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Netflix canceled Jupiter’s Legacy, the superhero series based on Mark Millar’s comic book, on June 2, four weeks after it premiered. A day later, Nielsen’s weekly rankings of streaming titles — which lag by about a month — showed Jupiter’s Legacy as the No. 1 original series on the service. It repeated that feat, and rose to No. 1 among all titles on Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video, for the week of May 10-16.
The juxtaposition of the show’s end and the fairly strong viewing figures raises a question: How much insight are the Nielsen numbers really giving into the typically obscured field of streaming measurement?
Jupiter’s Legacy is the second Netflix show to be scrapped after ranking first among original streaming series by Nielsen’s metric, which measures total viewing time for all episodes. The Irregulars reached No. 1 for the week of March 29 to April 4, which Nielsen noted in an April 29 release. Five days later, Netflix canceled it, too. Jupiter’s Legacy drew about 650 million minutes more viewing time than The Irregulars over its first two weeks, but both shows crashed in week three: The Irregulars fell by 58 percent, and Jupiter’s Legacy plummeted 60 percent.
Nielsen, collecting streaming data via a subset of its traditional national panel, has provided some light where there was previously very little: Prior to its inauguration of weekly rankings in summer 2020, hard viewership data for a given title was vanishingly hard to come by. Streamers were loath to share their internal numbers — Netflix’s highlighting of two-minute “view” metrics on a handful of titles each quarter was about as transparent as it got — and they in turn looked askance at what Nielsen put out, saying the limited data was incomplete, or “not even close,” as Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings said in 2017.
There are notable limitations to Nielsen’s methodology: The weekly program rankings feature only Amazon Prime, Disney+, Hulu and Netflix (other companies with streaming services are Nielsen clients but haven’t yet consented to being included). They don’t include viewing on devices other than TV sets or count viewers outside the U.S.
“There is obviously some value in knowing what’s being watched online, and where. But the value is pretty limited,” says Matthew Ball, a former Amazon Studios exec who now leads venture firm EpyllionCo. “When Nielsen rated TV, the broadcast networks all reached the same number of households. In OTT video, some services are several times bigger [than others], and which service streams ‘Show A’ has an enormous impact on the streaming minutes for that show.”
Several startups, including Parrot Analytics, Antenna (both of which count Ball as an investor and adviser), Reelgood and Samba TV, have entered the analytics game with proprietary measures of consumption of streaming titles. They’ve attracted clients across the media landscape and made some inroads in getting their data before the public (including in THR), but Nielsen remains the market leader.
None of the services, including Nielsen, can offer full insight into how cost-efficient a show is — a bloated budget for Jupiter’s Legacy has been cited as a key reason for its swift end — or whether a series drives user subscription or retention. But, like traditional TV ratings, they can hint at how it’s performing with audiences.
The weekly total-minutes rankings have been easiest to parse for movies, where simply dividing the total minutes watched by a film’s run time gives a decent estimate of viewers. Amazon’s Michael B. Jordan-led Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, for example, racked up 1.3 billion minutes of viewing in its first two weeks, equivalent to more than 12 million full runs of the 109-minute movie. The rankings have also shown that weekly episode releases can pay dividends: Marvel series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and WandaVision steadily built viewership over their runs, as opposed to a more pronounced rise and fall for binge releases that are genre like Netflix’s Fate: The Winx Saga, which dropped more than 70 percent in its third week and was out of the top 10 by week four.
Sources tell THR that more buy-in from streamers for what Nielsen is doing could mean better insights in the form of weekly rankings that include more outlets and arrive sooner than they do now. Nielsen’s pitch is that while streamers collect heaps of data on their own product, it can help them learn more about competitors’ programming.
In a step toward that future, Nielsen on June 17 released “The Gauge,” a measure of total TV usage. It showed streaming services in May commanded a larger share of viewers’ time than broadcast networks. Hastings praised the finding in The New York Times, signaling that the days when he and other execs were dismissive of Nielsen are waning and their chilly relationship could be warming.
This story first appeared in the June 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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