8 Takeaways from Netflix’s “What We Watched”

On December 12, Netflix released its first ever engagement report. The report looks at hours viewed per show, covering every title – shows or movie –  that had at least 50,000 hours of viewing between January and June of 2023. This results in data for 18,000 titles, which Netflix reports to be about 99% of the titles available on the service. 

Netflix provided information on title, global availability, and release date for each title. We took the top 600 titles – 500 TV shows and 100 movies – and matched each one to their IMDb-assigned genres and IMDb rating. What we uncovered were 8 main takeaways that show how Netflix’s content decisions have helped them become the streaming powerhouse they are today. 

Netflix originals go global - by design

Globally Available shows and movies account for 25% of titles – and 52% of viewership. This makes logical sense, given that the shows are available to the entire subscription base vs a portion, but it may also point to what Netflix wants to promote. 

When you look at the top 15 titles on the service, 13 are Netflix originals. (The 2 exceptions – La Reina Del Sur and Manifest – are results of the “Netflix effect,” which we’ll get into later.) Netflix makes almost all of their original content available globally, but often doesn’t do so with titles purchased through acquisition. 
In general, streaming services entice people to sign up by purchasing beloved older shows, but get them to stay with compelling original content. Netflix is perfectly executing this strategy; consumers don’t just watch old favorites, they’re also reliably watching the original content. In fact, in their presentation of the engagement report, Netflix reported that the balance has tipped in favor of originals, with 55% of hours watched coming from originals and 45% from licensed content. These numbers show that viewers are trusting Netflix to deliver new and original content, and that trust keeps them subscribed month after month.

Shows have the best chance at staying power if they hit immediately

Netflix drops new shows all the time. This database alone, which only accounts for the first 6 months of 2023, has 350 new releases in the year – 2021 and 2022 ended totaling 814 and 956 new releases. However, 2023 accounts for the vast majority of viewing hours in the database – 32% of viewing in the time frame the data was provided. Given that only 7% of titles available on Netflix were released in 2023, this is a major lean towards new releases.

Additionally, the top titles that were released in 2022 premiered in the latter half of the year, such as The Glory, which dropped in December of 2022, or Wednesday, which premiered in November of 2022. Recency is a major component to a show’s chances of succeeding – it is hard for a show to break through otherwise.

Mystery, Fantasy, and Sci-Fi appear to be the most efficient genres

Netflix has content across all genres – they aim to have “everything for everyone.” Unsurprisingly, as catch-all categories, Comedy, Drama, and Action titles make up the majority of the top 600 titles watched.

However, not every “most watched” title delivers maximum views. If we look at “hours watched” numbers instead of views, we can get an idea of how hooked viewers are on a title.  If we compare genres by looking at hours watched per title, we see that Mystery, Fantasy, and Sci-Fi are highly effective at engaging viewers. While there are fewer titles in these categories, those titles have higher “hours watched” numbers on average. Developing content in more niche genres could be a more reliable way of growing viewer engagement.

More Seasons, No Problems

During the presentation of the engagement report, Netflix claimed that length is not a determinant of success; this was largely pointing to shows with longer seasons (for example, many Korean Dramas have 17 hours of content a season, about double the length of an English language show). However, conventional wisdom in the streaming industry is that shows that lasted for 6 or more seasons – Friends, The Office, Suits, etc – are good additions to a streaming library because of the high quantity of episodes available. Many long-running titles are beloved; viewers will revisit the series as a whole on repeat. Netflix’s data demonstrates that shows which made it to season 4 or longer, while fewer in quantity on the service, have much higher hours viewed on average than both shows with 1-3 seasons and limited series. 
Hours Watched / Title (millions)
Season 9
Season 6
Season 4
Season 5
Season 8
Season 7
Season 10
Limited Series
Season 3
Season 2
Season 1
Many of these shows aired on broadcast or cable, with their library bought in full and dropping on Netflix in full. But as far as original content goes – if a show is a hit, it still makes sense to make as much of it as possible. As time goes on, streamers will find their shows that have many seasons create a reliable audience. 

Netflix’s Korean content strategy continues to pay off

Netflix’s presentation of their engagement report highlighted that non-English titles made up 30% of hours viewed. When you dive deeper into the report, you can fully see how much Korean titles in particular drive engagement on the service. Netflix began investing in Korean shows in 2019. As of 2023, it has proven to be money well spent – of the top 600 titles on Netflix’s list were Korean titles, and 38 of them were K-Dramas. Korean titles also accounted for 10% of total viewing hours among the top 600 shows. Netflix committed $2.5B to Korean dramas in April of 2023 to continue to build on the moment, becoming the foreign player in the Korean film industry. Korean dramas are likely to only grow in popularity in the coming years, and Netflix has cornered the market on them.

Stars make big films, but TV shows make big stars

Talent has always played a factor in the success of a show or movie; consumers will follow their favorite stars from project to project. Within their top 10 best performing movies on Netflix, 8 of them featured stars with high international recognition:
Hours Viewed (millions)
Notable Stars
The Mother
Jennifer Lopez
Luther: The Fallen Sun
Idris Elba
Extraction 2
Chris Hemsworth
You People
Jonah Hill, Eddie Murphy
Your Place or Mine
Ashton Kutcher, Reese Witherspoon
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Daniel Craig, Kate Hudson, Edward Norton
We Have a Ghost
David Harbour, Anthony Mackie
The Pale Blue Eye
Christian Bale
Hunger // คนหิว เกมกระหาย
But talent played far less of a factor when it came to popular TV shows. While many of their lead actors have worked for years in a variety of projects, being the star of a Netflix show put them on the map in a way their other projects haven’t. 

This may work for Netflix due to the size of their audience base; many viewers may tune in to whatever show is suggested to them on the front page. And the barrier to entry to check out shows is so low, lots of viewers are willing to check out something new based on positive word of mouth. 
Hours Viewed (in Millions)
The Night Agent: Season 1
Ginny & Georgia: Season 2
The Glory: Season 1 // 더 글로리: 시즌 1
Wednesday: Season 1
Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story
You: Season 4
La Reina del Sur: Season 3
Outer Banks: Season 3
Ginny & Georgia: Season 1
FUBAR: Season 1

“The Netflix Effect” pans out in the numbers

Sitting at #4 and #11  on the list overall are You (Season 4) and Manifest (Season). Both of these titles have very similar origin stories. They premiered originally on linear television – Manifest first aired on NBC and You on Lifetime – to lackluster viewership. Lifetime declined to air You for its second season, and Netflix promptly bought it, dropping the entire first and second season onto its service. It was highly viewed, and remains a top show among viewers into its 4th season.

Manifest aired on NBC for three seasons, and jumped to higher prominence when the first two seasons dropped on Netflix the same summer. When the show was not renewed for a 4th season, viewership increased further on Netflix, prompting them to move the 4th season to the service. Netflix’s top 100 list is littered with linear titles that got a boost once they hit Netflix, such as Breaking Bad, New Amsterdam, and Suits. However, You and Manifest are proof that Netflix can take a decent show and make it a global sensation.

“Gourmet Cheeseburgers” go down smooth

As detailed in an interview with the New Yorker in January 2023, Netflix’s Global Head of Television Bela Bejaria is trying to develop Netflix originals as “Gourmet Cheeseburgers” – commercial-quality shows, wrapped in prestige-quality production. 

When you look at the top titles and their IMDb rating, you see that this appears to be true. IMDb ratings are user-generated; they are a decent gauge at assessing how much viewers enjoyed the content. The most viewed titles rated between a 6.5 and an 8.1 (out of 10). Among the top 10 highest IMDb rated TV shows, only two Netflix originals rose to the top – the nature documentary Our Planet and its sequel. 
Netflix Original?
IMDb Rating (out of 10)
Breaking Bad
Avatar: The Last Airbender
Our Planet II
Our Planet
Better Call Saul
The Office
ONE PIECE: East Blue
Bejaria’s strategy appears to be working; given Netflix’s roaring comeback from subscriber loss in 2022, it was imperative that her content strategy not only brings in new subscribers but keeps them there. It turns out that the most watched titles are titles that are not necessarily coveted for prestige, but simply a nice thing to watch at the moment. 

But there’s so much more to learn

Netflix gave us a deluge of information in this report, but there are still some big blind spots. Without demographic, regional, or economic breakdowns of each show, we can’t fully gauge how and why shows are renewed or canceled. What we can see, though, is why Netflix continues to dominate the streaming space.
Get in touch if you want to talk more about Netflix or do a deep dive into your own data!
What we uncovered were 8 main takeaways that show how Netflix’s content decisions have helped them become the streaming powerhouse they are today.

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