Abhik Choudhury is the chief strategist & founder, Salt and Paper Consulting. He is also a visiting faculty of Advertising & PR at Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi. You can reach him at email@example.com
With Netflix releasing its global engagement report last month bringing much-needed transparency to the world of OTT, we finally see a world that is significantly different from the empire of big screens.
There have been so many unanswered questions so far. Like—Does star power pull views on OTTs? How important is marketing for online engagement? Are people drawn to the same content on laptops and in theatres? Do critically acclaimed movies do better on OTT platforms? The recently released Netflix Engagement Report sheds light on, if not answers, many of these questions.
After analysing the top 100 engaged content of the first half of 2023 on Netflix and the top 100 global cinema box office report of 2023, these are some interesting insights that came up:
People consume significantly different content on OTTs than in cinemas
In the world of global cinema, the top 20 highest-grossing movies of 2023 predominantly belong to fantasy, science fiction, animation, and action genres. Yet, a startling revelation unfolds when we pivot to Netflix: a staggering 90 percent of the top 20 most-watched Netflix content falls within the drama or thriller genres. Is chaos the new comfort for Gen Z? Even a deeper exploration into the top 100 list exposes the dominance of these genres, constituting approximately 62.38 percent of the dataset. This dominance indicates a clear strategy by Netflix towards the drama and thriller genres. It's particularly noteworthy because it suggests that viewers on Netflix might have a significant inclination towards content that offers intense, emotionally engaging, or suspenseful storytelling. On a lighter note, when it comes to content consumption, it seems people have always known that home and restaurant food have different purposes. After all, community experience versus intimate viewing is a different human mood altogether. Surprisingly, rom-com, which was assumed to be one of the biggest eyeball earners for OTT, only managed 15 titles in 100, and 54 percent of them were in Korean. There are only two documentaries and three reality shows in the top 100, so the taste of the masses globally might be changing from their old TV-watching experience.
Another interesting bifurcation is the language and cultural spread. In the top 10 global grossing movies of 2023, 80 percent are in English and 20 percent in Chinese. Only a couple of other language films like Jawan (Hindi), The Boy And The Heron (Japanese), and Cheburashka (Russian) peep in the top 100.
The Netflix global engagement report tells another story. English leads the pack with 66.3 percent. It's the second language Korean that is a testament to that country's exemplary soft power even after not being in the top 20 spoken languages in the world.
Korean shows come second with 15.8 percent, while Spanish, the fourth most spoken language, comes third with 14.8 percent. For the lack of Chinese and Hindi shows in the top 100, it's important to note that Netflix hasn't entered China yet, and Disney Hotstar holds a decent majority market share in India. Portuguese, French, and Japanese are other languages lightly sprinkled over this list.
Overall, this variety in cultural representation offers viewers an opportunity for global exploration from their living rooms. Expect more top diversification in new languages like Turkish, Arabic and Hindi in the coming years as the English shows’ penetration reaches saturation for OTT platforms to keep growing globally.
Algorithm before advertising
In 2023, all the top 10 cinema blockbusters were made on a $100 million-plus budget. Each one massively advertised and asserted the importance of good marketing to sell movie tickets, especially globally. On Netflix, though, in the top 10, you won't find Stranger Things, The Crown, and The Witcher. The Night Agent, Ginny & Georgia, and La Reina del Sur swap places with them. It makes more sense to see the role the algorithm plays in content selection, and the power Netflix (and other platforms) has in their hands once you are on its homepage.
A million titles in their library, and only about two hundred chosen ones find themselves worthy of your eyes. Inevitably, just like our social media feed, OTTs will soon become a clone of our content loop. Why even recommend the important new show about democracy if the Kardashians will drive in more hours? Hopefully, they will realise their power and weigh the responsibility accordingly. However, like the Amazon marketplace, it's also inevitable that keywords will be auctioned off to the highest bidder sooner rather than later. And personalised click campaigns like the pop-up of a star saying 'Hey *insert user name*, third time watching the same sitcom? Go ahead, be brave, and click on this.’ Who knows if your favourite new show awaits inside the app, which will give rise to a new era of custom ads?
Till then, you can spend as much as you want on shows like Marco Polo to Sense8 and movies like Underground to Red Notice, but you still won't find a home in the top 100. Expect a lot of data mining-led 'creative decisions' to enter the brainstorming rooms of the entertainment industry.
Reviews and stars are cute
Peaky Blinders, Daredevil, Godless, Narcos, Money Heist, Dark, After Life, Mindhunter, Love Death & Robots, Chef's Table, are some of the 8+ IMDB-rated Netflix shows. None of them find a place in the top 100 watches.
Approximately 35.6 percent of the dataset's top 100 shows and movies have an IMDb rating below 7. And only approximately 21.7 percent of the shows and movies in the dataset have an IMDb rating above 8. If we break it down slightly further, one of the anomalies is all the K-Dramas with an average IMDb rating of approximately 8.04.
In comparison, the average IMDb rating for English-language shows and movies in the dataset is approximately 7.1. In the world of ratings, this one point is a decent differentiation. Do audiences generally perceive Korean shows to be better made, or are they really now overall ahead of their peers?
Out of the first 100 titles analysed in the report, only nine featured global movie stars. Maybe the top 10 was better? Well, only one had a movie star in it—Arnold in Fubar season one, debuting at number 10. This is a striking departure from traditional media norms; the presence of movie stars in Netflix shows and movies seems to have a minimal impact on their success. So, while getting The Rock to Ryan Gosling is great for credibility building for the brand, it doesn't convert to plays, at least not in proportion. This trend suggests a shift to content strategy and storyline over star-studded casts like their nascent series.
As we look towards the future of content, it gently lies between a new era of storytelling and viewer engagement. OTTs will, sooner than we think, have the comfortable upper hand over traditional books and cinemas to pass forward our stories. This shift represents more than a change in taste; it's a cultural and technological metamorphosis that redefines how our stories will be selected, told, shared, and experienced globally. The more we know, the more control would still lie with us.
The writer is the chief strategist and founder of Salt and Paper Consulting.
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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