The Office, Friends and Grey’s Anatomy Were Netflix’s Most Streamed Shows Last Year

Library content represents the ‘overwhelming majority’ of viewership, according to Nielsen

Last year, U.S. Netflix viewers streamed 52.1 billion minutes of The Office, more than any other show.

Netflix spends more than $8 billion annually on original content, but most of the top 20 shows streamed on the service in the U.S. last year were library shows like The Office and Friends, according to new SVOD content ratings data from Nielsen.

The measurement company shared the new data today during an upfront press briefing at which it also touched on addressable TV and viewers’ ever-growing media consumption.

Nielsen shared the top 20 in total minutes. (As always, Nielsen’s SVOD content ratings are U.S. only and include only connected devices, which represents 70-80% of overall Netflix viewing.) The Office topped the list at 52.1 billion minutes streamed. (Last month, former Office writer Mike Schur explained to Adweek why the series still resonates with viewers.)

That was followed by Friends (32.6 billion minutes), Grey’s Anatomy (30.3 billion minutes), NCIS (21.2 billion minutes) and Criminal Minds (19.7 billion minutes). The first Netflix original title on the list was Orange Is the New Black, which was No. 7, with 18.8 billion minutes streamed.

Brian Fuhrer, Nielsen’s svp of product leadership, said that once audiences start watching a show, they tend to stick with it, which would explain why more than half the shows in the top 20 had 100-plus episodes. Most Netflix originals, however, have considerably fewer than 100 episodes.

When looking at average ratings per episode instead of total minutes streamed, Netflix’s originals (especially Ozark) fare better than the library content because they have fewer episodes and are more highly promoted on the site, Fuhrer said. But “originals have a very brief lifespan,” he said. “They are viewed, and then people move on.”

In other Netflix data, Nielsen found that “the older you get, the more you watch Netflix originals” as opposed to library content, Fuhrer said. Just 22% of 2- to 11-year-olds stream original content as part of their overall Netflix viewing, and that percentage increases to 33% among adults over 65. That’s in part because younger audiences watch content they think might be a Netflix original like Friends.

“The overwhelming majority of content being viewed on Netflix is actually acquired content,” Fuhrer said.

Looking at the premiere-day audiences for Netflix’s original series and movies, Nielsen found that while “more originals are being consumed,” there haven’t been many breakout shows on the level of Stranger Things’ Season 2. That series, whose premiere-day reach (9 million viewers) doubled that of any other Netflix original over the past year and a half, was “an anomaly,” Fuhrer said.

Of all original series and movies Nielsen measured, Hispanics represented the largest percentage of the audience for One Day at a Time’s third season in its first seven days, while the Beyoncé concert film Homecoming had the largest African-American audience percentage (55%).

Overall, Netflix viewing is “very comparable to a broadcast network at this point,” Fuhrer said. Nielsen estimates Netflix accounted for 5.5% of all total TV viewing last year.

While SVOD services overall are available in 69% of U.S. households, Netflix alone is available in 63% of households (up from 39% in 2015). Amazon has a 44% household penetration (up from 15% in 2015), and Hulu has jumped from 8% in 2015 to 23%.

And while linear TV viewing continues to skew older, the age demographic breakdown of SVOD program viewing more accurately reflects that of the entire country.

Media consumption on the rise

In non-Netflix data, Nielsen said consumers spent an average of 79 hours a week last year connected to linear and digital media, up from 61 hours in 2010 and 51 hours in 2002, a rise that is primarily due to the increase in smartphone usage.

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