When Broadcast Shows Move to Streaming, Do Viewers Follow?

Thursday Night Football has proved to be a hit for Amazon Prime Video. Photo: Getty Images

Over the last two weeks, three small-screen staples — Dancing With the Stars, Days of our Lives, and Thursday Night Football — made the journey from their longtime homes on network TV to fancy new digs in the digital universe. Unlike most past examples of shows hopping platforms, none of these relocations stemmed from network cancellations. Instead, these series were all purposely plucked from broadcast in order to boost the fortunes of their respective streaming overlords. It’s a pretty big deal — but unfortunately, figuring out how well some of these moves are going isn’t going to be easy.

Amazon’s TGIT

Let’s start with what the title we will likely end up knowing the most about from a data point of view: Prime Video’s Thursday Night Football. The Amazon-owned platform actually worked out a deal with Nielsen to release an actual ratings figure for its weekly telecasts, and after a nearly weeklong wait, we finally got data this morning. Per the ratings giant, the Chargers-Chiefs showdown attracted a massive average audience of 13 million total viewers and a peak viewership of 14.6 million during the last 15 minutes of the 10 p.m. hour. That’s better than the 8.8 million viewers who watched TNF on the NFL Network the same week last year, and in the ballpark of the franchise’s multiplatform ratings average last season (16.4 million viewers on Fox, Prime Video, and NFL Network).

What’s more, Prime Video head of sports Jay Marine sent an internal email earlier this week describing the TNF launch as “the most watched night of primetime in the U.S. in the history of Prime Video” and claiming that it helped generate “the biggest three hours for U.S. Prime signups ever in the history of Amazon — including Prime Day, Cyber Monday, and Black Friday.” Marine’s declaration certainly sounds impressive, though absent Amazon spelling out exactly how many new subscribers came aboard during those three hours, it’s hard to get too excited or to judge whether all the money Amazon is spending — more than $1 billion per year over the next 11 years — will be worth it. But it certainly indicates TNF is at least going in the right direction and starting to do what Amazon wants it to do, i.e., get more people into its ecosystem. As Sportico’s Anthony Crupi tweeted Thursday, Amazon “topped its TNF ratings guarantees—and all expectations” with these Nielsen numbers.

It’s also notable that last week’s rollout seemed to go pretty smoothly from a technical point of view. While surely some fans experienced hiccups — inevitable given variables such as streaming devices and broadband speed — there was no giant meltdown like what happened back in the day with Game of Thrones and HBO Go. And reviewers for outlets such as The Athletic and Sports Illustrated gave the telecast high marks as well (unlike some of the reviews of Apple TV+’s Major League Baseball games). Add in better-than-expected Nielsen numbers, and the NFL on Prime is off to a good start. Now it just needs to maintain the early momentum over the course of the season.

Who’s Dancing With Disney+?

At least there are some concrete numbers and specific Amazonian pronouncements by which to judge TNF’s early track record. So far, Disney+ and Peacock have said exactly nothing about DWTS and Days of Our Lives, respectively. (Buffering checked with reps for both platforms to make sure they didn’t want to add some context; both politely declined.) On the one hand, this is completely unsurprising to anyone who’s been paying attention to streaming the past few years. Other than Netflix, which reports (however imperfectly) numbers for its ten biggest titles every week, no major streamer consistently offers guidance about how its programs are doing. But it’s also not uncommon for streamers to offer some sort of vague but grandiose statement about high-profile projects. Just this summer, for example, Peacock claimed its reboot of CBS’s U.S. edition of Love Island had become the platform’s most-streamed unscripted original yet. And Disney-owned Hulu has made more than one declaration about how much America loves Only Murders in the Building, last year calling the show its most-watched comedy ever “by a good measure.”

For now, however, reps at Peacock and Disney+ say they are not ready to offer any sort of similar banalities about their big new acquisitions — not even some mumbo jumbo about how many people are tweeting about the shows. That’s not a bad thing, of course: Streamers really shouldn’t be in the business of putting out, if I may be so blunt, b.s. press releases that aren’t backed up with context. I don’t think calling a show the most-watched title in a given genre falls into that category, by the way, because even if there’s no data attached, it’s still a reasonable (though, yes, flawed) superlative to report. But most “ratings” statements offered by streamers aren’t worth a moment’s thought.

Still, in the case of DWTS, it is possible Disney+ chooses to say something at some point. After all, the series made its platform debut a mere three days ago, and there may not be enough data to even figure out something to brag about. So I definitely wouldn’t read anything into the platform’s silence. And in one good sign, Parrot Analytics — which quantifies interest in shows based on viewing, online buzz, press coverage, etc. — tells Vulture DWTS got a notable boost the last few weeks. The show’s “demand index,” as Parrot calls it, peaked at 16.1 times the level of a typical show, more than 40 percent ahead of interest in the series during the two weeks just before its 2021 season premiere. Launch-day demand was also up over the final ABC season last fall, though by a more modest 15 percent.

There is another, admittedly sketchy, metric for evaluating the DWTS move to Disney+: my own observation-based impressions. And by this incredibly unscientific method, I think the show got off to a very good start. It trended for a bit on Twitter Monday night, something which usually only happens with the biggest Marvel and Star Wars titles on Disney+. There were zero big tech gaffes in the actual telecast, which looked almost exactly like it did on ABC, if perhaps a bit sparklier and better lit, according to people online who watch the show more often than I do. Before the livestream began, Disney+ featured DWTS at the top of its homepage carousel, so anyone who arrived a bit early had some place to hang out before the show began (viewers got a “our show will begin shortly” message with music). And I didn’t see too many reports of subscribers not being able to stream the show easily. It just kinda worked.

If there was one small glitch, it was that after the live telecast was over, it took about 15 minutes for Disney+ to post the on-demand version of the show. That’s not surprising, given there are no doubt tech things that need to be done to convert the livestream into a part of the platform’s catalogue. But viewers like my mom who decided to show up at 10 p.m. ET only saw a trailer for the new season — and nothing to indicate the on-demand episode was just minutes away from appearing. Disney+ should better communicate this lag to subscribers so folks like me don’t have to calm down panicked parents wondering what happened to their show.

But overall, DWTS worked really, really well on D+, with the absence of commercials helping make the telecast feel less like a TV episode and more like having a front seat to a fun live event.

A New Days For Peacock

And then there’s Days on Peacock. The daytime drama’s big shift was easily the most rushed of this fall’s trio of transplants. While we knew DWTS was going to streaming last spring, and Amazon’s deal for TNF was struck in early 2021, the sudser shift didn’t leak until early August, when Vulture broke the news shortly after NBC told affiliates of its plan. Peacock execs had likely been discussing the idea of grabbing Days as a streaming exclusive for a long time as part of ongoing discussions about how best to use NBCUniversal assets to grow the streaming service. But the actual plan wasn’t executed until barely six weeks before it happened.

That left very little time for Peacock to market the shift and for NBC to educate fans about how to keep watching a beloved show — though such efforts were made (such as this video featuring beloved Days characters Doug and Julie). It also didn’t give NBC a chance to come up with an entertainment series to fill the Days slot, forcing it to vamp by handing over the hour to a simulcast of sibling all-news streamer NBC News Now. The result: NBC’s audience in the Days timeslot last week collapsed, falling from 1.7 million viewers a year ago to just 935,000 viewers. That’s awesome for NBC News Now, but not so hot for NBC affiliates.

As for how Days is doing so far on Peacock, that’s a much trickier proposition. One not-so-great sign: Parrot Analytics says audience demand for Days actually declined during the soap’s first full week as a streaming exclusive. Days went from having 11.6 times the demand of an average show in the U.S. to a 10.1 demand score, a drop of 13 percent. That’s not what you’d expect for a series making such a big move and getting more publicity than it has since the last time somebody was possessed by the Devil. But given how little time there was to promote the switch — and the relatively small footprint of the Days audience when it was on NBC — it’s not that surprising.

The first official hint we’ll get about how Days’ performance will probably come when Peacock owner Comcast announces quarterly earnings late next month. The company will almost surely reveal how many new subscribers the service signed up over the past three months, and it’s possible execs will include a mention of what part Days played in boosting subscribers, assuming a large increase comes to pass. And odds are, Peacock will get a big bump this quarter due to a slew of high-profile content beyond Days, including the summer run of Love Island and new drama Vampire Academy, and big movies such as Jurassic WorldDominion and Minions: The Rise of Gru. 

Unfortunately, getting an accurate read on how much programming moved the needle for Peacock this quarter will be challenging because the streamer this month also unveiled one of its biggest price promotions since launch: $19.99 for a full year of service, or $1.99 per month. There’s nothing wrong with tempting consumers this way: Hulu has regularly offered an even lower price of just $1 per month on Black Friday. But the timing will make it much harder to gauge how much of any subscriber surge was due to content or simply bargain hunters locking in a deal (though both obviously played a role).

Fact is, the real test of success for Days will be whether Peacock renews the series when the current order runs out next summer. And because of how the show produces episodes — almost a half-year ahead of time — we will likely get the answer sooner rather than later. Daytime industry insiders say Days producers probably need to start breaking stories for a new season by early spring 2023, so if another season on Peacock is to be, expect to start hearing about negotiations for a new deal no later than March or April, and quite possibly much sooner.

Unless the internal data for Days ends up looking awful, I’d say odds are good Peacock will be patient. For one thing, the show is very inexpensive on a cost-per-episode compared to so much other streaming content. What’s more, Peacock doesn’t have a ton of megahits, so it doesn’t take a lot for a show to have a positive impact. Even if the Days audience ends up being relatively small, if it consists of a decent number of new subscribers and shows up consistently, then it could have similar value — and cost efficiency — than more high-profile titles. Plus, Peacock really doesn’t want to make enemies out of 2 million loyal soap-opera fans.

When Broadcast Shows Move to Streaming, Do Viewers Follow?