Netflix Hits a Home Run, But Swings and Misses on Sports

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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.)

Without planning it, I stumbled into a “theme” for this week’s Entertainment Strategy Guy articles:

“Streaming Sports Week”

In this Streaming Ratings Report, I’m going to look at Netflix’s sports docu-series (Full Swing and Drive to Survive) and a live sporting event (The Netflix Cup). Then in the middle of the week, I’ll look at the F1 “phenomenon” again. (Trivia question, can you rank the top three motor racing leagues in America in order?) Lastly, for The Ankler, I’ll look at whether the esports bubble has popped. (Yes!) 

So we’ll start there, but we’ll also look a few big films that dropped on streaming, including Wonka, Ricky Stanicky, Poor Things (Did it get a pre-Oscars boost?) and Damsel (Is it the biggest film on Netflix of all-time?). All that plus The Gentlemen on Netflix, Shōgun’s second week, which buzzy musical missed the charts, and 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 March 4th to March 10th.)

Television – A Netflix Sports Docu-series and Live Events Are Struggling

I get nervous when I write things like the introduction to last week’s “Most Important Story of the Week” about how I can predict some trends that buck the conventional wisdom. Or my Ankler piece last week complaining about the pro-tech bias in Hollywood news coverage. They feels too self-congratulatory or self-absorbed.

But then I compare reality (especially ratings data) to the media narrative (“Netflix is revolutionizing televised sports!”), and it feels justified. Netflix is really struggling to break into sports right now, but this might be the most under-covered story in Hollywood. Netflix’s push into sports, via sports documentaries, docu-series and one-off stunts, just doesn’t generate huge ratings yet.

That’s not to say they haven’t had some success, but a revolution this is not.

Netflix Sports Docu-series

Let’s start with a look at three recent Netflix sports programs—Full Swing, Formula 1: Drive to Survive and The Netflix Slamand their ratings (or lack thereof).

After two weeks, Formula 1: Drive to Survive fell off the charts for a total of 12.2 million hours. That’s good for 18th out of 21 season sixes in my dataset. To be fair, making it to a sixth season is a big accomplishment for any streaming show, since so few streaming shows make it to a sixth season.

But if we’re just talking viewership, this isn’t a “hit”. 

Even looking at TV Time, you can see that other shows just drive a lot more interest over time:

Last month, Netflix cancelled Break Point, their Drive to Survive-esque tennis sports docu-series. At least one reporter, covering this cancellation, pointed out that both Drive to Survive and Full Swing (Netflix’s golf docu-series) are hits. Except Full Swing failed to make the Nielsen charts this week. 

So it’s not really a hit. Even Netflix’s biggest U.S. docu-series, Quarterback, somehow couldn’t find three more quarterbacks who wanted to boost their profile by appearing on the show, and it will pivot to “receiver” next season.

Here’s an updated chart on sports docu-series recent run of misses:

In general, docu-series just don’t interest sports fans as much as, you know, the actual sports. But the actual sports are pricey. Hence, Netflix has recently tried a middle ground.

Netflix Live Events

Until the WWE arrives next year, Netflix will have to rely on one-off events for their live sports content.

Like The Netflix Slam, Netflix’s one-off tennis event featuring Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz which streamed on 3-Mar, which didn’t make any of the ratings charts I track, including own Netflix’s global charts. This means that, at most, no more than 2 million people globally could have watched this event. (Actually, to be precise, it couldn’t have gotten more than 1.7 million “views”.) Also, Netflix didn’t release any datecdotes about this event. (I reached out to Netflix PR and they said they won’t be releasing numbers outside the top ten lists.)

In this case, I’d say that the silence is deafening. Well, to me at least. Most coverage I read came across as positive, despite the lack of data.

That Said…Don’t Sleep on Netflix’s Next Two Moves

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

  • Whether or not Poor Things got an Oscar’s bounce…
  • What live event put up great linear ratings…
  • Whether or not Wonka was delicious to streaming audiences…
  • What cable show managed to sneak onto the Plum Research charts on Prime Video…
  • Whether or not Damsel slayed the ratings dragon…
  • And a lot 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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