How Amazon Will Define Success for Its Billion-Dollar Bet on ‘Lord of the Rings’ Prequel | Charts

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In Hollywood, if you invest a massive amount of resources into a series, nothing less than runaway success is acceptable as a final result — and that certainly applies to Amazon Prime Video’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.”

With a mandate to find the next “Game of Thrones,” Amazon shelled out $250 million to the J.R.R. Tolkien estate just to acquire the rights to the late author’s fantasy novels and related materials — and then spent a reported $465 million to produce the eight-episode first season. (There’s a five-season plan in place.) As perhaps the most expensive series in TV history, it’s important to know what may constitute as a victory for Prime Video.

So, what does “The Rings of Power” need to do for the streamer to justify its Middle Earth-size budget? Let’s examine subscribers, viewership, anticipation/buzz and critical reception to figure it out.

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Viewership

If you spend half a billion dollars on eight hours of TV, you want that content to be seen — so Amazon will be expecting “The Rings of Power” to outdraw all of its previous original hits, like the superhero saga “The Boys” (whose last season racked up 864.3 million minutes viewed in its first four weeks of availability, according to Nielsen) and “Reacher” (781.1 million). It’s worth noting that Nielsen, which measures U.S. streaming viewership in minutes watched, only covers TV viewership and doesn’t account for streaming via phone, tablet or laptop.

Now, some of Prime Video’s biggest shows were released all at once while others debuted with a couple episodes before moving to a weekly drop of new episodes. But either way, they provide a baseline for the viewership “The Rings of Power” needs to generate in its first month to be deemed a hit. (The series will release two episodes on Friday, and then one per week across its eight-episode first season.)

Given the immense investment, Amazon execs will expect the show to not only become the streamer’s top overall performer after four weeks but also to compete with some of Netflix’s upper-echelon hits across its full first season. Anything less may be considered a disappointment.

“‘Lord of the Rings’ has to be perfect because so much is riding on it for Amazon,'” one development executive told TheWrap.

The below chart shows the first four weeks of U.S. viewership in minutes viewed for the most recent seasons of some of Prime Video’s most successful originals overall.

Amazon Prime Video Viewership
(Nielsen/TheWrap)

Subscriber growth

Streaming services are largely judged on the volume of subscribers signed up and exclusive new series are the biggest driver of subscription growth. Prime Video doesn’t release subscriber numbers other than saying last year more than 200 million Prime members worldwide streamed content (though many sign up just for free Amazon shipping).

The company is more focused on customer engagement than raw subscription growth; Prime Video provides added value to Prime customers who may sign up simply to get free shipping on products they purchase. But in polling several media analysts and insiders at rival streamers, we grouped together some benchmarks the tech giant may be shooting for.

Two media analysts believe Amazon is likely aiming to add between 3 million and 5 million new subscribers globally on the strength of “Rings of Power.” Another analyst thought that number could be as high as 10 million, while an insider at a competing service thought that 4.5 million new subs that stay with Prime for 12 months would be considered a win.

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Two other insiders at rival streamers expect Prime Video to grow its worldwide subscriber base by 5% to 10% thanks to the expensive new series.

Most agreed that Amazon will be just as happy to increase the amount of monthly active users (MAUs) among existing Prime subscribers as it will be about adding new customers. Why? Because “The Rings of Power,” along with “Thursday Night Football” (which begins streaming Sept. 15) are mainly designed to establish Prime Video as a destination for appointment viewing — and then a place to buy socks.

“Amazon’s endgame isn’t subscriptions exactly, but engagement and keeping the subscriber in their ecosystem so they unconsciously consume other Amazon material,” one media analyst told TheWrap.

Amazon Prime Video Viewership Ratings
The number of followers on the TV Time app for “The Boys,” “Jack Ryan,” “Rings of Power,” “Reacher” and “The Wheel of Time” 16 days before release. (TV Time)

Audience engagement

Since Amazon isn’t focused on traditional outcomes like viewership for advertisers or driving up subscriber numbers, building audience engagement and buzz will be a key factor to funnel streaming viewers to Prime product sales, which is one of Amazon’s main underlying goals.

Here, the tech giant is already off to a strong start. “The Rings of Power” is the most-anticipated show debut in Amazon Prime Video’s history, according to Whip Media’s TV Time analysis of its 21 million users (TV Time tracks both the number of followers a title attracts within the app and viewer interest as users can mark within the app if they intend to watch a given title). Sixteen days out from its release, “Rings” was lapping other major Prime Video original hits “The Wheel of Time,” “Jack Ryan,” “Reacher” and “The Boys” in terms of user anticipation in the same pre-release span (see chart above).

Amazon wants to keep users within its digital ecosystem for as long as possible. “The Rings of Power” is positioned quite well for a strong debut weekend. It’s tracking well ahead of “The Wheel of Time,” another adaptation of a well-known fantasy book series that had a strong Season 1 debut last November, in pre-release TV Time app followers. (Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke said last year that “Wheel of Time” was the most-watched series premiere of the year and one of the top five series launches in Prime Video history.)

Overall, “The Rings of Power” is the third-most anticipated new show on any service of all time in TV Time’s data set. (It sits behind HBO’s “House of the Dragon,” the most-anticipated new show in TV Time’s five-year history, and is narrowly edged out by Netflix’s “The Witcher” at the same pre-release point.) The “Lord of the Rings” prequel is already the 15th most-followed Prime Video show on the TV Time app despite not airing a single episode yet (“The Boys” and “Jack Ryan” rank ahead, for now).

That engagement is expected to spike once the show debuts — tracked by companies like Reelgood that calculate streaming and engagement share based for the top 100 TV shows over their first four weeks. “The Rings of Power” should be aiming for a streming and engagement share above 6%, which would imply a significant cultural footprint that’s well ahead of the streamer’s other hits to date.

Amazon Viewership Ratings
Streaming and engagement shares during the first four weeks after the release of the most recent seasons of Amazon Prime Video’s “The Boys,” “The Wheel of Time,” “Reacher,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” and “Jack Ryan.” (Reelgood)

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Critical Reception (and Awards)

Another factor in the show’s success is just how well it’s embraced by critics — as well as members of the Television Academy. The original “Game of Thrones” snagged 59 Emmys and 160 total nominations over its eight-year run — and Salke and Co. are eager to match or even outdo HBO’s new spinoff series “House of the Dragon.”

As of this writing, “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” holds an 87% score on aggregate review site Rotten Tomatoes based on 79 critic reviews, just above the 83% grade for “House of the Dragon.” On Metacritic, the show also edges out its HBO rival, with a 71/100 score compared to 68/100 for “House of the Dragon.” There are no “negative” reviews for “The Rings of Power” as classified by Metacritic so far.

TheWrap’s own review of the series praised “The Ring of Power” as “dense with lore and characters. Multiple viewings may be required, but it won’t be wasted time. It’s rare to feel that one is stepping into another world; the seams of our reality are frequently present. Get lost in the beauty of this series.”

Critically, it appears as Amazon’s massively expensive return to Middle-Earth is worth the journey.

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