Jaap Arriens/Associated Press
Illustrating the strategy Netflix executives have long articulated — and pointing to a wider gap between the company and its rivals — a new report shows that for the first time most new releases coming to the platform are originals.
Among all releases available in the U.S. that went live during the year leading up to December 2018, 51% were originals, as opposed to programs or films that had been acquired, according to a report by UK-based research firm Ampere Analysis. That share is more than double the 25% recorded in December 2016.
“Original” can mean a few different things, of course. There are shows or films that Netflix has nurtured from script stage, but also others where Netflix teams with established partners (e.g., Sony for The Crown, Lionsgate for Orange is the New Black).
Because of its expanding global footprint, Netflix is aiming to make locally targeted shows in many markets, but it is also expanding the availability of programming as the company builds scale. In the UK, Ampere found, 4,600 total titles (original and acquired) were also available in more than 15 Netflix territories around the world at the end of 2018, up from 3,000 in 2017.
The Ampere data does not track viewing time, which is perhaps the most elusive stat in the entertainment industry. Taking viewing time out of the equation, in raw terms just 11% of all titles that exist on Netflix in the U.S. are originals, the report found. But that number is nearly triple the 4% measured in 2016 and also dwarfs the 1% originals share at Hulu and Amazon Prime Video. Hulu and Amazon have made inroads with award-winning original series like The Handmaid’s Tale and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel as well as narrative and documentary films. But they are not spending at Netflix’s level (more than $10 billion a year), nor are they as focused on volume as well as quality.
The Ampere stats illustrate the drive by Netflix to proactively refresh its lineup with originals in order to avoid any bumps once major media suppliers (e,g., Disney) start to withhold titles they used to license to Netflix. That practice netted media companies billions, but also trained viewers to look for signature titles on third-party apps. Grey’s Anatomy, for example, is a huge Netflix draw that will be pulled from the platform soon in order to be marshaled for Disney’s soon-to-launch streaming service. WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal also plan ambitious streaming launches of their own, creating questions about staples like Friends and The Office. Ampere estimates that about 30% of Netflix content is from major U.S. studios.
Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos has said the company has been moving in this direction for six years. The need to prepare for the reality of fewer titles being made available to license is “a corner that I’m glad we saw around a few years ago,” Sarandos said in January during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call. “And today, I’d say the vast majority of the content that is watched on Netflix are our original content brands.”
He said while acquired shows represent “a lot of hours of watching,” but insisted that a ranking of the top 25 or top 50 most-watched shows by season or by series would be a list “dominated primarily by our original content brands.”
CEO Reed Hastings added during the earnings call that unscripted programming, which launched on Netflix just two years ago with shows like Queer Eye, now counts originals as the most heavily consumed shows in the category.
“Netflix’s strategy is clearly moving towards a self-sufficiency model,” Ampere analyst Lottie Towler said. “Its focus on growing the proportion of original content in its catalog shows no sign of slowing down – in fact, Ampere’s analysis shows the streaming giant is reaching a point where it produces almost all the new and fresh content, while only the older content is licensed. This will position Netflix well in the market should other major studios follow in the steps of Fox and Disney and pull their content from SVOD services in advance of launching their own DTC offer.”