marketing budgets for each show, then compare the “return on investment” for all the series.
…compare the number of “weekly recaps” for these series, as a measure of earned media.
Quick Notes on TV
– Meanwhile, Netflix had a big opening weekend—as expected—from Cobra Kai’s fifth season. This former YouTube Red Original has done very well in the past for Netflix. Season three peaked at 43.4 million hours and season four peaked at 40.4 million hours. My guess is that season five, after debuting to 29.0 million hours, will get to about that range as well next week.
– In other new releases, the YA title, The Imperfects, debuted to 7.8 million hours. This surprised me a bit, since neither Metacritic nor the trades publicized its release day!
– The Crown returned to the rankings following the death of Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom. Devil in Ohio had a fairly good binge release bump into its second week. Echoes, meanwhile, is on a downward slope, soon to leave the rankings after four or five weeks, the fate which befalls most binge-released Netflix series.
– As for acquired content, the biggest new release was Call the Midwife on Netflix, which made the charts after its eleventh season debuted on 5-Sep:
– Lastly, Paramount+’s The Good Fight, their longest running series, is in potential “Dogs Not Barking” territory. This spinoff of the (showing my bias) excellent CBS series, The Good Wife, has an 8.4 on IMDb on 27K reviews. But do we have other data for it? No. (C’mon Paramount Global, let Nielsen release you data!) It also never made the TV Time rankings. Note: it is a procedural!
– We didn’t get a TV Time update this week, so I’ll update that chart next week.
– On the TV side this week, there were a bunch of “Dogs Not Barking” (or flops) that failed to make the ratings charts. Most notably, Hulu had not one, not two, but three TV shows come out and fail to miss the rankings, including Tell Me Lies, a drama about a relationship over eight years starring Grace Van Patten, Wedding Season (not to be confused with Netflix’s recent film of the same night), a binge-released British “action rom-com thriller” starring Rosa Salazar, and the third season of Ladhood, another UK import. As I wrote recently, Hulu had a good summer, but their hit rate definitely needs improvement.
– In terms of other notable misses on the TV side, Apple TV+’s animated TV Show Central Park (from the Bob’s Burger creator and Josh Gad) still hasn’t made the rankings, despite being on its third season. Matthew Fox returned to TV with Last Light, a thriller for Peacock, but it failed to resonate. Ink Master left the Paramount channel for Paramount+, and, finally, Apple TV+ debuted Gutsy, a docu-interview series from Hillary Clinton. I tried to write my analysis of this a few times, but failed to write something that wouldn’t offend someone, left or right. Instead, I’ll just say this: read my “The Average American” series, especially Part II, and apply those numbers to this documentary.
Film – Disney+ Day: Good News and Bad News
Fair is fair. If, over the last few weeks or so, I’ve been complaining about Netflix’s voluminous output each week, well, what about Disney+ day? Shouldn’t I complain about that too? I should! Because it doesn’t make sense. I’m a regular Disney+ user and this does nothing for me but tell me that, because they released so much stuff on the same day, I’ll be behind on watching it all.
So did it work? Yes and no.
For Thor: Love and Thunder (Thor 4), absolutely. This is the biggest opening of a non-kids film since July 2020. That’s good! Even more impressive, unlike Dr. Strange 2, Eternals and Shang-Chi, it only had four days of viewing, not five or more.
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