What’s Old is New (and Successful!) Again: Sitcoms and Procedurals Come to the Streaming Wars
The Streaming Ratings Report for 24-Feb-2023
I hope you enjoyed the deep, deep, dives into streaming ratings of 2022 I put out over the last two weeks. Not to brag, but these were far and away some of my most successful articles I’ve ever written, and I couldn’t be happier, not just that the articles did so well but all of the great support I got from my audience.
I can’t do this without you (especially our paid subscribers).
But now it’s time to get back to our regularly scheduled programming and, as I mentioned last issue, we’re in the dog days of January. For the week of January 16th, we had only eight English language shows come out, which, yes, sounds like a lot (too much content!) but it’s actually pretty light for the streaming wars. (Trust me, I keep a spreadsheet and I’ll turn it into a visual one of these weeks.)
Though it’s light, we still had some juicy titles like Poker Face, That 90’s Show, How I Met Your Father and more. And yeah, if those three shows sound like a throwback to broadcast days of yore, kind of? One is a “procedural” and the other two are “sitcoms”.
So is this a return to broadcast programming? Well, let’s not go overboard! One week of data is more a coincidence than a trend.
But it will allow me to talk about two of my favorite acronyms,FBOSSSand PANTSS.
Don’t know what PANTSS are? Well, let’s dive in! We’re discussing that, plus all the data and my thoughts on You People, Shotgun Wedding, WWE’s Royal Rumble, Nielsen’s The Gauge, some Apple TV+ series, and more.
(Reminder: The streaming ratings report focuses on the U.S. market and compiles data from Nielsen’s weekly top ten viewership ranks, TV Time trend data, company datecdotes, and Netflix hours viewed data, Netflix Top Ten lists, Google Trends, Samba TV, and IMDb to determine the most popular content. While most data points are current, Nielsen’s data covers the weeks of January 16th to January 29th.)
A few weeks back, Disney CEO Bob Iger said that Disney would move away from making “undifferentiated general entertainment” going forward.
As I’ve said before, I don’t have a lot of sources out there in Hollywood land. That’s the price I pay for being anonymous. (Of course the price you pay for having sources is that your “analysis” has to avoid upsetting your sources.) If I did have sources, and if one of those was Bob Iger, I’d love to ask him exactly what he means by this.
Here’s my most negative take: Iger wants to pivot Disney away from “broadcast”-type content, meaning sitcoms, procedurals and other types of shows with broad appeal. Who can honestly tell the difference—to steelman their position—between all these sitcoms on CBS, ABC, Fox and NBC? Or all these different police shows that solve a murder each week?
Of course, if this is what Iger means, I completely disagree. And this week is a fairly bad week for the argument that these “undifferentiated” series don’t do well. As I wrote last year for The Ankler, I think Netflix (and all the streamers) need to “pull on their content PANTSS” an acronym that means:
Awards and Specials
Or basically mimic (at least in part) what broadcast delivers. Today, we’re going to look at the first and last of those content categories. Let’s define those very clearly, so we’re on the same page:
Procedural: A weekly drama series where a standalone central mystery or story is concluded each week. Usually based around doctors, detectives, or lawyers. Usually 44 minutes in length, a broadcast hour.
Sitcom: A comedy series with self-contained plots and jokes delivered at a very high pace. Usually shot “multi-camera”, sometimes in front of a live studio audience, sometimes with laugh tracks. Usually 22 minutes in length, a broadcast half-hour.
But the thing is, the streamers haven’t released a lot of “original” sitcoms or procedurals. But this week was a bit of a rarity as a big procedural debuted on Peacock and two big sitcoms came out on Hulu and Netflix.
Procedurals on Streaming: Poker Face Is Peacock’s Biggest Hit
Let’s start with procedurals. With only two episodes on debut, Poker Face—a procedural about a casino-employee-turned-private-investigator who can tell when people are lying and solves murders, starring Natasha Lyonne and from creator Rian Johnson—debuted to 9.1 million hours.
Here’s how that stacks up to other weekly releases:
Given Peacock’s still small-ish size, that’s still a strong number. It also has a strong 8.1 on IMDb on an (admittedly lowish) 13K reviews. Further, it’s only Peacock’s second show to make the Nielsen charts, since they only recently let Nielsen release their ratings. Samba TV did tell us that 530K households watched in the first four days, which is also a bit on the low end. Surprisingly, Peacock didn’t give us a “datecdote” for this one, again indicating it may not have smashed records internally. So overall, this is a good debut for a smaller streaming service. (The type of hit they need, honestly.)
Previously, The Best Man: The Final Chapter earned hours of 12.7 and 12.3 hours, but that series was binge released, and Poker Face only had two episodes. Outside of maybe Bel-Air, I doubt anything else Peacock has released would have made the Nielsen charts. I’m very curious to see how this show ages.
Sitcoms on Streaming: That ‘90s Show Opens Strong (How I Met Your Father? Less So)
Meanwhile, Netflix released their biggest sitcom in a while. (They also released Blockbuster last fall, and I called that a huge Dog Not Barking for Netflix.) Previously, they released Space Force to big (Covid-19 boosted) numbers, but general opprobrium. Before the “streaming ratings era” really kicked off, Netflix also released Fuller House and The Ranch. We don’t really know how well the latter did, but Fuller House’s fifth season got 16.6 million hours on debu.
Nevertheless, That ‘90s Show did great, debuting to 26.5 million hours. That’s good for fifth place all time on a debut weekend! Here’s how that stacks up to other “half hour” series.
Not bad at all! It had a pretty steep drop into its second week (down to 16.5 million hours), but still that’s a strong debut.
On the other hand, not every sitcom works. When I give “genre” recommendations, I don’t pretend that every show in that genre works every time. And one example could be How I Met Your Father.
This show does tremendously well on TV Time, having made the charts for 4 weeks, including debuting at number one. But it STILL hasn’t made Nielsen even though it’s in its second season. Hulu reportedly ordered 20 episodes and is releasing this series weekly, so it will be interesting to see if it picks up in viewership. I’m not sure a streamer has really gone all in on a sitcom like this yet. By the way, ordering 20+ episodes of a sitcom is really smart! It allows a show to find its footing and to have a bigger writer’s room. (Take note Netflix!)
Sitcoms on Broadcast: Having a Renaissance?
If you’re still not convinced that sitcoms work on streaming, fine, but on broadcast? They’ve been crushing it. I don’t normally dive deep into the linear ratings, but it’s hard not to see a trend on broadcast. Here’s a series of headlines about strong sitcom debuts:
I would add, Ghosts and Young Sheldon continue to be the most watched sitcoms each season on linear TV too. (Their weekly numbers would usually best most shows on streaming, especially if we added in delayed and streaming catch up.)
If you’re adding that up, that’s five hit sitcoms on broadcast, and if they keep racking up episodes, at some point they’ll come to streaming and maybe be the biggest shows on their streamers too. And then they’ll join the past big sitcoms: Friends, The Big Bang Theory, The Office, Simpsons, Seinfeld and South Park, or “F-BOSSS”. To those, I’d add How I Met Your Mother and Modern Family as the big, rewatchable sitcoms.
So…Should Disney Avoid “General Entertainment”? What About the Streamers?
So is “general entertainment” crowded? Or undifferentiated? Maybe. (If you read my entire “Who Won 2022?” series last week, you know that “prestige” might be the most crowded of all.)
But you can’t deny that general entertainment isn’t popular. The ceilings for sitcoms and procedurals are much higher than for “prestige” dramas or dramedies. Like all the shows made by Hulu or FX or FX on Hulu or Apple TV+ or Prime Video or AMC or Netflix or HBO.
If anything, the streamers have barely made any procedurals, especially with a focus on police/detectives or doctors. They’ve barely made any sitcoms either. The biggest procedural, that I can see, is either Criminal Minds or SEAL Team on Paramount+. The streamers also haven't made very many sitcoms with 20+ episode seasons either. If anything, I think Disney+ needs a few more sitcoms to anchor their line up and keep people coming back. Funny, broadly-appealing shows like Abbott Elementary (which is on HBO Max, since Warner Bros TV owns it) or Modern Family (it’s on Hulu and Peacock).
Again, the big caveat is whether this is what Iger means by “general entertainment” in the first place. That’s why I liked Paramount Global CEO Bob Bakish’s response, when he basically said “Hey, we love general entertainment”. And frankly, if it is true, that Disney is getting out of broadly appealing fare, it gives Paramount+, Netflix and Peacock a huge opening to super serve this audience.
The rest of this post is for paid subscribers of the Entertainment Strategy Guy, so if you want to read about
Prime Video’s Hunters
Netflix's big new movie, You People
Prime Video’s Shotgun Wedding
Violent Night on Peacock
WWE’s Royal Rumble
An update to Nielsen’s The Gauge
Some (barely) good news for Apple TV+, and more
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