What a Trio of German Films Tell Us about the Future of TV

The Streaming Ratings Report for 15-Oct-2021

Suddenly, this ratings report feels very cosmopolitan. A streaming ratings report of the world. You’ve got TV series from Spain and South Korea vying for attention with cop dramas from America. And German films trying to knock American animated films off the lists. That’s right, I’m talking about Firedrake the Silver Dragon!

Oh wait, are some of you not familiar with that title?

It’s a German animated film. Thanks to Netflix, it’s one of the top ten shows on streaming this week, though it's still not that popular. With all the talk about international titles, something like Firedrake the Silver Dragon provides a good bit of context for the sheer volume of titles on Netflix that come from other countries.

(Reminder: The streaming ratings report compiles data from Nielsen’s weekly top ten viewership ranks, Netflix datecdotes, Top Ten lists, Google Trends and IMDb to determine the most popular content. While most data points are current, Nielsen’s data covers the weeks of September 13th to September 19th.)

Film

A relatively slow week for films gave me time to ponder the run of German films that were released over the weeks of 6-Sep and 13-Sep on Netflix. On Friday 10-Sep Netflix released Prey, a German thriller, and Firedrake the Silver Dragon. Then, on Wednesday 15-Sep they released Schumacher, a German documentary about Michael Schumacher, the Formula 1 driver. This follows the German-produced, and globally successful Blood Red Sky from July. (According to Netflix, 50 million households tuned in during the first 28 days.)

This puts the latest huge success of Squid Game in context. As I often point out, most folks have read articles about (or claim to have read) the book Thinking Fast and Slow, by famed psychologist Kahneman, about his work with Tversky. That book, and many others, describe how humans use mental shortcuts (“heuristics”), and these shortcuts can lead to sub-optimal decision-making. In short, we make bad decisions because we take shortcuts.

The most famous is probably the availability heuristic. We, humans, it turns out, judge things we can easily recall as more likely than things we cannot. For instance, people fear plane crashes more than car accidents, because the news cover plane crashes more than car crashes. While this principle is easy to understand, and easy to preach, it’s hard to live in practice.

Take Squid Game!

Now, when you think, “Do international titles do well on Netflix in the US?” You’ll think, “Yes, yes they do. Because Squid Game!”

But that’s the availability heuristic at work! The question isn’t, “Has an international title done well?” But “Do international titles do well on average?” Or “How many international titles do well?” And since you can’t recall the dozens of titles that did not do well, you’re likely under this heuristic’s spell. (And you’re joined by every journalist opining on Squid Game this week.)

I’m here to remind you that Netflix released, in just one week, three German films, of which only one made the Top Ten Film list. And even that just barely. With just 2.4 million hours in its second week, Firedrake the Silver Dragon is 90th place out of 96 films in the Nielsen database. Not good.

What does that mean? It means that if the question—in America—is, “Do international titles add value for Netflix?”, the answer lies not in Squid Game—the one success available to your memory—but in the entire list of international titles released by Netflix—that you cannot recall or even begin to name. The blunt answer—if I’m being fully honest with you—is that foreign titles do so poorly, in general, that I don’t collect data on all of them, so I don’t have a comprehensive database of international and foreign language titles.

Let’s switch topics slightly then. How did Firedrake the Silver Dragon perform in the context of kids animated titles? Again, not very well. Since I’ve been refining my genre database, here’s that look:

That's Firedrake way over there at the end.

And yes for those still asking for it, Vivo is in fourth place in this cut, and has actually held up fairly well, like many kids titles, returning to the top ten list this week with 2.4 million hours. So it probably wasn’t a “flop” as I first called it, though I still hesitate to call it a hit. It’s in that nether region of “meh”.

Quick Notes on Film

- First Run/Theatrical Premiere: HBO Max - Cry Macho. A typical Friday release, the latest from Clint Eastwood seems to show that the actor-turned-director is not quite the draw he used to be. As I’ll note every week until they do the right thing, Nielsen doesn’t release HBO Max data. According to Samba TV, only 693K households tuned in during the opening weekend, marking another down week for HBO Max. (Last week Malignant scored a paltry 753K million too.)

- First Run Premiere: Netflix - Nightbooks. A family friendly title from Sam Raimi starring Jessica Jones star Kristen Rytter, Nightbooks premiered to only 2.7 million hours, good for 89th place overall. (So it’s not just German family films that can fail to launch.)

- Most of the late August/early September films have returned to the “two weeks and then off the charts” model. He’s All That, The Kissing Booth 3, Vacation Friends, and Afterlife of the Party each only made a spot on the top ten film list for two weeks, earning 10.2, 9.7, 8.6, and 7.9 million total hours respectively. (Good for 50th, 52nd, 61st and 64th rankings of films through the first four weeks respectively.)

- Library Premiere: Netflix - Safe House. Released on 16-Sep, Safe House is the latest library title—initially released in 2012—to skyrocket to the top of the Nielsen film charts. In this case, climbing all the way to second with 5.9 million hours. If you really want to draw a lesson—and be careful with that—I’d say that Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds move product. (I know, groundbreaking conclusion there.)

- Dog Not Barking of the week: Prime Video - The Voyeurs. This Amazon Original failed to chart in its first two weeks. (It was released on Friday 10-Sep, so this is one full week of data.) As a contained thriller, it likely didn’t cost that much to produce, though clearly didn’t resonate. I’ll add, it’s not all bad news for Prime Video this week as they put two different entries on the list. (Cinderella continues to do okay, with a ranking of 28th through 3 weeks.)

- Dog Not Barking candidates. Only two this week since the pace of film releases doesn’t quite match the volume on the TV side. First, Netflix released the interactive title You vs Wild: Out Cold, another in their line of Bear Grylls-featuring choose-your-own adventure titles. Nielsen doesn’t track these type of titles because the interactivity can screw up their audio cues, but given how much hype interactive titles generate for Netflix, I’m curious how well it does. Second Peacock released STX’s My Son, which is build as a semi-improvised film starring James McAvoy. As always, we won’t get Peacock’s actual data, but it’s something so monitor.

Television

It’s official: Squid Game will have a slow burn start. It didn’t make the top ten list for originals this week, but Nielsen reported to outlets that Squid Game generated 3.4 million hours in its first weekend, missing the Top Ten Originals. Here’s the Top 30ish ranks then:

As some folks noted on Twitter, it’s a pretty colorful chart this week, with Prime Video, Disney+ and Hulu each having two or more entries.

The one entry that sticks out is LulaRich on Prime Video. Released on 10-Sep, I had flagged this title as a potential “dog not barking” since it didn’t make the cut last week. And yet here it is! With only four episodes! Not bad. That’s good for 57th place out of 83 season one launches in the data set.

I don’t want to draw too many conclusions from one data point, except to note that LulaRich is about a documentary about a pyramid scheme. Meaning crime. Do we have many, many examples that crime and true crime drive viewership? Oh yes. The lesson seeming to be, that crime pays, at least if you’re a development executive.

Quick Notes on TV

- Premiere: Netflix - Sex Education season 3. Sex Education was one of the earliest recipients of a coveted “Netflix datecdote” way back in January of 2019, when Netflix still reported 70% completion of an episode versus the 2 minute rule they use now. Unfortunately, season 2 came out in January of 2020, too early for Nielsen ratings. Season 3 netted 9.9 million hours in its opening weekend, good for 6th place among season threes in my data set, behind On My Block (19 million hours), CoComelon (10 million) but ahead of The Kominsky Method (8.3 million).

- Premiere: Netflix - Sharkdog. This first season of this animated series debuted to 4 million hours. We don’t have very many kids series in our data set so I’d say this is “fine”. It lags behind Go Dog Go, which netted 4.3 million hours in its season 1 debut and behind Gabby’s Dollhouse, 4.5 million hours. It dropped off the rankings in its second week, which also isn’t unusual for a kids series.

- Among the series we’ve been tracking, Virgin River season 3 finally fell off the ratings charts. Money Heist had a fairly steep drop into its third week, dropping to 3.7 million hours from 9 million. And The Circle, the reality competition series, added more episodes and had a good bounce up from 4.9 million hours to 7.4. We’ll see if it keeps growing.

- Dog Not Barking of the Week. Lately I’ve really enjoyed a new service I provide that few others do: calling out the misses. In the olden days of the streaming wars, no one knew what was what, and streamers could justify almost any series as being “buzzy”. Now, with Nielsen’s data, we know better. I’d put Hulu’s Wu-Tang: An American Sagain the category of series that, in the before times, would have been considered a success. It certainly seemed buzzy to me, and yet season 2 came out on 8-Sep and never made the Nielsen charts. So consider this a miss for Hulu.

- In addition, we can confirm some other Dogs Not Barking from last week. Netflix’s Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space, On The Verge and Metal Shop Masters all missed the ratings. On the kids side, Netflix had Octonauts: Above and Beyond, Kid Cosmic and season four of Pokémon Journeys: The Series not make the list. (That last one is interesting because two years ago Pokémon Go took over America and yet a show on that IP doesn’t rate. Hmmm.) For Disney+, it’s official that Doogie Kameāloha, M.D is a dog not barking.

- Biggest DNB Candidates To Monitor: Either Hulu’s Y: The Last Man or The Morning Show season 2. Based on extraordinarily good IP, if Y: The Last Man can’t deliver that’s a miss for FX-on-Hulu. It only released one episode, so it could grow if it has good word of mouth. As for The Morning Show, after Ted Lasso, this is one of Apple TV+’s more buzzy shows. How do they stack up to Netflix Originals based on Google Trends? Hulu and Apple TV+ execs I’d avert your eyes:

Competition

A new Nielsen Gauge is out this week! And we have some movement for the first time:

Specifically, with the return of little kids everywhere to in-person schooling in America, Netflix and Disney+ both lost 1% of overall usage. This probably has two lessons for it: first, both streamers seem dependent on kids content to drive usage and second, when kids go back to school streaming TV goes down.

Datecdote of the Week

There is an uproar online about Dave Chappelle’s latest special. If you want to learn more, just go on social media. Other outlets can cover that part of the story better, so I’ll focus on the ratings aspect. Bloomberg had a juicy scoop with some hot data. Specifically, 10 million viewers “sampled” in the first 28 days. So let’s do some math. Assuming 80% of the viewing is in the U.S., and 80% watched in the first 5 days, and it had a 70% completion percentage, and it’s run time is 72 minutes, that means…

…my estimate is 5.4 million hours were consumed the first week.

Now all of those assumptions have huge error bars, so I’m likely wrong. We’ll see in four weeks if that special makes the Nielsen ratings.

Anecdata of the Week

Here’s a bit of a shocker for me: the Emmy’s actually saw their ratings go up! Seriously…

Source: Axios.

How about that.

Coming Soon!

Next week, we finally get some Squid Game data to dig our teeth into. Or sharpened beak, if we were a squid. (I know that’s not what the show is about, but I can’t help the puns.) Other fun shows to check out include Foundation, which Richard Rushfield has pondered could be the biggest flop in Hollywood history, Netflix’s Dear White People, Disney+’s Star Wars: Visions and Prime Video’s Goliath.

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