Has Netflix Won the Streaming Wars (According to the Gauge)? Will Penske Media, Variety and Luminate Win the Measurement Wars? 

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(Welcome to the Entertainment Strategy Guy, a newsletter on the entertainment industry and business strategy. I write a weekly Streaming Ratings Report and a bi-weekly strategy column, along with occasional deep dives into other topics, like today’s article. Please subscribe.)

If you’re a paid subscriber to the streaming ratings report—or get it forwarded to you occasionally—then you know that each report ends with a grab bag of miscellanea: ratings (streamings, linear, sports, whatever!), new surveys and data from sources I don’t use each week (like Antenna or Hub Research), datecdotes from the streamers, fun data cuts about other industries, and some thoughts on upcoming big streaming content moves/news. 

Why? I try to hoover up all the streaming ratings data I can—actually, any and all ratings data—and I want to share the best stuff I find with my readers, even material outside of my usual streaming ratings report sources.

Sometimes I end up with too many links, and right now I’ve got a whole stockpile of links and some of them are getting quite old (I try to time them up to the week of the report), especially year-end reports on different media companies. So today I’m clearing my data inbox in a bonus article. Plus, for all you free subscribers, it will give you a nice little peak at the type of bonus content you miss out on each week.

We’re going to start with a very big piece—a new source of data is coming our way—followed by a much deeper dive into Nielsen’s monthly update, “The Gauge” than I normally deliver, because I have a ton of thoughts. All that, plus… 

  • How many Americans read books, 
  • How new comic book titles have flat-lined (which is actually a good thing),
  • The top “single-viewer” shows on streaming,
  • The highest selling video games in 2023
  • and more.

As I say each week, let’s dive right in. 

Data Update of the Week: Luminate (A Data Company Owned by Penske Media Corporation) is Now Providing Variety (a media company also Owned by PMC) With Two New Weekly (But Possibly Exclusive?) Streaming Top Ten Lists

For data analytics nerds in Hollywood (and we’re legion) the big news of the week is that Variety started (just yesterday) publishing two new weekly streaming top ten lists. I love any and all new streaming ratings data sources, though I’m not quite as stoked on this as I hoped to be. 

So let’s take a look at the winners and losers of this new development. (As for the actual quality of the data itself, stay tuned. I’ll need to collect a few weeks worth of data, compare it to other sources, and more. Stay tuned to future streaming ratings reports!)

Winner: Hollywood! 

Let me be clear: I love, love, love that we have a new data source out there in the world. And frankly, this is a really, really good weekly update, probably the second best after Nielsen’s weekly charts. Samba TV provides just a top ten list, without any numbers. Plum Research provides me with weekly numbers, but only for three streamers. And the other weekly top ten lists are interest charts (which often don’t predict actual viewership very well, but what people who are really online like to talk about.) 

So this is a big win for Hollywood. More data is better. 

Loser: TV Shows That Come Out Mid-Week

Here’s some free advice to data analytics companies out there:

A “week” runs from Monday to Sunday.

Yet Luminate’s data runs from Friday to Thursday. I don’t think they made the right decision here, for a few reasons:

  • First off, on the most basic level, people have a conception of what a “week” is, and it’s usually Monday to Sunday. Or Sunday to Saturday. But it’s very hard for people to think about a “week” that runs Friday to Thursday. (Samba TV did the same thing as Luminate at first, then changed later.)
  • The industry standard has converged on Monday to Sunday as the “week”. Again, Samba TV changed their reporting to align to this metric and most data sources I look at run in a similar time period.
  • While very few shows come out on a Saturday or a Sunday (basically only HBO and AMC), quite a few streaming shows debut on a Wednesday or Thursday, which will really complicate data analysis.
  • As I wrote for the Ankler, TV viewership actually goes down on the weekend. Yes, this cuts against what most people know about binge-watching, but it’s true. Remember: NBC’s famous Must See TV programming block aired on Thursday nights.

I can speculate on why they made this choice (probably to differentiate themselves from Nielsen) but it seems suboptimal to me. Yes, personally, this will make comparisons within the Streaming Ratings Report more difficult, at least for TV shows. (Films should be fine, except for Disney+, which releases almost every new title on Wednesdays.) 

Winner: Luminate

The big winner here is Luminate, which leapfrogs over a bunch of other streaming ratings analytics companies, but what matters is why: regularly publishing data is the gold standard of data transparency. Putting out actual ratings numbers is even better. Luminate is now at the top of the streaming ratings pack with other companies like Nielsen, Samba TV, Plum Research and…kind of no one else. 

Loser: Better Streaming Viewership Context

I wish this weekly data drop had more than twenty entries a week. Frankly, with just two top ten lists (of TV shows and films) this list won’t really tell us anything we don’t already know from Nielsen, Samba TV, Plum Research, and other data sources. Sure, Luminate will argue their data is more accurate, but we can’t prove that. 

The next leap in streaming ratings data will come whenever…

  • Someone publishes top fifteen lists. Or twenty!
  • Someone publishes a list separating out kids TV shows and/or films from other lists.
  • Someone publishes top five lists for each streamer.

We just need more data. Remember, Nielsen used to publish broadcast ratings for virtually every prime time show; let’s go back to that!

Potential Loser: Me and You (My Readers), Depending on PMC’s Legal Team

I noticed this interesting detail nestled in Variety’s announcement article:

While other media sources can cite Luminate’s streaming viewership data, only Variety will have the right to publish charts using this data.

Really? I can’t make any charts using this data? Is that even legal? (Please reach out to me if you know…) Can a company publish data out there to the world, and a third-party like myself can’t collect that data and use it in published reports? I honestly don’t know the legal ramifications of that.

I’d love to make weekly charts tracking the top ten, like I do for TV Time or Samba TV, so I’m very curious to see what happens. My guess/hope is that they’ll welcome the additional exposure from independent media outlets like yours truly. 

Competition – Nielsen The Gauge for February 2024: On “Winning” The Streaming Wars

Each month, I devote a bonus section to Nielsen’s The Gauge, Nielsen’s summary of the share of total living room TV viewing across EVERYTHING: broadcast, cable, and, in particular, streaming. 

Here’s the latest chart:

I like this look because it tells you what folks are watching on living room TVs by distribution channel. Yes, a lot of folks are watching on other devices (like iPads, computers and phones), but at the highest level, if you want to know who is winning or losing the TV wars, you should start here.

For example, Netflix gets the most shows on the top ten charts, but it also has the most usage, four times more than any of its streaming rivals. One thing follows from the other, though, at this point, it’s also a bit chicken-and-egg problem. (Does Netflix’s size put more of their films on the charts, or do they have their size because they have more shows on the charts?)

That said, like any data source, The Gauge can be analyzed multiple ways. For example, Netflix is clearly the leader in streaming. Let’s amplify that message by tweaking that chart above, and just rearranging the bars:

See! They’re way out in front. 

Of course, I left off YouTube, so let’s tweak that…

But I can rearrange the charts again, and Netflix goes from clear winner to simply “majority of subscription streaming”:

You can also see that free streamers (the FASTs) have a big chunk of viewership. 

Let’s tweak it one more time just to show that, more than anything, the streaming wars are frankly far from over…

Again, given that we only have five broadcasters in America, ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox (and The CW, I guess), they command a large share of audience viewership.

Which chart is right? In a way, they all are. I think each tells a different, important and true part of this story. Netflix has a huge lead in streaming video-on-demand, and they’re using that lead to drive revenue and profit growth compared to the traditional studios. But YouTube is better positioned than many people realize. And a huge amount of TV viewers have yet to switch to streaming, and any of the other streamers can (and will) compete for those viewers.

Datecdote: Samba TV’s Most Watched Shows Among “Single-Program Viewers”

My favorite data cut that Samba TV provides  in their big reports (which used to be quarterly but are now semi-annually) is their lists of TV shows that viewers watched on that platform and nothing else. 

Basically, people who subscribed to a streamer to watch one thing, and only one thing. Here’s the chart for the second half of 2024:

For fans of sports docu-series, it turns out that Netflix’s Quarterback was the thing that most Netflix subscribers (probably sports fans) tuned in for. (Which I wouldn’t have guessed, but makes sense in retrospect.) Once again, The Kardashians drives viewers to Hulu, but Hulu can’t keep them around.

Competition: Didgiday’s Ranking of US Streaming Ad Tiers

Digiday interviewed a bunch of ad buyers, ranking the streamers into “tiers” for best ad-selling experience, and Sean McNulty at the Ankler roughly put them in order:

  • Hulu
  • Peacock
  • Max and Disney+
  • Netflix and Paramount+, for different reasons.
  • Prime Video is TBD.
  • And YouTube is, well, YouTube.

None of this is terribly surprising. The traditional studios just have more experience with ads, so they have more experience. That’s really the story here. It also clashes a bit with the “big tech always wins” narratives I complain about, as the traditional players did the best.

Anecdata: The Number of New Comic Book Titles Remains Down

I like to check-in on other media sources, even if they aren’t properly ratings related. Like, say, comic books.

I’ve been a comic book reader since I was a kid, so I’m half-heartened, half-disappointed that the number of new comic book titles is only up 1% in 2023 from 2022. According to Comichron, it’s an increase of, “1% over 2022…a continuation, if a slowing, of the rebound from the pandemic-related shutdown of much of the industry in 2020. The number of new releases is still off 11% from 2019.” (Hat tip to Walt Hickey’s Numlock News for these data points.)

To be clear, there are new “titles”, not sales. None of the major comic book distributors shares any monthly sales data like they used to, which is both frustrating and a bad sign for this industry. (I have strong feelings on how I’d “save” the comic book industry, but I’d guess that my suggestions are a bit too arm chair critic and niche for my audience.)

Anecdata: 47% of Internet Traffic is Fake

In last week’s Streaming Ratings Report, I mentioned that I don’t trust YouTube view counts, because so much internet traffic is fake. 

Let me repeat that:

A huge amount of internet traffic is fake. 

I’ve cited this seminal On The Media episode from 2019 on it, but I just saw a new article that makes basically the same case. According to Imperva’s 2023 report, 47% of internet traffic comes from bots. Simon Owens had a great write-up on this problem. 

Anecdata: 54% of Americans read a book in 2023 

Here’s some good news. According to YouGov, over half of all Americans read a book last year. Overall, book sales fell 2.6% from 2022 to 2023, to 767,000,000 million. Unsurprisingly, the numbers are down from their Covid-19 pandemic peaks (which makes sense) but still ahead of 2019 levels (an inverse of the theatrical and comic book situations).

Children’s book sales are down, so cue a (valid) complaint about screentime. 

Anecdata: Video Game Sales in 2023

While we’re looking at comic book and book sales, let’s take a gander at video games. I recently discovered Game DiscoverCo, which is a great newsletter tracking the video game industry (very similar to what I do with streaming, but I think they predate me) had a recap of 2023. Here were the top games by revenue in 2023: 

Video Amp Linear TV Data

Speaking of newsletters I like, VideoAmp is now providing Evan Shapiro with viewership data for linear television. He’s written about it twice here and here. In particular, his focus on news was really good. 

Now, I think VideoAmp should release regular top ten charts (like their competitors) but as AdExchanger wrote about the company recently, “Despite a push from its marketing staff, it hasn’t been actively publicizing enough viewing data to market itself to prospective clients, according to two sources.”

Connecting back to the first section of this article, if you want to know why VideoAmp hasn’t made a dent in the market yet, this is a big reason why. At some point, you’re never going to get the publicity needed to dethrone Nielsen, the default ratings agency that everyone in town knows.

And Penske Media gets this, hence why Luminate is now publicly providing its data to the town.

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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