Dun Dun...Dun Dun...Dun Dun...Shark Week is Back and Sharkier (And More Profitable) Than Ever
The Streaming Ratings Report for 25-Aug-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. Subscribe here.)
This week’s viewership disappointed me a pinch.
On paper, it certainly looked like a beast. The second part of The Witcher’s third season on Netflix. Good Omens finally returning on Prime Video. Twisted Metal (based on the classic video game) debuting on Peacock. And a reboot of Futurama on Hulu. That’s a lot of popular IP!
Again, that was all on paper. In reality, the top show this week is none of those series. And a bunch of films, both theatrical titles and straight-to-streaming movies, underwhelmed. That’s why we’re kicking off this week with talk about…sharks!
Next week may be more of the same, but honestly I can’t wait to see what happens. There will be a showdown between three shows that have never made the Nielsen charts, but all are critically acclaimed: Netflix’s Heartstopper, Apple TV+’s Physical and Hulu’s Reservation Dogs.
So let’s do a poll. How many of the shows above will make the Nielsen charts?
Last note before we dive in. I’ve had a crazy few weeks, and I have a few emails in my inbox I want to respond to. Know that I read every email I receive, but I can’t promise I can respond to every email. Also, I save any corrections for big “what I got right/wrong” articles, which should be coming in the next few weeks.
(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 July 24th to July 30th.)
Television - Shark Week Vs. Shark Fest Vs. Pachinko Vs. Tiny Beautiful Things
It’s the middle of summer and you know what that means!
That’s Discovery Channel’s hit “cable programming event” which actually holds the “record” for longest running cable programming event. Here’s what that looks like:1
Did it work? You tell me:
That’s right, the opening night of Shark Week, hosted by Jason Momoa, had 5.3 (mostly male) viewers, and it also did well with young people and young women.
And it’s not like these are pricey shows. I watched one of these specials with my dad and we saw the same clip five times.
Plus there’s cross promotion, including a special, Jaws vs. The Meg (I’m guessing that the Meg won?), and according to Variety, “TBS, TNT, TruTV, TLC, Food Network, HGTV, CNN, Travel Channel, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Animal Planet, Science Channel, ID, TCM...are also airing Shark Week-inspired content or cross-promoting the event.” Of course, these shark shows all came to Max and Discovery+ the same/next day, a dual-cast strategy I love.
(To be clear: we won’t get streaming ratings for these shows, since they’re on the “acquired charts” and these one-hour-long specials are competing with TV shows with dozens or hundreds of episodes, like Suits and Bluey.)
Not to be outdone, NatGeo (pretty shamelessly) copied Discovery Channel’s strategy (instead of, say, trying to do “Big Cats” week or something; don’t people want more weeks themed around violent animals?) launching “SharkFest” a few weeks earlier. (And those shows came to Hulu and Disney+ the next/same day too.)
If I had to deliver a really hot take, it’s this: people like silly things.
If I’m being a bit cruder, people like dumb things. Like Shark Week. Or shows titled “Raiders of the Lost Shark”, myself included. Heck, I want to watch that show about alien sharks.
In the last few years, a lot of people have been complaining about blockbusters, specifically superhero films. And I’ve read a lot of op-eds this summer about how Hollywood doesn’t make ground-breaking, edgy projects anymore. There’s not enough Pachinko’s or Tiny Beautiful Things or Dear Edwards.2 So my question is this:
Do you think the streamers haven’t been making edgy, prestige, pricey dramas, dramedies and documentaries?
Or that they’re making too many “Shark Week”-type programs?
The streamers actually are making the very thing that everyone in town wants to make, shows like Life & Beth, Fleischman is in Trouble, and so on. (Or they were, until the streaming bubble started popping.) But they still aren’t making their own, very-low-cost nature programs, like Great White Fight Club, yet. Instead, they’re making pricey nature docs. (Including mega-budget nature docs with CGI dinosaurs. How many one-hour shark specials could you make for the cost of Prehistoric Planet? 50? 100?)
Turns out, some people like TV shows and films even if they’re not high-end or even that good. Like Hallmark/Lifetime-style holiday films, true crime docs, and police procedurals. Many people just want to be entertained and, at times, that bar is way, way lower than many people in Hollywood think it is.
I’m not being elitist or anti-elitist or populist here. I’m a content-maximalist. It’s a big world out there. Some people want A24 prestige films. Other people want anime. A lot of people want sports or police procedurals. And some people want documentaries about sharks. Like Haunting at Shark Manor. (A real show!) And that’s okay.
For the right price, you could make anything. And that’s where “Shark Week” succeeds. In the grand scheme of things, 5 million viewers isn’t crazy high—roughly 1.5% of America—but it’s more than enough to justify costs of making the “longest running cable programming event” each year.
So bring on Cocaine Shark!
Quick Notes on TV
Futurama is the perfect example of a show that will stymie my weekly ratings charts. Most new shows have a small number of episodes so we can compare them to each other fairly easily. In this case, Hulu ordered twenty new episodes (smart!), but these new episodes are counted by Nielsen along with the previous 145 episodes in the series, so making an “apples-to-apples” comparison to other streaming shows isn’t really possible because few “original” streaming shows have that many episodes. At 8.4 million hours, it’s good Hulu got an Original on the charts, but that’s still not a huge number, especially for what is likely a lot of catch-up viewing. (P.S. Hulu is releasing this series weekly. That’s smart, but why did this go weekly while The Bear was binge-released? I’ll never know.)
Speaking of lackluster debuts, Good Omens finally returned for its second season (the first came out in 2019…before Covid-19!) and it only debuted to 7.4 million hours on Nielsen. Showlabs also had it on the low end, with only 1.9 million hours. (See the Showlabs chart below for a comparison to The Summer I Turned Pretty.) Combined with only one week on the TV Time charts, and I’d say this show likely disappointed Prime Video this time around. (It’s IMDb scores, on the other hand, remains very good, an 8.0 on 99K reviews.) I saw at least one headline that called this a “hit show” and I’m not really seeing evidence for that. It’s not a flop, but I wouldn’t call it a hit either.
The Witcher’s second batch of episodes continued its downward slide, going from 21.8 million hours when it came out earlier in July, to only 14.5 million hours this time around. Again, there were fewer episodes, but this show really isn’t showing a lot of signs that it’s gaining viewers.3 Samba TV had similar numbers; the new batch of episodes only had 600K households watch, down 32% from the batch of episodes released earlier in the month. (Unique households, you’d note, aren’t impacted by the number of episodes.)
Lastly, Too Hot To Handle fell off the Nielsen ratings charts, but stayed on the Showlabs charts, with 4.8 million unique viewers.
Sweet Magnolias is the big winner of the week. It had 23.7 million hours in its second week of release. Its third season also was on top of the Samba TV charts in terms of unique households tuning in. This show is a good example of the difference between “buzz” and “viewership”. In terms of buzz, it has a lackluster TV Time score (only two weeks on the charts), only has 23K IMDb reviews, and no one is writing articles about it. In terms of ratings, it won the week. (Compare that IMDb score to The Peripheral, which Amazon recently cancelled, but it has 73K reviews! That’s the “genre” gap in a nutshell.)
I forgot to mention Special Ops: Lioness, the new spy series from Paramount+ from (you guessed it) Tyler Sheridan last week. It came out on a Sunday, so I wanted to see if it would make any rankings charts. Special Ops: Lioness missed Nielsen and Samba TV this week, though it will make Samba TV’s unique households chart next week. Its release style was a fun departure, as it debuted on both the Paramount Channel and Paramount+. I love that experimentation. Right now Lioness only has a 7.6 on 9.6K reviews, which isn’t great, but sometimes folks review a series after the season ends, so we’ll check back on it. Oh, and Paramount Global tossed us a “datecdote” that Special Ops: Lioness bested Halo for best global debut in 24 hours on Paramount+: