Monthly Archives: September 2022

Amazon’s “The Rings of Power” has not captured a large audience: What can they do now?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, September 21, 2022)

[Disclaimer: The opinions (and errors) expressed in this essay are mine alone and do not represent the opinions of any of the media companies or creative properties mentioned herein.]

Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power TV series is going to be the most expensive TV show in history, with Amazon spending $465 million for its first season. When its five seasons are over, its total budget will be measured in the billions of dollars.

By comparison, HBO’s The House of the Dragon cost $200 million for its first season, and Netflix’s extraordinarily popular Stranger Things cost $270 million for its fourth season.

The problem for Amazon is that The House of the Dragon and Stranger Things are arguably audience-grabbing successes and, so far, it is not clear if The Rings of Power has found a mass audience.

When Season 4 of Stranger Things debuted in late June 2022, an estimated 301.3 million hours were watched, according to Netflix. As for The House of the DragonHBO reported 25 million people watched the August 2022 premiere in just over a week. Not to be outdone, Amazon reported the first episode of The Rings of Power, which debuted September 1, 2022was watched by more than 25 million globally.

Would Netflix, HBO or Amazon shade the truth about their audience numbers? Of course they would. It would be criminally incompetent not to do so.

But how can we objectively decide if Stranger Things or The House of Dragons or The Rings of Power are, genuinely, popular with audiences? And how do they compare with each other?

Are streaming audience measurements believable?

At a time when consistent, credible audience measurement for streaming programs is still contentious, it is hard to find universally-accepted measures of audience interest in popular TV shows. They all have flaws.

Unfortunately, too many of the audience measurement stories published in the mainstream media use the content providers (e.g., Netflix, HBO, Disney+, etc.) as the primary sources for their own audience data. That isn’t journalism — that is called being a shill. More importantly, that is a recipe for unacceptable levels of corporate-friendly news bias.

Sadly, there are few audience data alternatives, particularly for independent researchers like myself who cannot justify the subscription fees for audience measurement services like Nielsen Media ResearchSymphony Technology Group and GfK.

So I turn to Google Trends (GT). But is it an objective measure of audience interest? Probably not in the academic sense. The limited amount of quantitative analyses on GT’s objectivity and reliability suggests there are systematic biases in its data, and its ability to predict to predict consumer behavior (such as car sales) is dubious.

However, my own research has shown a strong correlation between GT search data and independent measures of TV streaming audiences.

It is entirely possible that GT statistics are biased and, nonetheless, a useful way to compare the relative popularity of streamed TV shows.

Of course, large corporations use their enormous financial resources to influence Google searches and other indicators of audience interest. They have every financial incentive to do so.

But it can also be assumed that the concerted actions of large corporations to manipulate social media and search engine numbers is a constant within the system. HBO (Warner Bros.) and Amazon are not resource-challenged, which is why data manipulation is unavoidable in today’s online media environment.

Yet, based on the evidence I’ve collected, GT remains a valuable, publicly-available data source for assessing the public’s interest in different media properties.

And if GT is a reliable data source, the news for The Rings of Power looks very grim, at least as of September 20, 2022.

‘The Rings of Power’ has not found an audience

Looking at Google search interest in the U.S. for The Rings of Power (TRP) and The House of the Dragon (THD) since their streaming debuts, THD is almost five times more interesting to Americans (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Google search trends for The Rings of Power and The House of the Dragon (August 15 — September 20, 2022)

Source: Google Trends

Amazon didn’t spend $465 million on TRP to generate levels of interest significantly below their arch rival, HBO. But compare Google search trends for TRP and THD to an undeniable TV series powerhouse, Stranger Things, and one must wonder if HBO and Amazon are themselves perennial runner-ups to Netflix (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Google search trends for Stranger ThingsThe Rings of Power and The House of the Dragon (August 15 — September 20, 2022)

Stranger Things is two months removed from its 2022 season premiere and it still generates as much Google search interest (in the U.S.) as THD.

That is what a social phenomenon looks like.

TRP is not that.

When looking at the last seven days of Google searches, it is especially depressing for Amazon (see Figure 3). What should be Amazon’s harvest-time for TRP — the time when its episodes are new relative to its competitors — is turning out to be its deathblow.

Figure 23: Google search trends for Stranger ThingsThe Rings of Power and The House of the Dragon (September 14 — 21, 2022)

TRP hasn’t caught on with audiences. That is indisputable.

But can TRP recover?

‘The Rings of Power’ is good television

I don’t do movie or TV reviews in this blog. It’s not my strength nor my interest.

However, I find it baffling why TRP is not as popular, if not more popular, than THD.

My wife and son, both J.R.R. Tolkien readers, are totally engrossed in the TRP story line. Galadriel, played by Morfydd Clark, wonderfully represents TRP’s protagonist. She isn’t just beautiful, she dominates every scene she occupies. [Although, I wish the TRP writers knew how to give her a sense of humor.]

Galadriel is very watchable.

But critics point out that Galadriel is little more than a Karen — a white woman perceived as entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is normal or earned.

Even woke-friendly media outlets are questioning the quality of TRP:

“The creators of Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power know how to create spectacle, but they don’t know how to tell a good story,” writes Forbes’ Erik Kain.

Other than losing her brother, there is no character arc in the TRP narrative that suggests Galadriel has suffered (or lost) in any significant way to authenticate her intense anger and power in her quest to defeat the illusive Sauron.

Identity politics, right or wrong, has infected the critical debate as to whether TRP is a great TV show.

And without missing a beat in that depressingly shallow political debate, Amazon has launched a social media campaign suggesting critics of TRP are themselves ‘racists’ and ‘misogynists.’

In responding to online criticism of Amazon’s conscious decision to make TRP more racially diverse than director Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, TRP’s creators offered this rejoinder:

“We, the cast of Rings of Power, stand together in absolute solidarity and against the relentless racism, threats, harassment, and abuse some of our castmates of color are being subject to on a daily basis.”

In my opinion, when you find yourself responding to ‘online critics,’ you have already lost the debate. Moreover, calling your core audience ‘racist’ is a losing marketing strategy.

Write a good TV show and people will show up.

Write a less-than-good TV show, and you are reduced to name-calling.

That seems to be where Amazon and the creators of TRP reside today.

It is unfortunate, because the Tolkien fans in my household (which does not include me) are enjoying TRP. My teenage son loves Galadriel. That is something to build on, yes?

What can Amazon do to undue the damage TRP’s creators have inflicted on a TV series that should have been one of the defining moments in streaming TV history?

For what it is worth, I believe TRP’s writers need to make Galadriel vulnerable. She is too strong and powerful without the proper backstory to explain it.

We need to see Galadriel suffer on a heartbreaking level.

Until that happens, I don’t think anybody is going to care what happens in the next TRP episode.

  • K.R.K.

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As censorship and secrecy rise, so do conspiracy theories

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, September 15, 2022)

Disclaimer: The following essay is not intended to endorse or promote any of the conspiracy theories mentioned herein.

The Joe Rogan Experience (JRE) was the most watched podcast on Spotify in 2021, reports Variety, and appears to be the most watched podcast across platforms in 2022.

Arguably, JRE reaches 11 million viewers per episode.

By comparison, the most popular cable TV news show, Tucker Carlson Tonight, garners between 2 and 4 million viewers per episode.

So when Rogan talks, millions of people listen. Perhaps only the U.S. president can get more attention on demand.

And while I remain a loyal JRE viewer, occasionally I cringe when Rogan speaks conspiracy theory nonsense. I forgave him years ago for once believing the moon landings were staged, but from all appearances he remains open to a belief that the 9/11 attacks were more than just an al Qaeda operation.

In particular, two years ago he helped sustain (while cagily showing skepticism towards) one of the most pernicious conspiracy theories still circulating in the cybersphere: that the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center towers were motivated by an attempt to coverup Pentagon financial malfeasance.

“The day before the 9/11 attacks, Rumsfeld gave a press conference where he talked about trillions of dollars missing. The next day a plane slams into the very part of the building where they were doing the accounting,” Rogan told his audience.

So what was Rogan implying? It’s rather obvious.

There is this indisputable fact: The day prior to the 9/11 attacks, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave a press conference announcing the results of a September 21, 2001 U.S. Department of Defense Office of Inspector General report (DoD-IG) which reported $2.3 trillion could not be adequately accounted for in DoD budgets.

Sometimes coincidences are just that…coincidences. That is one of reality’s laws that statistics repeatedly confirms.

Conspiracy theories are built on coincidences that reinforce pre-existing biases and narratives. If you believe the Pentagon and U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) in 1963 were so determined to pursue the war in Vietnam that its leaders were willing to see the assassination of a sitting president opposed to expanding that war, John F. Kennedy’s death makes more sense.

According to the documented evidence, a clearly dangerous man, Lee Harvey Oswald, took advantage of a poorly-prepared Secret Service in order to commit one of the greatest crimes of the century. Did he have help or was programmed to commit this crime? Those are questions that will never be answered sufficiently for many of us. [Jack Ruby’s role in this drama has never made sense to me.]

The truth is that we humans are biologically predisposed to reject randomness. We need explanations. “Life can feel especially senseless to someone whose belief in a purposeful, benevolent universe has been shattered by mercilessly unfair adversity,” says Ralph Lewis M.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

A number of factors allow conspiracy theories to flourish. Firstly, the predilection of presidential administrations and the federal bureaucracy to believe that secrecy is more important to national security (and their legitimacy) than openness has consequences. The greater the government’s emphasis on secrecy, the more fertile the ground for popular conspiracy theories. [That is an hypothesis, not a conspiracy theory.]

Secondly, with increased secrecy, grows distrust. According to public opinion data, the public’s distrust in the nation’s institutions remains near historic lows. And as distrust of the government grows within the general public, the more likely conspiracy theories prosper. [Again, that is an hypothesis, not a conspiracy theory.]

Lastly, the growing determination of our nation’s elected officials to impose censorship on large segments of the general population (and a partisan segment of the general population willing to condone it), increases the opportunity for conspiracy theories to take hold within the public. [I’ll say it again, this an hypothesis, not a conspiracy theory.]

On an admittedly superficial level, the empirical evidence supports these hypotheses.

Figures 1 through 4 show the trends in literary references to the terms conspiracy theoryanonymous source, secret, and government censorship.

Our culture is growing increasingly exposed to these terms in our literature.

Figure 1: Trend in Literary Incidence of Term (1950 to 2019):
conspiracy theory

Source: Google Books Ngram Viewer

Figure 2: Trend in Literary Incidence of Term (1950 to 2019):
anonymous source

Source: Google Books Ngram Viewer

Figure 3: Trend in Literary Incidence of Term (1950 to 2019): secret

Source: Google Books Ngram Viewer

Figure 4: Trend in Literary Incidence of Term (1950 to 2019):
government censorship

Source: Google Books Ngram Viewer

That is our culture today, increasingly exposed to (and subsequently numb to) stories of secrecy, censorship, and conspiracy theories.

And, based on evidence from GDELT, the largest and most comprehensive open database of human communications ever created, recent trends in global online news reinforces this conclusion (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Trend in U.S. Online News Coverage (Jan. 2017 to Sep. 2022)


News stories about government censorship is on the rise in the U.S.

Does it reflect a genuine increase in government censorship? The anecdotal evidence says, ‘Yes,’ but the mere perception that it is increasing has its own repercussions.

Marginalized voices are feeling — right or wrong — more restricted than ever (i.e., leftist progressives, populist conservatives, etc.).

And conspiracy theories may be the main beneficiaries of their social diminishment.

Are conspiracy theories dangerous?

I have no fear of being exposed to conspiracy theories, the more absurd the better. As such, I am a regular consumer of such theories on imageboards like 4chan and 8chan (for entertainment purposes only, of course).

I cannot think of one case of something I’ve read on these imageboards that turned out to be substantively true. That is in contrast to a website like Wikileaks where I cannot think of one case where information on that site has been proven to be illegitimate.

Wikileaks is a legitimate source of news — 4chan and other dark-side imageboards are not.

So what is the problem with conspiracy theories? They are simply a symptom, not a cause of social unrest.

Truth be told, the prominence of conspiracy theories in the public discourse may be a ‘canary-in-the-mine’ indicator of how broken our political culture has become in recent years.

So what if I’ve read posts on 8chan suggesting the U.S. defense establishment created (or captured) the SARS-Cov-2 virus and dropped it in the middle of a Wuhan, China seafood market in order to stunt the Chinese economic growth miracle? [If true, they succeeded!]

Overwhelming, the evidence says such a theory is false. But why does the suggestion even exist?

This particular conspiracy theory exists because of the secrecy of the Chinese government (which we can’t control) and a U.S. public health establishment (which we can control) that thinks their role is paternalistic over the U.S. public (as opposed to an agent of the people’s constitutional power).

The best (and worst) conspiracy theories take a documented outcome (e.g., the deaths caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus) and create theories as to why some segment of society might want and create such an outcome.

That is the greatest power of conspiracy theories. Using contrived theories to explain recognizable facts.

Critical Race Theory (CRT). White supremacy. The emerging Democratic majorityIslamic extremismTransactivism. The Great Replacement Theory.

These are all sloppy social theories.

They aren’t science. They are politics…in its ugliest and most destructive form.

  • K.R.K.

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Recent revelations about PAXLOVID™ should lead to serious questions for the FDA, CDC and Pfizer

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, September 13, 2022)

“In politics, not all lies are all lies. And not all truths are complete.” — Mark McKinnon (American political advisor, reform advocate, media columnist, and television producer)

“The most effective propaganda is surrounded by truths.” — Hanno Hardt (University of Iowa Journalism and Mass Communication Professor)

“Half a truth is often a great lie.” — Benjamin Franklin

Our understanding of social and political issues is incomplete or inaccurate, in part, due to our own mental limitations, but also because those providing us with information on these issues are, themselves, often ill-informedtrying to limit the our knowledge, or simply lying.

No information source has been more responsible for those three information deceits than our own government.

One of the first political science books I read in college was journalist David Wise’s The Politics of Lying — as pertinent today as it was when it was published in 1973. The book outlines how government deception has been enhanced over the years through “official secrecy, a vast public relations machine, and increasing pressures on the press.”

Ironically, it was Wise’s quoting of Richard M. Nixon that has stayed with me all these years:

“When information which properly belongs to the public is systematically withheld by those in power, the people soon become ignorant of their own affairs, distrustful of those who manage them and, eventually, incapable of determining their own destinies.” — Richard M. Nixon

The number of times the U.S. government officials get caught in deliberate deceptions of the U.S. public grows by the day. In my lifetime, it spans from Watergate to Russiagate (with a few –gates in between), but perhaps no deception has been more upsetting than the poor information that has defined too much of the government’s communications effort during the COVID-19 pandemic.

No, I am not an anti-vaxxer or convinced that the virus originated in a Wuhan lab. I am, however, increasingly convinced that the American people were propagandized into believing only expensive vaccine and drug treatments would get us out of this worldwide health crisis — when, in fact, much more cost-effective measures were known or could have been discovered with more high-quality (for example, randomized controlled trials) scientific research.

I am confident in saying that billions of dollars were most likely wasted on the one-size-fits-all vaccine and antiviral policies promoted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and pharmaceutical companies. which were ill-conceived and, most certainly, cost-ineffective.

Case in point, the COVID-19 antiviral treatment: PAXLOVID™:

On November 5, 2021, Pfizer announced “its investigational novel COVID-19 oral antiviral candidate, PAXLOVID™, significantly reduced hospitalization and death, based on an interim analysis of the Phase 2/3 EPIC-HR (Evaluation of Protease Inhibition for COVID-19 in High-Risk Patients) randomized, double-blind study of non-hospitalized adult patients with COVID-19, who are at high risk of progressing to severe illness.”

On December 23, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for the use of PAXLOVID™ to treat COVID-19 and the Biden administration has since purchased 20 million treatment courses of the antiviral for use in the U.S.

After initialing reporting that PAXLOVID™ “reduced risk of hospitalization or death by 89 percent (within three days of symptom onset) and 88 percent (within five days of symptom onset) compared to placebo,” in June 2022 Pfizer released the final research findings for the Phase 2/3 EPIC-HR and had to admit their drug offers little benefit to healthy people who are fully vaccinated — which is about one-third of the U.S. population based on data from the CDC and the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center.

While PAXLOVID™ is still very effective for people who are unvaccinated or have significant co-morbidities (for example, obesity, hypertension, etc.), Pfizer’s failure to be upfront about a large percentage of the U.S. population who would not benefit from the drug is informative about the forthrightness of not just Pfizer, but the FDA.

The EUA application requirements, as stated in Section E.1 of the FDA’s guidance to industry stakeholders seeking an EUA, are clear in the importance of providing comprehensive evidence as to a drug’s benefits:

A producer of the the drug pursing EUA must provide data on “the significant known and potential benefits and risks of the emergency use of the product, and the extent to which such benefits and risks are unknown.”

In authorizing the emergency use PAXLOVID™, there is no evidence the FDA knew of Pfizer’s clinical study data showing that the antiviral drug was unnecessary for healthy, vaccinated COVID-19 patients.

It would have been a nice thing for family doctors and their patients to know.

An untold millions of Americans (including my wife) received the PAXLOVID™ treatment course for no substantive medical reason. Considering that a five-day course of PAXLOVID™ presumably costs around $530 (the U.S. government paid $5.3 billion for 10 million courses of PAXLOVID™ in November 2021), how many billions of dollars has the U.S. government squandered in facilitating the use of this antiviral treatment for COVID-19?

Before Pfizer’s revelation of the circumstances in which PAXLOVID™ treatments are less effective than originally advertised, in May 2022 the CDC had warned that around 2 percent of people who receive the PAXLOVID™ treatments will have their symptoms return after their initial reduction.

While the CDC says the ‘rebound’ outcome and the drug’s lower effectiveness among healthy, vaccinated people are not serious enough concerns to discourage use of PAXLOVID™, when did Pfizer, the FDA and the CDC know of these effectiveness issues and why didn’t the EUA process bring them to the public’s attention sooner?

This lack of candidness might make someone wonder whether the FDA’s EUA process is more concerned about providing a rationalization for the drug companies’ record-breaking profits than helping the American people make informed medical decisions.

These questions gain relevance after The Economist recently reported that PAXLOVID™ — in the aggregate — has not been particularly significant in saving lives or reducing hospitalizations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The impact of Pfizer’s antiviral drug is hard to detect in official statistics,” says The Economist.

It is not just about the money, but that is a good place to start.

All told, the government tab for the COVID-19 pandemic has been staggering:

$10 billion spent on PAXLOVID™ alone.

$20 to $40 billion in total spent on Operation Warp Speed (the joint government-private industry research effort to develop, manufacture and deploy COVID-19 vaccines and antivirals).

Not to mention the $2.2 trillion spent on the CARES Act of 2020 and another $1.7 trillion on the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

The U.S. Congress shows no formal interest in asking hard questions of our federal bureaucracy or the drug companies about the critical information kept from the public during the EUA process for PAXLOVID™, not to mention other equally important questions, such as the scientifically specious data used to justify mass COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters of healthy children — money and effort that could have been better spent protecting those most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Adding to the tsunami of secrecy and scientific short-cuts that have helped define the U.S. response to COVID-19, is the FDA’s recent approval of the “bivalent” booster that was issued with no new clinical research to support its deployment into the general public. This virus is too survivable now not to be doing the proper due diligence on the science.

And for all this money and fast-tracking, the U.S. still experienced among the world’s worst fatality rates for COVID-19 (14th worst among over 180 countries with reliable data, according to You can thank our fragmented health care system for much of that failing.

Perhaps inadvertently confirming Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) — an economic theory that says countries that issue their own currencies can never “run out of money” the way people or businesses can  our politicians, bureaucrats and corporations appear more than happy to spend government money like drunken sailors, so long as they or their friends get their normal cut.

MMT is probably a closer approximation of our vast economy than its critics want to admit, but nothing in MMT or mainstream economic theory suggests that squandering the government’s money on unproductive endeavors is a good thing.

The opportunity costs alone justify a deeper investigation into how well our money was spent during the pandemic.

Moreover, such an investigation would further expose our dysfunctional health care system and a political culture that is increasingly comfortable with unwarranted secrecy and lack of accountability among its most powerful people — and, hopefully, would prevent our country from making similar mistakes during the next pandemic or health crisis.

  • K.R.K.

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Simple liars, damned liars, and experts.

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, September 11, 2022)

I’ve written elsewhere about lying. And readers have openly disputed my view on the issue. “Speaking ignorance is a type of lying,” wrote one reader.

No, it is not. Spreading ignorance is what communications researchers call misinformation, which is distinguishable from disinformation, which is the deliberate promulgation of false information (i.e., lying).

Ignorance is not a form of lying. To suggest otherwise is to indict everyone as serial liars.

If your education and experience leads to believing things that are not true, that is not necessarily on you, it can also be the result of the institutions, environment, and peer groups within which you were informed.

Subsequently, when you utter nonsense, you are not a liar — your are just ill-informed. We are all subject to that harsh critique. I utter nonsense on a daily basis. [I believe Aaron Rodgers is the greatest quarterback in NFL history — no joke, I really do.]

I may be wrong on this topic, but I am not a liar. I simply have failed to accept the evidence that contradicts my deeply-ingrained beliefs and impenetrable Packer fandom.

We are all guilty of this type of intellectual failure. Practically speaking, independent of our IQs, experience and education, we can be seduced into wrong, even if well-intentioned, thinking.

Opinions are everywhere.

Men can become women? And vice versa? The U.S. can’t afford a national health care system? The U.S. can afford to pay off student debt for financially insecure students? Nuclear power is safe? The Yemeni Houthis are an existential threat to Saudi Arabia? The 2022 presidential election was stolen? The 2016 presidential election was stolen? Nicolas Cage is one of Hollywood’s greatest actors? These are not necessarily empirical hills on which I would want to die, though I do have opinions on each. But they are just that — opinions, not indisputable facts.

And, and in most cases, a wrong opinion on any issue is not due to getting our information from liars (though they do exist), but more likely the result of the experts we rely who are misinformed and/or biased which subsequently clouds their judgment and, by extension, ours.

It is not a bad habit to question everything you read, hear or see. That doesn’t mean you need to avoid strong beliefs or opinions — but it would be wise to prepare to be wrong.

I always am.

  • K.R.K.

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The Rings of Power: The End for Amazon Studios?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, September 8, 2022)

This is not a movie or TV series review. I’m not a Tolkienista by any definition. I reluctantly read The Hobbit in high school (and didn’t love it), ushered my children into all three of The Lord of the Rings movies (because I believed in their potential cultural significance — and they happened to be great movies!), and attended The Hobbit trilogy movies by myself because no one else in my family was interested. I’m a casual fan of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings franchise who honestly can’t tell the difference between Rivendell, Minas Tirith, and Osgiliath.

Now for my actual analysis…, Inc. generated $470 billion in revenue in 2021 and, with over 1.6 million employees, is the 10th largest employer in the world.

Originally, Amazon focused on e-commercecloud computing, and artificial intelligence. It is not an exaggeration to say it is one of the most influential companies in the past 20 years.

And, in 2010, Amazon decided that e-commerce, delivering packages and building cloud services was not enough. They also wanted to develop television shows and produce films which would be distributed through theaters and Amazon’s proprietary streaming service, Amazon Prime.

Amazon won its first Oscars in 2017 with Casey Affleck winning for Best Actor and Kenneth Lonergan for Best Original Screenplay in the movie “Manchester.”

Given its sheer financial size, Amazon was an immediate player in Hollywood. So when the company decided to buy the rights to the appendices of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for $250 million in 2017, the buzz immediately shifted to what Amazon would create with their new acquisition.

The answer would be The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (TRP), which premiered on Amazon Prime on Sept 1st.

Amazon has already declared the premiere of their new Lord of the Rings series a success based on their own, tightly controlled, viewing numbers.

The Hollywood Reporters’ Rick Porter however noted: “As for context, there’s little to go on: Prime Video reps declined to say whether that’s an average viewership worldwide on day one, the number of people who watched at least a few minutes of the series, or something else. Nor is there any indication of how much bigger The Rings of Power was than the previous record holder on Prime Video (or what that show was).”

That is the essence of audience statistics in today’s streaming world. It’s mostly self-promoting propaganda.

But we are endowed with independent measures of audience interest, particularly Google’s open-source search data, which gives us a more nuanced story about TRP.

And, bless our luck, we have a real-time comparison case to TRP — it is HBO’s House of the Dragon miniseries, a prequel to the ultra-successful Game of Thrones (2011–2019), which debuted August 21st.

According to Google Trends, which analyzes the popularity of top search queries in Google Search, in the week TRP debuted, it was 76 percent more interesting to Google searchers than The House of the Dragon (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Google Trends search levels for The Rings of Power versus The House of the Dragon from August 30 to September 6, 2022.

Source: Google Trends

But when comparing Google Trends interest between the premiere week of The House of the Dragon to the premiere week of TRP (see Figure 2), The House of the Dragon was almost three times more interesting to Google searchers than the premiere of TRP.

Figure 2: Google Trends search levels for The Rings of Power versus The House of the Dragon from August19 to September 6, 2022.

Source: Google Trends

Breathless declarations, particularly among J. R. R. Tolkienists (and Elon Musk), that TRP has already failed are premature.

But TRP’s initial audience interest numbers are not what Amazon wanted to see when they decided to spend $500 million dollars on producing the series.

As of now, The House of Dragons is a bigger media phenomenon than TRP. This fact could change if subsequent TRP episodes help grow its audience, but when it comes to the premiere weeks of TRP and The House of Dragons, the latter is the clear winner.

To long time observers of the Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings franchises, Amazon was facing an uphill task in trying to produce a prequel TV series for The Lord of the Rings more popular than a prequel series for the Game of Thrones.

Since the end of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of Rings trilogy in 2004, HBO’s The Game of Thrones franchise is twice as interesting to Google searchers (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Google Trends search levels for The Rings of Power versus The House of the Dragon from January 1, 2004 to September 7, 2022.

Source: Google Trends

And when compared to Google search interest in the Star Wars and Harry Potter franchises, the Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings are, together, in a second-class status (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Google Trends search levels for Star WarsHarry PotterThe Rings of Power and The House of the Dragon from January 1, 2004 to September 6, 2022.

Source: Google Trends

Since 2004, Harry Potter and Star Wars are twice as popular as Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings.

If you want to build a marketable media property for the future, the easiest launching pad would be Star Wars or Harry Potter.

The least obvious choice would be J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings franchise.

To Jeff Bezo’s credit, he chose a more difficult path to a media phenomenon.

The next weeks and months will tell us if Bezo’s gamble was worth it.

  • K.R.K.

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Disney’s TV version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe underwhelms

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, September 1, 2022)

This essay is not a TV or movie review. Personally, I enjoyed the first episode of Disney’s She-Hulk TV series and I’ve been a fan of the She-Hulk character since her Marvel Comics debut in 1980. Instead, this essay is about an objective popularity measure of not just She-Hulk, but all of Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) TV shows.

I was a comic book fan from the moment I could read (Mad magazine and the original Peanuts paperbacks were most important in that regard). And as I’ve grown older, I’ve met more than a few people (mostly men) with a similar story.

Apart from Mad magazine and Peanuts, my favorite comic book series was Marvel Comics’ The Fantastic Four, featuring Mister Fantastic (He could stretch! It seems like a dumb superpower now, but for a 10-year-old, it was awesome), the Invisible Woman, the Thing, and the Human Torch. From there I would branch into other comic book heroes — X-Men, The Hulk, Daredevil, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man and Captain Marvel.

So when the movie version of The Fantastic Four became a reality 17 years ago, I was ecstatic. And though that ensemble was ultimately abandoned (For the love of God, Why?!), the launch of the Iron Man movie series two years later was more than enough to keep me engaged in the first three phases of the MCU movie franchise, culminating in Avengers: Endgame.

Following Endgame, I was satisfied. I didn’t need anymore Marvel superhero movies. But Marvel’s owner, The Walt Disney Company, for obvious monetary reasons, thought otherwise.

Marvel’s creative custodian, Kevin Feige, has ushered in “The Multiverse Saga.” In contrast to the first three Marvel phases, the Multiverse phase includes both movie and TV projects.

I’m not going to address the movie component of the Multiverse — Black WidowShang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten RingsEternalsSpider-Man: No Way HomeDoctor Strange in the Multiverse of MadnessThor: Love and Thunder) — as their collective impact on my memory has been minimal. In fact, I have a hard time remembering anything from those six movies except for the joint appearance of the original Spider-Men (Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield) with the current Spidey incarnation in Tom Holland.

In many ways, the TV series version of MCU’s Phase 4 has been far more interesting than the movies. WandaVision, as disappointing as its final episode may have been, the show was quirky, funny, and well-acted. That is a recipe for a good TV show.

Which is why the subsequent MCU TV shows have been disappointing and underwhelming.

Again, I’m not doing a TV review, but if we are to understand the data in Figure 1 (below), the quality of the content needs to be considered. According to Rotten Tomatoes (a content ratings service which Hollywood’s powerhouse content providers work hard to manipulate), critics and audiences have loved Disney’s MCU TV shows (the first percentage is based on critics’ ratings and the percentage in parentheses represents audience ratings):

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier — 84% (83%)
Loki — 92% (91%)
Hawkeye — 92% (90%)
What If? — 74% (69%)
Ms. Marvel — 98% (80%)
Moon Knight — 86% (90%)
She-Hulk — 94% (78%)

But do the actual audience measures (Nielsen, etc.) correlate with the Rotten Tomatoes summary of the MCU TV shows?

The short answer is ‘No.’

The TV show with the biggest audience, Paramount’s Yellowstone, has generally positive reviews by both critics and the general public (83% and 84% on Rotten Tomatoes, respectively), but its critical ratings are significantly below LokiHawkeyeMs. Marvel, and She-Hulk.

Yet, which shows actually dominate public interest?

My previous data essays have demonstrated a strong correlation between Google search trends and established audience measures, such as Nielsen’s streaming ratings.

Figure 1 (below) shows the Google Trends search metric for each of the MCU TV shows, plus Paramount’s Yellowstone, which is among the highest rated streaming shows on TV. People actually show an interest in Yellowstone. The same level of interest cannot be said about Disney’s MCU TV shows.

Figure 1: Google Search Trends for Disney’s MCU TV Shows and Paramount’s Yellowstone

Public interest in Paramount’s Yellowstone crushes Disney’s MCU TV shows. That is not debatable. And having worked with Disney executives in a past professional life, I know The Disney Company lives by the Ricky Bobby principle: If you ain’t first, you’re last.

The declining peaks of the MCU TV shows is unmistakable. Audience interest in WandaVision and Loki was relatively strong (46 and 45, respectively, on the Google Trends Index measured relative to Yellowstone’s search frequency), but the decline in interest for subsequent MCU TV shows — Hawkeye and She-Hulk, in particular — cannot be denied.

Hawkeye’s peak Google Trends Index score was 25 and She-Hulk has, so far, peaked at 15.

This is not a pattern Disney wants for its efforts to make MCU’s Phase 4 a major entertainment event. The data says something to the contrary: Disney is failing to generate interest in its MCU Phase 4 TV shows.

I will let others determine why Disney can’t make MCU’s TV shows an unqualified success. Everyone has theories. But the bottom line is that Disney has squandered the incredible success it generated during the first three phases of the MCU.

Though I am still anxiously anticipating the third Guardians of the Galaxy movie, the more I see what Disney has conjured up since Endgame, my expectations for its entertainment value decreases by the day.

  • K.R.K.

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