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You’ll Never Guess Netflix’s Most Popular TV Show

Shonda Rhimes
The creator of the television series Bridgerton, Shonda Rhimes. Credit: Bret Hartman / TED

The subscription television platform Netflix regularly releases Top-10 lists of its most popular movies and TV shows, but the list its CEO, Ted Sarandos, released on Monday had the most unexpected TV show of all at the top.

Shonda Rhimes’ “Bridgerton” Season 1 scored as the No. 1 series based on both number of Netflix households and time spent viewing (in the initial four-week release), while “Extraction” was the most-viewed film in terms of households and “Bird Box” was the most-watched movie in terms of hours.

Bridgerton is loosely based on Julia Quinn’s novels set in the competitive world of Regency era London’s ton (1813), during the season when debutantes are presented at court. It is Rhimes’s first scripted Netflix series. It is a light dramedy with a number of black actors included in the cast, which is a historic paradox, to say the least.

Ted Sarandos presents Netflix’s top shows & movies

Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s co-CEO and chief content officer, revealed what he said was the “most comprehensive look so far” at the streamer’s top 10 TV shows and movies. Sarandos, in an appearance at Vox Media’s Code Conference at the Beverly Hilton, shared two slides.

One showed the most popular Netflix shows based on its proprietary metric of the number of accounts that selected a given title in the first 28 days of release (and streamed for at least 2 minutes). A second showed total time spent viewing by hours within the initial 28-day window — engagement data Netflix has not released previously.

Sarandos said that high-concept Korean survival drama “Squid Game,” which premiered Sept. 17, has a very high chance of becoming the biggest Netflix show ever. It currently ranks as the No. 1 show worldwide on the service, and that, he admitted, was something Netflix didn’t see coming.

Netflix Top-10
Netflix’s most popular TV shows and movies. Credit: Netflix
Netflix Top-10 Hours
Netflix’s most popular TV shows and movies by number of hours. Credit: Netflix

Netflix uses data to make certain business decisions, but Sarandos said that for content creation, “you want to be careful to not use it too much,” because “reverse-engineering a story” doesn’t work well.

Netflix strikes deals with popular creators

Asked about Netflix’s move to strike overall deals with the likes of Rhimes and Ryan Murphy (the creator of American Horror Story), Sarandos said the company needed to go down that route to compete with traditional entertainment companies.

“If we didn’t do that deal with Shonda, ‘Bridgerton’ would have been somewhere else,” Sarandos said. He added, “Talent has to be respected and has to be compensated competitively.”

Sarandos was interviewed on stage by Vox Media’s Kara Swisher, who asked if Netflix would buy a theater chain or a digital music company like Spotify. No, Sarandos replied, answering “We’ve always been builders instead of buyers.”

Sarandos not interested in live sports

As he’s said many times before, Sarandos said Netflix isn’t interested in pursuing live sports rights, noting that “the next $10 billion” in the company’s content spending would be better invested in TV shows and movies.

Sarandos said Netflix is feeling “maybe more confident” in competing with the likes of Disney and Warner Media as they continue to ramp up their push into streaming (“our home field”). However, he added, “I have to take them seriously… I don’t want to underestimate any of them — because I think they underestimated us.”

Netflix, which ended the second quarter with just over 209 million paid streaming subscribers worldwide, is really “competing with ourselves,” Sarandos commented. He added that Netflix has an advantage in not having to be concerned about how decisions about theatrical movie screening will affect its business.

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