Seven takeaways from the Netflix viewership report

Seven takeaways from the Netflix viewership report

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Last week, and after years of resisting this kind of transparency, Netflix finally released an engagement report containing viewership data for some 18,200 titles, covering the period from January through June. Plenty of work will no doubt go into mining these statistics for anything they can tell us about the state of a scrambled industry.

There are limits to what we can meaningfully extract from this data set, however; some titles are globally available and some aren’t. Because works come out at different times, those that premiered in May or June will have artificially low numbers compared with those that came out in January. Viewership isn’t broken down by country or region, so we can’t draw any conclusions on that front, and the metric used is “hours watched,” which isn’t nearly as useful as the number of viewers.

Still, here are a few things that stood out as I combed through the report.

1. ‘Gilmore Girls’ is a juggernaut

It’s instructive to check up on old hits. The 2013 Netflix original “House of Cards” got 68.9 million viewing hours, for instance. “Arrested Development” got 49.1 million, and “Suits” is justly celebrated as a streaming phenomenon, with 599.1 million. But the more interesting story, to my mind, is the astonishing staying power of “Gilmore Girls,” a fantastic if uneven show that never really got its critical due and that ended in 2007 — the year Netflix started streaming.

Amy Sherman-Palladino created the quippy, reference-packed series about a young mother (Lauren Graham), her teenage daughter (Alexis Bledel) and the rich parents she fled when she got pregnant in high school. To give you a sense of just how retro it is, it got its start on the WB and ended on the CW. And it is, improbably, one of Netflix’s more popular properties.

The seven seasons of the original series accrued a whopping 488.7 million hours, 505.8 million if you include Netflix’s 2016 sequel “A Year in the Life.” For reference, that’s more than critical darlings such as “Better Call Saul” (295.5 million). It’s more than legendarily popular properties such as “Seinfeld” (311.2 million) and “The Big Bang Theory” (420.4 million).

“Gilmore Girls” is even outperforming popular recent Netflix originals such as “Sex/Life” (301.9 million), “Ozark” (124.8 million), “Emily in Paris” (262.7 million), “The Crown” (214.7 million) and “Stranger Things” (347.6 million).

There are, of course, more popular shows: The thriller “The Night Agent” topped Netflix’s charts, with 812.1 million viewing hours. But if we’re to learn anything from the popularity of the streamer’s sleeper hit “Ginny & Georgia,” which people spent an unbelievable 967.2 million hours watching, it might be that there’s a real appetite for complicated stories about young mothers and daughters.

2. Shows about women struggling to make it performed strikingly well

Being a young mom is hard (cf. the strong performance of the CW’s “Jane the Virgin,” which garnered 180.7 million hours in its second life on Netflix). But it seems as if “The Glory,” the South Korean drama about a woman who dedicates her adult life to destroying the lives of her vicious high school bullies, is a megahit for a reason. There seems to be a real appetite for women who go to the mattresses.

“La Reina del Sur,” “Queen Charlotte” and “Wednesday” are all about women taking action and wrestling — not always virtuously — with power. This is a theme in “Beef,” too, and it’s thrilling to see a series of that quality bring in numbers like these: At 221.1 million hours, it was Netflix’s 18th-most-popular title.

There’s more! “The Law According to Lidia Poët,” a (fictional) Italian thriller about the country’s (real) first female lawyer who turns to solving crimes when she’s disbarred, took the 127th spot on the list. Historical drama “Outlander” clocked in at 238 million hours. Brazil’s “Lady Voyeur,” which features a hacker who spies on her neighbor, got 86 million, just a few less than “Love to Hate You,” a South Korean drama about a lawyer with a sideline in martial arts. (That one earned 99.9 million.) Jenji Kohan’s prison drama, “Orange Is the New Black,” which premiered in 2013, remains popular, with 217.1 million hours. And “Women at War,” the Franco-Belgian series about four women during World War I, did surprisingly well, scoring 114th place, with 90.8 million hours.

3. Serial killers, devils and zombies are thriving

It’s no surprise that these genres are doing well. The oddly named “Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” is actually kind of an underperformer on this front, with a mere 63.5 million hours. “The Walking Dead,” by contrast, scored 738.6 million across its 11 seasons. The series “You” (about a serial killer and stalker) became a phenomenon on the streaming service, finding a massive audience it never had on Lifetime, with 766.3 million hours. “Lucifer,” about the fallen angel’s adventures running a club and helping the Los Angeles Police Department, sucked up 434.3 million hours of human time, and South Korean zombie horror series “All of Us Are Dead” got an impressive 94.6 million in its first season. At 271.3 million hours, the sci-fi/fantasy show “Sweet Tooth” is prospering; its second season took the 28th spot on the list.

4. So are teen shows

One of the big winners on the teen front is the drama “Outer Banks,” which garnered 740.4 million viewing hours across three seasons. Mindy Kaling’s series “Never Have I Ever” ended with an impressive 341.3 million — a clear undercount, because the fourth season dropped June 8. Similarly, “XO, Kitty,” a spinoff of the To All the Boys film series, did extremely well, scoring 200.7 million hours, despite being released May 18.

End of carousel

5. Latinos are attracting massive audiences

It’s not just Jenna Ortega, the star of “Wednesday” (although the show at No. 4 accrued 507.7 million hours). “La Reina del Sur” is a hit, with 616.8 million hours. So is Colombian thriller “The Marked Heart (Pálpito)” (307.8 million) and the first season of the Mexican drama “The Surrogacy (Madre de alquiler),” which garnered 172.4 million hours in just about two weeks. Colombian telenovelas are, unsurprisingly, faring well; “Til Money Do Us Part” got 152.1 million hours, “The Queen of Flow” 122.8 million, “Café con Aroma de Mujer” 101.7 million and “Pasión de Gavilanes” 190.7 million. So are Mexican telenovelas such as “Rosario Tijeras” (130.6 million). The Narcos franchise, including the “Mexico” series, is holding strong (195.9 million), as is “El Chapo” (109.9 million).

6. We knew K-dramas were a phenomenon, but this is ridiculous

The Netflix report offers some concrete numbers on the meteoric rise of South Korean television. “Crash Landing on You,” about a paragliding business executive who meets a North Korean army captain when she crashes in the DMZ, took the 73rd spot, at 120.3 million hours. “Mr. Queen,” a period drama involving time travel, gender swaps and cooking, got 151.5 million. “Bloodhounds,” the drama about boxers and debt, racked up 146.7 million hours in three weeks. “Business Proposal” got 120.7 million in its first season, “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” got 135.9 million and “Crash Course in Romance” got 234.8 million. Other hits include “The Good Bad Mother” (148.6 million), “Alchemy of Souls” (305.5 million) and “Doctor Cha,” in which a housewife makes some unpleasant discoveries when she returns to practice medicine after 20 years away (194.7 million).

7. Nobody watches comedy specials

The numbers for stand-up comedy, which has always seemed central to Netflix’s strategy, were, by contrast, anemic. And the distribution between some big names vs. more obscure but workaday comedians is instructive.

Louis C.K., for instance, has three older comedy specials that add up to 600,000 viewing hours. (That’s roughly 0.1 percent of the “Gilmore Girls” tally.) Ronny Chieng and Sheng Wang netted 800,000 hours, Daniel Sloss and Hasan Minhaj 700,000, and Cristela Alonzo, Adam Sandler and Kathleen Madigan all clocked in at 600,000. (These are almost meaningless distinctions, because the numbers Netflix reports are rounded to the nearest 100,000.) And while Jerry Seinfeld’s interview show, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” got 7.4 million hours, his stand-up received 800,000, roughly the same as Carlos Ballarta. All of the above were beaten by Richard Pryor, who died in 2005. (His “Live in Concert” got 900,000. So, by the way, did James Acaster’s “Repertoire: Collection.”)

John Mulaney is a heavy hitter, at 14.9 million total — with his post-rehab, post-baby special, “Baby J,” accounting for 11.9 million — and Chris Rock’s live comedy special in response to “The Slap” got 36.2 million on its own. (His other specials add up to 1.7 million.)

Other comparatively high-ranking comics include Bert Kreischer (13.5 million), Franco Escamilla (8.9 million), Jim Jefferies (8.3 million), Bill Burr (7.2 million), Jeff Dunham (5.9 million), Gabriel Iglesias (6.4 million), Tom Segura (5.5 million) and Sebastian Maniscalco (5.4 million).

Dave Chappelle’s entire stand-up oeuvre netted 10 million hours, which includes his 2022 lecture, “What’s in a Name?” At 1.6 million hours, Joe Rogan, probably the most popular podcaster in the world, merely doubled the total achieved by amiable but niche raconteur Mike Birbiglia (800,000). And Bo Burnham — that phenom with his finger on the pulse of the internet — netted just 1.7 million. That’s more than George Lopez (1.2 million) but less than Iliza Shlesinger and Hannah Gadsby (2 million), Ali Wong (2.4 million), Chelsea Handler (2.5 million), Nate Bargatze (3.5 million), Taylor Tomlinson (3.6 million), Jim Gaffigan (3.9 million), Amy Schumer (4.1 million), Ricky Gervais (4.7 million) and Wanda Sykes (4.8 million).

Sandler isn’t exactly representative, but the gap between his stand-up (600,000) and his movies (“Murder Mystery 2” scored 173.6 million) is striking. I don’t know what’s going on with audiences — whether they’re drifting away from stand-up or whether it’s always been a boutique concern. But as an X-ray of the industry, the Netflix report demonstrates (among other things) how small the percentage courting so much controversy actually is.

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