Viewer Data Suggests Many Netflix Hits Go From Sizzle to Fizzle Quickly 

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Cheyne Gateley/VIP+

In this article

  • Top 2021 Netflix series saw audiences peak in the first month following their debut
  • Even reigning hit "Squid Game" saw pronounced drop after hot start
  • Frequency of big Netflix originals quickly losing steam hints at why the streamer must spend so heavily on content

While Netflix releases hit original shows on a regular basis, new data suggests these series don’t retain a significant number of viewers after their first month of release.   

Virtually all of the 10 most viewed new Netflix titles of 2021 among TV Time app users saw self-reported viewership in the TV Time app significantly slow after their debut month. Entertainment-content insights-provider Whip Media operates TV Time, an app that reports having 2.8 million global monthly users that track the movies and TV shows they’ve watched and want to watch.  

For example, 73% of the global TV Time app users who’ve noted watching “Squid Game” in TV Time as of January 14 did so in the first month following the Korean series’ debut. Just 20% of the total self-reported viewing that “Squid Game” had received in TV Time as of January 14 happened in the second month following that show’s premiere. 

Drops in self-reported viewership between month 1 and month 2 post-debut of 50 percentage points or more also occurred for “Shadow and Bone,” “Fate: Winx Saga” and “Sweet Tooth.” 

Hits “Lupin,” “Who Killed Sara?” and “Sky Rojo” didn’t receive at least 50% of their lifetime self-reported viewing as of January 14 within the first month following release.  

But those three shows were the only titles on the graphic above that released an S2 in 2022, and follow-up seasons gave the S1s of “Lupin,” “Who Killed Sara?” and “Sky Rojo” a longer shelf-life than other single-season series. For example, there was a reason for many Netflix subs to watch S1 of “Sky Rojo” in the fifth month following its debut since that month is also when S2 of “Sky Rojo” debuted. 

Whip Media’s takeaways are backed up by viewership data provided exclusively to Variety Intelligence Platform by connected TV analytics provider TVision. The analytics company found that the majority of the 10 most viewed 2021-premiering Netflix originals among its panel members saw their viewership peak in the first month following release. 

Of the 10 most viewed 2021-premiering Netflix originals among TVision panel members, only “Squid Game” failed to see its viewership peak in the first month following release.  

TVision tracks viewing of nearly 25,000 titles across major SVODs and AVODs among 5,000 households (14,000 individuals) across the U.S. on connected TVs. Mobile device viewing is not measured by TVision. 

The discrepancy between Whip Media and TVision’s data on “Squid Game” viewership in the two months following debut may be explained simply by such: TVision’s data is U.S. only, while the TV Time data is global. The TV Time numbers may be reflecting many non-U.S. consumers watching the Korean-language “Squid Game” in the days following its debut, while TVision’s numbers could reflect how many in the U.S. didn’t catch "Squid Game” fever until month two of its release.  

A caveat to the TVision data is that the analytics firm did not capture viewing of six of the titles in the graphic above (titles with an asterisk) until a few days after they debuted. This likely is in part due to the panel size of TVision, but it still doesn’t seem to disqualify the assertion that top Netflix hits lose steam significantly after the first month of debut.  

If anything, not observing data within the first few days of debut would suggest that TVision is undercounting viewership of these top 2021 Netflix originals at some point during their first month of debut. And boosting the first month viewership totals of these programs would only further solidify the point that top Netflix originals suffer significant viewership drops in the period following their debut month. 

Lending further credence to the takeaway suggested by Whip Media and TVision’s data — the assertion that big Netflix hits lose steam not long after debut — is media analyst firm MoffetNathanson, which pointed out in a December note that many original Netflix hits have a relatively short shelf-life, with audience levels peaking quickly after release.  

This all hints at why it’s been relatively uncommon for English-language TV series to make Netflix’s top 10 rankings for extended periods of time.  

VIP+ analysis of data published on top10.Netflix.com, which discloses the streamer’s most viewed content globally on a weekly basis, found there were 46 series that made Netflix’s top 10 most viewed English-language series ranking for one week between 9/27/21 and 1/2/22 (or roughly the stretch of Q4 2021). 

For this analysis, separate seasons of one series were counted as distinct series because Netflix distinguishes between and ranks the viewership of a show’s various seasons on top10.Netflix.com. It should also be noted that licensed series are eligible to make Netflix's weekly top 10 most viewed English-language series ranking, but most of the time it's the streamer's originals that are breaking into this ranking.

The graphic below demonstrates that as the weeks go by, the number of shows that are able to hold their place among (or even reenter into) Netflix’s most viewed English-language series ranking steadily drops off.  

Only 11 series were able to notch five cumulative weeks among Netflix’s top 10 English-language series ranking between 9/27/21 and 1/2/22. 

The significant amount of viewership that big original titles receive within one month of release suggests why Netflix has long appeared to be so obsessed with how titles perform in the one month following debut. Netflix has historically only publicly disclosed how certain originals have performed by measure of households reached or hours viewed within 28 days of release.  

How rapidly these big series lose their steam among viewers has to be considered a factor in how much the Los Gatos-based streamer has to spend on an original programming supply that needs to be constantly replenished to deliver the hits required to attract subscribers.  

Wells Fargo anticipates Netflix will spend over $19 billion in cash on content this year, which is the highest estimated 2022 DTC spend total among any media and tech player. Netflix spending is under new scrutiny as the company’s stock plummeted in the wake of underwhelming Q4 results disclosed last week.