Netflix has turned into the biggest competitor of not only streaming services, but broadcast and cable outlets, many of which have formulated plans to fight back against the streaming giant this year. And while Netflix is contributing to the decline in this season’s linear ratings, it is also simultaneously boosting the ratings of some of the shows it airs.
There has been evidence of a Netflix bump in the past—most notably with Breaking Bad, where fans binged early seasons on Netflix before migrating to AMC and giving the drama its biggest ratings at the end of its run—but those examples had become less frequent during the Peak TV era. However, two current linear series—Riverdale and Shameless—have enjoyed big ratings increases during their current seasons, as a result of audiences discovering the shows when they started streaming on Netflix last year.
The just-completed Season 8 of Shameless is averaging 7.7 million viewers per episode on all platforms, a 25 percent jump from the Showtime drama’s Season 7 performance. And Season 2 of The CW’s Riverdale has seen significant live-plus-7 hikes in total viewers (2.8 million, up 60 percent from last season), 18- to 34-year-olds (a 1.1 rating, a 83 percent jump) and 18- to 49-year-olds (1.1, up 59 percent).
Shameless’ Netflix run, which began last year, “definitely helped introduce it to another audience,” said Showtime Networks CEO David Nevins. It’s also given new life to a series that “had come to the end of its license period, and it was not necessarily going to come back for this season.”
But now that the series is having “its strongest year ever,” Nevins is no longer thinking about an end point. “As long as it keeps doing that, I’m happy to have them for as long as possible,” he said. “I think shows that show the ability to renew themselves get to stay.”
Nevins said the show’s migration to Netflix has both positives and negatives for Showtime. The Netflix exposure pumped up Shameless’ Showtime ratings—and Season 8 won’t be available to stream there for eight or nine more months, “which is a good thing for us,” Nevins said. “The downside of it is I don’t want people thinking it’s a Netflix show.”
Riverdale has also benefited from the deal The CW struck with Netflix in 2016 in which the entire season is available to stream on Netflix eight days after its season finale airs on The CW. The teen drama’s Netflix numbers last summer were “astronomical,” said CW president Mark Pedowitz.
“We invested a lot to launch it” a year ago, said Pedowitz of Riverdale. At the time, he said, “we weren’t quite sure what we had until the fifth or sixth week, where we started seeing, in-season, a huge increase in digital viewing. One could say it’s the first Gen Z hit.”
While word of mouth started to build last spring, “Netflix should get some credit in having it available, and getting it out there and having that first-season binge,” said Pedowitz, who also credits marketing chief Rick Haskins and his team for directing that audience back to The CW’s platforms in the fall. “You had to migrate that audience to come back to the CW, and if not on-air, then onto the digital platforms, and they did a remarkable job getting people back.”
Wooing Netflix viewers back to a show’s parent network is a challenge other networks face as well. That includes Pop, whose signature series Schitt’s Creek streams on Netflix.
“I have peers who are struggling with the same thing,” said Pop CMO Kent Rees. “It’s almost like it did too well on Netflix. You don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you from a Netflix perspective, but we have to find a way to reconnect those dots and connect our content to our brand.”
The CW and Showtime aren’t the only outlets to benefit from Netflix. During its most recent earnings call in January, Netflix said it plans to spend $2 billion on marketing this year—that’s a 54 percent increase from last year’s $1.3 billion spend—to promote its shows. And much of that outlay will come in the form of ads that Netflix will purchase on the networks of its rivals like the streaming service’s surprise Super Bowl spot for The Cloverfield Paradox.