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All About Nielsen

In which we use Nielsen TV Ratings to compare the first season of The Wheel of Time to a few other TV shows.

This article does not contain spoilers for The Wheel of Time on Amazon Prime nor for the books.

"Data? WoT Data?" banner, with the title "All About Nielsen"

Will Amazon renew the Wheel of Time TV show for a third season?

TLDR: Yes. There we go, the column is over, thank you for reading!

More seriously, while I am very confident the show will be renewed (if it hasn’t already), this question is a good opportunity to dig into some cool data. This is the first WoT Data column, after all. Obviously, we cannot follow the exact thought process of Amazon’s execs when they were/are or will be considering the question, as most streaming platforms are secretive about their viewership data and any other criteria they may use in that decision. But we do have access to some sort of data, like the Nielsen TV ratings, our topic for the day.

Nielsen TV ratings are the primary source of audience measurement for television programming in the United States. Operated by Nielsen Media Research, they were for a long time focused on broadcast TV, before expanding to streaming platforms in September 2020 and including viewership data from Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Amazon Prime, and Apple TV+. Since then, Nielsen has been sharing a weekly Top 10 list of the most-watched shows on those platforms.

And The Wheel of Time had a nice spot on that list! On its premiere week, the show clocked about 1.163 Billion viewing minutes for 3 episodes, topping the Nielsen chart. That number decreased for the following episodes, but WoT still consistently held a third or fourth place in the Top10. The show then saw a bump in minutes viewed for its finale followed by a nice 2-weeks hold, consistent with some post-s1 release binging.

Graph of WoT S1 Viewership, in Millions of minutes viewed. Two information are plotted: the number of minutes viewed each week (as a bar chart) and the accumulation of those minutes (as a line plot).

Overall, this gives us a total of 4.9 Billion viewing minutes for the first season. From that number, we can get an approximation of how many people watched the show in the United States during the first 8 weeks after the Pilot release: around 10.46 Million people, considering a show length of 469 minutes. This is only a rough estimation, as we cannot know how many viewers started but did not finish the show, or how many rewatched it. But while the information we get from this number alone is limited, its comparison to similar approximations for other shows is worth a look.

And that is an analysis that Twitter user A Flame in the Void worked on. In two different threads ([1], [2]), he compared the viewership (as defined by the number of minutes viewed over the runtime of released episodes) of several TV shows. If you haven’t done so yet, I invite you to take a look at his data and conclusions regarding the Wheel of Time season 1: they are well worth the read! In the rest of this column, I’d like to come back to and/or expand some of the points made by A Flame in the Void.

To begin with, finding good comparison data points is surprisingly hard.

The Wheel of Time was a first season TV show, with episodes coming out weekly, that reached Nielsen’s Top10 during the whole course of its release. Few shows meet all of those criteria. Most of them are MCU shows released on Disney+ (WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, and Hawkeye). Only Murders in the Building, whose first season started at the end of August 2021, is the only Hulu show on that list.

Viewership comparison between WoT and other weekly-released TV shows (S1 only). From the highest viewership to the lowest, we have: Loki, WandaVision, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Hawkeye, WoT and Only Murders in the Building.

WoT thus belongs to a small and elite group. Consistently being on Nielsen’s Top10 is not an easy feat for a first-season TV show, nor is staying on that list past the final episode. OMitB left the Top10 the week after its finale. Even Hawkeye, an MCU TV show, only stayed on that list for a week past its ending. The Wheel of Time being among those shows is already exciting news.

Considering the estimated US Viewership, WoT ranks itself above OMitB, with 2.25 Million viewers more when leaving the Top10 (+27% from OMitB), but well below the MCU shows, from Hawkeye with its 3.47 Million additional viewers (+33% from WoT) to Loki and its 9.75 Million more (+93% from WoT). This is neither a surprise nor a disappointment: Marvel is a huge franchise, whose Cinematic Universe has been growing since 2008, as did the audience that came with it. Budgets between WoT and the MCU are also not comparable: while Marvel Studios hasn’t released exact figures, some estimations put the cost of a single MCU episode above $15 million, and probably closer to $20 or $25 million, more than twice WoT’s budget per episode.

Drawing comparisons with shows outside of this group gets trickier. Since September 2020, three other shows had a season consistently reaching Nielsen’s Top10, from its first to its last episode: The Boys S2, The Mandalorian S2, and The Handmaid’s Tale S4. However, Nielsen does not make any distinction between seasons when counting minutes viewed. The release of a new season of a TV show may incite people to rewatch previous episodes or to start the show, and we do not have enough data to estimate what percentage of a show audience falls into those categories.

For this discussion, I will assume that this percentage was 0, meaning that every minute viewed was spent on the season being released. It’s a clear overestimation of the viewership for those shows, so let’s consider the following plot as some sort of upper bound of the number of people having watched those seasons in the US.

Viewership comparison between WoT and other weekly-released TV shows (non-S1 only). From highest to lowest viewership: The Mandalorian S2, WoT S1, The Handmaid's Tale S4, The Boys S2.

First thing first: the Mandalorian is a monster, with 33.63 Million viewers (+222% from WoT), a four-week post-finale hold, and an estimated viewership that would make Loki’s numbers look ridiculous. This is Disney+’ baby, and WoT does not play in the same league.

However, the Wheel of Time has nothing to be ashamed of when considering The Boys S2, the only other Amazon Prime show that I’ll mention in this column, or The Handmaid’s Tale S4, another Hulu TV show. The Boys S2 had better per-episode growth in viewership than WoT (+96% from its entrance to its exit of the Top10, compared to +52% for The Wheel of Time), but could not hold the Top10 past the final episode. As a result, WoT finished with a slightly higher viewership: +0.74 Million viewers, i.e. +8% from The Boys S2 estimated viewership. Meanwhile, The Handmaid’s Tale S4 had an additional week of hold, with a very similar viewership from WoT (+0.03 Million for WoT compared to The Handmaid’s Tale S4).

As you may have noticed, I haven’t mentioned much about the largest streaming platform in the US, Netflix. There’s a reason for that: its single-day release system doesn’t mix well with the idea of staying in the Nielsen’s Top10 from the release of the first episode of a season to its last. This makes it harder to filter out what shows to compare to The Wheel of Time, and I do not want to plot the viewership of the 130+ Netflix shows that reached Nielsen’s Top10 at least once since mid-2020.

So, following A Flame in the Void’s example, we can plot the estimated viewership for two Fantasy shows The Wheel of Time has been compared to: Shadow and Bone, and The Witcher S2.

Viewership comparison between WoT and (some) Netflix TV shows. From highest to lowest viewership: The Witcher S2, WoT, Shadow and Bone.

Overall, WoT did better than Shadow and Bone by 3.06 Million viewers (+41% from Shadow and Bone) but lagged behind The Witcher S2 and its 20.4 Million viewers (+95% from WoT). All three shows are Fantasy book adaptations, but The Witcher also benefits from a very popular video game franchise. Sadly, its first season came out before Nielsen started to share its streaming Top10, making the comparison even trickier. While it’s a bit hard to draw any conclusion from this last chart, it will be an interesting one to come back to once the second season of The Wheel of Time comes out.

Now, to come back to the initial question… While The Wheel of Time has plenty of margins to grow, those S1 Nielsen Ratings are very encouraging regarding the future and success of the show. With those numbers, it feels right to be confident about an s3 renewal.

I won't however try to guess when we will get that official confirmation, as clown makeup would certainly not suit my face. But I'm looking forward to your speculations in the comments!

Camille, also known as RationalNerd on Twitter, is a regular contributor to Every few weeks, their “Data? WoT Data?” column sheds some light on various numbers of the Wheel.


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