With streaming dominating the industry — and more services on the way — IndieWire is taking a closer look at the news cycle, breaking down what really matters to provide a clear picture of what companies are winning the streaming wars — and how they’re pulling ahead. By looking at trends and curating developments down to what matters, the Streaming Wars Report will offer a clear picture of what’s happening overall and day-to-day in streaming.
Netflix Top 10 Lists Are Here ⇔⇔⇔
This week, Netflix imported one of its foreign experiments to the U.S., adding Top 10 lists of the most popular movies, TV shows, and all content to the Netflix home-screen. Much of the immediate hubbub around the addition is split: There are those fascinated by the streaming giant’s sudden divulgence of once hidden figures (“Holy cow, we now know the most popular Netflix shows!”) and those irritated that the rankings are set by wonky metrics. (“These aren’t really the most popular shows, just the most popular shows sampled for at least two minutes.”) And yes, Netflix’s much-publicized switch — from gauging views by subscribers who watch 70 percent of an episode or film to subscribers who watch at least two minutes — is annoying, but focusing on our wants also misses the point.
Netflix may want to goose its viewership numbers, but it’s also got good reason to care about sampling. Maybe 76 million people didn’t watch all of “The Witcher,” but 76 million subscribers did sample “The Witcher.” That means, in one way or another, they’re interested in shows like “The Witcher,” so Netflix now knows to produce more fantasy epics, or video game adaptations, or super weird series featuring terrible original songs. Sharing that popularity elevates the odds more people know about the show, sample the show, and subscribe to Netflix — just like all these new movies and shows on the Top 10 lists. Netflix may be secretive, but it still needs to be seen as a success. Highlighting its biggest draws helps those shows continue to perform (since the lists help elevate series amidst the sea of Netflix content) and helps set a precedent for future success. With “Love Is Blind” as the service’s No. 1 show all week, no one is questioning Netflix’s continued investment in reality TV. Plus, all those “Love Is Blind” viewers will be fed more reality shows by the algorithm as they continue to roll out. Success breeds success, especially when you’re in control of the numbers.
Pilot Season Takes a Hit as Studios Pivot to Streaming ⇓⇓⇓
The streaming wars have claimed another victim: pilot season. The five major networks only picked up 58 pilots this year, which is eight fewer than last year, which was the lowest tally in the past decade. Granted, broadcast orders during the traditional pilot season have been on the decline anyway — as the idea of any defined “TV season” goes out the window — but a chunk of the Hollywood studios that used to focus on producing pilots for broadcast are now keeping things in-house for their various streaming services. Disney Television Studios’ adopted children 20th Century Fox Television and ABC Studios are putting their parent company’s demands first — meaning producing content for Disney+, FX, and Hulu — while CBS TV Studios continues to focus on CBS All Access and Showtime. The number of total TV shows on the market may be limitless, but studios can still only produce so many series — and just like the rest of us, they have to choose where to focus their attention.
“Altered Carbon” ⇔⇔⇔
Speaking of that new Top 10 list, let’s take a look at “Altered Carbon.” Netflix’s original science-fiction series, adapted from Richard K. Morgan’s 2002 novel, debuted its second season on Thursday, February 27, and the reaction has been muted. Reviews remain mixed, online chatter is contained to fan-centric realms, and, on the subjective spectrum, I’ve seen more billboards around Hollywood for “BoJack Horseman’s” final season than “AC’s” new one. More to the point, it took two years and a lot of money to deliver these eight new episodes (a count which is already down from the 10 made in Season 1) — so is the end result worth it for Netflix?
The Top 10 Lists could indicate otherwise. Since “Altered Carbon” Season 2 launched, it’s been floating in the back half of the overall list. It reached the fifth slot on Friday, the day after its premiere, and sits in sixth as of Sunday morning. That’s certainly a good showing — very good, if it can hold — but look at what it’s been trailing. “Love Is Blind,” the buzzy but badly made reality series, was No. 1 overall on Friday and sits at No. 3 on Sunday — and it’s also getting a ton of conversation online, with outlets from TMZ to The Atlantic covering the show. Even without hard numbers, it’s hard to deny the series has become a nationwide talking point.
The very pricey “Altered Carbon” losing to the very cheap “Love Is Blind” certainly supports further investment in reality TV, but you could also argue the latter has a wider audience base and/or it’s just a lucky phenomenon. Netflix can’t only make dating shows, and not all its dating shows are going to be hits — the company still needs prestige genre fare to keep its qualitative brand up and various audience demographics happy. (Plus, “Altered Carbon” likely plays to a larger international audience, whereas the Top 10 lists only show what’s popular in America.)
Courtesy of Netflix
Of bigger concern for fans of epic sci-fi could be “I Am Not Okay With This.” Based on a Charles Forsman comic book, the half-hour (or less) comedy-drama is also a hybrid of two prior Netflix success stories: “The End of the F***ing World” and “Stranger Things.” Jonathan Entwistle directed and executive-produced “The End of the F***ing World” and “I Am Not Okay With This,” while Shawn Levy executive-produced both shows about a teenage girl who slowly discovers her burgeoning superpowers. “I Am Not Okay With This” may not scratch the exact cyberpunk itch “Altered Carbon” does, but it appeals to genre and non-genre fans alike with its relatable and slightly supernatural story, all while costing much less than a grand sci-fi epic. And so far, more people are watching it than “Altered Carbon.” “I Am Not Okay With This” was the No. 3 show on Friday and sits at No. 5 on Sunday — great viewership for a first season without major stars.
One more note on the Top 10 lists before moving on: So far, Netflix originals are dominating the lists. Only one non-Netflix series, film, or special has ranked in the overall Top 10 — “The Angry Birds Movie 2,” of all things — which points to the algorithm working its magic. Originals highlighted by the system are performing better than acquisitions. While “The Office” and “Better Call Saul” are ranking consistently on the TV-only list, they’re still behind recent originals like “Gentefied” and “Queen Sono.” That means there could be room for everything: the pricey scripted epics and the low-budget reality fare. Only time will tell what Netflix values most.
Dick Wolf’s Huge Peacock Payday ⇑⇑⇑
OK, OK. Dick Wolf’s Peacock payday technically arrived six weeks ago, when six Wolf Entertainment series were acquired by the NBCUniversal streaming service. But February 27 saw Wolf sign a massive five-year deal that not only includes unnamed series commitments from Peacock, but that renewed four of his now-airing NBC series for three more seasons each. That means “Chicago Fire” is guaranteed to run for 11 seasons, “Chicago PD” will last 10 seasons, and “Chicago Med” will hit eight. Plus, if you combined all those seasons, you’d only be four seasons over “Law & Order: SVU’s” new guaranteed total — Mariska Hargitay’s landmark franchise has been renewed through Season 24.
That’s a staggering amount of content, especially taking into account these shows are still running on a traditional broadcast schedule. A season of “Chicago Fire” is 22 episodes, so anyone waiting to binge on Peacock in the coming years will be kept very, very busy between the Wolf franchises alone. There are also rumors the long-in-the-works “Law & Order” spin-off “Hate Crimes” will finally land on Peacock, too, which would be just the kind of flagship original a streamer could use to draw an existing fandom to a new service. Whether or not the streaming market is ripe for decades-old police procedurals is another matter — as is the non-exclusive licensing deal for each of Peacock’s acquisitions — but this is still a win for a service in need of shows not called “The Office.”
Top 5 Power Rankings (March 1, 2020)
2. Amazon Prime
5. HBO/HBO Max