Amazon draws 25M viewers for ‘The Rings of Power’ premiere, Samba TV data suggests series has work to do

Amazon Prime Video’s release of “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” drew the streaming platform’s largest premiere in history with 25 million viewers globally on day one, the company announced Saturday. However, new data from Samba TV suggests the series has work to do to match smash franchise hits like Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” and to attract audiences beyond core Lord of The Rings fans.

The Amazon original series, which launched in more than 240 countries and territories worldwide, is a prequel to the blockbuster Lord of the Rings films and fantasy world based on the classic books by J.R.R. Tolkien. Events in the epic drama series are set thousands of years before Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

After premiering on September 1, new episodes will be released weekly through October 14.

“It is somehow fitting that Tolkien’s stories - among the most popular of all time, and what many consider to be the true origin of the fantasy genre - have led us to this proud moment. I am so grateful to the Tolkien Estate – and to our showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, executive producer Lindsey Weber, cast and crew - for their tireless collaborative efforts and boundless creative energy,” said Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios in a statement. “And it is the tens of millions of fans watching – clearly as passionate about Middle-earth as we are – who are our true measure of success.”

Although the series broke premiere records for Amazon, it looks to have some catching up to do in the U.S. with other recent big-name streaming series debuts.

Samba TV, which collects glass-level audience viewing information based on automatic content recognition (ACR) technology on opt-in smart TVs, released its own data Tuesday showing stats on U.S. household viewing for the premiere weekend.

According to Samba TV, 1.8 million U.S. households tuned in to watch the first episode during the L+3D window (or September 1-4). There was a slight drop-off for episode two, which attracted 1.3 million U.S. households in the same window. Still, the debut of the series represents Amazon Prime’s highest three-day viewership of any 2022 premiere on the platform.

Samba TV CEO Ashwin Navin suggested in statement that Amazon has laid the groundwork, but isn’t yet on par with recent franchise hits.

“While initial results were strong compared to other Amazon Prime debuts, ‘The Rings of Power’ has room to grow to match the impressive numbers of established franchises like Stranger Things and appears, at least early on, to face some challenges engaging younger audiences,” Navin stated. “Traditionally, Prime originals tend to attract larger audience proportions in the days immediately following their release than other leading streamers and this could be the case once again with 'The Rings of Power' as this weekend’s premiere has clearly set a strong foundation of viewership from which to build upon.”

For example, Amazon Prime’s premiere viewership in the L+3D window compares to the first episode of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” season 4, which garnered more viewers at 2.9 million U.S. households, according to Samba TV data. Meanwhile, Disney+’s “Obi-Wan Kenobi” brought in 2.1 million U.S. households for the first episode during the L+3D window.

Netflix touted “Stranger Things” as breaking the premiere weekend record for an English language TV show on the platform, with 286.7 million hours streamed.

Samba TV pointed out that Amazon Prime shows tend to see a slower build up than hits on Netflix and Disney, as more viewers tune in later rather than immediately to watch a show once it's released. For Netflix’s “Stranger Things” 22% of its initial month (or L+30) viewership happened within the first day, while Disney’s Obi-Wan Kenobi premiere drove 28% of L+30 viewership, according to Samba. This indicates “that roughly one-quarter of those show’s viewers were highly anticipating the premieres to the point of immediately watching on their first day live,” Samba wrote.

A full month of data will help give a better view of how “The Rings of Power” compares to other streaming releases, the company noted.  

That said, the series could face some challenges in attracting both younger audiences and those outside of the existing Lord of the Rings fan base, according to Navin.

Whereas HBO’s “House of the Dragon” Game of Thrones prequel series premiere over-indexed by 3% among Gen-Z viewers, Amazon’s “The Rings of Power” under-indexed by 4% among that demographic. Samba said this suggests the Game of Thrones series might be doing a better job bringing in younger viewers who didn’t watch the original series.  Samba TV also noted the viewership drop-off between episodes 1 and 2 of “The Rings of Power” – indicating that around one in four households that saw the first episode weren’t interested in watching the second within the early premiere weekend window.

“As the streamer seeks to tap into the existing fanbase for J. R. R. Tolkien’s fantasy world more than two decades after the blockbuster films were initially introduced, the real challenge and opportunity for Amazon is whether it can expand beyond hard core fans to introduce a new generation of viewers to Middle Earth and help launch an entirely new programming franchise,” Navin continued.

Amazon’s production of the new Lord of the Rings series apparently didn’t come cheap. A report from the Wall Street Journal pegged the cost of the first season at $715 million.

Fan favorite franchises have served up big viewing audiences for streaming giants, as has been seen with “Stranger Things” and “Game of Thrones: House of the Dragon.”

The Game of Thrones premiere was a smash hit, with nearly 10 million U.S. viewers on its August 21 premiere. By the following Friday Warner Bros. Discovery said that the first episode had been seen by over 20 million viewers across linear, on-demand and HBO Max platforms. Shortly after the premiere, Warner Bros. Discovery announced early renewal for a second season of the series, which is focused on the story of House of Targaryen based on George R.R. Martin’s “Fire & Blood,” and set 200 years before the inaugural Game of Thrones series events.