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The massively expensive, heavily anticipated Lord of the Rings series premieres on Amazon’s Prime Video late Thursday. Reviews have been mostly positive, while noting that critics only got to see two of the season’s eight episodes.
Given the lasting imprint J.R.R. Tolkien’s work has had on popular culture and the huge marketing campaign behind the show, it’s a safe bet The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power will gather a good-sized audience (both in the United States and worldwide) over the weekend. Answering the “How big?” question, however, could take several weeks.
It’s likely that Amazon will send out a press release after the weekend touting the show’s global reach and possibly about how it sparked additional demand for Prime Video. It’s just as likely that any such release will contain little to no supporting data — percentage gains without a baseline point of comparison, maybe, or touts of how widespread its popularity is with no actual audience figures. Amazon is hardly alone in this game: Streamers give out data for their programming on a need-to-know basis, and for the most part they’ve decided that the press and public don’t need to know.
There will — eventually — be some data about The Rings of Power’s U.S. viewership. Nielsen includes Prime Video in its weekly streaming rankings, but those lag a show’s premiere by four weeks, meaning the first Rings of Power numbers likely won’t arrive until the season is three fourths finished. (There is a chance, albeit small, that Nielsen could issue a “special report” for the first week, as it did following the return of Stranger Things and the premiere of Obi-Wan Kenobi.)
Once those Nielsen figures do come in, there will at least benchmarks with which to compare The Rings of Power.
The biggest Prime Video show in the two-plus years of the streaming chart has been Reacher, which opened with 1.84 billion minutes of viewing time in its first three days and collected about 5.8 billion minutes over six weeks in the top 10. Prime Video released the full eight-episode season of Reacher at once, whereas The Rings of Power will have new installments weekly after its two-episode premiere.
Still, it’s not at all unreasonable to expect the LOTR series to top a billion minutes of watch time for its opening weekend in the Nielsen charts. Prime’s The Wheel of Time had 1.16 billion minutes of viewing for its three-episode premiere in November 2021; and Obi-Wan Kenobi did so with two episodes on Disney+ in late May.
What’s less likely is that, with a weekly release schedule, The Rings of Power will reach Stranger Things-esque (or even Ozark-esque) heights on the streaming charts. Nielsen’s streaming measurement encompasses the entire library of a show, so all prior seasons of Stranger Things and Ozark counted toward their dizzyingly high totals earlier in the year. Even if season four accounted for 80 percent of Stranger Things’ watch time the week of its release, as Nielsen reported, that remaining 20 percent is still a significant chunk.
A flurry of reports from other analytics companies will also probably follow the Rings of Power premiere — as will inevitable comparisons to the other big fantasy series currently airing, HBO’s House of the Dragon. The Game of Thrones prequel has drawn big audiences in its first two episodes, with an average of 10.1 million first-night viewers across all platforms.
Unless Amazon breaks years of precedent and reports hard data on The Rings of Power, meaningful comparisons to House of the Dragon will be hard to come by. Since the latter also airs on the HBO cable channel, its HBO Max viewership won’t be part of the Nielsen streaming rankings. And since Rings will run in more than 200 territories worldwide, Amazon will emphasize its global footprint over any specific country (again, if the company releases any specific figures at all). Other measurement tools — Parrot Analytics’ demand scores and Samba TV’s household snapshots, for instance — could prove useful in giving rough comparisons between the two.
Still, and with all respect to a certain hulking problem solver, Amazon didn’t spend half a billion dollars on The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power to draw the same audience as Reacher. With a price tag that high, internal expectations should be set high too. We’ll have (some) concrete answers about whether they were met in a few weeks.
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