Nielsen says people mostly streamed old network shows, not new releases

Steve Dent
·Associate Editor
·2-min read

As much as everyone raved about new shows like Ozark and The Crown, those were far from being the most popular 2020 US streaming shows. Instead, many more viewers watched older network shows like The Office, Grey’s Anatomy and Criminal Minds, according to Nielsen’s first-ever yearly streaming show rankings and the NY Times.

To give an idea of the disparity, The Office was watched on Netflix to the tune of 952 million hours, compared to Netflix’s original series Ozark with 508 million hours of viewing time. Grey’s Anatomy and Criminal Minds also both beat Ozark with 657 and 590 million hours, each. The other top original series programs were Lucifer, The Crown, Tiger King (all on Netflix) and Disney’s The Mandalorian.

The figures show that people are going for familiar, escapist entertainment rather than challenging new shows, which isn’t shocking considering 2020’s constant deluge of bad news. However, there are also lots of episodes for those older network series, 830 in total, which would boost hourly viewing totals as well. If you look at it that way, Tiger King’s performance of 260 million viewing hours was very impressive, considering only eight episodes were produced.

The most popular movies, meanwhile, were viewed largely from Disney+, including Frozen II, Moana, Onward, and Hamilton. Universal’s Secret Life of Pets 2 and Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, streaming on Netflix, were in the number three and five spots, respectively. Most of those shows are aimed at children, so parents were likely trying to keep their kids (and themselves) entertained during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Nielsen started releasing weekly streaming service viewer numbers for the first time in 2020. These figures only apply to shows watched in the US on TVs and not phones, tablets or computers, but Nielsen plans to adapt its system to those devices. For this year’s rankings, it reported viewers for Netflix, Disney+, Hulu and Amazon but not Apple TV+, HBO Max or Peacock. Since The Office is now on NBC’s Peacock and not Netflix, that show’s immense popularity could mean a big hit to Netflix’s viewing figures in 2021.