‘Stranger Things’ vs. ‘Squid Game’: The Winner Is Clear

‘Stranger Things’ vs. ‘Squid Game’: The

As the media industry awaits Netflix’s Q2 results with bated breath, a closer look at the service’s viewership data offers a hint of what to expect.

The performance of “Stranger Things” Season 4 has been closely observed over the past month and a half to see whether the latest trip to the Upside Down would outperform last year’s breakout success, “Squid Game.” Two weeks after the season’s final episodes dropped, the answer appears to be a decisive no.

While “Stranger Things” still has two more weeks to catch “Squid Game” (Netflix ranks its most watched content by hours viewed in its first 28 days of availability), the fourth season’s viewership dropped off by 38 percent between its first and second weekend on Netflix, from more than 301 million hours to just over 188 million. It’s highly unlikely that viewership increases week to week from here, meaning even if its decline slows, “Stranger Things” will fall just short of the 1.65 billion hours “Squid Game” was streamed.

Make no mistake, “Stranger Things” has posted impressive numbers and stands as Netflix’s second-most-watched season of TV ever. But as the streamer’s biggest blockbuster franchise, catching “Squid Game” should have been a slam dunk for the series and an unmitigated show of strength for Netflix after its recent subscriber and stock market woes. Instead, it’s hard to escape a creeping feeling of anticlimax.

Digging in deeper only reveals more asterisks to attach to “Stranger Things.” Season 4 actually had double the window “Squid Game” had to rack up viewing time, thanks to its staggered release strategy. “Volume 1,” released on May 27 and consisting of the season’s first seven episodes, had 28 days of streaming counted toward its total viewership.

“Volume 2,” released July 1 and containing the final two episodes, will have an additional 28 days tallied — but the two volumes are counted as one season in Netflix’s rankings. In other words, “Stranger Things” needed two bites at the apple to come within striking distance of “Squid Game.”

Furthermore, overall Netflix viewership appears to be down quarter-on-quarter, judging by total viewing time across all four of its Top 10 categories (English and non-English TV and movies). That viewing time was down 4 percent in Q2 versus Q1, which itself was down 11 percent from Q4 of 2021, a recent Piper Sandler analysis found.

Indeed, viewership across Q2 2022 never approached the highs fueled by “Squid Game,” with no individual week in the quarter topping a billion hours streamed. Much the same way that recent theatrical hits like Top Gun: Maverick and Doctor Strange have obscured the aggregate picture of a depressed box office, so too have the massive numbers posted by “Stranger Things” clouded the picture of Netflix’s overall viewership.

Those overall numbers suggest Netflix usage has significantly dropped over the past quarter and that the streamer is indeed headed for another subscriber loss. The question, of course, is how big that loss will be. A recent research note from Barclays suggested Netflix is on target to lose 2.8 million subs in Q2 — 800,000 more than the company forecast for the quarter.

Considering a loss of merely 200,000 subscribers sent the market reeling in May, a decline that large could have even worse repercussions, though investors are braced for the impact this time, which is likely to mitigate the fallout. Still, it appears Netflix will continue to face an uphill battle to win back subscribers, investors and its reputation — at least until “Squid Game” Season 2 arrives.