A Licensed TV Check-In: The Simpsons, Friends and Low Budget Reality Shows

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(Welcome to my weekly streaming ratings report, the single best guide to what is popular in streaming TV and what isn’t. I’m the Entertainment Strategy Guy, a former streaming executive who now analyzes business strategy in the entertainment industry. If you were forwarded this email, please subscribe to get these insights each week.)

I loved Elaine Low’s Ankler article on what TV shows people are buying around town, and I’m not going to lie: a big reason why is confirmation bias. This is what I’ve been arguing for all year! (If not longer…) Most viewers like watching comedies that are actually funny (I don’t know how many times I’ve written that) and procedurals. (Suits seems to have finally punctured the Hollywood/streaming’s anti-popular content prestige bubble.)

We had a few years where, frankly, making money on streaming didn’t matter, so ratings data didn’t matter. Now that things have changed, so have buying habits.

From a business perspective, this is a great example of how having accurate data can give you an edge over your competitors. If you knew that viewers wanted procedurals (a popular genre) while everyone else was bidding up other, less popular genres (like say sports docu-dramas, dramedies, and prestige dramas) you could pay less to get more; now that everyone reads this streaming ratings report, you’re buying at the height of the market.

Don’t follow the herd or conventional wisdom, especially if it’s not supported by data!

Speaking of data, I keep flip-flopping on whether or not we have or we’ll see a “content slowdown” on streaming in America, driven by the strikes. I wrote in recent reports I hadn’t seen the data for it yet, after seeing a small slowdown in August. But now I’ve flipped again.  On the Nielsen charts this week, Bluey was the top non-NFL TV show or film! The top film barely got over 10 million hours viewed!

But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a lot of stuff to talk about, including a check-in on a host of second run shows, a rare anime title on the TV charts, Nielsen’s The Gauge, a disappointing start for The Killer, another Paramount+ show making the charts (from guess who!), all the flops and misses of the week, the season finale of Loki, the one sports program whose ratings are down, and a whole lot more.

(Reminder: The streaming ratings report focuses on the U.S. market and compiles data from Nielsen’s weekly top ten viewership ranks, Showlabs, TV Time trend data, Samba TV household viewership, company datecdotes, and Netflix hours viewed data, Google Trends, and IMDb to determine the most popular content. While most data points are current, Nielsen’s data covers the weeks of November 6th to November 12th.)

Television – An Acquired TV Check In

When the top “original” for a week only nabs 12.6 million hours (Loki), you’re in for a light week in streaming ratings. 

So instead of looking at the first run streaming films, let’s look at the “acquired” TV charts, where viewers seem to be flocking. 

Here’s my usual “last six weeks of viewing” chart, but with only licensed/acquired/second-run shows:

Take The Simpsons. I’ll have to admit, I speculated a few weeks back that Halloween viewing (particularly The Simpson’s annual Treehouse of Horror episodes) may have driven the boost in viewership, as it did last October. But I was wrong. Instead, the explanation is simpler: the latest season (an incredible season 34) dropped on 11-October, and The Simpsons has been on the charts ever since.

The Simpsons is a difficult title to evaluate. It has a massive number of episodes, which help it make the charts. But unlike other huge shows of the last few decades (Friends, The Office, Seinfeld, The Big Bang Theory and South Park), it doesn’t make the acquired charts very often. That makes it tough to evaluate whether or not it’s really trending up or down.

After The Simpsons, most eyes are on the new acquired titles popping up on Netflix. Universal licensed a few of its series to Netflix (as many news articles noted) and we’re seeing the results in the ratings. Over the last two weeks, Universal titles like Face Off (a Syfy channel reality series about makeup that ended in 2018) and Botched (an E! Series I mentioned last week) landed on Netflix and made the charts. So did Six Feet Under, the latest HBO Original to show up on Netflix. Finally, The Family Business, a BET show, landed on Netflix, though it’s not distributed by a major studio, but by Urban Books Media.

You can also see in the second-run viewing that Friends saw a bump in viewership after Matthew Perry’s tragic passing. The bump in interest doesn’t look like it will last that long, as viewership for this week is back down. But this isn’t bad news; basically, folks are constantly watching Friends all the time.

I’ll note one last “not quite Dog Not Barking” before I go. We haven’t seen an HBO Original show up on the charts since Succession in the spring. HBO started releasing the latest season of The Gilded Age on 29-October, so we could see it show up on the acquired charts, but I doubt it.

I often neglect the acquired charts, because they’re just a steady hum in the background, but looking at the volume of viewership, they really do matter. The titles are older and underwhelming, but hasn’t syndication/licensing always been a huge part of TV viewership? Streaming hasn’t changed that.

Quick Notes on TV

  • Yeah it was a super-light week in terms of new streaming shows. The top (and only) “original” series that came out this week according to Nielsen was Escaping Twin Flames, a true crime docu-series about a cult. Fun fact: just four weeks earlier Prime Video released Desperately Seeking Soulmate: Escaping Twin Flames, another docs-series on the exact same subject with nearly the same name. At 6.7 million hours, this is on the low-end for true crime docs, but it only had three episodes.

  • Technically, Paramount+’s Lawmen: Bass Reeves came out during the previous week’s report’s time frame, premiering on Sunday 5-Nov. It’s really hard for shows or films that come out on a Sunday to make the Nielsen reports, since it runs from Monday to Sunday, only giving it one day of data. (Sometimes shows don’t even come out until Sunday night, à la HBO to Max originals.) In its second week, Bass Reeves made the Nielsen charts at 4.8 million hours and showed up on Samba TV’s Top 10 charts as well. This show still has an underwhelming number of IMDb reviews for a Taylor Sheridan project, but we’ll check back after a few weeks to see if it keeps making the charts.

  • The Netflix anime series, Blue Eye Samurai, also made the Nielsen original charts, which surprised me a pinch. It escaped the “dog not barking” label by getting 5.3 million hours according to Nielsen in its second week. As a reminder, it missed the Samba TV, Showlabs and TV Time charts, but does have excellent IMDb scores (an 8.9 on 27K reviews). So it’s time for a reminder on two of my working (though very data-driven) theories. First, IMDb skews upwards for certain genres: sci-fi, superhero, fantasy and anime. The data is pretty overwhelming on that. Don’t compare high reviews of an anime show to a period drama like, say, Bridgerton. For instance, Netflix’s Arcane from last year has an incredible 9.0 on 252K reviews. Attack on Titan (first released in 2013) has a 9.1 on 476K reviews. My Hero Academia has an 8.3 on 75K reviews. Even Scavenger’s Reign, a tiny Max Original, has an 8.8 on 7.2K reviews. Those numbers are so high, compared to actual viewership, that we should take them with huge, Kalju-sized grains of salt. Second, this genre-skew for IMDb can explain why some “buzz” or “demand” metrics love, love, love anime. If those metrics rely on IMDb numbers—and they often do since they’re so easy to scrape off the web—but then they don’t account for IMDb’s bias, they end up measuring “demand” for a specific cohort of the, particularly online, young people.

  • In fact, we have a second example of this from the last two weeks. The first part of the second season of Prime Video’s animated superhero series Invincible came out on Friday 3-Nov. How many episodes? Just four. Historically, Invincible has done well on the TV Time charts and it has incredible IMDb scores, an 8.7 on 180K reviews, but note: Invincible still hasn’t made Nielsen or Samba TV’s charts yet. In contrast, the Showlabs data (which we didn’t have last time Invincible released episodes) shows that the show does well for Prime Video compared to other top series:

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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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