Is Manifest The “G.O.A.T.” Of Streaming?

The Streaming Ratings Report for 30-July-21

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Here’s a funny feature of NBC’s Olympic coverage:

Everyone is the greatest athlete in the history of athletics.

I don’t want to call out specific athletes. That’s not nice. But if you watched the introduction, featuring The Rock, you’d be forgiven for thinking that not only were these American athletes the best America has to offer, they were the best athletes to ever step on a sporting field or track or pool!

The reality is more nuanced. Some athletes are the best in the world right now, some are in the running for the greatest of all time, and some are just competing. To distinguish between them, though, you have to pause for a moment and look up the historical results. That takes time and who wants to have their bubble burst? It’s much more fun to just believe. 

Streaming ratings aren’t much different. As creatures of the moment, we love to take the hottest title on Netflix and go overboard. For the last few weeks, I’ve been fending off a similar short term thinking. “Look at Manifest,” a hypothetical readers says, “with 41.6 million hours viewed! In one week! Surely this is a performance of streaming we’ve never seen before!”

In truth, Manifest is a hit for Netflix. Have no doubt. Is it the biggest show of all time, upending all the business models? Well let’s see what the data says…

(Reminder: The streaming ratings report compiles data from Nielsen’s weekly top ten viewership ranks, Netflix datecdotes, Top Ten lists, Google Trends and IMDb to determine the most popular content. While most data points are current, Nielsen’s data covers the weeks of June 28th to July 4th.)

Television

To start, here are the last six weeks of new first run and second run series on all the streamers:

For June and probably July, the clear streaming series winner is Manifest. It’s crushing it. To continue the Olympic analogy, for this two week period it’s the best athlete in the world. The gold medalist.

But is it the best Olympic medalist of all time? Without some context, you get some hot takes saying that. I think two charts provide tons of nuance:

That’s a curated list of top season releases on Netflix of series with multiple seasons. I love this look, for two reasons. First, it puts Manifest’s performance over similar weeks of release in context. Second, I’m the only one who makes charts like this.

For all the (again deserved) applause for Manifest, this chart shows that, in the US, Ozark season 3 remains Netflix’s best season performance on record. (Again, records go back to March of 2020.) Since they have similar number of episodes, (30 and 29) this a good comp. In other words, if Manifest is Suni Lee (all-around gold medal winner, congrats!), then Ozark is Simone Biles.

Like I said, some nuance. Going further, it’s also tough to compare different series on Netflix given the different release times. Other Netflix series had, simply put, tougher competition. Like The Crown S4, which started even stronger, but then dropped off as Netflix released multiple top series and films, like Bridgerton and Cobra Kai. Further, this is Manifest’s first time on the platform; if you add up Lucifer or Cobra Kai’s multiple seasons together, they would be higher than Manifest’s 29 episodes dropping at once.

Then again, look at how steady Manifest’s decay has been. This is a series that folks seem to not just be starting, but finishing. It’s a remarkable hold on the viewership. Here’s the weekly Top Ten list in the US, and you can see how steady it is.

Add it all up, and yes this show is a hit for Netflix. One of their best over the last year. 

Does it benefit from having lots and lots of episodes? Yes, but that’s the goal!

A goal that takes time and investment. Which is the biggest question for Netflix still. For example, Ginny & Georgia, Firefly Lane and The Umbrella Academy all had ten episode opening seasons. Meaning it would take 3 years at a minimum, (and likely over four) to match Manifest’s 29 episodes. For a show like Shadow and Bone, which had an 8 episode initial outing, it could be six years before it has as many episodes as Manifest has. That’s the power of the broadcast-length season. 

Let’s move to that second chart. 

Frankly, Bosch is the type of show I think more streamers need: police, legal or medical dramas with 50+ episodes. 

Yet, even with more episodes, Bosch is being walloped by Manifest.

So is Bosch a bomb? I wish I knew. Frankly, the question I’d love to know is how many new customers watch a season vs how many have already watched. (If you watched seasons one through six of Bosch, you would start from season seven.) To further defend Prime Video, they’re far from being a nightly must-use service. Netflix has the “tune in” factor meaning, folks know when new stuff drops because they’re on Netflix anyways. Maybe The Tomorrow War (see below!) helps bring in lapsed Prime Video uses and Bosch sees an uptick next week. Though I doubt it.

So this is additional context that Manifest is a hit, and a hit in a way that rival streamers can’t currently rival. 

Of course, this is far from the last thing we need to and will write on Manifest. We have tons of questions to keep answering, but the plan is to parcel them out among multiple streaming ratings reports and visuals of the week. But I want to answer one right now:

So yes, long term Netflix wants and needs to own more of their top titles. That means having their shows outperform licensed broadcast titles like Manifest. Having a hit like Manifest is still great, but it would be better if they owned it outright. 

And yes, you can believe both of those things at the same time. 

Quick Notes on TV

- Premiere: Sex/Life. Actually, this is a week late. The Nielsen data covers the week of June 8th to July 4th. Yet Sex/Life premiered on Friday June 25th, meaning we should have seen it appear in the Nielsen rankings last week. It didn’t show up last week, but had a good second week, climbing to 7.5 million hours of viewing this week, good for fourth place among Originals. Given this weak performance, besides Sweet Tooth, Netflix has clearly had a slow few weeks. Fortunately, they have Manifest.

- Premiere: The Seven Deadly Sins. Technically, season 5, with the subtitle “Dragon’s Judgement”. Anime deserves its own future “deep dive” article, but from what I’ve seen this year, while there is absolutely an anime boom (verging on bubble), anime remains fairly niche in the US. The Seven Deadly Seasons only did 4.3 million hours and could drop off the list next week or the week after, like past anime titles.

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Film

To start, here are first four weeks of Viewership Per Day of film released in the last four weeks:

We all know that film distribution models are in chaos. Between Warner Bros releasing films day-and-date on theatrical and streaming, Netflix not releasing films in theaters at all, Disney switching and choosing, no one knows what the future will bring. 

And now there are lawsuits! (See my weekly column for my thoughts tomorrow.)

And I feel like I’m failing. Because it would be great if I could bring my streaming ratings data to bear on this issue.

But I can’t. It’s too soon. We don’t have enough data yet. Each week, as we get more theatrical films released on streaming, either “first run” or after 90 days, we learn more. But we’re far from having at least 35 data points, enough to draw a trend. It probably won’t be until the end of the year that we will have enough data to draw firm conclusions.

In the meantime, let’s understand what we can. 

First up, we have the biggest film though three weekends on record with Luca:

These are total numbers, and nearly every film on this list was released on a Friday. (The key exception was The Christmas Chronicles.) Which means, the first week only has three days of viewership data, whereas the second week as seven days to accumulate viewership. Thus, we often see a slight bump for “week two” viewership. (Or only a minimal drop.) Then, in Week Three, the gas usually runs out. 

Luca is not doing that. In fact, it’s third week is higher than most other film’s opening and second weekends. 

Literally, its third week was higher than Extraction’s opening weekend. 

In other words, it is doing great. Like Manifest, the question is: Is this an all-time great performance or a once an Olympics performance? Like Robert Finke winning his first gold medal, or Michael Phelps winning all of them for a decade? If I had to guess, the former. Either Moana or Frozen is the current streaming animated champion of all time.

(Also, the caveat with Wonder Woman 1984 is we have no idea how well it held into its second and third weekends. My gut is it cratered due to horrendous word of mouth, but who knows. Similarly, Extraction was released when Nielsen only provided one top ten list, and it likely would have moved up a few slots. The Christmas Chronicles 2 as well.)

Let’s turn to the big premiere of the week, The Tomorrow War, the latest Paramount film to premiere directly on Prime Video. 

Amazon’s second biggest opening weekend, and it takes the sixth place spot of all opening weekends. The only Netflix title to place in the top five if The Christmas Chronicles, released on a Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Does this mean that skipping theatrical is “working”? That’s such a huge question I’ll have to devote much bigger articles to it. But this is a big number.

Quick Notes on Film

- Premiere: Fear Street Part One: 1994. In a fun test, Netflix is releasing a horror film each week as part of a trilogy. o far, the results aren’t great. The first entry netted 4.1 million hours in its opening weekend, good for the 52 best opening weekend on record. We’ll see how well these films hold up.

- Premiere: Good on Paper. This romantic comedy is into its second weekend (I forgot to mention it last week) and it had 4.7 and 3.2 million hours respectively, good for the 50th highest two-week total on record. (Not very good either.)

- The Ice Road decayed by 29% from week one to week two, which is a bit steeper than I’d like. That said, it’s opening two weeks bested Yes Day and Outside the Wire, meaning I think it gets a datecdote at some point. Since it is right on the edge, though, if it doesn’t that wouldn’t surprise me either. 

- Speaking of the “binge release curve”, Fatherhood dropped from 14.8 million hours in week two to 6 million hours in week three. That’s a steep drop too, but expected. (The decay is real!)

Coming Soon!

- Space Jam: A New Legacy - Another HBO Max day-and-date release, and probably no ratings data in a few weeks. What is HBO Max afraid of? They claim to have lots of subscribers, so let their content be judged! Using Google Trends, their films have generated a lot of interest:

- Black Widow - Well, there ain’t nothing like a lawsuit to get people buzzing. My gut is every weekly summary this week will be some variation on the “Scarlett Johansen sues Disney over Black Widow release”-style. We’ll get the PVOD data next week, which will be a start.

- Outer Banks: How is this for a data point: Outer Banks season 1 (released last April) is the fifth most viewed season one on record! Only Tiger King, Bridgerton, The Queen’s Gambit and The Haunting of Bly Manor topped it through the first four weeks. And yet, it never got the “datecdote” treatment. Season 2 releases today (Friday July 30th 2021), so we’ll see how it holds. 

- The Twilight Films. Here’s the latest full week fo Netflix Top Ten data. You can see what’s coming:

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