How nostalgia fueled Netflix past the 100 million subscriber mark

With Netflix crossing the 100 million subscribers mark this past weekend, Amobee, a global marketing technology company that analyzes digital content engagement across more than 600,000 sites, looked into what has helped the streaming service achieve this milestone.
Netflix has found success across plenty of genres for its original programming, but this doesn’t mean that Netflix lacks a programming philosophy, according to Jonathan Cohen, Principal Brand Analyst at Amobee:
“It’s generally assumed that Netflix doesn’t have a house style in their original programming because they’re trying to appeal to so many different niche audiences at the same time; but they actually do – it’s nostalgia. The genius of the Netflix business model is while traditional networks are largely just guessing about what type of new content will speak to audiences, thanks to their algorithm and the massive amount of audience data it analyzes, Netflix literally has creating new content down to a science.  They know based on the content you’ve liked in the past, what new content you’ll like in the future: the audience likes Steven Spielberg and old Adam Sandler movies; so Netflix green lights Stranger Things and gets Adam Sandler under contract to make 8 original films The data shows that Arrested Development and Gilmore Girls is evergreen content? Netflix produces new seasons of both shows. As brilliant as Netflix’s strategy is, and they’re leveraging big data better than any other network or streaming video brand, it’s also very backwards facing. For brands looking to catch up to Netflix, the next big disruption is going to be around figuring out how to leverage audience insights on non-entertainment content to inform entertainment content creation and marketing strategy. Nostalgia is a logical starting off point, but it’s only scratching the surface of how better understanding audience interests and behaviors can lead to more effective targeting of audience segments around entertainment content.”
Below, findings from the Amobee deep dive:
Top Level Netflix Related Findings 
  • Stranger Things has supplanted House of Cards as Netflix’s flagship show. Between March 18, 2016 – April 18, 2017; Stranger Things was the brand’s original series mentioned in the most Netflix related digital content engagement, with House of Cards receiving 93% as much Netflix related digital content engagement. In the same time period, Daredevil and Jessica Jones each had roughly 91% as much Netflix related digital content engagement as Stranger Things, with Orange Is The New Black generated 83% as much Netflix related digital content engagement as Stranger Things.
  • One of the things that’s most remarkable about Stranger Things being the original series most associated with Netflix in digital content engagement between March 18, 2016 – April 18, 2017, is it’s the only series in the top 10 based on an original concept. House of Cards is a remake of a British TV series, Fuller House is a continuation of a beloved ABC sitcom, Arrested Development had their first 3 seasons on FoxGilmore Girls first aired on The WB and The CWOrange Is The New Black was based on a non-fiction book, and DaredevilJessica JonesLuke Cage, and Iron Fist all originated as Marvel comic book characters. Netflix’s business model isn’t especially dependent on coming up with original ideas, what they’re brilliant at is leveraging data from their algorithm to figure out what content the audience is hungriest for more of.
  • While Stranger Things is in fact an original series, that almost requires an asterisk because it’s so heavily influenced by the work of Steven Spielberg and 1980s nostalgia. That’s not a coincidence, as a byproduct of Netflix being so effective at understanding what the audience already likes, they’re also more association than any other channel or video content platform with nostalgia. With Netflix having the greatest associated strength to Nostalgia in digital content engagement between March 18, 2016 – April 18, 2017; HBO had 51% the Nostalgia association strength in digital content engagement, with MTV having 49% the Nostalgia association strength in digital content engagement as Netflix. In the same time period, Nickelodeon had 34% the Nostalgia association strength in digital content engagement as Netflix; and YouTube had 33% the Nostalgia association strength in digital content engagement as Netflix. So HBO is associated with nostalgia around their acquisition of Sesame Street and their library of quality programing, MTV is the music of many people’s childhood with Nickelodeon being the kid’s shows of their childhood, and YouTube being a repository for any manner of content that could be considered nostalgic. Yet there’s far Nostalgia digital content engagement around Netflix because they’re the most active in creating new content that trades on nostalgia, including such backwards looking original series like Stranger Things and The Get Down, continuations of old favorites like the Gilmore Girls min-series and Fuller House, and the animated reboots, such as newCare Bears and Voltron cartoons.
  • In the last year, of the 10 shows with the most digital content engagement overall have been Netflix shows. Between March 18, 2016 – April 18, 2017; The Walking Dead had the most digital content engagement with Game of Thrones generating 82% as much digital content engagement. In the same time period, Doctor Who received 24% as much digital content engagement as The Walking DeadArrow generated 22% as much digital content engagement as The Walking Dead; and Jessica Jones generated 20% as much digital content engagement as The Walking Dead. The other TV shows in the top 10 of digital content engagement in the last year are Stranger ThingsThe FlashLuke CageHouse of Cards, and Grey’s Anatomy. So the first thing that jumps out from that list is the first 8 series are all sci-fi and comic book shows. Some of those shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones get amazing ratings, some like Arrow and The Flash on The CW get relatively anemic ratings by broadcast standards, and with the Netflix shows we’ll probably never know how many people see them. However whatever these genre shows get in terms of traditional ratings metrics what they all have in common is extremely passionate fanbases who are looking to engage around the show beyond just watching the latest episode. For a subscription based service like HBO or Netflix, those shows have extra value because people will subscribe just to see that one genre show they’re a superfan of; the only difference is HBO has one of those shows in Game of Thrones that is winding down, and with the Marvel universe shows and Stranger Things alone; Netflix already has nearly a half dozen of those shows; and has a much healthy outlook, in terms of keeping sci-fi and fantasy fans as subscribers long term.
  • It terms of over-the-top video streaming services, when you look at scale, Netflix continues to have no significant competition. Between March 18, 2016 – April 18, 2017; Hulu generated 19% as much digital content engagement as Netflix, with HBO Now and Amazon Video each mentioned in 3% as much digital content engagement as Netflix. Despite getting a The Good Wife spinoff and a new Star Trek series in the works, CBS All Access only generating 2% as much digital content engagement as Netflix in the last year. That doesn’t necessarily mean any of these brands are doing badly, but at least in terms of awareness, Netflix has a massively larger digital footprint.

Series Most Associated With Netflix

Ranking of the original series most associated with Netflix in digital content engagement between March 18, 2016 – April 18, 2017.
 1.     Stranger Things
 2.     House Of Cards
 3.     Daredevil
 4.     Jessica Jones
 5.     Orange Is The New Black
 6.     Luke Cage
 7.     Gilmore Girls
 8.     Iron Fist
 9.     Fuller House
10.    Arrested Development
11.    Narcos
12.    Sense8
13.    Black Mirror
14.    Bloodline
15.    The Get Down
16.    BoJack Horseman
17.    Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
18.    Grace And Frankie
19.    Master Of None
20.    Marco Polo
Nostalgia Association Strength
Ranking of channels with the greatest associated strength to Nostalgia in digital content engagement during March 18, 2016 – April 18, 2017.
 1.     Netflix
 2.     HBO
 3.     MTV
 4.     Nickelodeon
 5.     YouTube
 6.      Hulu
 7.      Fox
 8.      AMC
 9.      ABC
10.     NBC
TV Show With The Most Digital Engagement
Ranking of the TV shows with the most digital content engagement between March 18, 2016 – April 18, 2017.
 1.     The Walking Dead (FX)
 2.     Game Of Thrones (HBO)
 3.     Doctor Who (BBC)
 4.     Arrow (The CW)
 5.     Jessica Jones (Netflix)
 6.     Stranger Things (Netflix)
 7.     The Flash (The CW)
 8.     Luke Cage (Netflix)
 9.     House Of Cards (Netflix)
10.    Grey’s Anatomy (ABC)

Adam Flomenbaum

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