Bath | 10.06.2024 | News

How successful has Tour de France: Unchained been to date?

How successful has Tour de France: Unchained been to date?

On the eve of the release of Season 2, we analyse the performance of Season 1 and what this might tell us about the franchise’s success so far.

Road cycling enters the big budget world of Netflix sports documentaries

Ever since Drive to Survive played a pivotal role in catapulting Formula 1 into wider culture, a series of sports have tried their hand at behind-the-scenes documentaries on Netflix. So there was a huge amount of excitement in the cycling world when Netflix launched Tour de France: Unchained, an equivalent series for cycling’s biggest race.

Season one of "Tour de France: Unchained," which aired in June 2023, offered an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the iconic cycling race over eight episodes. With Season 2 launching on Tuesday 11th June, we have looked back on how Season 1 performed, using Netflix viewing data, Google search data and entertainment review aggregators.

More popular than tennis, but behind Golf and F1

The fresh perspective on the cycling’s biggest race garnered a considerable amount of attention, with the series being viewed for a total of 36.1 million hours in 2023 and securing a place among the top 10 TV shows in 15 countries immediately following its release. This included 8 weeks in the top 10 in Denmark - a result of the country hosting the grand depart and the success of Danish riders in the race such as Mads Pederson, Magnus Cort as well as the eventual winner Jonas Vingegaard. The show even managed to make the top 10 of ‘non English’ shows globally in its first full week.

When we take into account the differing programme durations, Unchained was more popular than the equivalent tennis series (Break Point) ranking 8th out of 108 sports programmes available on Netflix, but behind Golf (Full Swing) and Drive to Survive.

Positive reception of the content

Critical reception was generally positive, with the series rated highly on platforms like IMDb, where it surpassed other similar sports documentaries released in the same year. Despite some critiques about the authenticity of interviews, the spectacular race footage and insider access were well-received. In fact, if we look at the average rating of the episodes from Unchained and equivalent series, it had a higher score than the first seasons of Full Swing and Break Point and any Drive to Survive series to date as well.

Netflix popularity - built over time

Whilst Drive to Survive felt like an overnight success, we can see through Search Data that popularity built significantly over successive series. Shows on Netflix also benefit from the 'archive effect’, where a new season release boosts consumption of previous series, creating a positive feedback loop of viewership. The strength of this effect is clear when we look again at Drive to Survive, whilst Season 5 earned significant viewership in 2023, the previous seasons still combined to provide 40% of total watch time across the franchise last year. If Unchained can sustain its quality and continue to earn multiple seasons on the platform, it too can hope to see this compounding effect over time.

Looking ahead - Season 2

The second season of Unchained launches tomorrow (11th June), so what early indicators do we have? When we look at overall search interest there were higher peaks of interest in 2023 around announcements and the trailer release, but overall search interest is 23% higher in 2024 v. 2023 for the whole year. Suggesting positive momentum and a chance for season 2 to meaningfully outperform Season 1 in terms of total viewership.

Conclusion - well placed for growth and more SHIFT analysis on the way

Whilst the quality of Season 2 will be critical in building on this success, Unchained has clearly held its own versus other premium sports properties on Netflix. And whilst breaking into the US as F1 managed may be a tall order, the franchise is well placed to further grow its audience starting this week. Whilst commercial headwinds still fact the industry as a whole, participation remains healthy, and growing interest in the pinnacle of the sport will only be a further positive as it recovers.

SHIFT will be sharing initial reads on Season 2 on the eve of the Tour de France, combining online signals of engagement with analysis from the members of our proprietary cycling research panel The Rider Research Hub.

How successful has Tour de France: Unchained been to date?
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