It’s easy, or at least easier, to set ratings records for episodic television when each episode is about as long as a movie. Such was the case with the first seven episodes of Stranger Thing season four, which launched on Friday and easily bested the second season of Bridgerton as the biggest “opening” for a television show in Netflix’s history. The first seven episodes, with a 95-minute episode eight and a 155-minute (!) episode nine debuting on July 1, earned 286.79 million hours in the first three days of availability, which translates into (presuming everyone watched all seven episodes over the weekend) 31.28 million households presumably watching the entire season. And yeah, that’s huge. Hell, episode length aside, the hours-logged still represents 44% of the “first 28 days” total of Bridgerton season two which holds the “lifetime” viewership record with 656 million hours.
The seven episodes of the Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things season four add up to around 547 minutes of “content,” or around 9.17 hours. The second season of Shonda Rhimes’ Bridgerton runs 507 minutes, or 8.45 hours. One reason why Stranger Things season four episodes were allowed to run so ridiculously long is partially about A) making sure folks spend all of their allotted streaming time on Netflix and B) gaming a streaming viewership system which is based not on singular transactions (buying a ticket, renting a movie, watching a show, etc.) but on minutes and hours spent watching a show or movie. That and A) letting the hit show creators do what they want and B) managing what the filmmakers and actors get paid “per episode” preventing what otherwise might have been more episodes of more conventional length (797 minutes divided by 50 = 16 episodes). However, that’s educated speculation.
If you’re wondering why movies seem to be longer these days, part of it is the knowledge that many/most folks are going to catch the film not in theaters but on streaming. So, especially if you’re more concerned about audiences watching a film on your streaming platform versus in theaters, although that thinking may be finally going away, going long serves two purposes. First, giving it to a filmmaker’s length-specific desires makes for good “filmmaker-friendly” pr and won’t be an issue in the post-theatrical. Second, a 175-minute The Batman is going to have a structural advantage in terms of “minutes viewed” than, say, the 113-minute Godzilla Vs. Kong. That said, one reason movies have felt longer is that many of the films that tend to run under two hours (rom-coms, animated films, etc.) have ended up on streaming platforms leaving theaters with the “bigger is better” blockbusters.
Bridgerton season two was no slouch in weekend ten, earning over 10 million hours. But the English-language television ratings for last week were mostly about Stranger Things, with all four seasons making the top ten for a total of 371 million hours viewed. That’s one “benefit” to Covid having delayed the current season, three years is a long time and plenty of fans felt the need to catch up either for fun or for educational purposes. That said, David E. Kelly’s terrific re-adaptation of The Lincoln Lawyer earned 64.8 million hours in its third frame, down from 108 million in week one but up from its 48.6 million-hour “opening weekend.” The Manuel Garcia-Rulfo/Neve Campbell/Christopher Gorham/Jazz Raycole episodic, which smartly intermixes its season-long legal case with a handful of “b-plot” cases, like an old-school television show, is allegedly the kind of thing Netflix wants more of. Me too.
In movie news, Netflix is benefiting from the theatrical triumphs of Paramount, as the first Top Gun, the first Sonic the Hedgehog and Jackass 4.5 (a Netflix-only extension of Jackass Forever) placed in the global top ten. Meanwhile, after a slow start, the breakout (and, yes, 180-minute) Indian action spectacular RRR placed first last week among non-English movies. The $150 million-grossing (including $13 million domestic) period-piece actioner is the biggest-grossing non-sequel ever for an Indian flick, behind only S. S. Rajamouli’s previous Baahubali 2: The Conclusion which grossed $19 million domestic and $263 million worldwide in 2017. I am intrigued at RRR’s sheer popularity of the film in my “Film Twitter” circles considering how much less it earned here and abroad than the Baahubali sequel. That said, they both kick total and complete cinematic ass and I can only hope RRR 2 (presuming there is such a thing) becomes a breakout sequel.