U.S. viewers spent nearly 30.5 billion minutes streaming Netflix’s original drama Ozark in 2020, making it the most-watched original series on a streaming service last year. But library titles like The Office and Grey’s Anatomy still deliver the biggest streaming audiences by far, according to new data from Nielsen.
The data, which Nielsen shared today at CES 2021, measures the popularity of shows streamed from Dec. 30, 2019 through Dec. 27, 2020 on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and Disney+. It highlights the continued staying power of library titles that can make up huge, reliable chunks of streaming viewership.
The Office continues to be a heavy hitter on streaming, highlighting why NBCUniversal pulled out all the stops when the show migrated from Netflix to its own streaming service, Peacock, on Jan. 1. The sitcom was the most-streamed show on television by far in 2020, with U.S. viewers watching more than 57.1 billion minutes of the 192-episode season, according to Nielsen.
Grey’s Anatomy, which had 366 episodes available to stream on Netflix, was watched for more than 39.4 billion minutes last year. Criminal Minds’ 277 episodes were viewed for more than 35.4 billion minutes, while NCIS was watched for 28.1 billion minutes.
All four of those shows have been among the most-streamed shows for several years, but each year, the billions of minutes watched for each ticks up, highlighting how much more people are watching. Streaming now accounts for nearly one-quarter of total usage among OTT-capable homes in the U.S., according to Nielsen, up from about one-fifth a year ago.
While library shows dominated in terms of total minutes watched, the data highlights how high-profile originals can pay off with huge viewership through a relatively succinct number of episodes. Ozark, which has only 30 episodes in its three-season run so far, brought in an average viewership of more than 1 billion minutes viewed per episode, far more than the average per-episode minutes watched for library titles with hundreds of episodes each.
Netflix’s other originals also brought in big viewing numbers, and Netflix originals made up nine of the ten top original shows on streaming in 2020. U.S. viewers spent nearly 19 billion minutes watching the fantasy Lucifer, the fifth season of which was partially released in August 2020. The Crown also brought in huge numbers, with U.S. viewers watching more than 16 billion minutes of the show (Season 4 debuted last November).
Tiger King, the eight-part docuseries that became a phenomenon amid the beginning of Covid-19 lockdowns, was watched for more than 15.6 billion minutes over the course of the year. Other top streaming titles included The Umbrella Academy (13.5 billion minutes), Great British Baking Show (13.3 billion minutes) and Boss Baby: Back in Business (12.6 billion minutes).
Disney+, the new streamer on the block that has fast become a behemoth in its own right, was able to break through with The Mandalorian, the second season of which dropped at the tail end of 2020. That series was watched for more than 14.5 billion minutes in 2020, Nielsen said.
While Disney+’s The Mandalorian was the only non-Netflix original series that was able to break into the top 10, the service found far more viewership with its line-up of movies, which Nielsen broke out for the first time in its data. Disney’s animated film Frozen II, which was released on Disney+ three months early soon after the pandemic began, was watched for nearly 15 billion minutes by U.S. viewers, making it the No. 1 streaming movie over the course of the year. Disney animated film Moana took second place, with U.S. viewers spending more than 10.5 billion minutes watching, Nielsen said.