clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Adam Sandler is Netflix’s biggest star, and Netflix thinks that’s great

Netflix says its audiences love the stuff it makes for itself, like Murder Mystery. Its rivals are betting otherwise.

Luke Evans, Adam Sandler, and Jennifer Aniston in “Murder Mystery” on Netflix.
Luke Evans, Adam Sandler, and Jennifer Aniston star in Murder Mystery, available on Netflix.
Scott Yamano / Netflix
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Netflix became one of the world’s most powerful media companies by using other media companies’ TV shows and movies. Now many of those media companies are pulling their stuff back from Netflix, which means Netflix has to make its own TV shows and movies.

No big deal, says Netflix. Our customers like the stuff we make just fine.

Here is what that argument looks like in chart form. This is Netflix’s list of the 10 most popular shows and movies it started streaming in the US in 2019. Note that everything on here was made by Netflix, with the exception of Disney’s Incredibles 2. Also note that because other popular Netflix shows made by other companies, like Friends and The Office, debuted on Netflix years ago, they wouldn’t qualify for this list, which is helpful for the point Netflix is trying to make:

1) Murder Mystery

2) Stranger Things 3

3) 6 Underground

4) The Incredibles 2

5) The Irishman

6) The Witcher

7) The Triple Frontier

8) Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

9) The Umbrella Academy

10) The Highwaymen

If you are unfamiliar with many of these titles, Netflix is okay with that. It would like you to know that The Highwaymen was a Kevin Costner movie about Texas Rangers chasing Bonnie & Clyde. But it is happy that many of its 160 million subscribers ended up watching it, anyway. Ditto for The Witcher, a swords-and-sorcery series it just debuted. The same goes for Murder Mystery, an Adam Sandler movie that no one talks about on (my version) of Twitter but Netflix audiences apparently love, because Netflix audiences apparently love Adam Sandler.

That is: Netflix thinks this list is good, because it shows that Netflix audiences like the stuff Netflix makes on its own. Especially stuff with Adam Sandler.

Another way to view this list, of course, is that it shows the opportunity Netflix’s new rivals will have as they boot up their own streaming services: Disney+ is stocked with Disney movies and shows you’ve heard of (plus The Simpsons from Fox); AT&T’s HBO Max will be full of movies and shows made by AT&T’s Warner Bros studio; and Comcast’s Peacock will have movies made by Universal Studios and shows you may have seen on NBC at some point.

At a minimum, promoting things you’ve heard of before should make it easier for those new services to grab your attention. Just like Netflix used to do when it licensed stuff from those media companies.

And if you were starting a streaming company from scratch, you might well look at Netflix’s top 10 list and assume they were in a lot of trouble.

But, again, Netflix isn’t starting from scratch: It has 160 million subscribers worldwide. And it is betting that by putting stuff in front of those 160 million people, it can make that stuff popular. We’re going to get a real-world test of that thesis over the next few years.

Before we go, a word about Netflix’s methodology for this list. (And if you’re the kind of person who distrusts stats Netflix has previously cherry-picked to tell Wall Street and Hollywood that it’s doing well, you will really hate this set.)

In the past, Netflix would report viewership by counting households that had watched 70 percent of a movie or TV show. But this list counts households that have merely watched the first two minutes of a movie or TV show in the first 28 days of its release.

Netflix says it is counting this way to indicate titles that people want to watch as opposed to total time spent watching (which means that for this list, a 50-minute episode of Stranger Things has the same value as the three-hour, 30-minute Irishman). And it says that counting the first month of a release (in the case of The Witcher, it is apparently extrapolating, since the show just started) means that stuff that debuted in January and stuff that started running late in 2019 are weighted equally.

You may roll your eyes at all of this. But, again: Netflix can make its own rules for this stuff until Wall Street, or subscribers, say otherwise.