Solving Two Hulu Mysteries...Plus Platonic, FUBAR and American Born Chinese
The Streaming Ratings Report for 23-Jun-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.)
The streamers brought out the stars this week.
Arnold! Seth Rogan! Rose Byrne! The Oscar-winning stars of Everything Everwhere All At Once, Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan! The Kardashians!
But the biggest story in streaming for the week off 22-May isn’t any of those big names, but the latest streamer to change its name, Max (née HBO Max). (As a reminder, the week of 22-May to 28-May; this report is delayed four weeks, since I wait for Nielsen’s weekly ratings.) On 23-May Warner Bros. Discovery decided to mash together its two streamers, jumbling in all the Discovery+ content with HBO Max’s offerings. Data-wise, there isn’t much impact, though I do have to go through and change all the streamer names in my databases (which isn’t hard, but it is annoying), and maybe fix old charts (which is harder). Lastly, ShowLabs by Plum Research has to remake their “Max” panel, so we likely won’t get their Max data for a few weeks.1
Let’s get right into it, starting with two streaming mysteries from Hulu.
(Scheduling note: since next week is a holiday in the US, I’m going to skip next week’s Streaming Ratings Report, but I’ll have a double issue the week after.
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 22nd to May 28th.)
TV - Hulu Mysteries: The Kardashians and How I Met Your Father
To get in the mood for today’s article—and stealing a page from The Ankler’s The Wakeup’s Sean McNulty—here’s a video to get us warmed up:
Is there anything more 1980s than that theme song? And now you want to solve a mystery, right? Okay, here’s one: what do we make of The Kardashians?
On one extreme, you have Deadline, who wrote about Hulu ordering twenty more episodes as, “File this one under ‘water is wet.’” This is backed up by a Hulu PR datecdote from last year, which eagerly told us that this show was, “the most-watched series premiere on Hulu in the US and Disney+ and Star+ among Star Originals globally”
On the other hand, you have me, who put The Kardashians on my “Dogs Not Barking” of the year list twice in 2022. And I did this because…it was! It has never made the Nielsen charts! But The Kardashians isn’t alone. How I Met Your Fatherhas almost the exact same ratings profile (not making many ratings charts) but also got renewed for another season, meaning both these shows are genuine “unsolved mysteries”.
So let’s try to solve this mystery with…data! We’ll start with the best numbers for both of these shows, which is TV Time. You can see their recent runs on the charts:
HIMYF has been second on TV Time for three straight weeks. The Kardashians made the charts for four weeks! (Also, in a fun twist, this is the first time that Netflix and Disney+ missed the top ten entirely):
But that consumer interest hasn’t translated into any Nielsen viewership, at least in the top ten. I asked Nielsen for data on these two shows, and they let me know that The Kardashians netted 2.9 million hours in its first week:
For context, that isn’t actually the lowest “season three” in my data set, a (dis)honor that goes to Wu-Tang: An American Saga, also a Hulu series. And The Kardashians is above Netflix sitcom The Upshaw’s third season too. Interestingly, both of those series also missed the Nielsen top ten lists the week they came out. (I got all three of these data points by asking Nielsen specifically for them.)
One could point to the “binge vs weekly” situation, but by the time you get to a season two or three, they should be enough episodes that truly popular series can compete closer with binge-released series. Still, even accounting for the weekly releases, both of these series are underwhelming.
Since we don’t have Showlabs data for Disney+ or Hulu, and we haven’t had Samba TV datecdotes for either show since their premieres, that’s sort of it for data. Both shows have low IMDb scores, but I wouldn’t trust IMDb for The Kardashians anyways, since they generate social media controversy and reality show IMDb scores tend to be lower than scripted shows anyway. I can’t explain why HIMYF is low at a 5.3 on 23K reviews, but 20K+ reviews is a good sign.
If pushed, I’d fall back on one of my two rules. If we go by “Show me, don’t tell me”, then the ratings here say the shows aren’t that good. They may be “fine” and, “fine” for Hulu might be really good. But given that the previous iterations of both these shows did multiples better in the viewership (Keeping Up with the Kardashians got up to 3-4 million viewers watching weekly and How I Met Your Mother was a big, big hit, both on broadcast and later on streaming), I’d say these are expensive shows that likely aren’t hits yet.
So why would Hulu keep renewing these shows, especially The Kardashians? In this case, the rule is “follow the money”, and when Hulu committed “nine figures” to the Kardashian family, that probably had a lot of guaranteed episodes in the contract. So when Hulu “renews” the show, it’s really just continuing the deal it already made. Meanwhile, I think Hulu (wisely) committed to twenty episodes of HIMYF to see if it could gain an audience like sitcoms did back in the broadcast age.
Quick Notes on TV
FUBAR is a bit of a mystery too. It stars Arnold, an actor so famous I can just refer to him by his first name. (Fine, Schwarzenegger. Are you glad you made me spell it? Guess what, I spelled it right on the first try!) At 25.6 million in its first week, this show just cracked the top ten list of season one debuts all time, which is great.
But its IMDb scores are average (6.5 on 23K reviews). Samba TV had it at 1.9 million households in the first five days which is good verging on great too, above Bridgerton’s second season and Inventing Anna, tied with Harry and Meghan but behind Dahmer - Monster and The Watcher. But on TV Time it only made the charts for one week at tenth place and Showlabs by Plum Research only clocked 8.75 million unique viewers in the first weekend, which is well, well, well out of the top 25 for season releases according to that data set. So…let’s see how this one ages.