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ARE NETFLIX’S FANS ABANDONING CABLE? IS HBO GETTING AS MUCH OF THEIR ATTENTION?

Jul 25, 2016 | Insights

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What you are looking at above are the top five shows from HBO’s and Netflix’s current line up of shows — sorted according to our special, one-of-a-kind “multiple” metric — among fans of Netflix’s hit women’s prison dramedy, Orange is the New Black.

We’re doing a series of entries here, so we’ll take a second to explain this the once, and then we’ll link the subsequent entries back here for the curious.

Who we are is StatSocial.

And what we do is analyze social audiences. In a web-based report, that looks more or less like the screenshot below (and downloadable — as documents bursting at the seams with insights and data — as Excel, Pdf, etc.), but featuring statistics of literally thousands of different varieties, we can tell you all there is to know about any group of individuals you could bunch together in a social media setting. Be they those who’ve voluntarily come together, like the fans of a pop singer or politician, or whatever crazy, granular, weird thing you need to — or simply want to — know about “Elvis fans from Topeka whose favorite color is purple.”

We can tell you what kind of cars they drive, and what kind of cars they wish they drove. We can tell you political views, favorite brands of nearly any product you can imagine, where else in the country they may now reside apart from Topeka, in addition to age and sex and income all the obvious stuff.

So what’s this article all about then?

Well, let’s start by explaining the “multiple” metric. If you look at the charts at the very top of this entry, you will see a blue bar containing a percentage, and beneath it a grey bar containing a percentage. The blue bar is the percentage of social audience members — in this case fans of Orange is the New Black — who also identify as fans of the corresponding line item.

So therefore, 2 1/2% (roughly) of OINTB’s fans identify as House of Cards fans, nearly 6% as Game of Thrones fans. Neither number dazzling, but still a bit of a score for the folks at HBO.

The grey line, with the percentage within, shows you what social media as a whole thinks, it represents the average social media user and it is the baseline upon which all of our calculations are based unless otherwise noted or requested.

The metric to the far right is the figure by which these specific lists are sorted. It is our own special “multiple” metric, and it calculates the statistical likelihood of the member of one social audience belonging to another. Percentages and raw numbers are important, but refracting the data through this lens really gets you inside the “head” of the audience you’re analyzing, as you see what’s uniquely of interest to them.

Here it doesn’t change much, but if you visit our greater blog and do some poking around you’ll find many entries that reveal just how radically the “multiple” metric can change a marketer’s priorities, and entirely rewrite what you thought was an audience’s story.

Okay, enough about us. Back to the story at hand.

Let’s back up for a second, give this thing some perspective.

Cable television has been around since the 60s. Hitting its stride about 10 to 15 years after its introduction. Once a utilitarian thing, offering TV to urbanites whose reception stunk, and who were willing to throw a couple of bucks toward the problem. It very soon became an opportunity for forward thinkers to disseminate niche broadcasting, and offer subscribers television away from the watchful eye of the federal government’s FCC; who controlled the airwaves, but had no jurisdiction over what went out over privately owned cables.

Soon emerged commercial-free premium cable channels, usually subscribed for via monthly fee — beholden only to viewers, not advertisers. Cursing and nudity were now available in your living room, for a price. In 1976, it was crazy to watch an entire George Carlin stand-up set completely uncut, on TV. Even Archie Bunker at his most outrageous did not approach the likes of this.

Late-70s/early-80s entire niche networks began to emerge. Channels dedicated solely to news, or sports, or children’s broadcasting. Also, the premium channels began their first experiments with original broadcasting. HBO, Home Box Office, the king of premium channels — primarily focused on uncut movies, as its name implied — dipped its toe in the water with documentary miniseries, and satirical comedy shows. No one feared their encroaching upon the dominance of the broadcast networks. They were not in enough homes to even be a threat.

But cable’s penetration did grow, and more and more homes were becoming wired as the years passed.

In the early 90s HBO broadcast a groundbreaking sitcom, the brainchild of late stand-up comedian, Garry Shandling, which took place behind the scenes of a late-night talk show. Called The Larry Sanders Show, while critically praised, its Nielsen numbers would have found it the lowest rated show on TV by a vast margin.

But, in 1996 it accomplished something which scared the hell out of the networks.

One of its main actors, Rip Torn, won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy. There were those who tried to write it off as a fluke, believing Emmy voters couldn’t resist a show so focused on their industry.

It was obvious, though, suddenly, this wasn’t cult stuff, this was legitimized as “real” TV, and by its own industry no less. Within a few short years a show about a mob family whose Don had mommy issues would come along and truly change the game forever.

This isn’t a history lesson, though.

Moving on to the other player involved in our little “study” here, we suspect any of you reading already know the tale. In the first decade of this century, a DVD-by-mail rental company whose business model seemed disastrous on the face of it, wound up putting the at that time ubiquitous video store out of business (shockingly quickly). Its founder named the company unusually, but with — as it turns out — his vision for its future in mind.

Average folks could never have imagined it possible. Netflix knew that broadband internet technology and digital video compression were both progressing at such a rate, that it would only be a matter of a handful of years before high-definition streaming video, coming straight from the internet, would be a reality. The DVD rental business was just a stopgap, a chance to establish the name and make a couple of bucks before embarking upon the primary vision, and by decade’s end technology had caught up to it.

At first, they made available via streaming essentially the same inventory as they’d been renting on DVD; movies and other networks’ TV series. But there would be the occasional exclusive special, and it was clearly only a matter or time before they were going to begin producing their own programming as one of their primary features.

Now suddenly it was cable — long established as legitimate and competitive by this point — who was sweating. Netflix’s initial experiment in exclusive programming was, very probably not accidentally, a revival of a broadcast show that had been, in the minds of its feverish cult following, canceled prematurely. A brand-new, 13 episode season of the canceled Fox sitcom Arrested Development proved immediately that this could work. All 13 episodes went up on the streaming service at once, on a Friday — leaving it to the viewer to watch it any way they cared from half an episode a week, to a 13 hour binge — and what seemed like a mad experiment at the time, is now — only a short couple of years later — how many of us watch TV.

The broadband internet service offered by many cable providers started to undermine their primary product, as services such as Netflix and Hulu came to replace cable altogether for many viewers.

Which leads us to here, and our next few entries. With this and the next entry we’ll be looking at Netflix’s current crop of programming, gauging the various shows’ fans compatibility with both the current broadcast line-ups of the streaming and the cable giants.

Orange is the New Black is Netflix’s most popular show, but the critics have been kind, and viewers have pressed play for a number of their shows.

Let’s start with the animated series, BoJack Horseman, featuring the voice of Arrested Development’s Will Arnett. While initially greeted with a mixed response, when it debuted in 2014, it is now — just as it’s third season is debuting — pretty much met with universal acclaim.

The show — about an anthropomorphic horse who had once been a sitcom star, but is now washed up and trying to stage a comeback — is a surreal but often amusing satire of Hollywood.

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The Kevin Spacey starring House of Cards — whose own lists we’ll see in the next entry — is along with OINTB one of the jewels in Netflix’s original programming crown. But again while the numbers are not dazzling, frankly, for any of the shows, it’s clear that with Game of Thrones handily victorious in raw numbers, that people haven’t been canceling their cable in droves just yet.

That said, viewed realistically and statistically, the likelihood of an EXISTING Netflix subscriber — who enjoys a cartoon about an anthropomorphic, alcoholic horse — — tuning in to one of Netflix’s most popular shows is far greater than that same viewer subscribing to HBO, and then watching a show about swords and dragons.

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Clearly inspired by the unexpected, runaway success of Disney Channel’s Girl Meets World (a “continuing sagas of” sequel series to ABC’s, 90’s “TGIF” stalwart, Boy Meets World, featuring the cast of that original show, only now as adults), Netflix revived another of that era’s faves, in a very similar fashion.

Called Fuller House, now, as new kids have of course been added to keep the show bouncy and appropriate for families, instead of just being a grim contemplation on the emptiness of middle age, we wrote about it right here back when it premiered (if hyperlinks confuse, click “here” to to visit our previous entry).

In this case, Netflix emerges as the clear and comfortable victor. Either viewed by multiple or percentage, only Game of Thrones pulls in a number of Fuller House fans that exceeds the baseline. And then, only by a hair. Whereas even relatively adult oriented Netflix fare does quite well with this crowd.

And if there were ever any errant accusations, or fleeting thoughts of fairweather fandom having infiltrated this group, the top four social influencers (those active on social media, with sizable followings, etc.) — when sorted by “multiple” — put that concern to rest in a big fat hurry.

Not many crowds would be THAT likely to be a fan of Candace Cameron, we reckon.

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Next up, Sense8. While we celebrate the Wachowski’s for bravely being openly transgender in Hollywood, and believe that Speed Racer was groundbreaking and underrated, we still wonder how a pair could be involved with so many spectacular, money-losing flops and yet be allowed to continue making exclusively high-budget entertainment in Hollywood.

This time around they’ve teamed up with Babylon 5 creator, J. Michael Straczynski, for a show about something weird and pretentious, we’re certain, but with androids and existentialist subtext.

Whatever the case, I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s watched it.

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That said, while Netflix wins, Sense8’s fans seem fond of the programming of both networks to similar degrees, however clearly preferring HBO’s Game of Thrones comfortably most of all.

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Now, Disney and Marvel conquered the big screen as of about 6 years ago. We’re all used to it and the novelty has worn off, although the films keep coming, and keep making money.

With the assistance of Netflix, last year they made the leap to the small screen with very successful, and more surprisingly critically acclaimed adaptation (and frankly, Vincent D’Onofrio does give a wildly entertaining performance as the series’ heavy) of their title Daredevil; ushering in a Marvel Television Universe, which from a continuity standpoint is the same as their Marvel Cinematic Universe (indeed, events from the first Avengers film are referenced in the first episode of Daredevil). Meaning every movie and every episode of every TV show all take place in the same greater world.

Nerds are everywhere.

Jessica Jones — whose lists we’ll be reviewing shortly — is the second series to take place in this universe, with Luke Cage, The Defenders, and some other nonsense coming soon.

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Jessica Jones is a character from Daredevil’s comic book universe, and their shows are to large degrees intertwined even if Daredevil himself does not appear on JJ (to my admittedly limited knowledge). It’s not surprising that the likelihood of a Daredevil viewer being a fan of Jessica Jones is off the charts.

Nor, in its way — though statistically tiny by comparison — is it surprising that Daredevil fans might be drawn to HBO’s brilliant Silicon Valley; a show that, with staggering accuracy, portrays the industry in which many of Daredevil’s biggest fans probably work.

But now we leave Marvel’s fictional Hell’s Kitchen (it bears no resemblance to the real one, not in 2016), and head to a televisual Nova Scotia, and its fictional playground of rampant gunplay, marijuana, liquor, and profanity, Sunnyvale Trailer Park.

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Premiering on a small Canadian cable network at the start of the the 2000s, the show bid farewell for good around the end of the last decade after 7 of the funniest seasons of television ever made. Becoming a national phenomenon in its native land, the show — mockumentary styled (made concurrent with The Office, the BBC version, and in no way aware of, nor inspired by it), and about the gun toting, weed selling, impossibly profane, alcoholic, sometimes shirtless and big bellied, frequently incarcerated but oddly lovable residents of a Nova Scotia trailer park — the show was forced out of retirement when it suddenly became a cult favorite in America thanks to whom? Netflix, who just included its older seasons among its menu of selections.

Since then more seasons and movies have been made, but now with Netflix as its network and producer. The author of this entry, while a massive fan of the original series, simply has not kept up with the show since its revival and cannot vouch for its quality. Still, the folks behind this show deserve every bit of success they ever get. At its best, surely in its early seasons, few things have ever been funnier.

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In the 70s, there was no bigger movie star than Jane Fonda. While more strictly a comic actress, Lily Tomlin was not far behind in terms of the magnitude of her celebrity. A kid seeing this show would have a difficult time believing this, we’re certain.

Again the higher multiples for Netflix shows are just common sense. My elderly father — who I suspect is in the ideal Grace and Frankie demographic — just scrolls through the Netflix menu for a half hour before deciding “aw heck, I guess I’ll see what this ‘Orange is the New Black’ is about.” While he has HBO, he’s not going to switch over to it. He’ll have to get the other remote, and well, you know… It’s a whole thing.

While radically under-indexed percentage-wise (meaning WAY below the baseline) it’s still surprising to see the 1.3X multiple for Girls. Of all of HBO’s current programming, the adventures of Hannah and her navel gazing friends, in Bushwick, Brooklyn — if only marginally above the average — is the one they’re most likely to investigate.

Bookmark this space, as tomorrow we through the rest of Netflix line-up, and then after that we’ll do the same with HBO’s shows.

(Click here for PART II)

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