Netflix can’t be happy about the looming departures of “Friends” (for WarnerMedia’s newly announced HBO Max in 2020) and “The Office” (for NBCUniversal’s service in 2021) — the platform’s top two most-streamed shows in the U.S. for 2018, according to Nielsen. But for years, Netflix has anticipated that media conglomerates would pull back their top titles, and the company has been more focused than ever on spending to build up a prominent slate of originals to attract and retain subscribers.
On this front, one of Netflix’s successes is clearly “Stranger Things,” the ’80s-era supernatural thriller from Matt and Ross Duffer that has become a major franchise for the subscription VOD leader.
On Monday, Netflix thumped its chest over “Stranger Things 3,” boasting in a tweet that 40.7 million accounts have watched the show since its July 4 debut, the biggest-ever audience on the streaming service for any film or TV series in its first four days.
But you don’t have to take Netflix’s word for it that “Stranger Things” Season 3 is a hit (and many observers question the company’s selectively doled-out stats, which aren’t independently verified).
According to research from Wall Street firm Cowen & Co., about 51% of current Netflix users said they planned to watch “Stranger Things 3.” Moreover, nearly 5% of consumers who aren’t current Netflix subscribers said they planned to subscribe to the service to watch the show — and 13% of former Netflix members said they plan to resubscribe in order to watch Season 3 of “Stranger Things.” The results are based on Cowen’s survey of 2,500 U.S. consumers conducted from June 26-July 3.
“We view these figures as notably positive given the potential to drive gross sub additions both at the end of 2Q19 and into 3Q19 on the back of arguably NFLX’s highest-profile show,” Cowen & Co.’s internet and new media analyst team, led by John Blackledge, wrote in a research note Tuesday.
A few caveats here: People often say on a survey that they intend to do something but then don’t actually follow through, so it’s not known how big a subscriber bump “Stranger Things 3” might actually deliver for Netflix. (The company reports Q2 2019 earnings on July 17.) In addition, Cowen didn’t provide context on how big the response to “Stranger Things” is compared with other programming on Netflix.
That said, other third-party research indicates that “Stranger Things 3” is drawing a big crowd. According to Parrot Analytics, in the U.S., over the four-day period of its initial release (July 4-7), “Stranger Things” registered 3.2 times the “demand expressions” of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” (which concluded its eighth season in May) and more than eight times the next most popular Netflix original (“Black Mirror”).
U.S. demand for “Stranger Things 3” surged following the release of the show’s final trailer on June 20, pushing it 27% over the peak demand for Season 2 a week and a half before new episodes were available to stream, according to Parrot Analytics. Note that the research firm tracks relative demand for TV shows based not on actual viewing behavior but using data estimating overall popularity of a title from sources including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and piracy services.
Even if we accept that “Stranger Things” is unusually popular among Netflix originals, the next question is: Does Netflix have enough in the pipeline to keep people coming back? It’s a question, by the way, that is routinely asked of other subscription-based services like HBO (i.e., what’s its next big hit after “Game of Thrones”?).
Netflix has been boosting spending like crazy, fueled by new debt, to get a broad lineup of original content that cuts across categories and appeals to different audiences. Analysts project Netflix’s content spending, on a cash basis, will hit $15 billion in 2019, up from $12 billion last year.
In the third quarter, besides “Stranger Things 3,” Netflix has “Orange Is the New Black” Season 7 and “Ozark” Season 3, Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance,” as well as comedy specials including those from Aziz Ansari, Whitney Cummings and Katherine Ryan.
Per Cowen & Co.’s analysis, Netflix released 689 hours of original content in Q2 2019, up more than 50% from a year prior. It’s hard to keep up with the torrent of new releases from Netflix.
Netflix Original Hours of New Content Added per Quarter
Sources: Netflix.com; Instantwatcher.com; Cowen & Co.
So is Netflix fretting the impending loss of “Friends” and “The Office”? Recall that back in 2011, when Starz ended its output deal with Netflix that has brought such titles as “Wall-E” to “The Social Network” to the service, the news drove Netflix’s stock down nearly 9%. You can safely say that Netflix safely weathered that storm.
Ultimately, Netflix these days is probably too busy spending money on new projects to worry much over the likes of WarnerMedia and NBCU ending content-licensing deals for old TV shows.