Hulu Had a Bad Q4, Plus Streaming Got Weird After Christmas

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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.)

This year, I noticed a trend. After Spotify delivered everyone their “year in music” lists on 30-November, a slew of news outlets and data analytics companies started offering up their lists of “biggest of the year” for TV, film, streaming, etc, in early December as well. Mind you…

…this was at the start of December!!!

Some people even published analyses of the “biggest Christmas” films of 2023 the week before Christmas. (I’m going to publish my review of Holiday streaming for 2023 next week.)

The year ends at the end of December, as far as I can tell, making most of the “biggest/best of 2023” lists woefully short by one month.

(Personally, I could argue that the “entertainment” calendar year should start in September, since that’s right before the start of broadcast TV season, before the NFL, NBA and NHL start their seasons, and after the end of the summer theatrical season.)

This gets to a very real difference in the publishing philosophy between me (as a newsletter writer targeting industry professionals or aspiring professionals in the entertainment industry) and traditional digital media (still trying to make their articles go “viral” via social media). The latter is all about getting those clicks, and that means publishing when topics are trendy. Conversely, I want to explain what actually happened, preferably after I have all the data. 

For example, traditional media has the philosophy that as soon as the calendar turns to the new year, readers don’t care one iota about what happened in the previous year. Me? I think they do. I usually wait until February to run my analysis on the biggest winners and losers on streaming from the year before, especially since Nielsen doesn’t release their streaming data for four weeks. We’re on track for an even more in-depth deep dive this February than last year: I’ll declare my winners and losers of the year, along with all the flops, bombs and misses from the second half of the year.

Since we had a fairly light week in streaming the week after Christmas—I’m going to dive into that topic in next week’s issue—I took the opportunity to look at Hulu’s lackluster last three months as the big topic of the week. That, plus three hit films that popped the week after Christmas, two surprise foreign-language shows on the charts, an MCU show that avoided a “Dog Not Barking” fate, an over-hyped headline on anime (with some useful info!), what live TV event has shockingly good ratings, Christmas Day sports ratings, the latest police procedural to make the charts and more. 

Let’s dive in.

(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 December 25th to December 31st.)

Television – Hulu Had a No Good, Very Bad End of the Year

It’s not easy to notice when a TV show flops these days. (There’s a reason I track all of the “Dogs Not Barking” each week.) Shows come and go and, depending on if you even heard of them, you rarely notice when they flop. Only one new scripted, English-language show came out this week, the final season of Hulu’s Canadian import, Letterkenny, which promptly missed the Nielsen charts. And then I had the realization: 

When’s the last time Hulu had a hit show? What is their last new hit show? 

So it’s not just TV shows. Sometimes entire streamers can basically go unnoticed or un-remarked upon. I mean, I haven’t written about Hulu for weeks. Maybe months? No one’s talking about Hulu, but shouldn’t we? Hulu had a terrific August, peaking with four shows on the TV Time charts in one week (The Bear, Only Murders in the Building, Futurama, Solar Opposites)…

…and Only Murders had a great run on the Nielsen charts.

Since then, Hulu hasn’t had anything close to another hit show. The last Hulu show to make the charts was American Horror Stories, a formerly-an-FX-On-Hulu-now-just-FX horror anthology series, back at the end of October, for one week with a paltry 5.5 million hours for four episodes. (Technically, Goosebumps (which came out on both Hulu and Disney+) also made the charts, but does that augur well for Hulu’s future?)

Hulu’s last new show to make the charts was History of the World, Part II back in the spring.

And it’s not like Hulu doesn’t take a lot of swings. Just look at all of the new shows they’ve released since September:

  • Notable US Shows: A Murder at the End of the World, Black Cake, Love in Fairhope, The Other Black Girl, The Kardashians, The D’Amelio Show
  • Scripted UK, Canadian or Aussie imports: Culprits, Such Brave Girls, The Artful Dodger, Faraway Downs, Spellbound, Obituary, Shorsey, Better, Letterkenny
  • Reality and true crime shows: Wild Crime, Brawn: The Impossible Formula 1 Story, Love Island: Australia, Drive With Swizz Beatz, The Secret Life of Dancing Dogs, Never Let Him Go, Coleen Rooney: The Real Wagatha Story, Living for the Dead

Here’s what that looks like in graph form, adding all the series Hulu released that missed the Nielsen top ten in Q4 of 2023:

This is what happens when you don’t have full ratings charts like you used to in the broadcast era. You can’t see what missed. If each of these shows had a number attached to it (especially if that number is really, really low, like bad basic cable ratings low) I think everyone in Hollywood would be talking about it.

According to Nielsen’s The Gauge, Hulu is still 2.6% of all living room TV viewing. so viewers are watching something. I think they’re most likely watching scripted sitcoms and procedurals. As I wrote a few months ago: 

“As reported in June, Abbot Elementary finished the last broadcast season as ABC’s most watched comedy in three years, getting 9.1 million viewers per episode after 35 days (and including Hulu viewing!) That’s up from 8.1 million hours the season before.”

What are the lessons for Disney? They need to revamp their original content strategy for Hulu. I’d recommend avoiding copying Netflix. (Why would Hulu try to make a Formula 1 TV series?) I’d avoid dour dramedies and anything chasing awards, since that lane is way too competitive in the media current landscape. I would also avoid foreign acquisitions, since they clearly didn’t catch on either.

But looking at the year ahead, impacted by the strikes as it is, I don’t think that’s going to happen.

Quick Notes on TV

The rest of this article is for paid subscribers of the Entertainment Strategy Guy, so  If you’d like to find out…

  • Whether or not Barbie, Rebel Moon: Part 1 or The Super Mario. Bros Movie had big ratings jumps after Christmas…
  • The two foreign language series that popped on the charts..
  • Which MCU show made the Nielsen Top Ten…
  • Which demographic watches anime…
  • The latest police procedural to make it on the acquired charts…
  • Whether the latest two “Oscar” films to come to streaming are succeeding…
  • Christmas Day sports ratings and another huge live event on linear television…
  • 21 more charts and graphs…
  • And more….

please subscribe! We can only keep doing this great work with your support. If you’d like to read more about why you should subscribe, please read these posts about the Streaming Ratings Report, why it matters, why you need it, and why we cover streaming ratings best. 

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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