The world of subscription streaming is shrouded in secrecy, with viewing figures for subscription VOD platforms such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video kept closely under lock and key. That doesn’t stop other companies analysing patterns from outside the subscription box, and, while Netflix originals such as The Crown and Stranger Things are some of the most buzzed about series, there’s some nostalgic comfort in the finding from Ofcom that the most watched show on a streaming service this year first premiered 24 years ago.
Friends, according to a survey of 2,500 viewers in Q1 2018, was the most-watched programme on a subscription platform, despite being made at a time when streaming video online was a twinkle in Reed Hastings’ eye. The show’s popularity is no doubt thanks to the boost in profile it received at the start of 2018, when all 234 episodes of the long-running sitcom were added to Netflix UK, prompting a wave of think-pieces online, as new generations discovered the show old fans revisited it.
Amazon’s high-profile Top Gear successor The Grand Tour was number two, followed by The Crown, Stranger Things and Peaky Blinders, all on Netflix. Indeed, with Black Mirror, The Big Bang Theory, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Good Place all in the chart, Netflix shows accounted for eight out of the top 10 most watched SVOD titles – with Amazon’s exclusive acquisition Vikings in 10th place.
The research found that three-quarters of all SVOD viewing is spent watching TV programmes, with the remaining 25% spent watching films. For TV programmes, drama is the most popular genre, accounting for 70% of SVOD TV viewing. Despite making up less than 10% of all subscription catalogues, original content accounted for more than a third (34%) of total minutes viewed across all subscription streaming services in Q4 2017 (up 8pp since Q4), highlighting how big a role original productions play in wooing and retaining users.
Netflix, whose brand is synonymous with its original content, sees 42% of its TV programme viewing time made up by original titles, with the remaining 58% spent on Netflix’s acquired programmes.
Only five of Ofcom’s top 20 shows for UK viewers originated in the UK. Peaky Blinders was the only PSB-commissioned programme to make the top 20, having been in 12th position in Q4 2017 and rising to the top five in Q1 2018.
The two most notable UK-produced shows were Netflix’s The Crown and Amazon’s The Grand Tour, both of which recently released their second seasons. The Crown achieved an average weekly reach of almost 2 million viewers in December 2017 while The Grand Tour achieved almost 1.5 million viewers. The Crown had a 77% increase in its reach for season 2 compared to season 1 in the first month of release, whereas The Grand Tour dipped slightly. In December 2016 The Grand Tour was viewed by 29% of all Amazon Prime users, while 22% of Amazon Prime users viewed the second season in December 2017.
Seven in ten viewers of The Grand Tour are men whereas The Crown has a more balanced gender profile. Compared with other key Netflix titles, The Crown attracts an older audience (20% of its viewers are aged 55+ compared to 10% of viewers of Stranger Things, Netflix’s second most viewed original title in Q1 2018). Millennials, on the other hand, account for more than 50% of the audience for The Grand Tour.
While Netflix is dominating the chart, though, Ofcom’s data suggests Amazon’s strategy of investing in fewer, bigger hitting titles may have been more effective, as The Grand Tour specifically drove up subscriptions. Among those who signed up to Amazon Prime to watch a specific show in December 2017 (13% of subscribers), half said that it was to watch The Grand Tour. At 8%, fewer Netflix subscribers stated The Crown as a reason to sign up in December 2017.
How many people signed up to Netflix to watch Friends? That may be a much smaller number, but the show’s popularity in 2018, and the conversation it generated online, highlights just how big a role Netflix plays in modern TV culture, and how effective investing in something that isn’t brand new can be.
Why does Friends still resonate with people now? Read our 7 reasons why we still love it.