Amazon self-reported Prime Video viewership for the first time ever this month to declare that 25 million viewers worldwide streamed “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” in the series’ first 24 hours of availability on the platform. This figure broke “all previous records” and marked “the biggest premiere in the history of Prime Video,” according to an Amazon press release.
Of course, there is no way of verifying this. While Prime Video content is included in Nielsen’s weekly streaming ratings data, this is the first time Amazon has publicly indicated how many people are watching any of their original series. And comparing the “Rings” figure to Nielsen data is not a straightforward matter; the ratings firm measures only U.S. streaming viewership in minutes viewed per week, making it difficult to determine how many people actually watched a show or movie. (Nielsen has yet to report viewership for “Rings.”)
Indeed, the context-free number of 25 million viewers is an illusory attempt at transparency. The figure recalls Netflix’s days of reporting the number of accounts that watched at least two minutes of a title; as Variety noted, “Amazon did not specify how it measures a view, nor how much of an episode a user needs to watch to count as a viewer.”
And though “The Rings of Power” has undoubtedly accumulated more viewers since its debut, between the subsequent episode released Sept. 9 and later viewers catching up with the two-episode premiere, Amazon has not released any further numbers quantifying the show’s performance.
One wonders if the 25 million figure was simply Amazon’s attempt to outclass HBO’s “House of the Dragon,” the other blockbuster fantasy series often pitted against “Rings” in the press. The “Game of Thrones” prequel/spinoff scored nearly 10 million viewers in the 24 hours following its own premiere, across both linear and streaming platforms.
But that number includes only U.S. viewers, one of multiple reasons why the available “Rings” and “House of the Dragon” data can’t really be compared directly. Unlike Amazon, HBO has reported on the delayed audience for its fantasy epic. According to a later press release, the first episode’s viewership grew to over 20 million in the week following its debut, and Warner Bros. Discovery CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels said this week the episode has now been seen by “well north of 30 million viewers.”
HBO also released same-day viewership for “Dragon’s” second episode, which rose to 10.2 million, showing a steady performance for the series. (The network has not, however, reported streaming viewership for the series past episode 2.) If Amazon truly wants to flex its viewership, more data is sorely needed.
Furthermore, as VIP+ has argued in the past, viewership numbers alone do not paint a full picture of a series’ success on streaming. As Amazon does not regularly report Prime Video’s user base, it’s still unclear how large the potential audience for “Rings” actually is, rendering the 25 million figure even hazier.
The closest estimates we have are the company’s claims that more than 200 million people worldwide subscribe to Amazon Prime — the membership program that includes access to Prime Video — and that 80 million U.S. subscribers have watched the service at least once in the past year, as of May 2022.
It's also unclear how many new subscribers “The Rings of Power” is luring to Amazon Prime, a metric that Amazon has likely been monitoring closely, and that the company likely values more than viewership. Prime Video is just one component of an Amazon Prime subscription’s value equation, which also includes free two-day shipping on Amazon purchases, and Prime members have historically spent around double what non-members spend on Amazon per year.
As such, Amazon keeps tabs — or at the very least, has kept tabs — on how well Prime Video programming draws in new Prime members.
In 2018, Reuters reported on internal Amazon documents, which included the company’s measurements of how many people different original series helped draw to Prime. A key metric used at that time was “cost per first stream,” which compares a show’s budget against how many users streamed it as their first watch upon subscribing to Prime. According to Reuters, the company interpreted a “first stream” as meaning the show in question drew that subscriber to Prime, and valued shows that drew more subscribers at a lower cost.
Of course, the astronomical budget for “The Rings of Power” shows either that this mentality has shifted over time or that Amazon hoped the show would draw a massive number of new subscribers to Prime. (Both things can be true.) Either way, however, this metric is necessary to truly measure the success of “Rings” for Amazon — and unfortunately, the notion that Amazon would share it publicly is little more than a fantasy at this point.