Because streaming services only release viewership numbers selectively, and because each one uses its own methodology, it can be hard to compare the popularity of different streaming shows and movies.
So Nielsen, which provides the standard ratings for traditional TV (and is working to combine those ratings with streaming data), is offering some apples-to-apples comparison today at CES by releasing its own lists of the most popular streaming content in 2020, across Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and Hulu.
These lists are limited to U.S. viewership. Unlike Nielsen’s linear ratings, they don’t just reflect the total number of people watching, but focus instead on the total number of minutes watched. That also makes for a striking contrast with the ratings that Netflix releases, which count the number of households who watched at least two minutes of a program, but don’t distinguish between someone who watches two minutes versus two hours versus 20 hours.
Still, the TV series lists are absolutely dominated by Netflix, while Disney+ puts in a good showing on the movies list. The other services don’t crack any of the three Top 10 lists.
On the original series side, the surprising winner (at least, surprising to me) was Netflix’s “Ozark,” with 30.5 billion minutes streamed, followed by “Lucifer” (19 billion minutes) and “The Crown” (16.3 billion minutes). “Tiger King,” which seems like one of the defining hits of the pandemic, came in at number four, with 15.7 billion minutes streamed — though Nielsen’s methodology puts it at a disadvantage, since it only has eight episodes. The same could probably be said for “The Mandalorian,” the first non-Netflix series on the list, with 14.5 billion minutes streamed.
The numbers were even bigger for acquired series — all of them streaming on Netflix last year, although the number one show, “The Office” (57.1 billion minutes streamed) just moved to Peacock. The other shows in the top five are “Grey’s Anatomy” (39.4 billon minutes), “Criminal Minds” (35.4 billion minutes), “NCIS” (28.1 billion minutes) and “Schitt’s Creek” (23.8 billion minutes).
On the movie side, the biggest title was “Frozen II,” which came early to Disney+ and was streamed for 14.9 billion minutes, followed by “Moana” (Disney+, 10.5 billion minutes), “The Secret Life of Pets 2” (Netflix, 9.1 billion minutes), “Onward” (Disney+, 8.4 billion minutes) and “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” (Netflix, 6.2 billion minutes). This seems to be a category where family films have advantage, perhaps because kids are more likely to watch them multiple times.
Beyond releasing these lists, Nielsen is announcing a new product designed to measure viewership of theatrical video on-demand, aka movies that are released for rent or purchase online. While studios should already have access to basic purchase data for these titles, Nielsen says it can provide “the entire media food chain” with more detailed information about things like the age, gender, ethnicity and geographic territory of who’s watching.
In a statement, Nielsen’s general manager of audience measurement Scott N. Brown said:
As this unprecedented pandemic continues to influence consumer behavior, perhaps even through a prolonged state of recovery waves, being able to measure and help clients appropriately monetize new revenue streams has never been more crucial. A bigger question might be what will audiences do following any recovery, how the behavior adopted during stay-at-home orders might influence habits when consumers have the ability to go back to theaters to enjoy that experience and how content creators will leverage data to make the best decisions regarding distribution platforms in the future.