Is "Twilight Summer" A Good or Bad Sign for Netflix?

The Streaming Ratings Report for 20-Aug-2021

In the middle of July, teenage vampire dramas had a moment:

Like all things Netflix, the “Twilight takeover” caused a kerfuffle between the warring “Netflix bears” and “Netflix bulls”. Is the online war of words as fierce as the battle between vampires and werewolves à la Twilight? You bet.

So is “Twilight takeover” a sign of good things or bad for Netflix? Let’s discuss.

(Reminder: The streaming ratings report compiles data from Nielsen’s weekly top ten viewership ranks, Netflix datecdotesTop 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 July 19th to July 25th.)

Film

First, here’s my regular table of the top first and second run films of the last six weeks of Nielsen data:

I don’t include “licensed” titles in the above chart, because streamers care much more about “first-run” or “pay-1” films. But as Twilight shows, even library content can play a big role.

This leads to a potentially unanswerable question: Is the Twilight saga’s Netflix takeover a sign of Netflix’s strength or weakness?

- The Netflix bulls (folks who are optimistic about Netflix’s future) say strength. Usually something along the lines of “Netflix can and does make anything a hit.”

- The Netflix bears (folks who are a pessimistic about Netflix’s future) point to Netflix’s reliance on licensed titles as a weakness. If Netflix’s stated goal is to build a “moat of IP”, then Twilight shows how far they still have to go.

So who’s right? Well, it’s complicated.

When presented with a data problem like this, I always recommend returning to a company’s business strategy. In streaming, films have the primary function of attracting new customers and a secondary function to keep them around. So does the data say whether the Twilight saga films deliver on those needs? Two charts can help answer that, though not definitively. First, here’s the weekly “top ten score” for Netflix’s own top ten list:

(As a reminder, this is a top ten “score”, where being the number one film is worth 10 points, the second film is worth 9 points and so on.)

So what did we learn? Well, Twilight summer didn’t last very long! The 8-August data isn't missing; none of the Twilight films made the top ten that week. The Twilight films appeared on July 16th, burned bright, then, by the middle of August, they’d left the Netflix Top Ten. This almost always means they'll drop off the top Nielsen charts as well. In short, the Twilight films helped drive usage, but only for about three weeks.

Here’s my second chart:

This chart is the Nielsen top ten film charts by total viewership for Netflix and total viewership for every week this year.

What do we make of this? Well, both good and bad news. Overall, we can see that total viewership on Netflix has been fairly steady since the start of this year. That’s what the “linear” trend line shows. When Netflix releases a big title it can move up a pinch—in particular titles like Fatherhood or Army of the Dead moved the needle—but the trend line is flat. 

And this makes the positive case for licensed titles. The “Twilight boom” helped arrest a few weeks of down ratings, bringing Netflix back to average. And since, very likely, these licensed titles were much cheaper than producing a comparable original film, this was a cost effective move.

But not a long lasting move. A licensed title is a rented title. Meaning that, to keep its value, Netflix has to keep paying for it. Which is why they want originals in the first place.

In that regard, the story of Twilight summer is really a story of a series of disappointing film launches. Blood Red Sky had a disappointing launch in the US this week (47th highest opening weekend) and Gunpowder Milkshake had a big drop into its second week (over 47%). (See quick notes below for details.) Toss in the fact that the Twilight films bumped the entire Fear Street trilogy off the feature film list, and building long-lived IP this is not.

So yes, Twilight summer reinforces that Netflix is the most popular streamer in America, though arguably Nielsen’s The Gauge tells that story more completely anyways. (See below.) But the ease with which some nearly-decade-old, rented films displaced their originals should be a cause for concern.

Quick Notes on Film

- Premiere: Blood Red Sky. This is an interesting one. Netflix dropped a “datecdote” for it, saying it expected 50 million households to watch 2 minutes in its first 28 days. That’s good for the 35th highest film release of all time for Netflix, sandwiched between To All The Boys: Always and Forever and Below Zero. The film presumably under-indexed in the US, like most foreign titles, since it only generated 4.9 million hours of viewing in its first week, good for the 47th place in my data set. According to the Top Ten data, it will move into first place next week, so we’ll see if it has a bigger than usual second week jump.

- Also, fun conspiracy time. When Deadline dropped their “exclusive” that Blood Red Sky would get 50 million viewers, they also interviewed the director, who said that “90% watched from beginning to end”. But you’ll have to take my word for it, since Deadline has since removed that line. But you can still read it here on the Wayback Machine.

Gunpowder Milkshake had a huge drop into its second week. Of the 49 films in my data set with two weeks of data (mostly from this year), the average week 1 to week 2 drop is down around 9.4%. (As a reminder, this is because the first week usually has 3 days of data—Friday to Sunday—but the second week has seven days.) Of those films, Gunpowder Milkshake had the fourth steepest decay of all, losing 47%. Worse, the other films around it with big decays tended to have big opening weekends like The Christmas Chronicles 2, Enola Holmes or The Midnight Sky. To defend it slightly, it was first released on a Wednesday. Still Gunpowder Milkshake had a small opening weekend and a big drop. So not good.

- Speaking of drop offs, Black Widow fell of the list as well. Given that the smallest film title was Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans at 3.1 million hours, we know Black Widow’s total viewership was below that. Meaning it’s week 1 to 2 viewership per day decay was 65%, and it’s week 2 to week 3 decay was at least 58%. That’s steep. And tentatively more evidence that Black Widow wasn’t a huge hit.

- The Fear Street trilogy was bumped off the film top ten list entirely by Twilight. Which is a bummer because I really wanted to see how all three films performed over time. Oh well.

Television

Well, I have to start with a bit of an apology. A half-hearted apology. Two weeks ago, I wrote: 

I think Tim Robinson is hilarious, so I feel bad saying this, but according to my data, his sketch show set a record: It’s the first Netflix Original to premiere and fail to chart in the Netflix Daily Top Ten. We’ve had other shows fail to make the Nielsen Top Ten, (like Love, Death and Robots), but never an “Original" that has missed both for Netflix.

Frankly, I was wrong. Dead wrong. And as they say in traditional journalism “we regret the error”.

See, the team and I are working furiously over here to build out our data base of all streaming originals. And as we’re doing so, we’re finding Netflix Originals that we failed to call out when they first launched. We call these “dogs not barking”. 

(Quick aside: what is a “dog not barking”? Well, the team and I are also working on writing definitions for streaming terms and we haven’t written this one yet. It’s our term for streaming releases that come and go without generating massive interest. Because there are so many streaming titles, these films sort of get lost in the ether. And if you aren’t paying attention—like the dog not barking in the Sherlock Holmes story—you don’t realize it’s missing.

If one were cynical or pessimistic, you’d even call these shows and films “flops” or dare I say, “bombs”? And yes, Hulu and Prime Video have wayyyyy more of these than Netflix. At the end of this month, we’ve decided to devote an entire article to calling out these films that fail to generate any ratings in July.)

In the mean time, I wanted to call out what I think is the biggest Netflix title to fail to make the Netflix Weekly Top Ten or the Nielsen Top Ten:

Masters of None Presents: Moments of Love (Released on 23-May-2021)

Seriously, consider the bona fides of this one. Masters of None won an Emmy for Best Actor and Writing, and was nominated for multiple Primetime Emmys and Golden Globes. It got a 9 on Rotten Tomatoes from the critics. However, between seasons 2 and 3, stuff happened. (Look it up on your own.) 

Did this effect the ratings? Presumably. Though season 1 came out in 2015 and season 2 in 2017, that was the ratings dark age when we had to rely on rumor and innuendo to guess a show’s popularity. Nowadays, we have tons of data. And what do we know about Masters of None latest release?

That at best it’s first full week did, at least, less than 2.8 million hours of viewing. (The lowest “original” series data point that week was The Upshaws at 2.8 million hours, which I also called a bomb.) 

To put that in context…that’s really bad. Especially for a season three. There are other titles that failed to chart in their first week this year like Halston or The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals, but they each charted in their second week (3.5 million and 4.2 million hours respectively). Even Formula 1: Drive to Survive, the lowest season 3 in my data set, netted 4 million hours of viewing in its second week.

One last chart captures this. Frankly, between the layoff, the scandal news and maybe Netflix burying it, the interest via Google was never there:

Quick Notes on TV

- Premiere: The Movies That Made Us season 2. This docs-series got 2.8 million hours of viewing in its first week. For a season 2, this is the lowest in my data set (20th place), but for a documentary that’s still not bad.

Virgin River is firmly on the “binge release curve”, but fascinatingly it’s tracking almost perfectly with its season 2:

- Oh, and "Manifest summer" may be ending too:

Competition

The latest edition of Nielsen’s the Gauge is out. And as I warned when I first “explained” the Gauge, it would take some time to draw conclusions. And indeed it will. More than anything The Gauge looks fairly steady. Here’s the trend over time:

Anecdata of the Week

Premiere: Ted Lasso season 2. Since Nielsen doesn’t track Apple TV+ yet (they’re too small) we have no idea how their biggest series is performing. The best I can say is to use Reelgood’s weekly data, which said it won the TV box office the weekend it came out.

Reelgood’s data isn’t perfect, but is useful for smaller serices. I tend to ignore the Netflix ratings on Reelgood, since many folks go straight to Netflix anyways and some big titles, like MCU titles, since folks know to go to Disney+.

Coming Soon!

The Walking Dead is back for its final season this week. This title deserves its own deep dive, given that it was the second biggest scripted cable series of the 2010s, but has been dropping over time, unlike Game of Thrones that went out on top. It’s also streaming on Netflix, but doesn’t make the “acquired” list as often as you’d think for its popularity.

- Also in the “big on cable” is American Horror Story’s 10th season. Given that FX titles are now heavily pushed as “FX on Hulu”, while we probably won’t see the ratings, this is still a big title for Hulu/Disney. (Also, between American Horror Stories, a spin off, and that fact that they’re doing a “double feature” of AHS, FX has quite a big invested in this franchise.)

- Two “day-and-date” releases will hit theaters today. First, the Paw Patrol moviewill air on both Paramount+ and in theaters. If you don’t have kids, you don’t care. If you do, you do care. Second, the latest HBO Max/theatrical release from Warner Bros. is Reminiscence. As I’ll keep repeating:

HBO Max don’t be cowards and let Nielsen release your ratings!!!