Binge vs Weekly: Round One Million

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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.)

The 2024 streaming calendar has been really lumpy. 

One week, there’s a lot of new shows (like the week of 8-Jan, which had major releases from Peacock, Disney+ and Netflix), then there’s not much of anything new (like the week of 15-Jan, where we only saw three scripted shows from the major streamers, none of which was a big swing) and then the week of 22-Jan see-sawed the other way, with big swings again, like Apple TV+’s Masters of the Air and Netflix’s Griselda, along with a few theatrical films.

As such, I’m publishing another “double issue” this week, with the streaming ratings from the weeks of 15-Jan and 22-Jan all rolled into one big issue. And I’m pushing this week’s Streaming Ratings Report to next week so we can look at the top shows and films of 2023 this Friday as part of my “EntStrategyGuy’s 2023 Streaming Viewership Recap” series.

Again, “quiet” doesn’t mean “empty” as we still have a ton of buzzy shows to talk about and fun themes to analyze. For example, we can look at the “binge releases versus weekly releases” question again, Peacock’s slow burn success with The Traitors, an Emmy-winning show arriving on Netflix, a slew of theatrical films all having muted streaming debuts, Reacher’s strong hold, the return of Rick and Morty, an old library title returning to the charts for the first time since 2020, whether The Underdoggs played for Prime Video, and more. So let’s dig 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 Jan 15th to Jan 29th.)

Television – The Case For Weekly Releases

Last issue, instead of handing out passing or failing grades to Ted, True Detective or Echo, I gave them “TBDs”; I wanted to wait a few weeks to see if these shows soared or sank. And I’m glad I waited, because with two weeks with of data, we can revisit my old favorite topic:

Binge releases versus weekly!

I’m being semi-sarcastic describing this as my favorite topic, since it’s one of the most divisive arguments in the streaming wars. You’re in one camp or another, and no amount of data will change anyone’s mind. This especially applies to Netflix, but possibly to me too, because I’m firmly in the “more shows should come out weekly” camp, and the last two weeks show why.

Exhibit 1: Echo’s Big Drop vs. Percy Jackson’s Strong Run. Disney released all of Echo’s five episodes in one giant batch the second week of the year, and Echo made the Nielsen charts but dropped off after one week. Overall, that’s a lackluster performance compared to other Disney+ shows:

Echo performed worse than Ms. Marvel, which was widely considered a miss two years ago for Marvel Studios.

If I had to make a (cynical) guess, I think this was a marketing move to make sure that Echo wasn’t perceived as another MCU flop. (It was originally scheduled to come out weekly starting on Thanksgiving weekend, one of the biggest streaming viewership weekends each year.) By dropping all the episodes at once, it helped it make the Nielsen charts and avoid bad headlines. If I had to make a more generous guess, I think some streamers believe that likely-to-underperform TV shows won’t benefit from weekly episode releases, so they may as well drop all episodes at once, but I’m skeptical that tactic works. 

Exhibit 2: True Detective: Night Country Grows Week-Over-Week. The exact opposite situation happened with the latest installment of the True Detective, which grew from a first episode debut of 2 million viewers overnight to 2.7 million by its third episode.

Of course, Night Country got something that few Netflix shows get these days: endless recaps!!!

I’m as skeptical as anyone about the importance of buzz and the “conversation”, especially online social media buzz…but free media coverage is great! Especially earned media like this, where people want to write and talk about a TV show. Plus, Night Country garnered even more headlines after Nic Pizzolatto insulted the show on social media, a controversy that almost certainly fell into “All publicity is good publicity”, potentially just rallying even more people to the show.

One final point: HBO releases its biggest shows on Sundays, which is perfect timing for reporters to write up a recap Monday morning, the first day of the work week. But many/most scripted streaming shows come out on Wednesdays, Thursdays or even (shudders) Fridays. (Again, if you binge release the shows, a Friday release makes the data look better, because folks have more time to watch it immediately, but that doesn’t actually mean that’s the best day to launch a show.) 

Exhibit 3: Reacher vs. The Crown. I’ve mentioned Reacher a few times as a big hit. It came out weekly and you can see its hold compared to The Crown:

And keep this in mind: the folks coming back each week to watch Reacher are then more likely to watch something else on Prime Video.

Exhibit 4: Ted vs. The Traitors on Peacock. One of my biggest pet peeves in the streaming wars is binge-released competition reality shows. I’m not sure why anyone would binge-release a show that inherently lends itself to long-term viewership and recaps. Even Netflix seems to get this now, releasing its reality shows semi-weekly. Love is Blind releases six episodes, then subsequent episodes in weekly batches, which feels like lukewarm tea strategically (People like hot tea or iced tea; no one likes lukewarm tea. Strategically, this happens all the time, meaning strategies that try to split the difference, pleasing few.) but also an admission that this works. I was annoyed last year when Peacock binge-released The Traitors at the start of Jan-2023. Of course, it missed all the ratings chart last year.

This year? Combined with an NFL playoffs bump, Traitors made the charts with 6.7 and 4.2 million hours in its second and third weeks! That type of season two pop is rare. This data backs up Peacock’s datecdote that The Traitors is that platform’s biggest unscripted series to date. (Though, honestly, it didn’t have much competition.)

Conversely, Ted dropped from 9.0 to 7.2 to 4.5M over three weeks, which feels a bit underwhelming, though it is only a half-hour long, which will effect its overall viewership hours. Especially with the NFL playoffs anchoring Peacock’s strong January start, you’d think Peacock would want to give people a reason to stick around for multiple weeks.

Two New Shows Test the “Binge vs. Weekly” Question

Netflix won the week with Griselda, which debuted to 26.5 million hours, good for ninth place all time among season one releases. That’s a big number! But will it last on the charts or will it drop off in five to six weeks? That happened to Fool Me Once, which is down to 11.2 million hours in its fourth week. Since Griselda only has six episodes, I’d guess the latter.

Apple TV+, meanwhile, is going the other route, trying to build momentum for their $200-million-budget World War II Air Force series, Masters of the Air. (So that makes $800 million in production costs for Killers of the Flower Moon, Napoleon, Masters of the Air and Argylle, by my tracking.) I thought this has a chance to do well, just because of its predecessors (Band of Brothers and The Pacific).

So far it hasn’t made the Nielsen charts, but we did get an Apple TV+ datecdote that it “launched with more viewers in its opening weekend than any Apple TV+ series ever has in its first season” series. Also, full disclosure I missed dual datecdotes that The Family Plan had also had Apple’s biggest debut yet back in December AND that The Morning Show is now Apple TV+’s biggest show. 

Here’s Apple TV+’s datecdotes over time:

If you want, you know, actual data, Samba TV shows Masters of the Air climbing onto the charts in future weeks, so we’ll see if that translates to Nielsen total hours as well.

So where does all this leave us? Should shows come out weekly or not?

At this point, I’d say if you’re Netflix, take your pick. I disagree with their strategy and think they could optimize their release calendar better, but they have built-in advantages (like being the default streamer and their massive subscriber base) so it doesn’t really matter. And they’re splitting up their successful shows into two batches anyway. 

For everyone else, though, weekly log-ins are what matters. Netflix is the default streamer, right now, and strategically, that’s what you’re battling. So release shows weekly, like Prime Video did with Reacher, and try to hook people into coming back again and again. 

Television – Lots of Library/Acquired TV Movement

Whenever we have a “double issue”—and reminder this report covers both the weeks of 15-Jan and 22-Jan—we end up having a lot of stories. The limited number of new TV shows compared to some past months—again, not “no” releases, just fewer, see above—actually left the door open for some acquired series:

For example, Bluey, which was actually the biggest show of the week on 22-Jan in terms of total hours viewed, as measured by Nielsen. I enjoyed kid’s streaming expert Emily Horgan’s analysis of both Bluey and Cocomelon, so let me share her chart (with permission) of Bluey’s growth: 

Interestingly, the action on the acquired charts bumped off Cocomelon, for only the second time since Nielsen expanded the charts to three top 10 lists. Emily Horgan also had a great chart showing Cocomelon’s growth over the last quarter:

Meanwhile, another animated show (this time for adults) showed up for the first time since last May, Rick and Morty. Its latest season came to Hulu and Max, and viewership went up to 10.3 million hours from 7.7 million the last time around. It also topped the Showlabs charts with 4.4 million unique viewers, a great number for Max. Only House of the Dragon, The Last of Us, South Park and Succession have done better.

Lest you think it was all animated shows doing well, a major scripted show arrived on Netflix on 8-Jan-2024, and by the next week it showed up on the charts:

We’re just getting started with this issue, but the rest of this article is for paid subscribers of the Entertainment Strategy Guy, so If you’d like to find out…

  • What TV show validated Peacock’s NFL Playoff gambit…
  • Whether Snoop Dogg made a hit movie for Prime Video…
  • Whether Young Sheldon keeps putting up big numbers…
  • What licensed films made the charts and whether or not that means they’re hits…
  • Which animated musical topped Prime Video’s charts…
  • The latest edition of Nielsen’s the Gauge…
  • Whether the latest award show ratings are good news for The Oscars…
  • And over 20 more charts and graphs…

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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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