Nielsen’s Streaming Ratings 2020: Positive Takeaways for the Documentary / Unscripted Sector

Nielsen released their Top 10 Streamed Programs for 2020 (U.S.) in three categories:

  • Originals,
  • Acquisitions and
  • Movies.

Their key metric is Minutes-Streamed-per-Show.

  • In the Originals category, the Top 10 is led by OZARK with 30.5 billion views in 2020.
  • TIGER KING is #4 with 15.6 billion views.

When I looked deeper into the data, I saw positive news for Unscripted / Documentary professionals.

Here is the list:

TOP STREAMING CONTENT OF 2020 – ORIGINAL SERIES

Rank

Program

SVOD Provider

# of Episodes

Minutes Streamed (Nearest Million)

1 OZARK Netflix 30 30,462
2 LUCIFER Netflix 75 18,975
3 THE CROWN Netflix 40 16,275
4 TIGER KING Netflix 8 15,611
5 THE MANDALORIAN Disney+ 16 14,519
6 THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY Netflix 20 13,470
7 GREAT BRITISH BAKING SHOW Netflix 65 13,279
8 BOSS BABY: BACK IN BUSINESS Netflix 49 12,625
9 LONGMIRE Netflix 63 11,382
10 YOU Netflix 20 10,965

See: TOPS OF 2020: NIELSEN STREAMING UNWRAPPED (January 12, 2021)

TIGER KING wins the Streams-per-Episode race

  • I re-ranked the Top 10, adding a new measure of success: Minutes-Streamed-per-Episode:
  • There were 30 episodes of Ozark, and only 8 of Tiger King.
  • Tiger King (2 billion) doubles Ozark (1 billion) in Streams-per-Episode.
Rank Program SVOD Provider # of Episodes Minutes Streamed (Nearest Million) Minutes Streamed / Episode (Million)
1 TIGER KING Netflix 8 15,611          1,951
2 OZARK Netflix 30 30,462          1,015
3 THE MANDALORIAN Disney+ 16 14,519             907
4 THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY Netflix 20 13,470             674
5 YOU Netflix 20 10,965             548
6 THE CROWN Netflix 40 16,275             407
7 BOSS BABY: BACK IN BUSINESS Netflix 49 12,625             258
8 LUCIFER Netflix 75 18,975             253
9 GREAT BRITISH BAKING SHOW Netflix 65 13,279             204
10 LONGMIRE Netflix 63 11,382             181

Per Subscriber Streams

Let’s take my back-of-envelope analysis a bit further:

  • There were on average around 70 million U.S. Netflix subscribers in 2020.
  • The average Minutes-Streamed-per-Subscriber was 28 for Tiger King, 14 for Ozark and 3 for Great British Baking Show.

Unscripted Power!

The Nielsen data testifies to the economic power of the Unscripted category:

  • The estimated production cost of a premium unscripted episode is a fraction of the cost of top scripted series.
  • The estimated budget of:
    • Tiger King – $2 million / episode
    • The Crown – $10 million per / episode
  • Its not quite apples-to-apples because The Crown is a multi-season series…
  • However, we can make a case that in 2020 Tiger King (1.9 Bn) gathered 5 times the Minutes-Streamed-per-Episode versus The Crown (0.4 Bn), and at around 20% of the cost per episode.

My Big Takeaway: “So what?”

  • You might be asking: “What does that Reality freak show Tiger King have to do with my documentary project?”
  • The biggest winner of Tiger King’s success is the Netflix Unscripted team who developed the series.
  • Their success gives them a green light to expand their pipeline to commission more unscripted Originals, ranging from Reality to curated feature documentaries.

Television is a copy-the-leader business:

  • Disney+ (with Nat Geo), HBO Max and the others competing for streaming market share all see the unscripted category as an undisputed pillar of their future success.
  • And that’s a good thing for the documentary community!
  • It somewhat offsets the trend for the channels to trim their spend on commissions as viewers continue to shift to streaming.

TOP STREAMING CONTENT OF 2020 – ACQUIRED SERIES

There’s another important Takeaway from the Nielsen data:

  • The Total Minutes Streamed of reruns of Netflix’s top ranked Acquisitions far exceed the performance of Originals in the U.S.
  • Below are the Top 5 Acquisitions.
  • However, Netflix Originals build the brand: They ignite the buzz that wins awards and attracts / retains subscribers.
  • Tiger King (28 ) and Ozark (14) also earn more views per subscriber per episode than The Office (4.3) and Grey’s Anatomy (1.4).
Rank Program  SVOD Provider # of Episodes Minutes Streamed (Nearest Million) Minutes Streamed / Episode (Million) Minutes Streamed per Ep per Sub (Million)
1 THE OFFICE  Netflix 192 57,127 298 4.25
2 GREY’S ANATOMY Netflix 366 39,405 108 1.44
3 CRIMINAL MINDS Netflix 277 35,414 128 1.70
4 NCIS Netflix 353 28,134 80 1.14
5 SCHITT’S CREEK Netflix 70 23,785 340 4.85

Nielsen’s Streaming Report

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