Streaming’s Content Bubble Problem Continues Into Earth Day
The Streaming Ratings Report for 19-May-2023
(Welcome! This is the Entertainment Strategy Guy’s weekly streaming ratings report, the single best guide to what works on streaming television and what doesn’t. If you were forwarded this email, please subscribe to get these insights each week.)
Last week, Disney+ announced the pending removal of over seventy shows and films from Disney+ and Hulu.
Disney told us something like this would be coming in their earnings report the week prior. But this announcement still surprised me.1 As others have pointed out, the idea that Disney+ would downsize like this was inconceivable a year ago.
Of course, I shouldn’t have been that surprised, should I? I mean, I write a weekly streaming ratings report, so I had a feeling this was coming. (And you probably weren’t surprised either if you’ve been reading this report.) I've been writing about the sheer volume of TV shows that come out and have virtually no viewership, so I’ve also been warning for a while that we may be in a content bubble and a correction could be coming.
Well, it’s come.
We all should have expected that Disney’s worst performing TV shows and films (especially the ones that cost the most!) would likely be on the chopping block at some point. And a few of those shows—in fact most—were “dogs not barking”, either in my year-end round up or my mid-year check up from last year. While these removals surprised folks—as it surprised folks last summer when HBO Max announced the same thing—now that we know removals like this will keep happening for Disney+, HBO Max and maybe the other streamers (eventually), thus the importance of knowing the weekly streaming ratings increases just that much.
Unfortunately, while I’d love to do a deep dive today into which TV shows and films are getting pulled and why, looking for trends in both genre and their ratings, I didn’t have time to get that finished by today’s streaming ratings report. (Hopefully, I’ll do that soon.) Instead, today, we’re looking at another set of “dogs not barking” but all on a theme: Earth Day. As a reminder, this report covers the week of 17-April, and the streamers all released nature-themed content in the same week to celebrate Earth Day on 22-April. Does deluging customers with the same content in the same week make sense? Probably not.
And there’s tons of other juicy stuff to get into this week, like Ghosted on Apple TV+, The Diplomat and Beef on Netflix, Love is Blind’s live reunion show, the season finales of The Mandalorian and Star Trek: Picard, big sports linear numbers, and a lot more.
It’s a packed 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 April 17th to April 23rd.
Yes, this report got delayed to a Monday again, because I try to avoid emailing my subscribers more than three times a week, to avoid flooding your inboxes (if you’re like me, you get more than enough emails every week) and I really wanted to get my deep dive on the WGA out last week, especially because I feel that that was a very important article (and it really resonated with my readers!). But the plan this week is to get back on track with two streaming ratings reports this week.)
Television - The Earth Day Take Over…Did It Work? (No.)
Often, writing about the entertainment industry, I have quite mixed emotions. If you see a problem coming, you can warn people about the problem. If the problem happens, on the one hand, it feels good to be right. On the other, a bad thing happened. And you feel bad about it because it often means bad news for a lot of people. That’s the case today.
Four weeks ago was Earth Day, which means that all of the streamers collectively released new, sometimes expensive, nature documentaries. And as a gigantic superfan of nature documentaries, it bums me out to say that Prime Video’s Wild Isles, which might Richard Attenborough’s last series, Apple TV+’s Big Beasts, NatGeo/Disney+/Hulu’s Secrets of the Elephant, and Netflix’s Chimp Empire all failed to make the charts.
I’m not quite sure what this says either about nature documentaries or the streaming wars. Potentially, nature docs resemble kids content or anime: a semi-popular genre that can occasionally have some big hits (think Planet Earth). Seriously, here’s the IMDb top shows of all time list:
But based on that success—and potentially the affordability of the genre compared to expensive scripted genre series—all the streamers pile in simultaneously. Thus, when you have four different streamers releasing nature documentaries in the same week, and guess what? None succeeded. Everyone wants the next Planet Earth, but that’s much easier said than done.
Obviously, nature documentaries have a place/niche to fill in entertainment, but if everyone simultaneously tries to fill that niche, that bucket will overflow and most of the content won’t get the viewership it needs to justify its costs.
Some other notes:
I will say that I like that Secrets of the Elephants aired on the National Geographic channel before heading to Hulu and Disney+. More and more, I doubt the benefits of exclusivity, so I really like this strategy.
In the list of pending Disney+ removals, one of the series that’s getting removed is last summer's America the Beautiful, a nature doc series on national parks narrated by Michael B. Jordan.
Television - Love is Blind Season Four Quietly Moves Up the Charts
Love is Blind season four is quietly doing very well. Quietly, because if I told you it was the seventh best “season four” in my data set, would you have guessed that?
Note how it’s release style definitely contrasts with other shows around it in the season four rankings, as it’s gained strength week-after-week because of its “don’t call it a weekly” release style.
Where the other shows start big and drop, Love is Blind keeps building:
The only caveat is that Love is Blind really is in a class of its own compared to other Netflix reality series shows:
Of course, I should mention the big reason Love is Blind generated interest this week because of a live—yes, a linear broadcast in real time on Netflix—on 16-April. Or should I say that Netflix planned to stream a live special but reality (pun intended) got in the way. (The event was marred by glitches/bugs and didn’t happen.)
To throw on my strategy hat quickly, while a lot of people poked fun at Netflix’s expense for this, I’m not too worried long term. One “live TV fail” does imply Netflix will never figure this out!
Netflix obviously sees the appeal of “live” programming, further emulating the linear bundle of old. Now, should they have live reunion shows, as opposed to pre-tape linear broadcasts? That’s a different strategic question. Note, the king of these reality shows, Andy Cohen of Bravo, explained why you don’t do this setting aside any of the technical hurdles. (Basically, reunion shows require a ton of editing to get/find the good stuff!) If he’s saying that and he works in the much more experienced traditional TV ecosystem, I’d listen.
But will Netflix keep releasing shows live? Definitely.
Live TV is dead; long live Live TV.