Having written this report for over a year now, I’ve started to get a feel for the flow of content. And I have to tell you, this week (remember the week starting 21-March) is the quietest in a while. Possibly because the other streamers (rightfully) avoided the the big beast that is Bridgerton. Everything else was fairly small potatoes.
On the film side in particular, there were no English-language films released on streaming. My working theory is that the Oscars (which aired on Sunday 27-March) scared off the streamers. Not because of its ratings in particular, but because presumably folks would watch films nominated for film’s top prize. (Does the data support this? A bit. We’ll touch some on it this week and next.)
Given that all the film releases in streaming were foreign-language, let’s check in on Netflix’s foreign films and answer a very important question: are they any good?
(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, Netflix datecdotes and hours viewed data, Netflix 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 March 21st to March 27th.)
Here’s what Netflix said about their foreign films in their latest earnings report:
“Key to our success has been our ability to create amazing entertainment from all around the world.”
Yeah, if you’ve been casually following Netflix news, you might think this is true. After all, Squid Game! But is it true? When we look across all of Netflix’s foreign films another fact emerges:
Netflix makes a bunch of truly terrible foreign films and TV shows.
And I mean bad.
Like bad bad.
My standard is that an IMDb score above an “8” is elite. Beloved. Between 7 and 8 you’re good to great. Between 6 and 7 you’re “meh” or average.
Below a 6? You’re a disaster. At least one standard deviation below the mean, if not two.
I first noticed a stream of foreign films with really bad IMDb scores last fall. In January, it got worse. So I started collecting the titles just to see if this was my imagination or a trend.
Just take a look at this list:
That’s 20 films, released from January to the first week of April, all on Netflix, that people truly, truly hated. All are Netflix Originals. (I also counted at least 6 very bad foreign TV series and one other foreign film not labeled as an original.) I made a joke last week that in Hollywood “three is a trend”. Well, this is six times that!
And it’s not even a comprehensive list. I left off shows that were merely “mediocre” and didn’t go back to track foreign-language titles from 2021.
Now, I normally eschew anecdotal evidence. (Lately reporters can write an article saying, “Folks are upset about X”, and their only evidence is tweets about that thing. Sometimes less than three tweets!) But since you can see the data above, it’s worth noting how these reviews make customers feel:
People hate these films! Like truly hate them!
That’s just three reviews too. I collected six more. I could grabbed dozens.
Here’s a scatter plot with a few hits thrown in for context:
That first chart has a logarithmic X-axis. Here’s what it looks like without it:
Thinking about it, what was the last foreign film to really succeed in America? Was it Blood Red Sky from July? Even then that film only got 11.4 million hours, good for 64th place in my data set. In other words, of foreign-language films released in the U.S. on streaming, the single best film (for which we have data) was the 64th best title of all time. The top four films together earned 34.6 million hours combined, which is about what Red Notice did in one week:
Does This Matter?
I know all the arguments for Netflix producing local content. And I think they make sense. My question today is whether that strategy helps Netflix in the U.S., a territory which shrunk by 600K subscribers last quarter.
There might be a reason why, in the past, most foreign films and TV shows didn’t find an audience in the U.S. Because U.S. audience don’t really watch foreign-language titles. In the past, most foreign films weren’t worth a distributor’s time to distribute in America. For Netflix, since there are zero marginal costs, why not distribute the films in America?
Because it hurts the brand. As prices go up, the perception of quality does matter. If folks who use Netflix a lot eventually think, “most of the Netflix films are really, really bad”, maybe that hurts the perception of the brand and maybe, just maybe, the dreaded “churn” increases. (See my “Anecdata” section below.)
Maybe I’m worrying too much. Many of these films have a very low number of reviews, so not a lot of people watched them. Clearly the recommendation engine knows these films are bombs. That said, if your defense of making bad foreign films is that you’re making movies no one is watching, that’s not really a great use of your content budget is it?
(My easy fix? Stop using the Netflix Original on foreign films with really bad IMDb scores. And maybe stagger release dates to confirm that.)
And yes, today I’m talking about the U.S. perspective. Maybe all those foreign titles really do travel well and the U.S. is just an outlier. If so great, but don’t let these foreign titles hurt the perception of your brand in America in the mean time.
Let’s not let Netflix’s competitors off the hook either. Especially this year, Prime Video, Disney and, especially HBO Max have emulated Netflix’s global film strategy. And they’re delivering the same sort of underwhelming foreign content Netflix is.
Quick Notes on Film
– As I mentioned above the weekend of 25-March was the Academy Awards telecast. As such, we did see an uptick of interest in the TV Time data for a few Oscar films:
So King Richard, Dune and Westside Story all saw a bump. After its win—spoiler—CODA will make the list next week.
– In the “rescued from the jaws of failure”, Windfall—which as a reminder Netflix paid, according to Deadline, “major” eight figures—made the Nielsen top ten with 3.3 million hours good for 9th place on the Nielsen list this week. I can tell you that last week it netted 2.8 million hours in its opening weekend. Through two weeks, that’s good for 111th place on my overall list (out of 153 first run streaming films).
Notably, it never made the TV Time rankings either. Let’s be honest, this film is a dud, and it has a 5.7 IMDb score on 18K reviews. (With low reviews like that, clearly its not only foreign films that dud on Netflix!)
– Speaking of TV Time rankings, Rescued by Ruby and Cheaper by the Dozen both had one week runs on the TV Time rankings, which is pretty disappointing. Longer term, Death on the Nile looks like it will do well.
– I haven’t checked in on “specials” in a while, since most don’t rate on either Nielsen or TV Time. For example, Jeff Foxworthy had a special released on Netflix on Tuesday 22-March, and crickets. But Disney+ did get Olivia Rodrigo’s driving home 2 u to make one week on the TV Time rankings, as you can see above.
– Black Crab, Deep Water, Rescued by Ruby and Cheaper by the Dozen all had pretty small second-week bumps. These are pretty small “binge release curve” bounces, and my guess is they’d have fallen off the rankings if the streamers had literally released any major films this week.
– Yeah, The Adam Project has 20 million hours in this data drop. That hold seems a bit too high, so let’s flag this title for this week.
– Well, Windfall, a poorly received prestige-ish film may have made the rankings, but no such luck for Prime Video’s Master. So it’s the “dog not barking” of the week.
– Like I said, hardly any films were released this week on streaming. The best of the bunch—and honestly we’re barely talking films that registered—was No Woman No Try, a UK documentary on Prime Video that I had to try several search terms to even find its IMDb scores. (What are those scores? A 5.9 on 101 reviews and it has 10—10!—total reviews on Amazon.) If Amazon got this documentary for free, then it was probably worth it. Anything more than that, than yeesh.
Well, Bridgerton is a hit. Didn’t need me to tell you that, did you?
42.5 million hours in its first week is a big number. Is it the biggest season two of all time though? (That’s what most other news outlets can’t tell you, but I can.)
But it’s not!
Which surprised me too. It turns out that The Umbrella Academy—last season was released in late July of 2020—debuted to 42.8 million hours, just edging out Bridgerton. (In other debuts, Ozark season 4 released back in January also edged it out with a 48.4.) Still Bridgerton joined the “40 million hour” club in its first week, which is just a monster number. This is a hit. For sure.
Here’s that chart by year:
Bridgerton did well in most other metrics too. It has an IMDb score of 7.4, which is good on 118K reviews, which is a great review total for a romantic drama. It took the top spot on TV Time’s Rankings for two weeks too:
According to Samba TV, Bridgerton is also tied for the second biggest opening weekend through Live+3, with Inventing Anna at 1.6 million households.
Now I get it. I should connect this to the huge news this week about Netflix, right? Well, yeah it does seem weird to have such a huge hit and not have it drive much incremental growth in the U.S., right? And I’d agree. I’d say that Netflix still has some calendar balancing issues to work out. For example, they have two Shonda-type shows in Q1 this year, then they’ll have two genre shows (Stranger Things and Umbrella Academy) in Q2. They should have flipped two of those shows for each other. Likely productions schedules didn’t allow that, but it may have helped the dreaded churn.
Quick Notes on TV
– Showtime’s long gestating Halo finally came to Paramount+ this week, releasing on Thursday 24-March. Since we won’t get ratings for it anyways, we’ll discuss it next week with Moon Knight.
– In returning show news, Is It Cake? performed very well into its second week. One of the jokes I saw after Netflix’s earnings report was blaming Is It Cake? with the implication being, “See, Netflix needs to make better content.” It’s a good reminder—as I pointed out in the Ankler—we have different definitions of “better”. Some folks mean better as in “liked by critics and talked about on Twitter” and I mean “popular”. Many shows are popular, but not critically acclaimed. Like Is It Cake?
– Netflix’s Human Resources, a spin off of Big Mouth that debuted on 18-March missed the rankings last week, but returned this week as you can see above. Good job avoiding “dog not barking” status!
– On the licensed front, BBC-originated title, Call the Midwife, earned 7.4 million hours this week as season 10 just released in the U.S. in March.
– Some other TV Time notes. A few legacy shows finally fell off the charts, like How I Met Your Father and Star Trek: Discovery. Severance, though, is holding strong and to its credit, it sure seems like Apple is pouring money into a marketing campaign.
– We can confirm Love & Beth as a “dog not barking”, which brings me no joy to say as an Amy Schumer fan. (Please make more episodes of Amy Learns to Cook!)
But I have to give the prize to HBO Max this week. I mean, let’s talk about DMZ. In my battle of the showrunners a few weeks back on The Ankler, my initial version had Ava DuVernay, Greg Berlanti, and a few other showrunners competing as well. (And trust me, they’re gonna get their due/analysis.) I see DuVernay’s name on tons of projects, and often they really don’t go anywhere. I’d say that happened with DMZ. Plus it has Rosario Dawson in it! And right now, it has a 5.4 rating on only 2,500 reviews on IMDb. It never made the TV Time Rankings. Look at Google Trends.
Toss in Minx, which did better on IMDb (a 7.8 on 4,300 reviews) and one week on TV Time, and I’d still say these are two misses. So HBO Max gets the prize for most misses this week.
– As for misses that released this week, the biggest has to be Pachinko on Apple TV+ that looks just super expensive. It’s already a leading candidate for “Dog Not Barking” of the year. Also missing the list was Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls reality show. As a Lizzo fan, someone please tell her to not let Prime Video release a competition show as a binge release! Release competition reality shows weekly! It just makes sense! C’mon do better Prime Video.
Nielsen’s latest “The Gauge” is out, and they also released a trend line of TV usage between medium over the last year. This is fun:
Here’s my monthly drill down into the streaming share:
Any takeaways? One. The growth in streaming really doesn’t seem to be coming from the core four (Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu and Disney+) but the smaller streamers, like Paramount+ and HBO Max. Ponder that for a moment with everything that went on this week with Netflix.
Anecdata of the Week
You know, I’ve barely mentioned Netflix’s no good, very bad quarter, because that’ll be the topic of next week’s strategy column. And this is a streaming ratings report after all, not a financial document. That said, the data point that stuck out to me was Antenna’s report on Netflix’s churn, and the notable increase after the price increase:
In other words, if Netflix’s price goes up again, it may start to look like other services in terms of churn. It will be curious how these numbers look after the impact of the price increases wears off later this year.
And this ties into my initial point about low quality foreign films. If prices go up and the perceived quality goes down, folks will increasingly seek other options.
I’m really excited for next week’s issue. Moon Knight vs Halo is a fascinating showdown. We can also get a good read on whether the Oscars really boosted Oscar-Nominated film’s value. Plus, Death on the Nile may have a second life on streaming, which shouldn’t be surprising but may surprise some folks. Later this month, reality shows may take over, as The Kardashians and The Ultimatum: Marry or Move On both look strong.
Longer term, I think I’ve failed to mention Stranger Things season four, its penultimate season. Man, that will be a big title. And, uh, expensive:
Stranger Things by Google Trends is one of the top series of the decade with Game of Thrones and Squid Game.
So it will be fascinating to see how it fares. I would add, Umbrella Academy (mentioned above) has another season coming in June.
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