“The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” is, in theory, among Amazon Prime Video’s most watched original series ever. So why is the tech giant being so cagey about its viewership?
In the course of the fantasy series’ entire six-week run, Amazon released just one figure quantifying its performance, claiming the first two episodes were streamed by 25 million global viewers in their first 24 hours of availability.
And in the three weeks since the first-season finale, the company has been just as quiet, with only a line in its Q3 earnings report noting “The Rings of Power” is “closing in on 100 million viewers to date” — a vague figure previously revealed by Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke in an interview with Variety.
True, Amazon has never exactly been forthcoming with streaming data; we still don’t even know an exact subscriber total for Prime Video. But in the case of “Rings,” a series representing the company’s biggest investment in scripted content to date — the first season alone cost about $465 million to produce — and tasked with becoming Prime Video’s best-performing title of all time, Amazon’s silence is deafening.
It’s especially deafening when compared with the company’s repeated viewership disclosures for “Thursday Night Football,” the NFL broadcast Amazon paid even more than the astronomical “Rings” budget to acquire.
Though Prime Video struck a deal with TV ratings giant Nielsen to measure viewership for “TNF,” Amazon has disputed Nielsen’s figures for each week of the broadcast, claiming, for instance, that 8.9 million people watched the Oct. 20 game while Nielsen counted 7.8 million. Clearly, Amazon has no problem releasing viewership numbers when it so desires.
Nielsen has also measured viewership for “The Rings of Power,” as part of its weekly streaming ratings, though there are multiple asterisks attached to those numbers. Nielsen counts only viewership from U.S. connected TVs, so mobile and laptop viewing, for instance, are excluded; streaming viewership is also measured in minutes streamed rather than a concrete number of viewers.
Still, “Rings” has performed very well by Nielsen’s metrics, delivering some of the biggest weekly viewership numbers ever for a Prime Video series, though it has not reached the peaks of “Reacher” and “The Terminal List.”
Those series, however, were released binge-style, with their entire first seasons dropping at once, while “Rings” rolled out episodes weekly. Accounting for this difference, it’s possible “Rings” could lay claim to the title of Prime Video’s most watched series ever, at least domestically.
But a pattern has also emerged in the “Rings” week-to-week viewership that may help explain Amazon’s silence: Until the most recent period measured, the series’ minutes streamed decayed each week, albeit by only about 1 percent over the previous three weeks measured. (Nielsen’s streaming ratings reporting is delayed by about a month from the week in question.)
Still, this pattern suggests “Rings’” audience shrank as the season went on, with little catch-up watching by new viewers taking place midseason. Even when viewing time rose again, it failed to reach the heights of the series' initial weeks of release. The steeper (around 20%) dropoff from its first two weeks also suggests many viewers who checked out the series early on didn’t continue watching it — not a great sign for its growth potential.
It’s also a notable contrast to the other blockbuster fantasy series of the moment, HBO’s “House of the Dragon,” which has often been pitted against “Rings” in the press. The “Game of Thrones” prequel/spinoff grew its weekly viewership substantially early on before plateauing around the same level of viewing time as “Rings.”
Of course, viewing time alone does not tell the whole story. While we don’t know the exact size of Prime Video’s user base, Amazon has claimed 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.
We can reasonably assume, in other words, that Prime Video’s user base — i.e., the potential audience for “The Rings of Power” — is far larger than that of HBO Max, which streams “House of the Dragon.” The fact that the latter series has equaled or surpassed “Rings” in viewing time, then, becomes much more impressive.
HBO, for its part, hasn’t been shy about the high-flying viewership of “Dragon’s.” According to the network, the series has averaged 29 million viewers per episode in the U.S. across linear and digital platforms, close behind the average audience for the penultimate season of “Game of Thrones” (32.8 million viewers per episode in the U.S.).
The S1 finale secured 9.3 million viewers across all platforms on its initial night of airing alone, down from the series premiere but still the biggest HBO finale audience since the “Thrones” series finale. (This does not even include the untold millions who watched “Dragon” outside of the U.S.)
It's simply impossible to know how “The Rings of Power” stacks up against those figures. Are those nearly 100 million viewers cumulative, across all episodes? Is each episode averaging close to 100 million viewers? How does that compare against other Prime Video hits, like “The Boys”?
If Amazon truly wants to flex its viewership, more data is sorely needed. “The Rings of Power” seems to be a bona fide hit; based on Nielsen data, it’s among the most viewed original streaming series of the year (particularly outside of Netflix content). But keeping the picture of its viewership so hazy only makes the series seem less successful at this point. As VIP+ has argued before, Amazon cannot truly claim success in a fight against its streaming rivals without directly measuring up against them.