You may remember that right around this time in 2018, Netflix ran a little experiment that turned out pretty well. Sandra Bullock starred in “Bird Box,” a Netflix original post-apocalyptic film before we ever locked ourselves in our homes during COVID. It turns out “Bird Box” worked out pretty well.
Seemingly, everybody watched the thriller over that holiday season. “Bird Box” is still the platform’s most popular movie, garnering 89 million streams during that period in late 2018-early 2019 at a time when they had only 130 million subscribers. And consider this: “Bird Box” watchers spent a ginormous 282 million hours with the film – an amazing degree of engagement.
How do we know this? Netflix actually released these numbers. But that’s a rarity. Historically, the channel has provided very little in the way of metrics for analysts to break their viewing numbers down.
But no more. CNN Business reporter Frank Pallotta reports Netflix has opened the statistical kimono a bit, revealing Top 10 numbers globally, and for individual countries. That transparency is unusual for Netflix, a company that has almost always kept viewership numbers under the cone of silence.
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They’ve actually created a website for its video hierarchy – “Top 10 on Netflix” – provides weekly data. In fact, series and films will be ranked based on hours viewed (yes, their equivalent of TSL) – a metric they feel best represents engagement with their content.
Below is the ranker for the U.S. during the most recent week. It makes you wonder how long before a hosted version of the countdown with audio clips will be syndicated for radio. (Until then, morning shows, you can always steal it.)
Why the change of metrics mood at Netflix? Talk to the company’s VP of content strategy, Pablo Perez De Rosso: “People want to understand what success means in a streaming world, and these lists offer the clearest answer to that question in our industry.”
The Netflix Top 10 list will also produce another effect. Yes, we’ll check to see how shows that we’ve watched (or watching) – like “Squid Game” – is doing on the charts. But we’ll also discover other shows that are highly ranked, creating a sense that perhaps we’re missing something that many other people are enjoying.
This holiday season, Netflix isn’t just releasing a single feature like “Bird Box.” Their new list acts as a promo for a variety of hot shows, series, and films precisely at the time we want to wile away the December evenings binging great TV.
Somewhere (?), Casey Kasem is smiling. The original purveyor of radio countdowns – “American Top 40” – the Detroit born DJ and entertainer popularized the idea of counting down the hits and building the drama so we all learn the #1 hit at the same time.
Of course, the tradition has been replicated – again and again – throughout the media world, including MTV’s “TRL” to the New York Times’ Best Sellers List,” and the NCAA College Football Coaches Poll. We don’t just want to know who and what is popular (or “trending” as now say), but who’s ahead of whom.
Let’s face it. Isn’t that the secret to the ratings? When someone asks how your ratings turned out, and you answer that your station had a 5.5. share, the automatic follow-up question is, “Where does that rank?” In other words, where did you finish, and most importantly, “Who’s #1?”
More than a half century ago in 1970, Kasem cracked the countdown code, figuring out why countdowns work. A number of years ago, Washington Post reporter, Emily Yahr, wrote a great story that tells all: “Thanks to Casey Kasem (and psychology), here’s why people love radio countdowns.”
Yahr quotes psychologists who maintain that countdowns are like puzzles we love to solve. They also play into our FOMO – we need to know that all-important ranking of what’s current and hot.
In fact, the director of the Media Psychology Research Center, Pamela Rutledge, insists countdowns demand resolution, “triggering our primitive survival instincts.” They are also curated and researched by someone else – in the case of both Netflix and Kasem, insiders who can look behind the curtain and tell us who’s ahead of whom.
Countdowns also play into our need for order – an especially rare commodity these days. When every fact now seems disputable, countdowns provide organization, and perhaps even a sense of truth – the one thing we can all agree on.
They are also mass appeal and fun – two characteristics that make countdowns universal in their popularity. Another game show host, Wink Martindale, once commented that Casey’s invention of the Top 40 pecking order made him “America’s records-keeper.”
And so here we come careening into the last few weeks of another frustrating and anguished year. But there are always those December countdowns of pretty much everything to keep us engaged as we await the beginning of a new year, a new start.
Every media source will be counting down the top 10 films, albums, celebrities, and faux pas of 2021 as they try to put a little order into a year that has been anything but.
For radio, the familiarity and popularity of countdowns make them the perfect end of year vehicle as well, whether you play new music, old music, or you’re a sports or news station. And thanks to to the digital world of websites and social media use, programmers can even give listeners access to their countdown “voting booth.”
Just like those bracket promotions that now pop up every year in March, countdown creativity is another key to programming a list that people find interesting, debatable, compelling, and even a bit controversial.
As Casey reminded us, “Anytime in radio that you can reach somebody on an emotional level, you’re really connecting.”
I might also add my favorite quote from programmer Steve Rivers:
“Play the hits.”
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