In this week’s newsletter, we’ve got a scoop about how Amazon is dealing with a problematic title in its video library, plus an exclusive look at how Peacock is playing in the homes where it’s already launched. Thanks for reading, and please make sure to not let down your guard with masks and handwashing: The coronavirus is not taking the summer off.
NASCAR has banned the display of the Confederate flag on race cars. HBO Max pulled Gone With the Wind. And now, Buffering hears a problematic classic on Amazon Prime Video’s sister streamer IMDb TV — The Dukes of Hazzard — could soon be driving off the service.
The 1980s comedy-drama about two “good ol’ boys never meanin’ no harm” was a smash hit for most of its seven-season run on CBS, and also had a long life in reruns for decades on channels such as CMT and TV Land. But in recent years, Dukes has rightly raised a ruckus because one of the show’s inanimate co-stars — the General Lee race car — is painted with a Confederate flag, the racist symbol of traitorous rebels. Buffering has learned Amazon is currently considering whether the show should remain on the platform, with a spokesperson for the service telling us the show has been flagged internally for review as execs revisit and evaluate their overall content guidelines. This could lead to the show exiting IMDb TV, though it’s also possible Amazon could opt to keep the status quo.
If the series does get the boot, it wouldn’t be the first time those Duke boys have been disappeared. Back in 2015, the show’s studio, Warner Bros. TV, announced it would stop licensing images of the car to toy-makers and other merchandisers following the mass murder of nine people in a South Carolina church by a white supremacist who proudly posed for pictures with the flag. Around the same time, ViacomCBS (then known as Viacom) dropped the series from TV Land, realizing it wasn’t appropriate to air a show with racist imagery at a time of national trauma. Fans of the show complained, but the world moved on.
And yet despite the backlash of 2015, Dukes quietly made a comeback via streaming about two years ago. At some point in 2018, Amazon added the show to its ad-free Prime Video subscription service, where it was one of thousands of TV shows and movies available to stream at no additional cost beyond membership in Amazon Prime. It streamed on Prime Video for at least a year, before appearing to once again go out of circulation for a few months, based on social-media posts from fans lamenting its absence.
By the start of his year, however, Dukes popped back up on an Amazon platform, though not Prime Video: It moved to IMDb TV, the company’s free, ad-supported service available to anyone with an internet connection (though it’s optimized to work best for anyone with a Prime Video subscription or Amazon Fire TV device. A source familiar with the matter notes that Dukes didn’t end up on IMDb TV as part of a deal specifically for the show (the way, say, HBO Max made a deal to grab Friends from Netflix). Instead, the series was part of a package of content leased to Amazon by Warner Bros.
In recent days, at least partially in response to protests related to the killing of George Floyd and a broader national reckoning over race in America, several major Amazon rivals have dropped programming not seen as suitable for these times:
• Newly launched HBO Max suddenly pulled Gone With the Wind on Tuesday, quickly clarifying that the movie was removed so that the platform could add explanation and context regarding its racist depictions (much as sister cable network TCM has done during its showings of the film). It will be readded to the service at some point, a platform spokesperson said.
• Netflix and Britbox this week dropped U.K. comedy Little Britain because several episodes include the show’s characters dressed in blackface. The BBC, where the show first aired, has dropped it from its iPlayer service.
• And on the linear front, A&E on Wednesday pulled the plug on its massively successful Live PD franchise, while Paramount Network has canceled its revival of Cops.
It’s worth noting that Dukes has never faced any protests over the scripted content of the show, save perhaps from TV critics at the time who lamented how silly and stupid the show could be. It didn’t use blackface; it didn’t delve into politics. When TV Land pulled the show in 2015, the decision seemed entirely related to the use of the flag, which was in the news because of the Dylann Roof shooting. A critic for Time argued then against the need to completely erase the show from TV, even if he didn’t take issue with its removal from TV Land: “The Dukes of Hazzard — like any TV in our past — is part of us, whether we watch it or not,” he wrote, though noting he understood being “weirded out by the awesome stunt car flying the flag of slavery.”
And indeed, even if Amazon does pull Dukes, the show is unlikely to be buried away in a vault, unavailable for viewing. Like Gone With the Wind, episodes and full seasons will almost surely still be available for purchase on iTunes and other platforms (including Amazon’s own digital video store); DVDs are still around, too. What Warner Media and Netflix have done this week, and what Amazon may do, is acknowledge that all shows and movies don’t need to be given a platform on major streaming services at all times, particularly without added context or the proper framing.
One last thought: In the case of Dukes, critics might note that the reasons that made it appropriate for TV Land to drop the show in 2015 didn’t go away in 2018 when the series returned via Prime Video. The Confederate flag didn’t become any less racist, and Amazon (along with studio Warner Bros. TV) didn’t add anything to the series to note its disapproval of the flag in the show. What did fade away was the spotlight, as Americans moved on to other controversies and concerns. Hopefully, 2020 will be different.
A Peek At Peacock’s Power Players
Peacock won’t strut onto the national stage until July 15, but when it does, a pair of Kevins — Costner and James — could be among the new platform’s early breakout stars.
We know this thanks to viewership data from Comcast’s Xfinity TV service, which last month made more than 10,000 TV shows and movies available to its more than 20 million subscriber homes for free through its so-called Watchathon Week. Peacock has been in preview mode on Xfinity since mid-April, so during the May 11–17 event, its full programming library was available for on-demand streaming next to select offerings from rival streamer Hulu and premium cable networks such as HBO, Showtime, and Starz.
And it turns out Peacock viewers are really into reruns of Yellowstone and The King of Queens.
Per viewership stats provided exclusively to Buffering, Costner’s Yellowstone was the most-watched Peacock title on Xfinity TV’s two major platforms — X1 (available in homes with cable) and Flex (which reaches about 1 million cord cutters who watch only via broadband). And it didn’t just do well relative to other Peacock shows (such as Parks and Recreation or Dick Wolf’s Chicago shows): Yellowstone was actually the No. 1 VOD title during Watchathon among Flex users, and the No. 7 title on the much larger X1 service. Given it was competing for eyeballs against monster hits such as HBO’s Game of Thrones or TLC’s 90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days, that’s a good sign Peacock execs were right to shell out for the rights to the show. As for Kevin James, his late ’90s CBS comedy King of Queens was also popular: It ranked No. 10 in Flex homes, though it didn’t make the cut for X1’s national top-ten list. (It’s possible audience demand was driven by the death of KoQ co-star Jerry Stiller, who passed away on May 11, the very first day of Watchathon Week.)
Some other interesting tidbits in the Xfinity VOD data:
• The most-watched on-demand show on the national X1 platform was Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which released its last original episode back in August 2019. Previous Xfinity VOD charts have illustrated how titles long off the air (including The Sopranos) drive a big share of on-demand viewership, so it’s not a shock to see Handmaid’s on this list. However, since Hulu hasn’t been included in previous Xfinity VOD reports (or the Watchathon), this is the first chance we’re getting to see how its programs do relative to shows from linear TV networks. The streamer’s recently wrapped limited series Little Fires Everywhere also caught the attention of X1 audiences, ranking No. 4 on the platform.
• While the Flex platform is in a relatively small number of homes — about 1 million versus roughly 20 million for X1 — it’s interesting to note some different viewing habits among the cord cutters with Flex. Those consumers were more likely to watch movies (three films, including HBO’s presentation of Hobbs & Shaw, made the top ten) and programs from Starz (Power and Outlander ranked in the top ten, as did the channel’s presentation of Spider-Man: Far From Home.).
• Conversely, customers with a cable subscription were more likely to watch Showtime: Billions and Homeland landed on the X1 top ten during Watchathon, but nothing from the network made the cut in Flex homes.
Keep in mind, this data shouldn’t be compared directly with ratings from Nielsen. For one thing, the data is from a much smaller universe of potential viewers (Xfinity TV homes), and even then only looks at what viewers watch on demand. Tons of viewing, especially in cable homes, takes place either by people watching live TV or recording to DVRs. Xfinity also measures total consumption, not average audience. That means if 1,000 people all decide to binge every episode of an hour-long drama with many seasons (like, say, Game of Thrones), it will rank higher than 10,000 people watching one episode of a half-hour comedy that premiered on NBC during the measurement period. What’s more, Hulu only made a handful of shows available for free, and some big streaming services (Netflix, Prime Video, CBS All Access) didn’t participate in Watchathon Week at all.
What it all means: So why should you care at all? Well, streamers such as Hulu (and, presumably, Peacock when it rolls out to the whole country) tend not to be all that transparent about who’s watching which shows on their platforms. And while Nielsen is great at reporting linear consumption of TV shows, it doesn’t make its subscription VOD ratings available to the public every week (though it does regularly offer insights into big premieres). Take this info as another hint at how viewers are consuming content today — and how streaming brands such as Hulu and (possibly) Peacock are very much able to compete with long-established linear networks.
The full top-ten lists for both X1 and Flex are below:
X1 (cable subscribers)
1. The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
2. Outlander (Starz)
3. The Last Dance (ESPN)
4. Little Fires Everywhere (Hulu)
5. Billions (Showtime)
6. Game of Thrones (HBO)
7. Yellowstone (Peacock)
8. 90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 (TLC)
9. The Sopranos (HBO)
10. Homeland (Showtime)
Flex (cord cutters)
1. Yellowstone (Peacock)
2. Game of Thrones (HBO)
3. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (HBO)
4. Outlander (Starz)
5. The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
6. Spider-Man: Far From Home (Starz)
7. Power (Starz)
8. Dora and the Lost City of Gold (Epix)
9. Law & Order: SVU (Peacock)
10. King of Queens (Peacock)
“If the entertainment industry truly believes change can no longer wait, it should start with its own storytelling.”
— The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg, arguing for a complete halt to production on all cop shows and movies.