Will Squid Game Take Tiger King’s Viewership Crown?
The Most Important Story of the Week 18-October-2021
I often write that this is a “hits driven” business. (And yes, I often write both hit-driven and hits-driven. I’m not sure which is more accurate. Disney, for example, thrives not off one hit but multiple hits.) Nothing proved that this quarter quite like Squid Game. Let’s dive into a ton of streaming data to digest this week.
Also, if you missed it, I went very in-depth on Squid Game and the state of international originals for Netflix over at the Ankler.
(Reminder: The streaming ratings report compiles data from Nielsen’s weekly top ten viewership ranks, Netflix datecdotes, Top Ten lists, Google Trends and IMDb to determine the most popular content. While most data points are current, Nielsen’s data covers the weeks of September 26th to October 3rd.)
In their quarterly earnings report last week, Netflix released another crop of datecdotes, headlined by Squid Game’s record breaking (for Netflix) 142 million viewers. Squid Game is clearly at a different level than the majority of Netflix TV releases:
Overall, the TV numbers in total viewers have been creeping up in raw totals, but when accounting for “percent of subscribers”, the trend is still downward. Meaning Netflix needs more content as it adds subscribers. Here are the averages by quarter:
Squid Game was watched by nearly seven in ten people subscribed to Netflix. That’s a crazy amount of consumption for one series.
Looking at the non-Squid Game series, the picture was still not that bad. Better, but frankly not outstanding. With Sex Education still getting 55 million viewers, that’s a pretty high floor for most quarters. The caveat being that Netflix only released 4 official and one unofficial TV datecdotes this quarter:
Still the story is the hit, which is Squid Game. That’s the story of the week for Nielsen ratings too, with Squid Game topping 50 million hours viewed in one week:
In most articles on Nielsen ratings, you’ll simply get some analysis like, “Man, this number is big.” You come here for context. Is this the biggest number in Netflix’s history? Or I should say in the “streaming ratings era”, which started March 2nd 2020? Here are the factoids to impress your colleagues at work or friends at parties:
- In the 2021 calendar year (starting the week of Monday 28-Dec), yes, this is the biggest, with Squid Game’s 54.3 million hours topping Bridgerton’s 44.1 million hours and Manifest’s 41.6 million hours.
- Since March of 2021, Squid Game’s single week total is 7th all-time, behind Tiger King, Ozark, and The Crown.
- Through three weeks, Squid Game is 3rd all time among season one premieres (89.6 million hours), trailing Bridgerton (92.0) and Tiger King (175.4).
Here’s the list of single week’s over 40 million hours viewed, with both total viewership and viewership per day:
So yeah, Squid Game probably isn’t catching Tiger King. The viewership during lockdown likely can’t be topped in normal circumstances. It’s crazy to think that Ozark and Tiger King each topped the seventy million hour mark…and they did it in the same week!
At this point, Squid Game will likely pass Bridgerton’s hours views through the first four weeks. Bridgerton dropped from a peak in week 2 of 44.1 million hours to 27.8 and then 23.1. million hours. We know that Squid Game will remain in the top spot in the top ten list for the next couple of weeks, but Bridgerton held that record too:
Assuming Squid Game’s numbers are delayed by a week due to its slow start, we can expect a 21-37% point drop (a la The Queen’s Gambit and Bridgerton, respectively), meaning a total hours viewed range between a 34-42 million hours next week. (If not higher.)
Yes, It’s a hits-driven business, and Squid Game is a hit that rivals Netflix top series past.
Quick Notes on TV
- Returning Series: Prime Video - Goliath season 4. You know what? I’m always glad to move shows off the “Dogs Not Barking” list. We want everyone to be successful here. (Honestly, it makes this report more fun when it is more competitive. See the competition section below.) As I noted last week, Goliath has all the chops to be a top series for Prime Video and it has four seasons of content. In its first weekend of release—it came out on 24-Sep—it missed the Nielsen charts, but made it this week with its first full week of data, with 6 million hours viewed.
Is that good? Not really. Sorry, Amazon Prime Video Studios. Of the season four series in my data sets, that’s 12th place out of 13 examples through two weeks. The Crown netted 69.4 million hours through two weeks (the clear winner). Among closer rivals, The Handmaid’s Tale netted 28.8 million in a weekly release (3rd place).
- Sex Education is on a perfectly respectable “binge release curve” peaking up to 14.3 million hours last week, then dropping to 7.8 million this week. That’s good for 5th place among season 3 releases. Midnight Mass, meanwhile had a huge jump, doubling its week one 9.4 million hours to 19.5 million. That’s not unheard of—for example the series Away doubled viewership last year and so did Bridgerton—but it’s still fairly rare to double viewership in the second week for a top 20 show.
- Licensed: Netflix - Seinfeld. Many licensed film and TV deals start on the first of the month, and Netflix’s big licensed TV series acquisition of the year started at the beginning of October. All 180 episodes of Seinfeld, the biggest TV sitcom of the 1990s—moved from Hulu to Netflix for a reported $500 million for the U.S. alone. (If you want a good look at the rough interest in sitcoms, check out my deep dive for Decider from early 2020.) Despite all those episodes, Seinfeld didn’t make the Nielsen rankings and so far hasn’t lit the Top Ten list on fire either. (With scores of 14 and 27 in only two weeks. Don’t read too much into the Top Ten performance, many licensed series crank tons of hours, but rarely or never make the Netflix-controlled Top Ten lists. (Like NCIS, which has never made it.)
This performances isn’t that surprising. Back in 2019, Business Insider looked at data from now defunct Jump Shot, who used Avast’s virus protection to track internet users every behavior. (Yeah, a pinch creepy.) The result? With 3.2 million views, Seinfeld didn’t crack the top ten.
- Licensed: Netflix - Gilmore Girls. After staying off the rankings since 12-July, Gilmore Girls has made another appearance on the “acquired” TV list for the last two weeks. Good for them. I’d add, The Simpsons held on to its spot from last week as well.
- Dog Not Barking of the Week: Star Wars: Visions. Binge released on 22-Sep, this Star Wars anthology series hasn’t made the Nielsen ratings for either of its two weeks. The force was not strong with this latest entry—the data seems to show that animated titles struggle to perform—and this marks the first MCU or Star Wars series to fail to make the Nielsen charts.
- Confirmed Dogs Not Barking. We have a few other series from last week that have failed to make the rankings. In particular, we’re now on “Foundation Watch 2021”. Will Apple’s most expensive show make the rankings, or are universe spanning sci-fi epics not guaranteed hits? (And trust me, I say this as a huge sci-fi nerd. I want the Foundations, Arrivals, Invasions and Three Body Problems of the world to succeed. I’m just realistic.) For Netflix, Dear White People in its fourth season failed to make the rankings.
- Dog Not Barking Candidates. Netflix’s Maid missed the Nielsen charts on its first week of release, but given its “datecdote” treatment—67 million worldwide estimated— and top ten performance—placing second behind Squid Game for two weeks in a row—I’d be surprised if it doesn’t make the list. Some other Netflix kids series missed the cut, including Ada Twist and Scaredy Cats as did the anime series The Seven Deadly Sins.
For non-Netflix streamers, HBO Max is back with its Sesame Street spin-off The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo(Elmo is a big star in my house). Disney’s biggest TV series is probably Lego Star Wars: Terrifying Tales, but as a kids series I have low expectations. Apple TV+ released The Problem with Jon Stewart, and given that name we’d expect as it adds episodes it should show up on the rankings. But maybe not. Prime Video continues a down streak, with their biggest title being All Or Nothing: Toronto Maple Leafs.
Tis the Halloween season, which means it's time for each streamer to emphasize their past spooky TV series or films. As such, the fun surprise for this week is Disney+ getting a non-Moana/Frozen/Luca/Raya library title making the list: 1993’s Hocus Pocus!
That’s right, the family film starring Bette Midler (among others) did enough viewing to make the top ten with 3.3 million hours. Disney has already green-lit a sequel for next year, and presumably this is a good sign that’s a smart choice.
As for lessons, let’s not draw too much. This is a small library title on a service that mainly appeals to kids. But this does show the value of owning a film library: you have a deep reservoir of essentially free content to keep streaming to customers. Come Christmas, the legacy players can similarly draw on their deep bench of holiday movie titles.
Quick Notes on Film
- Theatrical/First Run: HBO Max - The Many Saints of Newark. The latest in their string of dual releases, this film of all of them probably would have made the most sense as a straight-to-streaming release since, yeah, everyone who watched The Sopranos watched it on HBO, right? (Or a set of DVDs in college, but I don’t want to date myself.) According to Samba TV, it generated 1 million living rooms tune-ins. That’s ahead of Reminiscence and behind Tom & Jerry. And about one-half of Dune or one-third of The Suicide Squad. For one of HBO’s biggest series, I’d call this a “fine” debut, but probably not as big as they hoped.
- First Run: Netflix - The Guilty. The biggest first run film premiere of the week is Jake Gyllenhaal-starring The Guilty with 7.8 million hours. Gyllenhaal already told outlets his film got 69 million viewers in the first 28 days. Expect a typical binge release curve performance with this title.
- First Run: Netflix - Britney vs. Spears and No One Gets Out Alive. In the lower ranked range, the documentary on Britney Spears netted 5.0 million hours, good for 59th place and No One Gets Out Alive—a British horror film—netted only 2.5 million hours, good for 89th place out of 104 first run films.
- Dog Not Barking of the Week: Birds of Paradise on Prime Video failed to take flight. And with that pun I’ll see myself out.
But I won’t leave Prime Video alone. This week they released three films on the same day. Three! They’re trying to be as prolific as Netflix. Under their “Welcome to Blumhouse” banner they released Bingo Hell and Black as Night. Neither made the list in their first weekend. And Amazon Prime/Video/Studios has 2 more in the pipeline this month. Yes they’re cheap, but cheap and unpopular still doesn’t get subscribers. (Though it is better than expensive and unpopular.) Also, in the documentary (and likely cheap) realm, Prime Video released My Name is Pauli Murray on 1-Oct.
Last week, folks asked if this was the most “non-Netflix” entries in the Nielsen ratings so far since they moved to a Top 30. And not its not, but it’s close. Here’s the data:
Technically, the week of 26-July was the lowest, with Disney+ having six entries (Black Widow, Raya, Moana, Loki, Jungle Cruise and Luca), Prime Video having two (Bosch and The Tomorrow War) and three series being “non-exclusive” (CoComelon, Chicago Med and Downton Abbey). Now, non-exclusive titles are a judgement call by me, and some folks would call them Netflix titles, but Downton Abbey and CoComelon are streaming on multiple services, so “non-exclusive” feels the most accurate, but it’s a judgement call.
Still five different streamers with entries is a high point, simply because up until last week Apple TV+ wasn’t tracked. It will be fun to see how this trends going through the end of the year. Can Prime Video, Hulu and Apple TV+ take more market share from Netflix? That’s the key question for the streaming wars this year, as I wrote back in January.
The next couple of weeks look a pinch slow for major streaming releases. Maybe this is because they’re avoiding the fall broadcast season, the Covid-19 slowdowns or just noise, but we’ll see what hits in the streaming ratings. Next week, for films, I have my eye on musicals, specifically some dogs not barking. Disney+ released The Muppets Haunted Mansion special and we’ll see if it can break through. Netflix also releases a new season of On My Block, which did well last spring.
Oh, and Dave Chappelle’s The Closer hits the ratings charts. That should be interesting for the conversation.