How Often Do Shows Make the Ratings Charts After a Slow Start?
The Streaming Ratings Report for 1-Sep-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’ve been waiting to see if the pace of new releases on streaming services is going to slow down, for obvious (strike-related) reasons. The shuttering of new production and the inability to sign new deals, at some point, will impact the release calendar, and I want to identify that as soon as it's happening.
But the data is noisy. In a couple of weeks, we’ll have a week where there are hardly any major new shows came out, so that would obviously seem to imply the strike is impacting release schedule.
Then look at this week. There are six major shows all vying for viewers attention including two Netflix shows (Heartstopper and The Lincoln Lawyer), one Apple TV+ (Physical), one Hulu (Reservation Dogs), one Prime Video (The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart) and a premiere HBO drama (Winning Time). That’s a lot of content for the first week of August! This is supposed to be a new TV dead zone.
Meaning we have a lot to get to in this week’s Streaming Ratings Report. But before we start, some fun ESG shout outs in other places and a correction.
First, I was quoted by one of my favorite analysts/reporters out there, Scott Mendelson, in The Wrap, on the topic of straight-to-streaming versus theatrical titles. Also, Sonny Bunch’s wonderful podcast, Across The Movie Aisle, discussed the WGA strike and streaming ratings, and also referenced my work. Both are good reads/listens!
Second, a quick correction. A few articles back I said that the data company Luminate was owned by Penske media. I was slightly off: Penske and Eldridge are investors in Luminate for undisclosed amounts, but Luminate is independently operated.
(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 31st to August 6th.)
Television - “Slow Burning” Hits Revisited
A few weeks back, I called Hijack one of my misses of the first half of the year for Apple TV+. Then last week, I pointed out that Hijack made the Samba TV charts, so it probably wasn’t a miss. Well, take a gander at the Nielsen top ten charts this week:
It’s official! Hijack is NOT a miss!
One data source was probably enough to prove it, but two? It’s doubly proved, if you will. Showing up in its sixth (and final) week of release with 6 million hours really does show that this show built its audience over time, the gold standard for any successful TV show. And yes, Apple TV+ needed this, as this makes it the—checks database, then double checks—only the second show to make the Nielsen Original charts for Apple TV+. Ever.
In my defense, this is an incredibly rare phenomenon. I checked my data set for season one (or limited) series that didn’t make the rankings until week three or later, and here are the shows I found, in chronological order:
Hulu’s Dopesick in week five with 3.6 million hours (Nov-2021)
Prime Video’s The Peripheral in week six with 6.6 million hours (Nov-2022)
Disney+’s National Treasure: Edge of History in weeks six with 4.9 million hours (Jan-2023)
Prime Video’s Daisy Jones & the Six in week four with 5.6 million hours (Feb-2023)
Apple TV+’s Hijack in week six with 6.0 million hours (July-2023)
Here’s that in chart form for the folks who prefer visuals:1
When I wrote that it was rare for slow growing hits to happen with The Bear at the end of June, I meant it. There are 255 season one or limited series that have made a Nielsen Top Ten Original list, and there are wayyyyyy more shows that never made a top ten list period.
Only 5 showed up after week three or later.
So when a show doesn’t make the chart, at least 98% of the time it never makes the charts. But as The Peripheral, Dopesick, Daisy Jones, National Treasure and Hijack show, not all is lost. (To emphasize, many more shows never made the Nielsen charts period, so the actual rate is even smaller.)2
Now for the “that said”.
All that said, just because these shows built audiences, they’re not hits. These shows rank 250th, 204th, 230th, 220th and 213th respectively out of the 255 shows in the data set. That’s an average of 87th percentile…which is low! It probably says something that two of the above shows have been cancelled (The Peripheral and National Treasure), and the other three are limited series (Dopesick, Daisy Jones and Hijack).
When I wrote about The Bear back in July/June, I worried then that everyone is going to learn the wrong lesson from this. If your show misses the charts for the first two weeks, the creators/fans/development execs will simply say, “Oh, our show is the next Daisy Jones or Hijack!”
Plus, to make the charts late, your show better come out weekly. All five shows above came out weekly. In fact, if a binge-released series doesn’t make the Nielsen charts in the first two weeks, we’ve never seen it show up later. (And since Netflix binge releases everything, they’ve never had a show make the charts after the first two weeks.)
Again, if your show misses the charts for two weeks, you have an 2% chance it shows up later. You have better odds rolling snake eyes (2.78%) then your show making the Nielsen charts if it missed its first two weeks (1.96%). However, if we just look at “weekly released shows”, the odds do go up slightly, as we have only had 36 weekly series make the Nielsen charts. So you have a 14% chance! Which is still not very good. (About the same odds as rolling a one on a six-sided die.)
But…Could There Be Some Other Slow Growing Hits in Our Future?
This week, we have at least five shows that would love to be the next Hijack, showing up wayyyyyy late on the Nielsen viewership charts. (Reminder: a 2% chance.) I even made a poll last week about three of these shows and whether we’d see them make the charts this week:3
To start with the likely clear miss, Physical on Apple TV+ hasn’t made ANY chart I track. It’s the “dog not barking” and flop of the week. I’m actually a pretty big Rose Byrne fan—especially her work on Damages—but this show doesn’t show any signs of making the chart in its third (third!) season. (On IMDb it has a good 7.3, but only on 11K reviews.) As a reminder, this show isn’t a hit, despite press releases from Apple claiming otherwise:
Next, Reservation Dogs probably won’t make the charts either. Like Physical, this show is “buzzy” and easily one of the most critically acclaimed shows of the last three years, but it isn’t a hit. And is likely a flop, viewership/ratings-wise. Its TV Time score is really low (only two weeks at 9th place), and it hasn’t made the Samba TV weekly charts either. And while it hasn’t been “cancelled”, it is ending after this season.
Up next, Foundation probably won’t make the charts either. While the above two shows were “new releases” this week, Foundation has been out for four weeks now. So why include it in this list? Because I can’t quit Foundation. Again, it might be one of the top five most expensive shows made this year. Just look at the trailer! (Prime Video’s Citadel is number one, obviously, and some other Apple TV+ shows are vying for this crown, like Extrapolation. Netflix’s The Witcher is a candidate too, along with Disney+ Secret Invasion.)
Like Reservation Dogs, Foundation never made the Samba TV charts, but it’s done slightly better than Reservation Dogs in the TV Time rankings, making it for six weeks, but though it never peaked as high as Hijack, which made it to second place on TV Time. So Foundation has a better chance to make the charts than Reservation Dogs, but I’d bet against it.
That brings us to the most confusing show of the week, Heartstopper, which missed the TV Time ratings charts so couldn’t be included above. Unlike the other buzzy shows on this list, it actually did top one of the viewership charts I track, Showlabs by Plum Research:4