Which Weekly Series Won the Summer?
The Streaming Ratings Report for 8-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.)
I know that I asked, “Are new releases slowing down in streaming?” last week, but after the pause in late night TV and the impending impact on broadcast TV, this will likely be one of the first impacts of the WGA/SAG-AMPTP strikes for most Americans. That said, customer won’t notice it quite yet. Between new TV shows like Only Murders in the Building, Heart of Stone, Highschool Musical: The Musical: The Series and Painkiller we still have major shows and films coming out this week. (Reminder: this report has a four week delay, so the week starting 7-Aug.)
But is the pace slowing? I collect every major streaming title each week. Earlier this year that list of new movies and TV shows would have upwards of 25 or more titles, sometimes as high as forty. This week, I only counted six new streaming film releases and eleven for TV shows. Those numbers look like they’ll drop further in upcoming weeks. The numbers are even lower looking at English-language titles.
(Because of this, next week, instead of a usual “Streaming Ratings Report”, I’ll have an update on the “renewals, cancellations and un-orders” over the last three months.)
Even though there’s less content, we still have just as much ratings numbers to crunch as ever. (More ratings come out each week...) Let’s dive in, starting with a look back on the “weekly” series that came out over the summer.
(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 7th to August 13th.)
Television - A Check-In on Non-Netflix Mid-Summer Weekly Series
If I’m going to write about “weekly streaming series”—meaning shows that debut episodes week-after-week—by definition those shows are going to be “non-Netflix” shows, since Netflix barely releases any TV shows weekly. It’s worth analyzing “weekly” released series differently than “binge-released” series since it’s a more “apples-to-apples” comparison. As I wrote last week, a lot more binge-released series make the ratings charts than weekly shows.
This happens for two reasons:
First, Netflix is the biggest streamer, so they tend to have more usage, which means its shows have higher total hours viewed.
Second, the binge-released model obviously generates more hours since there is just more hours of TV to view immediately.
This distinction showed up on the Nielsen Originals charts this week:
Of the new releaeses for this week, Only Murders in the Building (on its third season, coming out weekly) just lost out to Painkiller, a binge-released Netflix limited series. If we compared these shows just using this week’s data, Painkiller is the winner. If we check back in in five weeks, the story could be Only Murders winning in a landslide.
And that’s the thing with weekly series: we really should check-in after they’ve finished releasing all of their episodes, to look at their entire runs. Since we had a few notable weekly series this summer, now is a good time to see how they fared. The biggies on the ratings charts were:
Disney+’s Secret Invasion
Paramount+’s Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Prime Video’s Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan
Prime VIdeo’s The Summer I Turned Pretty
Here’s the weekly ratings chart so far:
So the winner is…Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan by a fairly large margin. Two caveats: it was released in three batches of two episodes, so it’s just barely a weekly show, and it's on its fourth season, whereas Secret Invasion is on its first (and possibly only) season, and the rest were on their sophomore outings.
If you’re thinking, Marvel’s Secret Invasion seems like a disappointment…I’d agree with you. Compared to other Disney+ originals, it definitely isn’t in the top tier of the 2021 shows like Loki, Scarlet Witch or The Falcon and Winter Soldier. Even Moon Knight got above 10 million hours for a few weeks in a row.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is the biggest surprise. I mean, compared to the narrative about Paramount Global failing at life—the general gist of every news story on Paramount—you’d think they can’t do anything right, but they had a show make the ratings charts for seven weeks of its first nine weeks, despite easily being the sixth biggest streamer at best.
I would add, I’m fairly bullish on Only Murders in the Building’s chances to best most of these shows, so I added it to the chart above.
If this chart went through August—and that’s the week this report covers and Only Murders debuted on 8-Aug, a Tuesday—I’d bet it easily beats some of these series. (Though again the caveat that it has three seasons now, and Nielsen looks at viewership across all seasons.)
I do wonder how The Bear would have done if it had come out weekly. Looking at its long run, I think its weekly numbers would have obviously come down, but it likely would have done just fine on the Nielsen charts being released weekly:
(I put Is It Cake? in this comparison since I’ve been comparing the two shows all summer.)
I also think that a weekly release would have helped bring that show “into the conversation”, if you will, and would have driven additional marketing/earned media. This is what happens even for sub-par weekly released shows. Look at the comparable TV Time scores for The Bear, Secret Invasion and Only Murders:
Let’s not downplay how much this “earned” media can matter for series over time. Getting weekly reviews, podcast recaps, and social media conversation can help convince new people to start watching a show. I think The Bear, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Marvel and Star Wars shows in general, and many HBO shows have benefitted from this.
Quick Notes on TV
As I mentioned above, Only Murders in the Building returned for its third season and had a strong debut, going up to 12 million hours. That’s up from 8.8 million hours when its second season came out last summer, the gold standard for any TV show.1 Again, Hulu needs its originals to move the needle more; this is probably Hulu’s best performing show, maybe of all time. Only The Handmaid’s Tale has as good of a case. Futurama also stayed on the charts for a third week.
The opioid crisis has officially become a “trend”2 on streaming, as Netflix released the star-studded Painkiller on 10-Aug. It had 16.5 million hours after its debut, which is pretty good, just outside the top thirty season one debuts all-time. It also officially crushed Dopesick, a Hulu series that came out in 2021 on basically the same topic, as the Samba TV data shows:
We also had rarity: a kids series showed up on the charts! That show is Gabby’s Dollhouse, which is on its eighth season, and it had 7.3 million hours. Other than that, the Nielsen charts were mostly series that came out in previous weeks, with not a lot of turnover.
The Lincoln Lawyer continued its strong summer run, holding to 23.7 million hours this week, down from 28.4 million hours the week before. It’s not a procedural, but it also doesn’t surprise me a legal drama like this—with some procedural-ish elements—does great in the ratings.
The acquired charts were fairly stable on Nielsen as well, with Suits continuing its run as the top show of the summer (again, a legal drama), and Bluey showing remarkable resilience as well.
Here’s two more interesting “acquired” TV stories from the Nielsen charts. First, HBO’s last two big new shows—Winning Time: The Rise of the Laker’s Dynasty and Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the New York Jets—haven’t shown up yet. I asked Nielsen how well these two shows did on streaming, and they said Hard Knocks had 1.6 million hours viewed and Winning Time had 1.8 million.
Given the buzz around Hard Knocks, I’d say this is a fine debut, and it made the Showlabs charts. But the number for Winning Time seems low to me, and scanning the linear ratings, they seem down too. We also have heard nothing from HBO—and they’ve given out a lot of “datecdotes” over the last year—or Samba TV about this second season. Maybe releasing a basketball show outside of the NBA season doesn’t make a lot of sense?
Meanwhile, on Prime Video, an acquired show, The Chosen, showed up on the Prime Video Showlabs by Plum Research charts. The Chosen is a religious show produced by Angel Studios —the group behind this summer’s hit Sound of Freedom—and it starts life on its own website/app/YouTube. But then it is aggressively licensed out to the world, including currently on Netflix, Peacock, Amazon Freevee and Prime Video. This is the first time I’ve ever seen it make the streaming ratings charts, though.
The theme in August on the TV Time charts is that Netflix is going to be pretty much boxed out of the top spots on streaming…which is not very common. Netflix completely missed the TV Time charts on TV for two weeks, and only had one title the weeks of 7-Aug and 28-Aug.
In the competition section below I’m going to show a visual of the streamers' share of the TV Time charts over time…and it puts this decline is into context.