Netflix ripped the curtain wide open on Tuesday, releasing viewership data for nearly its entire catalog of original and acquired content.
The streamer says this will be a new bi-annual report, with the inaugural spreadsheet capturing viewing time for 18,000 titles (or 99% of the Netflix catalog) from January to June 2023. It is an unprecedented move for any streamer, and it comes on the heels of a ferocious fight for data transparency spearheaded by the WGA and SAG-AFTRA during its contract negotiations with the studios this year. While Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos insists the move is not a response to the guilds, the timing certainly raises questions.
However, it is not necessarily surprising that Netflix, of all the streamers, would be the first to release data on this scale. Netflix has been around much longer and likely has a better handle on its own data and success measurements than many of its competitors. It also has led the way for streaming transparency with its weekly Top 10 lists, which have given insights into the most popular titles on the platform for years.
While there is valuable insight to be found by digging through this treasure trove of data, there are also some stipulations. Netflix has chosen to release the hours viewed for each title, rather than “views,” which is the metric that it began using this year to rank its Top 10 lists. Views is still an estimated figure calculated as hours viewed divided by runtime, but it did even the playing field for all series and films. Hours viewed puts shorter content at a significant disadvantage, while longer series (usually dramas) stand to benefit greatly.
Much like “views,” reporting data in hours viewed also gives no insight into how many accounts completed a title, or even engaged with it past the first episode. This is information that all streamers, especially Netflix, use to determine the success of their content.
It is also important to remember that this list only spans the first six months of 2023. This puts the performance of all titles into context as, naturally, content released within that period stands a better chance at racking up higher viewership. Of course, that also means that any title released prior to this year that manages to break through the noise (ie, Wednesday) is quite impressive.
The value of a title is also directly tied to how much Netflix paid for it, whether it is original or licensed. The bigger the fees, the more viewership it likely needs to accumulate in order for the streamer to view it as a success.
All that said, here are some highlights from the data.
Renewals and Cancellations
All of this data does give some insight into Netflix’s decisions regarding renewals and cancellations, since the company has long admitted those decisions are largely based on performance vs. cost. The rankings establish somewhat of a threshold for viewership that would warrant a renewal, especially for high-budget one-hour scripted series. Deadline broke down more of those insights here.
Notably, Shadow and Bone is the most-viewed English-language scripted series from that period to get the axe. The series saw 192M hours viewed in its first 100ish days, which allowed it to rank No. 26. Upon first glance, one might call into question its cancellation, but the data translates to around 24M “views” globally. That’s only about 10% of Netflix’s global subscriber base, so it’s not really surprising that the streamer wouldn’t considered that a good enough performance for a high-budget one-hour SVOD series in its debut months.
For reference, XO, Kitty, which also debuted two months later and is essentially half the runtime, managed 200M viewing hours. For a half-hour comedy, that’s pretty stellar viewership that speaks to the performance vs. cost strategy Netflix employs. No surprise it’s getting a Season 2.
Licensed Content vs. Original Content
Netflix built its business on licensed content, which still proves to be valuable no matter how much the streamer grows its original library. According to Sarandos, licensed content accounted for about 45% of all viewership on Netflix from January to June, while originals made up the other 55%. However, the Top 100 was overwhelmingly dominated by original content.
The Night Agent was the most-watched title with 812M hours viewed, which is even more impressive considering that the 10-episode series debuted in March, about halfway through this measurement period. As Netflix pointed out, there is a ton of overlap between the streamer’s weekly Top 10 lists and this ranking. If it appeared in the Top 10 for more than a week, it’s likely fairly high up on this list. Think: Ginny & Georgia, You, Outer Banks, FUBAR, Love Is Blind and Beef.
The most-viewed licensed title was the K-drama Crash Course in Romance, which came in at No. 16 with nearly 235M hours viewed. The limited series initially aired on the South Korean channel tvN, landing on Netflix at the end of March. The first seasons of Manifest and New Amsterdam were the highest-ranked English-language acquired series.
Where is Suits? Well, Season 1 came in at No. 67 with 129M hours viewed, which might seem low, but remember the series only became available on Netflix on June 17. So, there’s only about two weeks worth of data here. All eight seasons that are available globally ranked within the Top 500, and it’s likely they will soar toward the top of these rankings when Netflix releases the data for the second half of the year.
Another interesting data point to keep an eye out for in the next bi-annual report will be how well some of HBO’s licensed content fared on Netflix. Shows like Insecure, Band of Brothers and Ballers began arriving on the platform in July and, according to Nielsen, they’ve seemingly found new life there.
Series From Top Overall Deals
Netflix spent a pretty penny to get the likes of Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy to begin creating content for the service. Several of their shows have landed among Netflix’s Most Popular of all time, including all of Rhimes’ Bridgerton franchise. Murphy’s Dahmer: Monster — The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is also there.
Queen Charlotte took the crown in fifth place, raking in half a billion hours viewed in its first two months on the platform — which doesn’t even constitute its entire 91-day premiere window that Netflix now measures and reports. The rest of Bridgerton also fared well with Season 1 and 2 each managing more than 130M hours viewed, landing at No. 57 and 63, respectively. The viewership for Bridgerton was no doubt boosted by Queen Charlotte‘s popularity, as both seasons made their way back into the Top 10 around that time.
As for Dahmer, things are a bit trickier since the series debuted in September 2022. Still, the series landed at No. 211 with about 64M hours viewed. That is after the more than 1B viewing hours it accumulated in its first 91 days. That’s a pretty strong showing for a series with not much gas left in the tank heading into the new year, having already reached nearly half of Netflix’s global subscriber base according to estimated views.
These aren’t the only series Murphy and Rhimes have championed, though. The Watcher, which once upon a time was on the Most Popular list under the old methodology, came in just above Dahmer, also with 64M hours viewed, indicating continued interest after its debut last fall. Despite debuting in February 2022, Inventing Anna (which also used to be on the Most Popular list) was still doing some heavy lifting in the first half of this year but not enough to eke into the Top 500. At 520, the limited series amassed 35M viewing hours.
Murphy and Rhimes both have other projects that ranked much lower, but enough of their series appear to be of interest to viewers months or years after their debuts that those deals weren’t for nothing.
Stranger Things has long been viewed as the streaming world’s version of ultimate success. Like, Friends level of ubiquity. But, this is the first time there has been any data to show how audiences are interacting with the series outside the debut window for each season.
Stranger Things 4, which is Netflix’s second most popular series of all time, ranked the highest at No. 61, securing 134M viewing hours in the first half of the year. With the latest installment clocking in around 13 hours, it is at a significant advantage when it comes to these rankings just because of its insanely long runtime. It translates to about 10M “views,” which is around 3% of Netflix’s global subscriber base. A drop in the bucket, but nevertheless a strong showing for a season of TV that wrapped up in July 2022.
The first season of Stranger Things was the second most-viewed in 150th place. Again, 78M viewing hours for a season of TV that debuted more than seven years ago is pretty noteworthy.