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Netflix’s ‘Ozark’ was Streaming’s Most Watched Original Show of 2020, Nielsen Says

Netflix original series 'Ozark'
(Image credit: Netflix)

Turns out that a white, male antihero is all the rage with stuck-at-home American audiences. 

From December 30, 2019 through December 27, 2020, Netflix’s Ozark was the most watched original series in the U.S. SVOD market, according to Nielsen. The series’ 30 posted episodes over three seasons garnered more than 30,462 billion minutes of total viewing, the research company said. 

The information was revealed during a virtual presentation at CES 2021, where the research company unveiled a new measurement service that ranks consumption of original and acquired content.

In an addition to a ranker of acquired shows, Nielsen also released a tracking service called Theatrical Video On-Demand (TVOD), which captures viewing of “theatrical” movie releases available to consumers to rent or purchase on demand on the four biggest SVOD platforms in the U.S.: Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and Disney Plus.

When season 3 of Ozark was released on Netflix on March 27 of last year, the crime drama starring Jason Bateman and Laura Linney scored an average minute audience of 975,000 U.S. viewers, according to Nielsen. That is close to triple the viewership the series garnered the first day of its Season 2 premiere on August 31, 2018, when the average minutes audiences was 314,000. 

With more than 73 million subscribers in the U.S. alone, Netflix largely controls Nielson’s new 2020 original series rankings. Only one show from the other three major SVOD services covered in the report surfaced on the top 10 list—Disney Plus’ The Mandalorian, with viewers giving its 16 episodes 14,519 billion minutes of time year-to-year.

Nielsen's Top Original Streaming Series 2020

(Image credit: Nielsen)

Since Netflix launched House of Cards —its first original series—in 2013, the streaming service has continually spent billions to create scripted content. Netflix spent $17.3 billion on video content in 2020. And in 2021, Bankr estimates the company will shell out approximately $19 billion on programming. 

While well-received Netflix dramas with a built-in fanbases including Lucifer and The Crown made the top 10 in the 2020 original content rankings, so did an unlikely genre--documentary. The streaming service's eight-part docuseries Tiger King, which became a pop culture phenomenon when COVID lockdowns began, acquired 815,611 billion minutes of viewing, putting it in fourth place.

Netflix took all 10 spots on its 2020 "acquired series" ranking list. The Office, which is now exclusively streaming on Peacock, took the top spot with its 192 posted episodes garnering 57,127 billion minutes of total viewing.

Nielsen's 2020 Acquired Series Rankings

(Image credit: Nielsen)

With the temporary closure of the movie exhibition business across the country, streaming “theatrical” films has proven to be a lifeline for studios. Nielsen’s effort to benchmark performance of theatrical movie audiences gives the entertainment industry new a way to analyze the volume and reach of their efforts. 

Although the exclusion of HBO Max renders the research company's theatrical VOD ranker a bit of a head-scratcher at this point.

“Not only are streaming films more easily accessible to a larger audience, they also allow for viewer measurement similar to television (both linear and streaming),” said Brian Fuhrer, Nielsen’s senior VP of product strategy and thought leadership. “With Nielsen’s Theatrical Video On-Demand measurement solution, the media industry, from studios to talent, can measure their film’s audiences and analyze audience characteristics such as age, gender, ethnicity, income, or even territory.  Perhaps most importantly, it also shows what else these movie consumers are viewing (or not viewing) to understand how to better connect with them. The industry can then use such data to help better inform their content and media strategies.”

Unlike the original content and acquired content rankings, Netflix—which no longer supports much in the way of acquired theatrical content from the major Hollywood studios—did not dominate the TVOD list. Instead, Disney Plus took seven of the 10 spots on the list. Frozen II ranked No. 1 with14,924 billion minutes of total viewing, while Moana placed second with 10,507 billion minutes of total viewing. Netflix’s Secret Life of Pets 2 took the bronze with 9,123 billion minutes of total viewing. 

“When we look at the top streaming films of 2020, we see that a majority of them are children’s movies,” Fuhrer said. “This is not surprising given the fact that these movies benefit from repeat viewing by kids, but it does underscore the value of this type of content to streaming services (which informs both content creation and valuation). Such unique characteristics and benefits are important to consider and highlight for the industry at large, especially as we begin to learn more about the future of content distribution."

Since Nielsen ranks both original and acquired streaming content by total minutes of viewing time for all episodes, the measurement tactic gives series with large libraries an advantage. But the company’s new TVOD list is a more level ranking playing field since films are one-offs. 

Nielsen's 2020 Theatrical VOD rankings

(Image credit: Nielsen)