‘The Rings of Power’ is a hit. Why doesn’t it feel like it?

Ahead of its premiere this summer, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power was perhaps best known for its extravagant price tag.

The first season of the highly anticipated Prime Video series, which concludes with its eighth episode on Friday, cost a whopping $700 million to produce (including buying the TV rights), making The Rings of Power the most expensive TV show ever makes.

Aside from the excitement of seeing a new take on JRR Tolkien’s fantastical Middle-earth on screen, this staggering total has piqued the curiosity of at least some viewers.

“I heard that through the rumor mill [Amazon Studios] had put a lot of money into the production,” said Art Balaoro, a 39-year-old Los Angeles resident who first encountered Tolkien’s The Hobbit as required reading in fifth grade. “To see those resources poured into a series was really kind of a draw.”

As a fan of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, he believes Amazon’s investment has paid off.

“I find it quite comfortable,” Balaoro said. “It’s great visually. All the money in the production shows more than any other series I’ve seen.”

Viewers might agree that The Rings of Power, as Times television critic Robert Lloyd described in his review, is “visibly expensive.” Otherwise, it’s no surprise that a long-running TV show based on the mythology behind a popular fantasy series has received mixed reviews from audiences. (By and large, the critics were more positive, according to review aggregation sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic).

For its part, Amazon has touted the achievements of The Rings of Power. The studio announced that “The Rings of Power” broke viewing records on Prime Video when more than 25 million people watched on the first day the series went live. Recently, Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke told Variety that they are “moving toward 100 million customers after watching.” And she expected viewership to increase with the final episodes of the show.

The payment are impressive. And Amazon is excited, according to sources familiar with the data, which has linked some of the viewers’ powerful blessing to Prime Video hosting “Thursday Night Football” in the same window. The streamer is clearly in it for the long haul as well, as it’s committed to a five-season storyline.

A male elf flanked by humans "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power."

Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi, left), Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova) and Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin) in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.

(Ben Rothstein/Amazon Studios)

For comparison, HBO’s hit Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon premiered to an audience of 10 million people on day one and grew to 20 million with a delayed multiplatform viewership. According to Nielsen’s streaming rankings, “The Rings of Power” surpassed “House of the Dragon” in total minutes streamed for both the week of August 29 and September 20. 4 – where the Prime Video series debuted at #1 – and September 5-11.

But these numbers paint an incomplete picture: There’s generally no way to check a streamer’s viewership count, even after it’s released. And Nielsen’s streaming ranking counts minutes streamed on US TVs only, meaning it doesn’t include viewership on other devices, traditional linear TV, and global audiences.

There’s no question that “The Rings of Power” is a hit. But how big the hit is, and what even constitutes a “hit” in such a crowded entertainment landscape, is harder to pin down. In particular, the increasingly elusive “water cooler” hit that fuels in-person and online conversations has become increasingly difficult to predict, let alone cultivate, as television series and platforms have proliferated, and entertainment audiences have grown smaller and smaller plays. For example, network procedures and sitcoms regularly draw larger audiences in absolute terms than cable shows like Succession, which draw intense Twitter chatter and media attention.

According to Parrot Analytics, which measures viewer demand for television and film by tracking a number of factors such as: In terms of social media engagement and downloads (including pirated content), “The Rings of Power” averaged 30.5 times more demand than the average US television show during the first 30 days of its launch. This puts the series at the high end of what Parrot Analytics classifies as “excellent,” a level matched by only the top 2.7% of all US shows.

House of the Dragon, on the other hand, saw an average of 55x more demand than the average show in the Parrot Analytics “Exceptional” category in the first 30 days of availability in the US, which ranks in the top 0.2% of shows. At its peak, “House of the Dragon” generated more than twice as much audience demand as “The Rings of Power,” according to Parrot. (“Squid Game,” Netflix’s most-watched series, averaged 33.8 times more demand than an average show in the US in its first 30 days. The Korean drama was a hit in the US by word of mouth and according to Parrot Analytics broke binge release trends as global demand for the series continued to grow for 17 days.)

But demand numbers — which can be taken as an indicator of interest rather than viewership — are bound to be imperfect, as not all platforms and fandoms are created equal. Plus, it’s how shows resonate with audiences, especially their most passionate fans, that can shape their long-term destiny. And by that metric, The Rings of Power holds its own.

Although vocal racist critics of the cast of People of Color in “The Rings of Power” have drawn the most attention (and may have hurt the show’s online ratings with coordinated user reviews), others have valid criticisms of elements such as its pacing and of their perceived adherence to Tolkien’s lore and how his numerous storylines are not all equally compelling. All healthy matters to discuss within a fandom.

A young woman with plants in her hair stands next to a man and another woman.

Harfoot’s Nori Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh) and Sadoc Burrows (Lenny Henry).

(Prime video)

Among those who enjoyed the pace of the show is Nick Greif.

“I can engage with the world and engage with the characters, and I don’t feel like I’m being inexorably pushed to a climax in events,” said Greif, 34. “Even though that’s definitely going to happen, it does Not. I don’t feel like I’m being pushed into it… I think that can be challenging at times with some of these shows.”

A self-proclaimed fan of high fantasy, Greif also counts the series’ diverse cast – which more accurately reflects the world we live in – as one of her strengths.

“If you’re that interested in what the person in your head looked like, that’s up to you,” Greif said. “You have to work that out for yourself. This is your problem and please keep it off the internet.”

As someone who has always enjoyed The Lord of the Rings for its universe, Griffin looked forward to The Rings of Power, especially as a way to further explore that universe.

“I wasn’t specifically looking for canon,” Griffin said. “I’m just looking for really, really good stories that are fun.”

Jacob Toups, 35, was more interested in reconnecting with familiar characters from The Lord of the Rings and learning more about their backstories and history.

“One of the challenges in [watching] This series tries to make connections,” said Toups. “As I’m watching the series, I’m also looking at articles and trying to figure out what characters are being associated with the movies or the storyline of ‘Lord of the Rings’.”

A fan of The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s work since high school, Toups recalls recalling standing in line with friends for the opening screenings of the film adaptations and saying The Rings of Power had “absolutely that.” achieved what I wanted. [It] feels very much like the films and the time and effort that went into making them.”

Toups has enjoyed “researching” and theorizing about what’s to come in the series, which he considers part of a genre fan community. He also appreciates how The Rings of Power has allowed him to reconnect with friends and family about their love for The Lord of the Rings.

But even fans who told The Times about turning to online sources for more information about The Power Rings said they rarely discuss the series with strangers, and instead share their thoughts and theories with friends and family discuss. This could contribute to the perception that the show is hardly talked about on social media.

Also, being a fan of the series doesn’t mean it’s beyond reproach. Balaoro has one particular catch with The Rings of Power so far: where are the rings?

“I feel like it [a series with] the name ‘Rings of Power’, they’re taking a really long time to build the development of the actual ring part,” Balaoro said. “They have all these different characters and their storylines are [starting] to converge, but the ring focus isn’t quite there.”

That’s one benefit of early renewal: there’s always Season 2.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-10-13/lord-of-the-rings-rings-of-power-amazon-season-1-audience ‘The Rings of Power’ is a hit. Why doesn’t it feel like it?

Sarah Ridley

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