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Analysis: Original Content Pushes Streaming Gains; Majority of Streamers Subscribe for Single Series

Joshua Thiede

The streaming industry continues to evolve as companies and consumers both try and find the best ways to interact with content. Samba TV’s Q2 State of Viewership report found that original content is a huge driver for viewership gains, though some subscribers are only on board for very specific reasons. In addition, those streamers with well-established properties are gaining a lot more traction within the market than those pushing more original programming.

Single-Use Streaming

The Samba TV study looked at original content and viewership ratings for streamers across the industry, and its findings should raise some eyebrows. Out of the six top companies, Netflix, Disney+, Prime Video, Hulu, Apple TV+, and HBO Max, four have a majority of viewers that subscribe for only one single program. HBO Max was the big target, with almost two-thirds (62%) of its audience tuning in for “Sesame Street” alone. A full 60% of Apple TV+ subscribers keep “Central Park” on the tube while a full 55% of Hulu’s viewers are only watching “The Kardashians.” Prime Video is in the same boat, with “The Boys” making up 55% of its viewership.

Looking to Netflix and Disney+, only around 35% of their audiences were drawn to a single show, but that may be the big indicator of what’s actually going on. Disney+ and Netflix have huge libraries to draw from. For Disney, much of that content is family focused. Its primary watch, the movie “Encanto,” falls into that category but it’s more likely that the film’s overall success that is the main draw. It should also come as no surprise that a full third of Netflix’s audience subscribes just for “Stranger Things,” while the rest of its subscribers are making their way through its spate of original and third-party content.

So where are HBO Max and its cadre of single-use streamers going wrong? The mantra seems to be original content. Hulu and HBO Max do have a lot in their catalog, but Netflix and Disney+ have been releasing popular originals for some time. HBO is the main outlier, despite numerous critical successes, some of its most engaging content has received a lukewarm reception from viewers, such as the poorly performing “Game of Thrones” final season. Of course, the premium cable channel and its streaming service will look to reverse that trend with the upcoming release of “GoT” prequel series “House of the Dragon.”

Flatlines and Fortunes

Taking a look at the past six months, Samba noted interesting trends amongst the streaming Big Three. HBO Max, Netflix, and Disney+ are all known for their original content, two of which are showing how valuable popular IPs can be. Netflix’s industry dominance with its “Stranger Things: series notwithstanding, the streamer pulled far ahead of its competition in May with the release of the “Ozark” final season. The show brought viewership back up after a slight mid-second quarter lull despite the release of the increasingly popular “Bridgerton”.

Meanwhile, on the Disney+ front, Marvel and Star Wars originals continue to carry the day. Except for a decent dip in March when the streamer’s top show was “Marvel Studios: What If…?,” despite it being released originally in August 2021, the streamer generally held a constant audience, with the hit “Obi-Wan Kenobi” giving a final boost as it fulfilled some Star Wars devotees’ biggest fantasies. Unfortunately for HBO Max, viewership tapered off as the industry entered June which only highlighted “Sesame Street” as the go-to option for subscribers.

Samba TV’s data suggests that there is a strong desire for original and exclusive content amongst streaming consumers. Businesses willing to take chances on new programming, such as Disney+ with its growing library of Marvel and Star Wars series, are more likely to retain their audiences, especially when one of the series turns into a streaming hit like “Moon Knight” and “Obi-Wan.” Where Netflix can offer “Ozark” and “Stranger Things” and Disney has its interstellar IPs, HBO has struggled to cash in on the depth and breadth of the Warner Bros. archive. While the company is shifting many of its priorities, especially when DC Comics properties are concerned, thus far, HBO Max just hasn’t been able to offer not enough to keep subscribers engaged.

Originals on Top

The idea that exclusive content is what’s driving viewership is only enhanced as Samba looks at the 10 most watched streaming shows in the market. Of those, Netflix holds six spots and controls the number one tier with (of course) “Stranger Things,” followed by “Bridgerton” in second. Disney’s “Moon Knight” and “Obi-Wan” took third and fourth place, while Prime Video’s “The Boys” and Hulu’s “The Kardashians” were next.

If there is one takeaway that streamers should get from Samba TV’s research, it’s the value of original content based on popular IPs. HBO has shown that having some of your own stuff isn’t enough. Viewers are drawn to recognizable names and faces and want to watch their favorite characters explore ever-widening universes. A recent Parrot report came to the same conclusion, that streamers need to invest in expanding the reach of their exclusive content if they want to improve subscriber retention.

The best move forward may be turning to properties that are within a company’s already popular genres, such as Prime Video using its adult-themed animated superhero series “Invincible” to pull from “The Boys” watchers who are already accustomed to over-the-top violence.

As Hulu recently dropped “Prey” — the latest film in the Predator franchise — to great reviews, and HBO prepares to release its Game of Thrones prequel series “House of the Dragon,” the streamers just might be able to put a dent in Netflix and Disney+’s franchise stranglehold.

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