By Aaron Frank, VP strategy and insights at BEN, a global entertainment marketing company that delivers premium brand integrations across streaming, TV, film, and influencer programming.
Netflix stole a strategy from the music industry last month and surprised us all with the unannounced release of its latest film “The Cloverfield Paradox.” While this represented a new release strategy for the platform designed to create excitement for its latest film, Netflix’s shows – like Radiohead or Beyoncé’s albums – certainly haven’t been short on anticipation. These days, the buzz around new streaming shows is on par with the release of highly anticipated Hollywood blockbusters. We now wait, with bated breath, for 12 months to watch the next season of our favorite shows, and our news streams are flooded by articles highlighting the must-watch Amazon/Hulu/Netflix shows of the next year.
In 2017, the highly anticipated new seasons of “Stranger Things,” “Orange is the New Black” and “Fuller House” became streaming’s biggest hits with 30-day audiences of 18.5 million, 16.9 million and 10.7 million, respectively. Each of those shows were as large – if not larger – than the biggest shows on broadcast.
What differentiates these shows from their streaming peers is the water cooler factor. While many streaming shows build audiences over time, accruing additional millions of viewers each month, these hits became ‘must-see TV’ – content that audiences needed to watch immediately in order to join in on the conversation. Social feeds move fast and those who wait a few weeks – or even days — to watch a show risk hearing or reading spoilers before finding out what happens for themselves.
As viewership on ad-free streaming platforms continues to expand, marketers are increasingly turning to brand integration as a way to reach audiences where traditional ads cannot. Finding the right match between a brand and a streaming show is a complex equation involving target audiences, storylines, character development, and production schedules. When these factors align, integrations have proven to be more effective than traditional ads. Knowing which shows are likely to draw sizeable or passionate audiences also helps. So which shows are poised to be the audience superstars of 2018? Here are three things to look for as we try to predict 2018’s biggest streaming hits:
Amazon Prime Video now has the numbers
While several Amazon Prime Video shows have received critical acclaim, none reached the audience levels of Netflix’s biggest hits in 2017. Yet, a few factors point to brighter days ahead for Amazon’s streaming service.
For one, the number of Amazon Prime Video users in the U.S. now rivals Netflix, with 64 million according to Digital TV Research (up from 48 million in 2016). With the incredible growth of Amazon Prime subscriptions – supported by the company’s major marketing initiatives such as Prime Day – Digital TV Research projects those subscriptions to increase to 94 million domestic subscribers by 2022.
Second, while Amazon Prime Video released over a dozen new original scripted series during 2017, none of them had the audience anticipation of the streaming service’s 2018 slate. According to BEN’s monthly streaming anticipation study, Amazon Prime Video will release seven of the 10 most anticipated streaming shows during 2018, with “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” “The Departed,” “Lost in Space,” “Starsky and Hutch” and “Cleopatra” leading the way for the platform. It is impossible to predict whether any of these shows will become a true breakout hit, but each already has audiences waiting eagerly for drop day.
In the streaming world, new show audiences tend to build slowly and steadily. The highly anticipated “Marvel’s The Defenders” is a great example of this trend, delivering audiences between 4 and 6 million each month but never breaking into streaming’s top 10. Even Amazon’s “The Tick,” an audience favorite and surprise hit for the platform, topped out at an audience of 6.3 million after its release in September.
Second seasons, however, can capitalize on the audiences that these initial show drops have built over time. Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” “Fuller House” and “The Crown” have all been top streaming performers during their second seasons, and season two of Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle” pulled in the platform’s largest audiences during 2017.
Some strong performers during 2017 that look to continue this trend include “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Dear White People” and “GLOW”
Smaller shows with high engagement
Some of streaming’s smallest shows often drive the highest engagement. This is especially true for international and multicultural content, with shows such as “Hibana: Spark,”, “Club de Cuervos,” “Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories” and “East Los High” ranking among the most binged shows during Q4 2017. Audiences are consuming these shows at a high rate: in December, 100 percent of our survey respondents reported watching two or more episodes at a time of both “Hibana: Spark” and “Estocolmo”, and in November, “Club de Cuervos” held the title of the most binged show.
Though audiences for these shows may never be as large as those watching “OITNB” or “Stranger Things”, they represent hits for the streaming platforms as audiences are likely to keep coming back for similar content that speaks to them and their interests. They also represent great opportunities for brands. While it’s useful for a brand to be integrated into shows with high visibility, smaller shows with passionate audiences can similarly raise the profile of the brands they feature.
Which shows will emerge as the biggest hits during 2018? It all depends on how you define success. Will Amazon’s investment in known IP pay off by delivering the breakthrough hit they’ve been waiting for? Will one of Netflix’s season two originals rise to “OITNB” audience levels? Or will the real hits be the shows that keep audiences watching for hours at a time? Needless to say, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are hoping you’ll keep tuning in to find out.
[READ] There’s No Business Like…Digital? Can theatre reach the masses digitally while maintaining its integrity?
Aaron Frank (pictured) is vice president, strategy and insights for Branded Entertainment Network (BEN). He is responsible for driving new insights into streaming viewership and behavior, improving the targeting and impact of client campaigns, guiding the company’s thought leadership in the advertising and entertainment field and analyzing BEN’s competitive landscape.