Putting The Little Mermaid’s “Record” Debut in Context
The Streaming Ratings Report for 6-Oct-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.)
We had another light week on the streaming platforms...for American scripted shows. Instead of big, buzzy series from the US, there’s a lot of unscripted programming (documentaries, reality shows, and specials), foreign titles (from the UK/Australia in particular, and also other foreign territories), and so on.
This is actually a big test for a number of genres. It serves as a “natural experiment” to test what genres work and what don’t, especially since these genres have the streaming landscape mostly to themselves right now, including...
Foreign films and TV shows.
Can these genres replace scripted dramas and comedies in terms of ratings impact? I’m skeptical. We’ll also see if the number of shows keeps going down. (Looking ahead a few weeks, the data is noisy. Some weeks do have a lot of titles, but others have some of the lowest I’ve ever tracked.) Reminder: last November was the busiest month in terms of new streaming releases we’ve ever seen. I doubt this November matches it.
On to the ratings, we’ve got a lot to cover, including The Little Mermaid’s debut (and a datecdote I don’t trust), the quiet greatness of Virgin River, Suits’ continued dominance, One Piece and Ahsoka’s shaky post-debut weeks, Taylor Swift’s newest accomplishment, a look at the Nielsen charts all time by streamer, and all of the flops bombs and misses this week.
(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 September 4th to September 10th.)
Film - The Little Mermaid Joins the Top 25 Films on Streaming
If you follow the streaming ratings game, or you follow streaming in general, or even entertainment news in general, you probably saw headlines that The Little Mermaid live-action film “broke records” for Disney. You probably think I’ll start there…
…but I won’t.
Here's the thing, when it comes to data, I trust sources that compare streamers to each other. I trust consistency and regular reporting. That’s much more useful than when studios provide individually-curated data points (what I call “datecdotes”). So let’s start with the metrics I do trust, then we’ll get to Disney’s data.
Have no doubt this is a very good to great launch for Disney. Any film that gets over 20 million hours and tops the ratings charts is a success! The Little Mermaid is 17 million hours ahead of the next film on the charts!
Was 22.9 million enough to break into the top ten all-time? Unfortunately, no. In fact, it wasn’t quite good enough to get into the top twenty. Breaking into the top ten is something only “elite” films do, and we’ve had a lot of big films released on streaming over the last four years. Instead, this is “just” a great launch.
That’s right, this is the 23rd highest streaming release, which is a top six percent of the 379 films in my Nielsen data set. (And its even better considering all the “dogs not barking” that don’t even make this list.) The Little Mermaid, though didn’t quite hit the heights of Disney’s other theatrical blockbusters; Guardians of Galaxy Vol. 3, Avatar: The Way of Water and Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever all had higher totals this year alone.
In fact, Disney has put four films into the top 25 this year, three into the top ten:
For those wondering if a “views” look would change things—remember “views” is total hours divided by run-time—it actually doesn’t help The Little Mermaid. Accounting for run-time, The Little Mermaid had 10.2 million “views” in America, compared to 14.1 for Black Panther 2 and 10.8 for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. (Though it does beat three-hour-long Avatar 2 just barely, which had 10.1 million views.)
And—as I always repeat when we talk about theatrical titles—The Little Mermaid can claim another $298 million in domestic box office ($568 global total) in addition to the streaming numbers. I haven’t updated my “Send Your Films To Theaters” series in a pinch, but it sure looks like the films that went to theaters in 2023 have done better in streaming this year so far.
Moving beyond Nielsen, Samba TV also said that The Little Mermaid debuted well; it was the second most watched title in terms of number of households the week it came out. (Unfortunately we didn’t get specific Samba TV numbers for this one.)
The Little Mermaid also hit the top of the TV Time charts too. So the top film on three different metrics? That’s great! The Little Mermaid had a very good debut.
But do you really want me to look at the datecdote Disney provided? Really? Fine…
Disney’s Misleading Datecdote
I’m sorry, I just really despise “datecdotes”. Especially until we have at least ten to make a comparison. And especially when I think a streamer is being deliberately selective to try to get good press/headlines.
For example, here’s how Disney touted it:
But it’s funny because…it didn’t break records? I mean, if you come in second, you didn’t break a record. You came in second. That’s a “best launch since” fact, not a “record”. Either way, here’s the new Disney+ “datecdote” table:
I also saw some outlets putting out additional context that seems unlikely to me. Deadline, for example, said that The Little Mermaid is the biggest Disney film launch since Hocus Pocus 2. And this gets to why I don’t like when companies change metrics. Previously, Disney touted hours; now they switched to “views”. Based on the total hours above, I bet both Black Panther 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 beat The Little Mermaid; the Nielsen data says that the two Marvel films likely bested it, but we’ll likely never know.
One last point on that: we can’t really compare Disney’s “views” count to Nielsen’s “views” count, because Nielsen measures the number of people watching a screen, whereas Disney is likely just tracking the raw total hours watched. To get super in the weeds, if a family sits down to watch Elemental, Nielsen counts that as four viewers. Disney still counts it as one. Got it? My data advice to everyone is not to mix data sources.
That said, the magnitude changes do translate. So when Disney says that Elemental got 26.4 million “views’ compared to The Little Mermaid’s 16 million, that does say to me it is a much bigger film. Even if Elemental traveled better globally (it skewed much more global than The Little Mermaid), I bet it has an even bigger debut on Nielsen next week.
Ignoring the PR spin, Disney has been in need of some wins on Disney+, and it looks like it got them on the film side this month.
Quick Notes on Film
After The Little Mermaid, the story of the week is films switching streamers. And the films that do this are theatrical titles, since they aren’t tied down like a straight-to-streaming release model. This month, Don’t Worry Darlingshowed up on Netflix and The Batman showed up on Prime Video. (Both are still available on Max too.) Earlier, Champions left Peacock to join Prime Video. As you can see by the Showlabs charts, Champions and The Batmanwere top five films for Amazon. Indian film Jailer also made the Prime Video charts, and I believe that is Pay 1 as well.
On the TV Time film charts, the new arrival is The Nun, a 2018 film whose sequel came out on 8-Sep. As we’ve seen before, when a sequel arrives in theaters, it often boosts its previous film on TV Time. The first Nun film actually made over $300 million globally, which I would not have guessed! Otherwise, the TV Time charts have been fairly “colorful” recently; this week, five different streamers made the list.
You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah had a big drop down to 4.8 million hours, as expected. Meanwhile, The Super Mario Bros. Movie held on for a sixth week for Peacock.
The new “library” titles to make either Showlabs or Nielsen charts this week were Blade, Snitch and Woody Woodpecker. That last title was actually a Universal 1440 Entertainment production, which I wrote about last week. (Fun fact: It only made $211K in DVD sales in 2018.) Meanwhile, Arrival, Despicable Me 2 and Moana stayed on the film chart. The Anchorman films came to Netflix the first week of September too, and I thought they might make the charts but they did not.
The “Dog Not Barking” (my term for any show that doesn’t make any of the ratings charts that we track, find an explainer here.) is Prime Video’s Sitting in Bars with Cake. (Between this, Extrapolations and Peter Pan & Wendy, two contenders for “Bomb of the year” in film and TV, it’s been a rough year on the streaming charts for Yara Shahidi.) It didn’t even make the ShowLabs charts. Neither did two Netflix titles, the standup special Shane Gillis: Beautiful Dogs and true crime doc Scouts Honor: The Secret Files of the Boy Scouts of America. I have a theory that, when it comes to true crime, people like murder, but don’t love child molestation, but I haven’t (and won’t) run an analysis on that.
Television - Virgin River’s Quiet Great Launch
I’ve written about Virgin River twice before, but can I tell you what the plot is about? No, no I can’t. I assume teenagers? Near a river. Probably romance? That’s all I got. Wikipedia says:
“Virgin River follows Melinda "Mel" Monroe, who answers an ad to work as a midwife and nurse practitioner in the remote Northern California town of Virgin River, thinking it will be the perfect place to start fresh and leave her painful memories behind. But she soon discovers that small-town living isn't quite as simple as she expected.”
So not a teenager, but close enough.
Did it make the top of the originals chart? Of course it did. Interestingly, Netflix is releasing ten episodes now, and two more at the end of November. (The true binge release model is dead for successful series at Netflix.)
But how did it do on the ratings charts?