Do Spinoffs Work in Streaming?
The Streaming Ratings Report for 2-Jun-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.)
This week saw a lot of big swings in streaming, but mostly, scratch that, entirely, on the TV side. We had no major streaming “Original” films, which cleared the way for a theatrical title from Sony starring GDAT1 Tom Hanks. (Next week, though, a bunch of big films are headed to streaming; once again I question the wisdom of some of the streamers’ programming decisions.)
On the TV side, the big swing of the week is a Bridgerton spinoff, Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, which got me wondering, how do spinoffs fare in our streaming TV ecosystem? I dove into that question, plus we keep an eye out for Citadel, Amazon’s uber-pricey spy show, to see if it finally made the charts. Same goes for Bupkis, Pete Davidson’s new Peacock show. Or Apple TV+’s expensive-looking Silo. All that plus the second weeks of Firefly Lane and Sweet Tooth, A Man Called Otto, UK coronation ratings, 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 May 1st to May 7th.)
Television - Do Spinoffs Work in Streaming?
When we think of “sequels” we usually think feature films, where sequels reign supreme. I don’t think I even need to make a list of examples, since everyone reading can rattle off a dozen sequels off the top of their head. Heck, this year alone we have sequels from the John Wick, Mission Impossible, Transformers, Fast and the Furious and The Guardians of the Galaxy franchises. (I guess I did make a list…)
Sequels fall under “category 1” of my list of IP from last week’s issue. And since I love defining things, here are some definitions of IP based on popular films and TV shows:
Sequel - A film or series that directly follows the plot of a previous film.
Spinoff - A film featuring characters from another film or series in a new story.
Prequel - A film featuring characters or locations at an earlier point in time.
Films in the same “Universe” - Films set in the same universe, sometimes without similar characters.
We usually think about movies when it comes to sequels, plus TV doesn’t really have true sequels, since each season is basically a “sequel”. (There is one exception I can think of that just happened, which is Yellowstone. It’s getting a “sequel” series partly so that Kevin Costner can depart the show and so that it can stream on Paramount+.)
But TV love its “spinoffs”. I’m not a broadcast TV historian like some industry observers, but even I know that Frasierwas a spinoff of Cheers. Same for Happy Days, which spawned seven spinoffs including Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy and Joanie Loves Chachi. In the 2000s, CBS perfected art of the spinoff, as NCIS and CSI spinoffs became legion. NBC has a family of “Law and Order” series as well, and the Chicago series now, both from Dick Wolf.
Inevitably, this trend came to streaming, but since streaming hasn’t been around for as long, it doesn’t have as many examples…yet. Off the top of my head,2 I’d say the biggest examples are:
The Witcher: Blood Origins (from The Witcher)
House of the Dragon (from Game of Thrones)
Boba Fett (a spinoff of The Mandalorian)3
1923, Tulsa King and 1883 (from the Yellowstone universe)4
How I Met Your Father (from How I Met Your Mother)
The Boys Presents: Diabolical (from The Boys)
Queen Charlotte: A Bridgeton Story (as the title suggest, Bridgerton)
That last title premiered this week, and it did pretty well, topping 30 million hours in its first four days, after a Thursday release.
We can compare this new spinoff to previous Bridgerton rollouts, and it performed really well:
The only caveat, if forced to find one, is that the first season of Bridgeton came out a whopping two and a half years ago, and Netflix has grown in usage since then. The caveat to that caveat is that Bridgerton’s first season had the benefit of a Christmas binge release. Still, Queen Charlotte had the biggest launch of a recent TV series on streaming:
That said, this spinoff is also much shorter than previous seasons, only clocking in at six episodes. At a 7.1 on 32K reviews, I’d also say it’s doing just fine. It only had a three week run on TV Time, but as I’ve said a few times recently, that doesn’t worry me as much for Netflix, since I think customers use services like TV Time or Just Watch to find shows on all the streamers not named Netflix. Why? Because so many people already have Netflix, they know what’s on it. We’ll see how it fares into its second week, but because of the shorter length I doubt it catches either of the previous two seasons.
Overall, I do think the spinoffs have a lower ceiling than their predecessors:
Boba Fett did well in the ratings, but didn’t nearly match The Mandalorian in terms of viewership.
Same for House of the Dragon. (Though honestly, maybe one other show was as big as Game of Thrones in the 2010s!)
1923, Tulsa King and 1883 did very well for Paramount+, but that pales in comparison to Yellowstone, which is also a ratings monster on par with Game of Thrones and Stranger Things.
While not a streaming title, Better Call Saul is on the acquired charts this week, and while it never caught Breaking Bad, it was one of the most popular scripted shows on cable, so also a hit.
How I Met Your Father has so far missed the Nielsen ratings charts, but it’s done very, very well on the TV Time charts.
Really, The Witcher: Blood Origin is the only live-action spinoff to utterly fail to launch. The Boys Presents: Diabolicalalso did poorly— it didn’t make any ratings charts, thus a “DNB”— but it’s animated and I’ve written before about how animation has a much lower ceiling than live-action, right? (See Disney’s animated MCU and Star Wars series for evidence of that.)
Though looking at that track record, you understand why studios love spinoffs. Sure, you won’t hit the same highs as the predecessor in most cases, but the hit rate is that much higher.
Coming up, we’ll see more spinoffs. Netflix has already announced a spinoff series from Ryan Murphy in the “Monster” franchise, and Amazon has a spinoff to The Boys coming called Gen V for later this year. Stranger Things, meanwhile, is getting an animated spinoff. And of course we’ll see more Game of Thrones spinoffs, including Dunk and Egg, a series I’m very excited for. (Technically, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.)5 Meanwhile, Paramount+ is basically the Star Trek/Yellowstone streamer.
Quick Notes on TV
The most interesting story in the rest of the ratings data isn’t on the Nielsen or Showlabs charts, as it usually is, but on TV Time, where Apple TV+ is on a heck of a run (for them). Ted Lasso has been the top show for five straight weeks, a phenomenal run for an Apple TV+ show. I’ve seen some chatter of the “Why is no one talking about this show?” variety and I’d point out in most of the data, Ted Lasso is as strong as ever. (Do you want me to do a mini-dive on Apple TV+? Fine, I’ll write that idea down in my article ideas list, but that list is very long!)