Amazon TV Chief Hints at Faster Pace for Second ‘Lord of the Rings’ Season

Photo: Prime Video

Ever since Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power made its long-awaited debut in September, Amazon Prime Video has been relatively quiet about the show’s performance. There was an opening-weekend press release touting a big premiere, and in early October, the company confirmed that the show had been seen by around 100 million subscribers. But there were no weekly ratings pronouncements like the ones rivals Netflix and HBO issued for some of their big 2022 tentpoles, something some media outlets interpreted as a sign the company was unhappy about how its massive bet turned out. Amazon Studios TV chief Vernon Sanders, however, tells Vulture that’s not the case at all. “In so many ways and by so many metrics, The Rings of Power has been a success story for us,” he said.

While the exec declined to offer a new, specific audience projection — “Historically, we haven’t shared specific data,” Sanders said — he did give us some new context for the show’s overall metrics. “We’ve continued to see millions of people engage beyond” the 100 million previously reported, he said. “Not only are we seeing strong viewership, but we have people joining the service to watch the show. It’s the first thing they click.”

Importantly, Sanders said that the number of subscribers who have finished the full season — a data point streamers refer to as the completion rate — “is growing” and that a number of Prime Video users decided to wait until all episodes of the show were available in order to binge. “We saw a new burst of engagement once the whole season was out, which is what we expected,” he said. “And as we head into the holiday season, we think we’ll have another round. So the tail is really long.”

In November, Amazon Studios quietly slipped in some new metrics at the bottom of a press release heralding new behind-the-scenes footage for Rings of Power. It said the series had tallied over 24 billion minutes of streaming around the world (or more than 400 million hours), supplementing Nielsen data, which shows that the series has been streamed for 7.5 billion minutes in the U.S. alone. In addition, Amazon said Rings of Power has been responsible for more new Prime Video sign-ups than any other show in the platform’s history with 90 percent of them coming from outside the United States. And, not surprisingly, the company says it is the most-watched title in Prime Video’s history. One new data nugget: Amazon says Rings of Power attracted an upscale audience in the U.S. with 40 percent of the show’s viewership within 28 days of the finale coming from homes boasting income above $100,000. That last metric carries particular importance considering Prime Video exists in part to boost spending on Amazon’s shopping channels.

Given that Rings of Power debuted just days after HBO premiered its own big-budget fantasy epic (House of the Dragon), Rings had to compete with Dragon for attention in the pop-culture conversation during the weeks the two shows overlapped. Sanders, however, doesn’t think the Prime Video series was harmed — quite the opposite, actually. “I honestly suspect it was a good thing,” he said. “There was a lot of conversation about both shows. I’m thrilled for our success and for theirs. You can watch both. There’s nothing to suggest there was a downside to the scheduling. Having both of these franchises out there made for a richer experience for fans.”

Still, Sanders said Prime Video might be open to some experimentation about scheduling for season two of Rings of Power. Intriguingly, when asked whether the streamer would consider having new episodes of the series drop during prime time in the U.S., as Dragon did — and as happened with the first episode of Rings — he didn’t shut down the idea. “We’re going to talk about that,” Sanders said, though he was careful to downplay the overall importance of time slots in streaming, particularly on a global platform such as Prime Video. Whatever time a show debuts “is always inconvenient for someone somewhere,” he said. “One of the things that has been breathtaking is just how strong it’s performed around the world.” Sanders didn’t dismiss out of hand a reporter’s suggestion that Prime Video might give season two of Rings of Power a linear window on MGM+, the Amazon-owned streamer currently known as Epix (though he didn’t confirm any such idea was under consideration either.)

In terms of a creative assessment of Rings of Power, Sanders said he and his bosses “are incredibly proud” of what showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay were able to accomplish during season one. “The producers had to spend a lot of time establishing characters, worlds, and tone. There were so many things they were juggling,” he said. “But I think the storytelling was fabulous and the cast is tremendous.” That said, Sanders understands the critique that the show meandered a bit, particularly in the middle. “It was a lot of setup, and it was a lot to digest,” he admits. “We think that it was crucial and important, but we acknowledge that, for some folks, it was a lot. We had the story crafted in a way that didn’t reveal one of our most central villains until the end. Now that it’s been revealed, that’s going to bring a rich, dark, dangerous element to the show.” So will things move faster? “We come out of the gate with great momentum,” the exec said, promising that viewers who are die-hard Lord of the Rings fan “will be on the edge of their seats.”

Production on season two of Rings of Power began in October. There’s no word yet on when it will premiere, though Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke told Variety earlier this fall that she wants to get the show streaming “as soon as we can.” And while the economics of streaming have changed a lot in the nearly five years since Amazon closed its deal to make the show, Sanders said the company has not given any consideration to scaling back its ambitious plans for the series. Payne and McKay “always had an arc they’ve planned over five seasons of content,” he said. “That’s still the plan. We’re committed.”

Amazon Hints at Faster Pace for ‘Lord of the Rings’ Season 2