This year can be summed up as challenging and for many, it was one of the toughest yet in our lifetimes. And this year’s U.S. viewing trends on Netflix
There was a lot of binge-watching of documentaries, reality TV and romance. Stories that took place outside the U.S. also saw some of the largest gains as viewers were stuck at home and isolated. Through entertainment, we sought love, escapism and connection with others.
Overall, this year was like no other and because of lockdowns and social distancing, there was a significant rise in stream times. The question is, what exactly was everyone binge-watching?
Due to those strict lockdowns and the cabin fever that ensued, subscribers watched a lot of shows that took them to new lands. We were able to travel to different countries all from our homes. Compared to 2019, viewing of foreign language titles was up over 50% with binges that included The Platform (Spain), Barbarians (Germany) and Rogue City (France), which were the most popular. This showed us that nothing, not even a stay-at-home order could stave off our curiosity about other cultures and countries.
There were two specific genres that made huge jumps in viewership: Viewing of K-drama almost tripled and anime was up an incredible 100% in the U.S. As for favorite K-dramas, Kingdom S2 and The King: Eternal Monarch topped the list. And Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution and Blood Of Zeus were the anime titles that most piqued our interest.
The desire to travel to new lands via entertainment wasn’t just a U.S. phenomenon. Certain shows traveled regardless where the viewer lived. Money Heist: Part 4 (Spain) hit the Top 10 in 92 countries, Barbarians (Germany) in 91, #Alive (Korea) in 90, Ragnarok (Norway) in 89 and Lost Bullet (France) in 89 countries. That’s the power of good storytelling.
And, while not strictly speaking French, Emily in Paris, was one of the streamer’s most popular comedies of the year, even creating a 340+% increase in searches for Kangol bucket hats.
Another way we escaped the shutdown was through the reality of other people’s lives. We spent twice as much time watching documentaries and reality TV this year than last. The top docu-series on Netflix were Tiger King and Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez. The most successful documentary features were American Murder: The Family Next Door and The Social Dilemma. On the reality TV side, Floor is Lava, Love is Blind and Too Hot To Handle were the most popular releases of the year on Netflix.
For singletons, IRL and even online dating were more challenging than ever, which is why we turned to Love Is Blind to help fill the void. We loved the show so much that it stayed in the U.S. Top 10 for 47 days straight after its release in February, which is the second-longest run of any title behind Cocomelon at 64 days.
During this year of extraordinary hardship and sadness, we loved to escape by falling in love. We watched twice as much romance this year as we did in 2019. The titles that received the most love and attention were The Kissing Booth 2, Princess Switch: Switched Again and To All The Boys P.S. I Still Love You.
Thoughts of finding the one to go into lockdown with also led us to binge The Half Of It and Indian Matchmaking and each deserve special shout outs. The first reminded us how hard it can be to tell someone you love them and the second was a reminder that dating can be truly awkward.
Laughter is the best medicine, even in the midst of a pandemic. We laughed to escape and when that didn’t work, we cried. Netflix saw a huge jump in viewing of stand-up between March and April when the pandemic first hit (as compared to February just before our lives were turned upside-down). October, however, was the biggest month for comedy viewing generally. Perhaps, we all needed a distraction from something political (hint hint) happening in November? Hubie Halloween, The Wrong Missy, Space Force, Holidate and Kevin Hart, Zero F**ks Given were the most popular comedies of the year while Never Have I Ever and Sam Jay: 3 In The Morning drove the most laughs on Twitter.
In March, there seemed to be a need to nest as we realized we were going to be home for a long while. This was when searches on Netflix for “home baking shows” went up almost 50% over the previous month. There was also a lot of searching going on for DIY and home shows. The most popular food and home shows were Get Organized with The Home Edit, Nailed It!, Million Dollar Beach House, The American Barbecue Showdown and Crazy Delicious.
In early April searches on Netflix for “sad movies” spiked nearly 30% from the previous month. All The Bright Places drew the most tearful reactions on Twitter, and thankfully Miracle in Cell No. 7 was also there to help us cry it out.
Whether stuck at home on our own or with loved ones, we were constantly reminded of the importance of family. Netflix saw huge audiences for fictional stories about families in all their complexity with The Crown Season 4, The Queen’s Gambit, Enola Holmes, Ratched, Ozark Season 3, The Umbrella Academy Season 2 and Hillbilly Elegy among the most popular. And when it came to feel-good entertainment for kids and families, The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two, The Willoughbys, The Angry Birds Movie 2, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey and Over the Moon topped the binge lists.
Another way in which we distracted ourselves was with action and adventure. Action was huge this year with Extraction, Spenser Confidential, The Old Guard, Project Power and Cobra Kai as the most popular action titles of the year. Da 5 Bloods gets a special mention; this action adventure about African American soldiers during the Vietnam War is a story that had never been told before despite all the Vietnam movies that have been made.
Most important of all, 2020 taught us to open our eyes and really have empathy for others. We saw this in the way we embraced My Octopus Teacher (a documentary feature about the importance of nature), Crip Camp (about the disability revolution in the 1970s) and The Trial of the Chicago 7 (about social justice).
One event that truly opened our eyes was the tragic murder of George Floyd in May. In the three weeks that followed his death, viewing of titles that helped us better understand the Black experience in the U.S. soared with bingeing of 13TH (up 5000+%), LA 92 (up 1300+%), Dear White People (up 700+%), Time: The Kalief Browder Story (up 500%) and American Son (up 270%). And Dave Chappelle’s 8:46, which was shared with the world by Netflix is a Joke, became the top trending video of the year on YouTube.
This has not been an easy year but the escape of entertainment has certainly helped us get through. To a happier, healthier 2021!