Insights

How have tentpole and long-tail debuts faired in 2021?

23 August, 2021

Recently, Amazon Prime announced that the Lord of the Rings series premiere will be in September of 2022. It’s been in the making for nearly four years and fans will have to wait another year to watch it.

But how is it possible to keep the audience’s interest after such a long wait? That is the power of tentpoles. The word refers to the blockbusters series that attract huge audiences and influence mainstream culture. 

In contrast, we have long-tails - the titles at the rear end of demand constituting the majority of platforms’ content.Long-tail content is not about reaching the largest possible public, but about investing in niche-interest audiences.

Last year, Parrot Analytics came out with a report that compared the performance and features of demand for tentpole and long-tail content. The study investigated how these two categories differed in demand trends. For instance, it looked for genre differences for tentpole and long-tail series. Furthermore, the report analysed how shows were distributed across platforms.

Looking only at the 2021 debuts, this article will look into the performance of tentpole and long-tail series in a similar way to the previous report. We will look at premieres by Netflix, HBO Max, Disney+, Hulu, Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime to understand how tentpole and long-tail content stands in 2021. We will break down the dominance of tentpoles in the market and which genres are successful in each category.

⁠Is TV becoming blockbuster dominated?

The power of tentpoles is easily seen through the numbers. 

Their demand share grew from 77% in 2017 to 83% in 2019. Furthermore, in 2017 the top 5% of titles were responsible for 43% of all demand, and that share grew even larger in the following years. By 2019, the top 5% of titles represented 48% of all demand. This kind of hyper concentration of demand illustrates the market power that a few titles have.

By looking at the market share of 2021 debuts, we still notice this trend. We see that the top ten titles, in particular, represent an exceptional share of demand. 

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At their lowest, those ten titles accounted for 6.2% of the demand for 2021 launches. At their highest, they doubled it, accounting for 12.3% of the demand for launches. At the time, Disney+’s WandaVision alone represented 6.7% of the demand for all debuts. By April, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier had taken over, reaching 3% of the demand for all debuts.

Ultimately, the numbers show that tentpoles are increasingly dominant in the market and that they are a reliable strategy to attract mainstream audiences.

What do 2021 tentpole debuts look like?

In the 2020 report, Action and Adventure was the most overrepresented genre among tentpole titles, followed by Animation, Children and Comedy. The most in-demand premieres for the year demonstrate that this remains true.

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The most popular tentpole debuts in 2021 were the three action-packed MCU series: Disney+’s WandavisionThe Falcon and The Winter Soldier and Loki

With the blockbuster power of Disney pushing them forward, the demand for the shows was outstanding. WandaVision has recorded 36.2x the demand average this year so far, while The Falcon and The Winter Soldier and Loki came right behind at 22.7x and 14.6x, respectively.

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Their demand peaks were similarly monumental. While Wandavision peaked at 50.1x the demand average, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier and Loki peaked at 43.5x and 44.7x the average, respectively.

The numbers are even more impressive when taking into account that Action and Adventure represent only about 6% of all titles. Having three titles of the genre as biggest tentpole debuts shows the dominance of Action in the category.

Also among the top ten tentpole debuts were Netflix’s fantasy shows Sweet Tooth and Shadow and Bone. The 2020 report didn't detail the distribution of this genre in tentpole and long-tail content, so there isn't a basis to compare this performance to. 

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Yet, the graphs show that Fantasy performed well as a genre this year. It earned 3.2x the demand average with only 2021 releases, ranking above popular genres such as Drama and Comedy, both at 2.1x.

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Sweet Tooth had the highest demand since the start of the year, at 11.2x the average. Shadow and Bone tails it at 11x the average. Both shows had outstanding peaks: Sweet Tooth at 20.3x and Shadow and Bone at 29.6x the demand average, respectively.

Rounding out the ten most in-demand tentpole series were two animations, Disney+’s Star Wars: The Bad Batch, Amazon Prime’s Invincible; two comedies, HBO Max’s Hacks and Netflix’s Sex/Life, and a Crime series, HBO Max’s Mare of Easttown.

The Kate Winslet-led series has earned 11.4x the demand avergae this year. Star Wars: The Bad Batch has 13.7x the average, while Invincible has 11.9x the average. Concurrently, Hacks has 11.3x the average and Sex/Life 7.8x the demand average so far. 

In the report, it was found that comedy is the genre with the most balanced representation in both tentpole and long-tail content, constituting about 17% of each category. Therefore, the success of these shows aligns with previous findings.

Overall, the genres of tentpole debuts of 2021 aligned well with the findings from the 2020 report.

What do 2021 long-tail debuts look like?


Long-tail content is defined as the bottom 80% of shows, which generally refers to the titles in the Average and Below-Average sections of the demand axis. When looking into the genres of the most in-demand long-tail 2021 debuts, we find similar results to the last report. As mentioned earlier, long-tail content is a strategic asset for attracting niche audiences. This in turn leads to revenue generation, which is why they make up the bulk of streaming platforms’ catalogs.

In 2020, the report found that Documentaries, Dramas, Reality and Comedies were the four most common genres for long-tails, in this order. By the same token, the top ten long-tail launches in 2021 consisted of four documentaries, three animations, two comedies and one sci-fi series.

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Among docu-series, we had Disney+’s Secrets of the Whales, Amazon Prime’s Clarkson’s Farm, Netflix’s How To Become a Tyrant, Apple TV+’s 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything. Disney+’s debut has recorded the highest yearly demand, at 1.9x the demand average, closely followed by Clarkson’s Farm, at 1.8x, and How to Become A Tyrant, at 1.7x the demand average. The two remaining shows have recorded 1.6x the demand average so far this year. 

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On the other hand, Apple TV+’s show had the highest peak at 3.5x the average, followed by Secrets of the Whales and How to Become a Tyrant at 3.3x the average. Clarkson’s Farm came in last with a peak demand of 2.8x the average.

Moving on to the animations, we have Netflix’s Yasuke and Kid Cosmic, and HBOMax’s The Prince, a satire show. Yasuke has earned 2x the demand average this year, while Kid Cosmic and The Prince have earned 1.7x the demand. This result is surprising since, according to the study, Animation is more popular among tentpoles.

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The Prince has recorded the highest peak, at 6.2x. It is the most recent release out of the three, which is likely why the demand still hasn’t been reflected in the yearly rate. Kid Cosmic had the next best peak, at 5.5x, while Yasuke peaked at 4.7x the average.

Next, the most popular long-tail comedies were HBOMax’s Genera+tion and Netflix’s Country Comfort. The former has garnered 1.7x the demand average this year, and the latter’s had 1.6x. It should be noted that Genera+ion is sometimes classified as a comedy-drama. Even so, the genre of the show is standard for long-tails, since Dramas make up close to 35% of long-tail titles.

Finally, wrapping up the top ten long-tail premieres is Netflix’s The Tribes of Europa. The sci-fi show has earned 1.7x the demand average so far this year. The 2020 report doesn’t include the rate of sci-fi shows in long-tail content, but its lonely presence in the list demonstrates that it’s a bit of an outlier.

On the whole, many of the findings in the 2020 report are still valid in 2021. There’s a big concentration of demand on a few tentpole titles that dominate the market. Meanwhile, both long-tail and tentpole debuts showed a good blend of genres, with a few minor surprises. Finally, although most results from the 2020 report still stand, the minor surprises found could indicate the beginning of new trends, and, thus, should be followed closely in the next few years.

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