The Biggest Shows on TV Will All…Break Even?

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I could see some folks pushing back against including Dahmer – Monster in my “Hot August Genre” wars series. First, it’s not August anymore. Second, is this show really “genre”?

Hell yeah!

(And yes, technically Netflix titled this miniseries “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story”. I’ll refer to it as either Dahmer or Dahmer – Monster hence forth.)

These aren’t the fantasy wars. These aren’t the superhero wars. These are the “genre” wars. And I define “genre” fairly broadly. So let me ask you: does Dahmer feature a serial killer who eats people? It does? That feels like genre to me.

And Dahmer is huge! It’s currently Netflix’s second biggest English language season globally, behind Stranger Things season 4, and third biggest season of all TV, behind Squid Game. (I’ll touch on some of these numbers later, but as a reminder I focus on the U.S. streaming wars.) Really, we’re not focused on “genre” because it’s “genre”, but because at its peak, “genre shows” are the most popular shows on TV.

And if you want a hot take—one that I’ll caveat and nuance to high hell later—it’s that all of these genre series—from The Rings of Power to Dahmer to House of the Dragon—might, at best, break even and, at worst, become money pits.

And today I’ll explain why. We got a lot to discuss, including:

– What is “genre”? What is “prestige”? And what does this say about Ryan Murphy’s TV shows?
– How big was Dahmer’s debut? And how does it compare to past launches?
– What is each streamers “hit rate” and why does it matter?
– How much money could Netflix have made on Dahmer?
– Does this pay back the Ryan Murphy deal?
– What about Andor? She-Hulk? The Rings of Power? The House of the Dragon?

That’s a lot to cover, so let’s get to it.

What is Genre? What is “Prestige”?

I use the word “genre” each week to describe shows like The Sandman and She-Hulk and Andor and Dahmer, but I don’t usually define it. And even if I did, I couldn’t define it scientifically. It’s more like the Justice Potter approach to pornography, “I know it when I see it”. 

Basically, any fantasy, science fiction, superhero, crime/thriller or mystery/detective TV show or movie is “genre”. All of those genres qualify. In the past, literature critics in English drew a strong barrier between popular, “pulp” novels and true literature (usually about regular people doing regular things). That’s my distinction too.

Again, Dahmer is about a serial killer. That’s about as genre as you’ll get.

Now, there is one other variable that impacts this—and yes, with two variables we can make a quad chart—and that’s the ephemeral “quality”. Folks might object and say, “Yes, some of these shows are genre, but they’re also good.” But “good” is vague. That’s why I prefer “prestige”.

What is “prestige”? It’s even less clear than genre, since I can’t point to simple sub-genres. Instead, it’s any show that is developed and created with the intention to appeal to critics and award voters. We can kind of tell which shows are designed to appeal to critics (like Dopesick, The White Lotus, Reservoir Dogs, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and nearly everything on Apple TV+ to pick a few examples from a few different streamers) and those shows which are broadly appealing (anything that starts with NCIS or Chicago, for example, or anything with a superhero in it).

As a quick reminder, Netflix’s biggest hits right now are mostly genre. Manifest (science fiction/mystery), Stranger Things (science fiction), Squid Game (thriller/science fiction) and now Dahmer (thriller/horror).

Yeah, sometimes these categories overlap. Shows that start out life as “genre” end up dominating the prestige charts, like Game of Thrones, Squid Game or Stranger Things. And now Dahmer. Here’s a quad chart of those two categories:

This distinction particularly matters because Dahmer’s success helps to shed light on one of the biggest mysteries related to Netflix:

Did Netflix make money on showrunner Ryan Murphy’s $300 million overall deal?

That nine-figure deal from 2018 may stand as the biggest single payday of the “peak TV streaming” era, since no streamers has dropped that much cash for a single showrunner since that deal. And the question on everyone’s mind is whether or not the success of Dahmer—which we’ll get to in the next section—justifies his deal.

Of course, this isn’t the only show he’s made for Netflix. As I noted back in April, when we were only hearing rumors that Dahmer may be the hit Netflix hoped for, Murphy had a lot of misses:

And now with Dahmer, he’s righted the ship somewhat. I think the explanation of why is partially tied up to the “genre versus prestige” categories above. There are two Ryan Murphy’s: the one who makes Glee, American Horror Story/Stories and 9-1-1, and the guy who makes Halston, Hollywood, and Ratched. (As a reminder, Ratched, while on Netflix, isn’t actually part of Murphy’s overall deal with Netflix, as it is produced by 20th Century Fox!) His genre shows generally do well in the rankings while his prestige shows…don’t.

Arguably, if Murphy had delivered a Dahmer every year (and maybe The Watcher, which just came out so we’ll analyze that mini-series in a few weeks), this deal would be a no brainer to re-up for Netflix. But he hasn’t! He only delivered two thriller/serial killer TV shows in year four of his deal! 

(Is it a coincidence these shows came out after the change in leadership on the TV side at Netflix and away from giving creators carte blanche with their shows?)

Listen, I’m all for the “one for you, one for us” model of creative management (a studio pays a creative a lot to make a film or TV show that’s popular, then they pay for one of the creative’s dream projects), which is almost as old as Hollywood itself, but you need the “one for us” part of that equation. Murphy arguably had four or five “for him” at Netflix before delivering the genre hit(s).

But Dahmer has delivered. So let’s talk Dahmer numbers specifically.

Dahmer Crushed It

That’s the headline, but let’s go over some superlatives:

– This is the seventh highest single week total in my data set going back to 2021.
– Only two shows have had higher total hours viewed in one week, Ozark and Stranger Things, and both were on their fourth seasons!
– This debut was twice as big next biggest first season launch, Reacher (30.7 hours).

That’s right, debuting to 60.1 million hours is huge.

It joins fifteen other series that had a single week with over 50 million hours viewed:

And here’s the “40 million hour club” in chronological order:

Now, this wouldn’t be a true streaming ratings report if I didn’t throw out a few caveats, provisos and well actually’s, right?

Netflix released Dahmer on a Wednesday, which is a rarity for Netflix’s biggest titles. (Does this mean Netflix might be evolving their strategy? Maybe! At least they said so on Twitter, which I consider a bit of a win for me, since I’ve been criticizing Netflix’s “release everything on a Friday” strategy for a couple of years now.)

As such, while it dominated in total viewership, in “viewership per day”, its lead isn’t quite as great as “doubling Reacher” might indicate:

Again, still number one! Huge! But not as big of a lead as if it had come out on a Friday. And yes, part of me wonders if Netflix can actually use weekday releases to drive more interest in shows than releasing them on Friday. Remember, winning the total hours in a week isn’t the point—that’s simply an artifact of when Nielsen starts their weekly calendar—but long term, maybe choosing release days in the middle of the week generate more “buzz”?

As for a look at all the metrics, in TV Time, Dahmer never made it above fourth place:

This may be a sign of Netflix’s inherent strength at streaming. With the most subscribers and twice the usage of the next nearest streamer, when a show starts doing well, it does really well. We saw this with Manifest, Squid Game and, now, Dahmer. 

If your show is a hit, on Netflix, it has a chance to be a bigger hit than on other streamers.

As for where Dahmer goes, meaning it’s viewership next week, there’s a fairly wide range. Many shows see viewership per day decline, like Reacher, The Terminal List, and The Sandman, for example. But a few Netflix shows saw a second week bounce due to good word of mouth (like Inventing Anna, Squid Game and Tiger King). Globally, Dahmer had a small viewership per day bump. So I’d expect it to come in between 60 and 80 million hours next week in the U.S.. And that would be a huge second week.

The Volume Approach Generates Hits

As I got ready to write about Dahmer this week, a terrific headline came across my reading lists:

Here’s the Moffett Nathanson chart on which that headline is based:

Damn. That’s a lot episodes. And it’s funny, because I was going to run a similar analysis on my own later for this series. (And I still will!) Basically, another way to look at the “genre wars” isn’t to just consider the big series on their own once we know they’re hits, but to look at every attempt to get a hit.

And in Q3 you can say that Disney+ had two big swings (She-Hulk and Andor), HBO/HBO Max had one swing (The House of the Dragon), and Prime Video had one or maybe two (The Rings of Power and A League of Their Own). For Netflix, I could just keep listing and listing and listing series: 

Resident Evil
The Sandman
The Imperfects

And even more returning series: 

Cobra Kai
Fate: The Winx Saga
Virgin River
Locke and Key and more…

And this list doesn’t include non-genre shows. Or non-English shows. And I may have missed some TV series.

This is an expensive approach to the streaming wars! Does it work? 

Maybe? Netflix can almost guarantee one huge global hit each quarter. It worked in Q2 of 2022 (Manifest), Q3 of 2022 (Squid Game), Q2 of 2022 (Bridgerton and Stranger Things), but in Q4 of 2021 and Q1 of 2022 Netflix didn’t have huge global monsters and saw global subscribers drop.

If nothing else, this approach is very expensive. Netflix only expects to make $1 billion in free cash flow this year, meaning about $250 million per quarter. Don’t believe me? Here’s their earnings report with FCF on the second-to-last line:

Now that I’ve brought up “making money”, it’s time to finally pivot this series away from only talking viewership and into “return on investment”. Did any of the streamers make money on these big series and overall deals?

Did Dahmer’s Success Pay Back the Ryan Murphy Deal?


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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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