Four Big TV Shows End Their Runs, Plus Avatar: The Way of Water Opens Big
The Streaming Ratings Report for 7-July-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.)
I hope all my American readers had as relaxing and enjoyable a Fourth of July holiday as I did. As I wrote last issue, I decided to delay last week’s streaming ratings report not only because of the holiday, but also because the two weeks we’re covering in this issue—reminder, the weeks starting 29-May and 5-June—were a pinch light on major launches. There were some interesting new movies (HBO’s Reality, Peacock’s Shooting Stars and Magic Mike 3) the week of 29-March, but nothing huge, though Avatar: The Way of Water, which came out the week of 5-Jun, is one of the biggest films of all time. The most notable new TV series were either HBO’s The Idol (which hasn’t made the charts yet) and Manifeston Netflix.
I’ll be candid: whenever I combine two reports into one…we have a LOT to cover. A ton. So let’s get right into it, starting with the big new movies, then looking at a few TV series which all ended their runs in the same week: Ted Lasso, Succession, Barry and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Which show took the crown for “returning prestige show of Q2 of 2023”?
That, plus some fun surprises over the last two weeks, including a surprising Prime Video show of the moment, Flamin’ Hot’s equally-surprising run on both Disney+ and Hulu, some surprising foreign titles, along with all the flops, bombs and misses for the last two weeks—including another star-studded Apple TV+ show—the 76th Annual Tony Awards, Yellowjackets, 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 29th to June 11th.)
Film - The Latest “Theatrical vs Streaming” Check In
The month of June will provide some fun additional data points to help continue to refine the big question, “Does going to theaters help or hurt streaming viewership?” In next week’s report— covering the week of 12-June—Netflix will release Extraction 2, as they continue to double down on the “streaming-only” strategy and basically try to prove me wrong. (I expect that film to be big.)
Meanwhile, in this week’s report, we get to see the upside of the theatrical-first strategy, if a film is a big hit. Indeed of the twenty films on the streaming films charts over the last two weeks, only two were “straight-to-streaming”: The Mother and Flamin’ Hot.
It’s a hit-driven business, and Disney+/Max have the latest hit in Avatar: The Way of Water:
That’s a top five opening of all time and no surprise, it comes from one of the biggest domestic theatrical titles of all time.
But hey, context. Avatar: The Way of Water came out on both HBO Max and Disney+, so it had twice the distribution of a normal Disney+ film. Plus it has a long, long, long runtime,1 and it came out on a Wednesday, so it’s “viewership per day” is lower than other titles. Of these factors, the extra days really gave it a boost in its first week. For example, here’s the “viewership per day” chart of recent releases, and you can see that Avatar: The Way of Water lags The Mother in VPD on launch:
Disney would likely counter that between theatrical, home entertainment sales (Avatar: The Way of Water has been available to rent for a few months now, and on top of the DEG rentals/sales charts too) and HBO linear viewing, this performance is excellent.
Furthering the thesis that theatrical helps drive streaming, Disney put a lot of hype and marketing behind Flamin’ Hot and released it on both Hulu and Disney+…but it only debuted to 4.9 million hours.
Of course, Disney+ and Hulu separately have had quite a few films that went straight-to-streaming and didn’t show up on any charts, so even getting 4.9 million hours is better than being a “dog not barking”. And it (presumably)2 wasn’t very expensive to make, but it’s not like 4.9 million hours is enough (even for Hulu) to say, “Wow, this film crushed it!” While the film isn’t beloved by fans (only a 6.9 on under 10K reviews on IMDb), I do wonder if a theatrical campaign could have still netted $20-50 million in domestic box office. Yes, yes, “the marketing spend” counter-argument. I still saw plenty of marketing for this movie, so I don’t know that this film didn’t get a marketing push anyways.
Here’s the film’s viewership compared to other Hulu films (even though it was released on Disney+ too, this graph is simpler to understand):
But not all the news is great for the "send your films to theaters" thesis. Creed III came out on Prime Video, and only debuted to 3.6 million hours, which is low for Prime Video. Given that the film did well in theaters ($156 million in domestic box office) and Amazon now owns MGM, this performance seems on the light side to me. The Showlabs data says something similar (Creed III lagged behind the foreign title My Fault in the charts) and so does the TV Time data (only on the charts for two weeks). In this case, I think you could argue that the theatrical run sucked up some of the interested compared to if this film had debuted straight-to-streaming. But again, did MGM make more money in theaters? Yes.
At least Creed III made the charts. Two other theatrical titles did not.
First up, Magic Mike’s Last Dance on Max. With only $57 million at the box office, one week on the TV Time charts, and a 5.3 on 12K reviews on IMDb, this movie very quietly underperformed.
The same goes for Renfield ($17 million domestic box office), the Nicolas Cage horror comedy came to Peacock 56 days after it flopped in theaters. It only made the TV Time charts, so we can call this a miss too. In this case, I think you can see what worries Netflix: if a film flops in theaters, it may have lower streaming upside. Meanwhile, Netflix seems to be able to launch quite a few straight-to-streaming films on their platform. (Well, except kids films.)
The simplest explanation is that streaming performance is correlated with theatrical performance: bigger, buzzier films in theaters have longer, higher runs on streaming, in general. The correlation, of course, isn’t perfect: some huge films actually get more theatrical viewing than streaming (Top Gun: Maverick and maybe Avatar 2) whereas some smaller films have had very successful second runs on streaming (Bullet Train, A Man Called Otto, and a lot of the Universal titles on Peacock).
The “theatrical-to-streaming” pipeline is, of course, in full swing now. Which brings up an interesting question I’ve been toying with.
We all know—at least the likely industry readers of this newsletter—that Netflix has two “Pay 1” windows for film: Sony films after they go to theaters and Universal films after a four month run on Peacock. Well, we got news this week that The Super Mario Bros. will land on Peacock on 3-August. So that means the biggest kids film of the year will land on Netflix in December! A huge month for streaming ratings. Meanwhile, Spider-Man: Across the Spiderverse could land later this fall.
So here’s my poll for the audience: which film do we think will be Netflix’s streaming film biggest this year, in terms of total hours in America?
Quick Notes on Film
For me, the biggest film surprise for the weeks of 29-May and 5-June, was My Fault (Culpa Mia) from Prime Video making the Nielsen charts. It also made TV Time, meaning it genuinely had some buzz. Scanning my charts, this is the few foreign language films to make TV Time charts along with Through My Window, 365 Days trilogy, Troll, and some anime films. Actually, Prime Video had surprising success with foreign originals this week, as French Amazon Original Medellin also made the Showlabs charts for two weeks (with only 390K and 510K unique viewers).
The rest of the film chart—besides the few films I discussed up above—were mostly library titles like We’re The Millers, Dirty Grandpa and The Angry Bird Movie. Also, the film To Leslie, whose lead actress, Andrea Riseborough, was got a Oscar nod, made the Nielsen charts with 4.6 million hours—but missed the Showlabs charts—after showing up on Netflix on 1-June. 2016’s The Choice—a library title—also made the Nielsen charts after showing up on 1-June too. By the way, two of these films (Dirty Grandpa and The Choice) have Metacritic scores in the 20s. Critical reviews aren’t everything, but usually they aren’t that far off...
A few other films had short runs I wanted to call out. Air on Prime Video only lasted four weeks on the charts, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania had a three week run, as did Dungeons and Dragon: Honor Among Thieves, and Shazam! Fury of the Gods had a miserable two week run.
As for the misses, HBO’s original film, Reality, about Reality Winter and starring Sydney Sweeney, didn’t make the charts. Shooting Stars, a biopic about a young Lebron James, on Peacock, only has 1.2K reviews on IMDb despite a reported $25 million budget. That’s way, way too much money for a direct-to-streaming film, and I’d venture a guess that whenever Peacock starts pulling TV shows and films, this is first on the list. Also the Max/CNN Film’s American Pain, a true crime documentary missed the charts.
Television - Four Weekly Series Bid Adieu: Succession, Barry, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Ted Lasso (Probably)
In his Screentime newsletter, Sonny Bunch pointed out that a few major streaming/premium scripted series ended in May:
Succession - Season four ended on 28-May.
Barry - Season four ended on 28-May.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel - Season five ended on 26-May.
Ted Lasso - Season three ended* on 31-May.3
That’s enough of a coincidence to warrant a mini-deep dive for all four of these series. (Well, three of them at least, since Barry never made the streaming ratings charts.) And since I like to check in on shows—especially series that come out weekly—after their runs, I’m also going to include the latest season of The Mandalorian. How many of these shows were hits? And if they’re hits, how big of hits are they?
Looking at the data, I’d say all these shows did well; it’s really varying degrees of “wellness” that we’re looking at.