A Final Look at Halloween Scares, Including Five Nights at Freddy’s, A Haunting in Venice and American Horror Stories
The Streaming Ratings Report for 1-Dec-2023
(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.)
Due to the vagaries of when I actually get streaming viewership numbers, the “topic” can feel off for these reports.
For example, most Americans celebrated Thanksgiving last week, but since Nielsen delays their ratings for four weeks (and rightfully took last week off), instead of talking Turkey day viewing, we’re gonna dive deep into Halloween content for the last time in 2023.
Honestly, I don’t really mind a slight delay. (I know Nielsen is working to decrease the four-week gap between viewership and publication, but for now, it’s what we have to work with.) There’s a big focus on being first/timely in the media, when I prefer careful, considered analysis that focuses less on buzz and more on getting things right.
For example, this week, one horror film in particular got a TON of media coverage...but another title did about as well, and I doubt that you could name it. As I find myself repeating every other week, there’s a delta/gap between what’s buzzy in the media/Hollywood entertainment press versus the actual data and ratings.
Overall, we didn’t have a lot of streaming “hits”. Besides Amazon’s Thursday Night Football game, no film or TV show eclipsed the “20 million hour” mark, which is the bare minimum for “big hit” in my experience. Still, we have a lot to cover, including Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and A Haunting In Venice, a bunch of new reality shows, a few of notable film and TV flops, All The Light We Cannot See and Lawman: Bass Reeves, and whole bunch more.
But we start with horror films…
(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 October 23rd to November 5th.)
Film - Horror Update Round II
Let’s play a quick game. Without knowing anything else, which movie do you want to make?
Movie A: With a $38 million budget, this film grossed $268 mill global, but missed the Nielsen charts in its first week of release on streaming, but did make the top of that streamer’s Showlab’s charts. It has an IMDb score of 5.6 on 49K reviews.
Movie B: On a $20 million budget, it grossed $300 million global, and it added 12.3 million hours viewed in its two week according to Nielsen. It has an IMDB score of 5.5 on 73K reviews.
Movie C: On a $50 million budget, it had zero box office, but had 15.7 million hours viewed on streaming in its first two weeks. It has an IMDb score of 6.5 on 29K reviews.
To be fair, the correct answer is also the one you might expect: Five Nights at Freddy’s. (“Movie B” above.) And based on the oodles and oodles of breathless media coverage, that’s what you would have predicted.
How far away is “Movie A” though? Can you even guess what film that is? Did you guess The Nun II? Did you know that it only made 15% less global box office than Five Nights at Freddy’s? Do you even know who's in it? But The Nun II had, what, 5% of the media coverage of Five Nights at Freddy’s?
Always be wary of consensus “media narratives”, as a longer, more sober look might tell you more than exaggerated headlines.
Let’s be clear: Five Nights at Freddy’s is a hit. Maybe not a monster, gigantic hit, but a solid horror hit. (Did you know that Transformers: Rise of the Beasts made more at the U.S. box office? I bet not.) The gold standard is making something for the right price ($20 million budget) and then making your money back (call it at least/around $100 million globally factoring in the exhibitors cut, and a few tens of millions in marketing) in the first window. That’s a great return on your investment.
But we’re not here to talk about box office; we’re here to talk streaming ratings, since both horror films are also great reminders that even “huge” horror hits don’t crush it in streaming ratings. Plus—and this is what I’ve been trying to remind folks all month—in our rush to cover the horror hits, we often forget all the misses, which we’ll check in on today.
The Hits in Film
Let’s start with Five Nights at Freddy’s. It came out on 27-October on both streaming and in theaters. Clearly, Peacock likes the “day-and-date” Halloween horror release, as it’s used that style on the Halloween series of films as well. Five Nights at Freddy’s basically put up similar numbers to The Super Mario Bros. and Halloween Ends (which both debuted to 12 million hours viewed as well):
But here’s the sneaky thing: while Five Nights at Freddy’s isn’t a huge hit overall, through two weeks it’s the biggest pure-horror streaming film in the streaming ratings era.
The Nun II came out on Max on 27-Oct, then missed the Nielsen charts, but made the TV Time charts at third place. It did reach the top of the Showlabs charts for Max, getting over a million unique viewers in its second week:
Admittedly, The Nun II did twice as much global box office as domestic (it only made about $85 million in America), but this shows that even fairly strong horror films can miss the ratings charts.
I’d add, especially looking at these two hit films, horror as a genre tends to have atrocious IMDb reviews. Five Nights at Freddy’s only has a 5.6 on IMDb and The Nun II has an 5.6. (Honestly, when it comes to IMDb and horror films, a “5” might as well be a “7”, as reviews are consistently low.)
Also, while it isn’t “horror”, but more “family scary”, Haunted Mansion remained on the Nielsen film top ten chart for four weeks, an okay run, getting to 39 million hours, 14th out of the 18 Disney theatrical films that have made the Nielsen charts.
The Horror Hits on TV
Speaking of horror, two scripted horror TV shows did well or continued to do well. After three seasons, American Horror Stories finally made the Nielsen charts with 5.5 million hours (after they released four episodes of this mini-season). Without knowing the budget, it’s hard to say if this is a hit or if Hulu/FX got a solid enough return, but at least it made the charts. Again, Hulu struggles to put “originals” on the charts:
The Fall of the House of Usher is on a classic “binge release curve” (my term for the rise and fall of binge-released TV series, especially those that come out on a Thursday or Friday) going from 20.5 million hours its first week to 24.5 in its second and falling to 15.7 million in its third week. Still, this is a great show for Netflix, currently 19th place out of 270 season one and limited series in my dataset, and one of the hit TV shows this fall.
But the misses…
As a reminder, not all horror films are hits. I saw a headline about how horror is the best genre to invest in (and if I ran a studio, I’d certainly invest in it) but you have to know both the hits and the misses. So before your streamer/studio decides, “Hey we need bespoke horror division!” remember a lot of horror titles came out in October which didn’t smash it, including the following which all missed the Nielsen top ten:
The Mill on Hulu
Cobweb on Hulu
Appendage on Hulu
The Boogeryman on Hulu
Totally Killer on Prime Video
Pet Sematary: Bloodlines on Paramount+
Summing It All Up
Let’s summarize this all with two last charts. First, here’s the Nielsen “horror” charts over the last two years, with first run and Pay 1 films:
Again, horror films can do “well”, but they don’t do elite numbers, which on streaming tends to be over 20 million hours or more on debut.
Samba TV has captured a few data points for a lot of the horror films discussed today, and here’s that chart:
But then if add some non-horror films for context, well:
For whatever reasons, horror films have great box office runs, likely because they still have that “event feel” in theaters. But on streaming? They tend not to break into the top 25 overall, and most straight-to-streaming films either miss the charts or under perform. The good news for streaming and theaters is they tend to be cheap. (A lesson Universal failed to learn with their Exorcist reboot.)
When it comes to Halloween, customers want the hits. Though October, quite a few classic or “recent classic" horror titles made one or more of the charts I track including Friday the 13th, It, Scream, Get Out, Us, and Saw. And “scary themed” films did well, like Beetlejuice, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas. In other words, if you want to win the war for Halloween viewers, having a deep library matters as much, if not more than having brand new horror titles. The hope for Peacock is that Five Nights at Freddy’s becomes a classic.
If it were me, and I’m making the decision to invest in horror, my bar is, “Is this good enough to release in theaters?” If it isn’t, honestly, I don’t think I would make it.
Quick Notes on Film
A few “theatrical” films—meaning they premiered in theaters before streaming—took over the charts this week. Just like it “won” June, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse also won the film charts for the week of 30-Oct, grabbing 18.9 million hours from its Tuesday debut. In total hours terms, that’s good enough for 33rd among feature film debut weeks. It also made $381 million domestically, so this is an example of a film that probably lost some streaming viewership to theatrical and home video viewing. (Which is fine for Sony! You make more money on those windows!)
Another new theatrical title was A Haunting in Venice on Hulu. While not actually a horror title—it’s another of the (my personal opinion) super fun Agatha Christie/Hercules Poirot/Kenneth Branagh mystery films—it has horror elements, which likely helped it get 4.9 million hours viewed in its first weekend. For Hulu, it’s good to even make the charts. Unlike Across the Spider-Verse, A Haunting didn’t have oodles of box office to its name, only $42 million domestic and $112 million globally.
Perhaps the oddest “theatrical” title was Knights of the Zodiac, a live-action film adapted from a Japanese Manga that only made $1 million domestically and came to Netflix in the Pay 1 window. It has a fairly miserable 4.4 on 10K IMDb reviews…and it had a $60 million budget! Plus stars like Sean Bean and Famke Janssen! It made the Nielsen chart for only one week at 4.4 million hours viewed.
On the straight-to-streaming film front, the story was films “based on a true story”. I read an article recently about the boom in acquiring life rights, magazine articles, true crime podcast, and other “true life IP” during the pandemic, and while I don’t doubt the boom happened, I wonder if it will pay off. For example, Netflix’s Pain Hustlers debuted to only 9.1 million hours on Nielsen. (Samba TV put it at 1 million hours in its first three days.) That’s good, but not elite. Meanwhile Nyad, a biopic with Oscar aspirations, missed the Nielsen charts, though it will later make the Samba TV Top Ten charts. So…yeah. I mean not huge business for “based on a true story” films. And Pain Hustlers reportedly cost $50 million to make!
As for films from previous weeks, No Hard Feelings indeed had a huge jump to 18.8 million hours, then dropped to 6.5 million hours in a big “binge release curve”. Through two weeks, it just passes Old Dads. Meanwhile, Elemental continues to just chug along for Disney. Those are total hours, but here’s the “viewership per day” (remember, per day) that I publish each week:
For the week of 23-Oct, not much stood out. Perhaps the most notable miss was the latest South Park special on Paramount+, South Park: Joining the Panderverse, but it’s short and on a small streamer. Otherwise, it was all unscripted documentaries like Prime Video’s Hot Potato: The Story of the Wiggles, Paramount+’s Milli Vanilli, Netflix’s OneFour: Against All Odds, and two standup specials, Netflix’s Pete Holmes: I Am Not for Everyone and Prime Video’s Zainab Johnson: Hijabs Off.
For the week of 30-Oct, man, there were a bunch of high profile film flops. Like Quiz Lady, an Awkwafina/Will Ferrell/Sandra Oh comedy about a woman who goes on a game show. I have no idea how or why Disney relegated this movie to the straight-to-streaming Hulu memory hole; I’d have tried to release it in theaters. Netflix’s Locked In(a seemingly inexpensive thriller also starring Famke Jansenn) did really well globally, but missed the U.S. charts. Disney+ had the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Ceremony, but Nielsen doesn’t usually provide data in their reports for live events so I don’t know how it performed. Finally, Apple TV+ had another quirky indie film, Fingernails, a movie about a world where you pull off a fingernail and find out if someone is your soulmate. That’s the actual pitch. I think Quiz Lady deserves the “win” for miss of the week.
As for other candidates, Netflix had a documentary about Sylvester Stallone, but unlike his rival Arnold Schwarzenegger—whose TV show and doc made the charts last spring—Sly’s documentary, Sly, didn’t make the charts. Neither of Hulu’s low budget Christmas films, A Christmas Frequency or Reporting for Christmas, made the charts, but that’s not a big deal. And two Netflix standup specials, Ralph Barbosa: Cowabunga and The Improv: 60 and Still Standing didn’t make the cut.