Which Genre Keeps Working on Streaming? Plus…My Initial Thoughts on the WGA "High Performing" Residual
The Streaming Ratings Report for 29-Sep-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.)
Let’s start off with a bit of sad news. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a huge basketball fan and basketball podcast fan. That especially includes the No Dunks (formerly The Starters, formerly The Basketball Jones) crew. Well, longtime co-host Tas Melas was hospitalized last week after being hit by a car. If you’re a fan or want to show support, head to his GoFundMe. Our hearts go out to him and his family. (To connect this to entertainment, it’s crazy to me that no one picked them up after leaving NBA TV. Come on, Max, if you keep the NBA, make this happen!)
On to happier topics. If you don’t have enough EntStrategyGuy in your life, here’s some recent appearances by yours truly...
This week, I made an appearance on the Kids Media Club podcast, co-starring longtime friend of the newsletter, Emily Horgan. It was great to chat with Emily, Andrew Williams and Jo Redfern. Give it a listen!
And David Dayen of the American Prospect quoted me for his article on the WGA-AMPTP deal. Check it out.
Okay, it was another light week in terms of new titles, but I’ve still got a lot that I want to talk about, including my thoughts on the WGA’s new views count, a big genre that does work on streaming, a deep dive into a smaller production company you probably haven’t heard of, two different rom-coms on Netflix, an animated surprise on Max, Samba TV’s biggest films of the first half of the year and more.
Unfortunately, between an emergency dentist appointment, a sick kid, and all the data that went into my look at “celebrity production companies, this report wasn’t ready in time for Friday. But I still wanted to get it out because I have some fun things planned for next week, so enjoy the Sunday delivery.
(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 August 28th to September 3rd.)
Mini-Dive - My Thoughts on the WGA’s Big “Views” Metric Win
Based on numerous emails, texts and DMs, the question on everyone’s minds is...
How many shows qualify for the WGA’s new high-performing streaming residual?
And I have two (probably frustrating) answers:
I don’t know...yet.
Even when I do get the answer, if you’re looking for certainty, I can’t provide that.
But you have come to the right place!
My plan is to dive deep into this question. First, I want to analyze the data to estimate which shows I think would have earned the residual had it existed in the past. Then, long term, I want to provide semi-regular updates (probably as part of my “Renewals, Cancellations and Un-Orders” updates/series) to figure out which shows qualify for it (again, as best as I can estimate using publicly available data), which may qualify for it, and which likely (sometimes certainly) won’t qualify.
I don’t know if anyone else (in the public/mediasphere) is in a better position to do this than me, since I both regularly estimate U.S. streaming subscriber counts and track the ratings. But there’s still going to be a lot of uncertainty behind these predictions. Nielsen only tracks, for example, living room TVs. And each third party firm is relying on the quality of its panels. Meanwhile, no one outside of the WGA will know exactly what Prime Video counts as a “subscriber”.
That said, WGA members will be able to go to the Guild to get these exact answers, but I’m guessing that I’ll be able to provide something that’s a bit more timely (I heard one estimate of 90 days after the end each quarter) and, more importantly, publicly available to the rest of Hollywood. Still, I think my estimates will help screenwriters in two ways:
Everyone in town will know what shows are working on streaming.
Screenwriters who think they should be getting residuals identify if the streamers are playing games with their residual checks.
Again, give me a few weeks, but I can’t wait to make these estimates. Already, this issue, I’ll start calling out when I think a show hits this threshold.
Television - “Fantasy” Continues Its Winning Streak
Sometimes, I can be too much of a “negative Nancy”. If you said to me, “Hey, EntStratGuy, you tell me a lot of genres of shows don’t work on streaming…”—then I’d interrupt to say, “No, it’s not that those genres don’t work, it’s that they’re over-hyped”—and you’d continue, “Well, fine, just tell me what does work on streaming.”
Off the top of my head, super hero shows work. Kids animated films do really well, particularly the ones that go to theaters before heading to a streamer. True crime works. (Oh, does true crime work!) Well, let’s add another category to the list:
Fantasy series seem to do really well too. (This was my genre winner for 2022.)
This feels like a concrete change from the broadcast era. Back then, fantasy series didn’t exist, or only existed on cable (the SyFy network) or in syndication (remember Hercules? Xena Warrior Princess?). And none looked high quality (remember Hercules? Xena Warrior Princess?). Then HBO and Game of Thrones brought “high fantasy” into the mainstream.
Like all genres, they have their own list of flops—no genre hits 100% of the time—but the hits have a high ceiling. Looking at just pure “high fantasy” TV show—meaning it occurs in a magical world1—and you can see some big/long runs in streaming:
One new fantasy show joined that club this week: One Piece, the Netflix adaptation of a popular anime series. From what I understand, it involves pirates with super powers on a quest in a magical world. Sounds pretty fantasy to me!2
I wouldn’t call the data “mixed” on this show, but not all numbers scream “huge hit”. While it crushed it on Netflix’s global charts—again, this is a US-focused report—based on the US data, I was expecting something of a let down. For example, on TV Time it only made the charts for two weeks at 8th place. That’s low! It didn’t have a great run on Samba TV’s charts, maxing out at 3rd most popular:
Samba TV later reported that only 740K households watched in the first four days. That’s low for Netflix! Last week, Who Is Erin Carter? had 1.2 million households watch in the first four days. Next week, Virgin River on Netflix will beat that number with 1.3 million households watching in the same time period.
The counter to this is the “customer reviews” for the show are good. Actually, they’re better than good. I’d say great. Fine, unbelievably excellent. So excellent that…I don’t trust them.
For example, the show has nearly perfect Rotten Tomatoes customer score potentially the most reviews a Netflix show has ever received. Its IMDb score is similar huge, but also with a view score that looks like it has a lot of deliberate “10 votes”. This is a “positive campaign”, the opposite of negative IMDb campaigns that plague a lot of shows:
Again, those IMDb reviews are so high, I don’t trust them, and I have a simple explanation: the anime fans of the world—who tend to over-index as reviewers on IMDb—are deliberately upvoting the series. That doesn’t mean the hardcore fanbase doesn’t love the show, but I wouldn’t compare these numbers to shows from other genres.
But…the Nielsen numbers are legit good. Yes, the show debuted on the top of the original charts, but that’s part for the course for most Netflix shows. More interestingly, it’s the 11th highest season one debut going back to 2020!
That is really good!
It was binge-released—all the series on the week one list above are—so I’m very curious how it holds and whether it sustains the interest coming up. That’s what separates shows with “good debuts” from shows with “great first seasons”. Overall, Netflix has to be very happy with One Piece’s week one ratings—hence why they renewed it already—but like Ahsoka, I’m going to be very curious to see how long this show holds on to its viewers (is it more Wednesday than FUBAR?).
(Some quick “views” math. By Nielsen’s data, this is roughly 2.9 million views. But it’s only living room TVs, so add say 25% for non-living room viewing and you get to 4 million views. If the show stays flat in its second week, a fair assumption, that’s say 8 million views in just two weeks. If the show can double that number in its next 10 weeks, another fair assumption, then this show would get the high performance residual. But as I said earlier...that’s a lot of assumptions.)
Growing your audience season-over-season is the next hurdle to jump for any TV series. And Prime Video’s biggest non-Lord of The Rings fantasy series—The Wheel of Time—seems to be stumbling on that step. Here are its season one ratings compared to its season two debut: