The Wheel of Time is the wheel deal, based on early numbers. With the finale arriving Friday, Dec. 24, the big question is: Where will Season 2 land on a Prime Video slate that in 2022 will add The Lord of The Rings to its ranks?
As reported by Nielsen, Prime Video’s adaptation of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time fantasy saga amassed 1.16 billion minutes viewed across its first three episodes, easily topping the U.S. ranking of streaming original series. In doing so, it became the streamer’s second-most watched series launch since Hunters in February 2020. And mind you, The Wheel of Time was already renewed for a second season, way back in May.
TVLine spoke with Vernon Sanders, Amazon Studios’ Head of Global TV, about the fantasy series’ well-watched debut, how its weekly release is working out, and where it fits into Prime Video’s ever-growing slate of genre TV.
TVLINE | How soon after a show like Wheel of Time premieres do you at the office see things trending in such a very right direction?
We track our content in a number of ways, and I have to say, Wheel of Time has just been so fantastic. It’s fantastic to see not only the huge numbers of people who have checked it out, but since the incredible premiere we’ve also tracked tremendous growth, which is extraordinarily encouraging for the future of this show. New people are coming on board and checking the show out, new people are tracking it week-to-week…. And we are seeing those same patterns not only in the U.,S. but across the globe. In layman’s terms, it’s a show that has great staying power.
TVLINE | So, no drop-off from viewership of the premiere to Episode 3? People are sticking around?
The metrics that were released by Nielsen, obviously those were just for the first three episodes, but we are seeing not only incredible retention but in some metrics we are seeing incredible growth.
TVLINE | This is a show that you chose to renew well ahead of its premiere. Was that decision based on something you were actually seeing, in early footage or cuts, or was it simply the reality that with a project of this scope, if you’re in for a penny you’re in for a pound? And additional seasons can only amortize start-up costs?
We’re fans of the show, and as episodes come in and we saw the level of craftsmanship, and as we continued to talk to [showrunner] Rafe [Judkins] about where future seasons would go, we felt really confident that we had something that could go for a very long time for us. These are giant investments, so obviously we spent quite a bit of time making sure we were making the right choice here, but it continues to pay off for us. All credit to Rafe and his incredible team, and the cast led by Rosamund [Pike as Moiraine].
TVLINE | We all know that at the “other” streaming place, it’s largely about “completion rate within 28 days!” For a Prime Video series that is not renewed ahead of premiere, what sort of window do you look at?
We’re constantly checking, and it’s valuable to us to be able to assess that one piece of content versus another piece of content. But one of the interesting things about Wheel of Time is that we are releasing it weekly, so that means that we have to look beyond a 28-day window. And even if we were just looking at this by 28 days, the way the show has performed has been astounding — and we will continue to watch, as we head into the finale. I can’t wait for fans of the show to see how the season ends and where we are headed.
TVLINE | How is this “Three episodes at premiere, then weekly” release model working for you?
We haven’t done a lot of it, as you know. We started it with The Boys [Season 2], and a lot of it comes down to our creators and the way in which they would like to release content to the fans. It’s early days, so I can’t make any grand pronouncements, but it’s been great so far. We are seeing signs that new people are coming on board to check out the show week after week. There’s an intensity, and all of the coverage and conversation has only helped us.
TVLINE | From where I sit — and I’m admittedly “old school” — weekly releases keep the conversation going. You end an episode with a reveal or twist, and people talk about it for six days while waiting for the next episode. With an investment like this, it would have been a shame to do a binge release where “Everybody’s talking about it for a weekend! Annnd… now they’re not.”
Our North Star is usually about making sure we are giving content in a way that customers will want to watch it. There are some people who prefer this model, and other folks who prefer the binge, but a piece like this I feel warrants this kind of release. And for folks who prefer to binge, they’ll have that ability as of later this week.
TVLINE | Some of The Boys‘ fans were grumbling last season, I am sure you know.
Yeah. I know it was frustrating for them, especially since the first season wasn’t released [weekly]. We definitely acknowledge that that was a change-up, but we’ve seen tremendous growth in The Boys as was well, so in that case [weekly releases] proved to be a benefit. The footprint of the show became bigger because of it.
TVLINE | Any sense at this early stage how soon Season 2 of Wheel of Time might roll around?
We’re still talking about it. Rafe and his team just sent us their first cuts of the first episodes of Season 2, and I cannot wait for the audience to see what we have in store.
TVLINE | I ask because you obviously have an opportunity to run this back-to-back next year with the Lord of the Rings prequel series (premiering Sept, 2, 2022).
We are going to be really thoughtful about how we release these shows. In our minds, they are very different shows, but we are cognizant of our genre fans, and we are excited about the collection of content we have — those two, along with The Expanse and The Boys, Carnival Row is coming back, we have a fantastic show with [Westworld creators] Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy called The Peripheral…. We are very excited about the future.
TVLINE | You could have six straight months of weekly genre releases!
It’s really true. But Wheel of Time has been really important for us, and to see that it has done so well for us in 2021, I keep saying, “It’s the Christmas gift that keeps giving.”
TVLINE | With Wheel of Time, was there any window in the process where, gaining a sense of how it might perform, you were able to say, “You know what? Go even bigger with Season 2″?
Yes. Rafe has been a fantastic leader — thoughtful, kind, really dedicated to trying to do this the right way — and Rosamund as well. So we absolutely went into Season 2 with a real conversation about, “What can we do even better now that we have introduced this giant world and established these characters? So I will absolutely predict that Season 2 will be bigger, bolder, and a more expansive Wheel of Time.