Karate Kid Revival Cobra Kai, Cast Off By YouTube, Is Now Netflix’s No. 1 Show

It's the latest series to take advantage of the 'Netflix bump'

The Karate Kid revival series is No. 1 among all movies and TV series on Netflix. Netflix/Guy D'Alema
Headshot of Kelsey Sutton

The comedy-drama series Cobra Kai first premiered on YouTube’s subscription tier in 2018 as a high-profile original programming experiment that the platform hoped would help cement it as a subscription destination to complement its free, ad-supported offering. Two years later, Cobra Kai has exited YouTube Premium as part of that platform’s shift away from scripted originals—and YouTube’s loss is now a rival streaming service’s gain.

Since the show’s first two seasons premiered on Netflix last Friday, the Karate Kid revival series—which stars Ralph Macchio and William Zabka from the original 1984 film—has been the No. 1 program on the service in the U.S., according to Netflix’s rankings.

Cobra Kai’s newfound popularity is the latest indication of the “Netflix bump” that has helped shows like All American, You and Riverdale find new audiences and see their popularity surge after landing on the streamer, which as of last quarter had 73 million subscribers in the U.S. and Canada. It also shows the continued value for Netflix to find shows that have built-in fan bases that have been cast off by other networks or subscription services, which can help them continue to pad their ever-expanding catalog.

Cobra Kai debuted on YouTube Red, YouTube’s subscription tier—which was quickly renamed YouTube Premium— in 2018 as perhaps the most-anticipated original in a lineup that YouTube global head of original content Susanne Daniels said was aimed at making YouTube Red “the subscription service you can’t live without.” The series was well-received—YouTube said Cobra Kai’s first episode received more than 50 million views in its first five months—and it was renewed for a second season only a week after its Season 1 premiere.

But YouTube has since enacted several changes to its original programming strategy that made scripted shows like Cobra Kai an outlier on the service. After opting to move Cobra Kai in front of the paywall, YouTube shifted its focus away from scripted series almost entirely, and has instead put its resources behind unscripted shows and documentaries. Earlier this year, the service unveiled a slate of mostly unscripted shows filmed entirely in quarantine.

For Netflix, Cobra Kai is one of several recent acquisitions that have popped on the service amid record viewership and surges in subscriber sign ups. The Nickelodeon kids series Avatar: The Last Airbender was a smash hit on Netflix for several weeks earlier this year.

Netflix acquired Cobra Kai in June after YouTube made clear it would not be continuing the series beyond its already-shot third season. Cobra Kai producer Sony Pictures Television searched for a new home—and found one at Netflx.

It remains to be seen whether Cobra Kai’s popularity boosts the viewership for related library titles on Netflix, including The Karate Kid, The Karate Kid Part II and The Karate Kid Part III—all of which are available on the streamer.

There’s another major benefit to Netflix’s acquisition of Cobra Kai. The series’ third season, which was shot before the pandemic, will debut on Netflix in 2021, giving the streaming more new programming to offer as production delays continue to gum up the original content pipeline.

@kelseymsutton kelsey.sutton@adweek.com Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.