Fair or not, all of Hollywood can’t help but compare Amazon’s “The Lord of The Rings: The Rings of Power” and HBO’s “House of the Dragon.” The two blockbuster fantasy series belong to arguably the most popular franchises of the last 25 years, carry unfathomable budgets — nearly $200 million for “House of the Dragon” and $465 million for “Rings of Power” — and premiered within two weeks of one another. The truth is both new series can boast bragging rights early on in their runs.
Amazon Prime Video made the strategic decision to release the first two episodes of “Rings of Power” last Friday. This move helped “Rings of Power” top “Dragon” in terms of audience retention as 87% of viewers who watched the first episode of “Rings” also watched the second episode (this is on par with Disney+’s Marvel series “She-Hulk: Attorney at Law”), according to Whip Media data provided to TheWrap. Whip Media pulls data from TV Time, a TV and movie app that tracks viewer interest across 22 million global registered users.
For “House of the Dragon,” which debuted Sunday, Aug. 21 with one episode, 74% of people who watched the premiere also watched the second episode (though combined linear HBO and HBO Max digital viewership increased 2% in that span, per HBO and Nielsen).
Numbers can be bent and folded to support any narrative, making it difficult for apples-to-apples ratings comparison.
Amazon announced that the “Rings of Power” premiere drew 25 million viewers globally in its first day. But this is the first time Prime Video has ever released such a ratings statistic and it remains unclear how the streamer defines a view (watching the first five minutes of an episode? 30 minutes? The entire episode?). Meanwhile, “House of the Dragon” premiered to nearly 10 million Sunday night viewers across HBO and HBO Max in just the U.S. with premiere viewership growing to more than 20 million domestic viewers across its first week of availability.
How can one effectively compare a global streaming-exclusive title with a vague viewership definition to a U.S.-only linear and digital release?
In terms of Whip Media’s data — which dates back to 2018 — both “Dragon” and “Rings” enjoyed top five series debuts. “House of the Dragon” actually secured the biggest series debut of all shows in that span based on the volume of TV Time users that registered a premiere view in the three days following its release on HBO and HBO Max on Aug. 21. (The premium cabler also said that the premiere secured the largest audience for any new original series in HBO history).
“Rings of Power” generated a top five series debut in TV Time history based on its three-day performance following its premiere on Prime Video. Comparing the two shows and how they performed in that three-day post-debut window, TV Time found “House of the Dragon” attracted 51% more viewers than “Rings of Power.”
Samba TV — which gathers viewership data via its proprietary Automatic Content Recognition technology on opted-in Smart TVs across 28 million U.S. devices, but doesn’t account for non-TV devices such as mobile phones and laptops — revealed that 1.8 million U.S. households watched the “Rings of Power” premiere in the live plus three-day window, while 1.3 million U.S. households watched the second episode in the same span. This marks the best premiere weekend for any Prime Video original series in 2022. But the premiere episode of “House of the Dragon” secured 4.8 million U.S. households in the same window, per Samba TV.
Front-loading two episodes to start may help “Rings of Power” secure viewers week-to-week and potentially even grow its audience as Season 1 unfurls. It will also allow the show to air its highly-anticipated season finale one week before “House of the Dragon” concludes, which provides a nice cushion to dominate the cultural conversation. Yet when it comes to viewership clarity, it looks as if “House of the Dragon” is off to a stronger start overall. Still, it’s clear there’s more than enough room in the Hollywood landscape for both blockbuster series to succeed.