We finally have some third-party ratings for Prime Video’s Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, and the news is good for the streamer: Early Nielsen numbers suggest the show got off to a very strong start earlier this month. Per the ratings giant, the first two episodes of Amazon’s big bet generated 1.253 billion minutes of viewing time in the U.S. during its first three days of release, easily making it the most-watched streaming program for the week of Aug. 29-Sept. 4. Despite only being available for three days (and a few hours) of Nielsen’s measurement period — the show launched at 9 p.m. ET on Sept. 1 — TROP managed to outscore seven days of streaming for the Netflix KevinHart/Mark Wahlberg movie Me Time (927 million minutes) and, yes, the second full week of measurement for HBO’s House of the Dragon (781 million).
Nielsen’s numbers come loaded with caveats, and comparisons between titles is very tricky, but the data so far suggest many millions of viewers in the U.S. checked out the show with the hobbits and fairies and mean, nasty Orcs. The running time for the first two episodes of TROP is about 130 minutes, so if you divide the 1.253 billion minutes reported by that number, it suggests somewhere in the neighborhood of 9.6 million U.S. TV viewers watched the series during its first few days of release. But that’s just a guesstimate; figuring out the actual number of viewers, however, is much tougher, because while Nielsen does look at how many people are watching shows, it reports minutes streamed rather than an average number of viewers, in order to account for differences in program length and number of episodes available.
Still, nearly 1.3 billion minutes for roughly two hours of content makes TROP the biggest Prime Video series ever on a per-episode basis, passing previous Prime record holder Reacher. (Reacher generated 1.8 billion minutes of viewing within three days with 8 episodes and 400 minutes of content out, while TROP had only two episodes and 130 minutes to work with.) TROP did, however, miss besting the per-minute average for Prime’s Eddie Murphy-led comedy film Coming 2 America, which generated 1.4 billion minutes during the first weekend of March 2021 and had a running time slightly shorter than the first two episodes of TROP. Still, movie viewing tends to be front-loaded to opening weekends and the film also bowed during a time when COVID was a much bigger threat (vaccinations had just started rolling out) and movie theaters were relatively empty.
As for how TROP did vs House of the Dragon, it’s important to note that comparisons between the two shows are incredibly difficult to make using just Nielsen data. For one thing, Amazon has never said exactly how many U.S. homes subscribe to Prime Video, so we don’t know how many people are able to legally stream the show. We do know that HBO Max and HBO have a combined subscriber base of around 50 million U.S. homes, while Netflix is in about 70 million homes here. It seems safe to assume Prime is in more homes than HBO/HBO Max, if only because of its lower price and because so many people subscribe for access to free two-day Amazon shipping. If we assume Prime is at parity with Netflix — not too much of a stretch — then that will put HOTD at a bit of a disadvantage in terms of generating streaming minutes. Plus, Nielsen’s streaming data doesn’t measure linear viewership, and unlike Prime Video shows, HOTD does have a linear window, one which generates several million viewers each week.
HBO has already said HOTD series opened with 10 million linear and streaming viewers during the first day of its availability in the U.S., and that since then, the overall audience here has surged to around 30 million viewers for early episodes. Nielsen, meanwhile, last week reported that HoTD generated 741 million minutes during its first full measurement week (Aug. 22-28), so this week’s 781 million number suggests viewership of the series is holding steady. What’s more, Nielsen also says that the original Game of Thrones racked up another 792 million minutes of viewing during the early September frame, indicating the spin-off is driving engagement with the HBO Max HOTD library. (There are 73 episodes of the original series available, so on a per-episode basis, HOTD is generating far, far more viewership.)
As for TROP, Nielsen’s report today comes weeks after Prime attached a specific, if still somewhat squishy, viewing number to the series. It said 25 million people around the world watched TROP during its first day on the service, making it the platform’s biggest-ever premiere. While Nielsen’s report only covers the U.S., its data suggests Prime’s pronouncement — which covered just 24 hours of viewing and included the entire globe — was probably pretty conservative. Bottom line: Amazon and HBO both have reason to celebrate the launches of their big bets, at least for the moment. Now comes the much harder work of making sure the shows end up as long-running hits.