After a record-breaking run atop the streaming charts in the summer and fall, Suits can claim one more milestone at the end of 2023: It’s the most-streamed show over the course of a year in the (admittedly brief) history of Nielsen’s rankings.
It was a huge year for library series — which claimed all of the top 10 overall spots in the year-end rankings — but there was a big upset among original series. Ted Lasso was the most viewed original show across the platforms Nielsen measures despite running on the one with the fewest subscribers, Apple TV+. It’s the first show that doesn’t stream on Netflix to take a No. 1 ranking among either original or acquired series in the four-year history of Nielsen’s year-end charts.
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Streaming volume grew by 21 percent in 2023, Nielsen says, with U.S. TV viewers spending the equivalent of more than 21 million years watching streaming — a shade over 11 trillion minutes, or 183.96 billion hours. It was the second straight year that streaming time grew by more than 20 percent, which is not a huge surprise considering that streaming takes up by far the biggest share of TV usage: It made up 36 percent of all TV use for the year, compared to 30 percent for cable and about 23 percent for broadcast networks.
It was also a year in which several streamers moved away from the walled garden idea of hoarding all their owned series and films and began re-embracing licensing as both a revenue generator and a marketing tool. Seven of the top 10 series of 2023 stream on Netflix, but three of those — Suits (also on Peacock), NCIS (Paramount+) and Canadian drama Heartland (Hulu and Peacock) have other homes as well.
“It’s almost like we’ve entered this free trade zone,” Brian Fuhrer, senior vp product strategy and thought leadership at Nielsen, told The Hollywood Reporter. “In particular, the Warner Bros. Discovery deal with Netflix” — which has seen HBO titles like Six Feet Under and Band of Brothers stream on Netflix as well as the company’s own Max platform — “was not only interesting, but brilliant, because everybody’s got to get to the point now where they’ve got to maximize the value of their content. We’re getting away from creating these walls that prevent them from doing so.”
There’s no denying, though, that Netflix is the primary driver of viewing of those shared titles. It’s easiest to discern with Suits, the former USA Network legal drama that exploded after its Netflix premiere. For the year, the show racked up 57.7 billion minutes of viewing — the highest year-end total Nielsen has ever recorded in the four years it has released annual streaming totals. Suits finishes ahead of the 57.13 billion minutes of viewing for The Office in 2020, its final year on Netflix in the United States.
About 53.1 billion of those minutes for Suits came in the 28 weeks it streamed on both Netflix and Peacock. The remaining 4.6 billion or so were from the 25 weeks* it was exclusive to Peacock.
(*Yes, there are only 52 weeks in a year, but Nielsen’s 2023 measurement also includes the week of Dec. 26, 2022 to Jan. 1, 2023.)
In its Peacock-only period, Suits averaged 191 million minutes of viewing per week, which is a decent tally that would probably land the show among the top 30 or 40 titles in any given week. Once it joined Netflix as well, that figure ballooned to just under 1.9 billion minutes per week — a tenfold increase.
Other Suits superlatives:
The show set a record for most weeks (15) and most consecutive weeks (12) as the No. 1 overall title in the Nielsen rankings.
It set a record for the biggest single week for an acquired series, then proceeded to break that record three more times in the next three weeks, topping out at 3.88 billion minutes for the week of July 17-23.
Its success led NBCUniversal to start developing a companion series with creator Aaron Korsh.
Among originals, Ted Lasso was a surprise No. 1 — so much so that Fuhrer said he initially thought Nielsen made a mistake in its tabulation. “We rechecked everything, and it held up,” he told THR. “Even though Apple TV+ didn’t have the biggest footprint, a lot of people have either watched it multiple times or they’ve had more people come into their viewing pool and watch it.”
Although Ted Lasso, which aired its (presumptively) final season last year, only topped a billion minutes of viewing one time, for the week of its season three finale, it made the top 10 original series for every week of the 12-episode season and for four weeks after the finale, an unusually long tail for a weekly release series. The weeks it fell outside the top 10, it still averaged about 170 million minutes of viewing.
That steady total was good enough to beat out Netflix’s The Night Agent (14.4 billion minutes for the year) for the top spot among original series. The thriller had higher highs than Ted Lasso, tallying more than 3 billion minutes for its biggest week, but fell out of the top 10 after seven weeks. About 72 percent of its viewing total for the year was concentrated in the weeks it made the top 10.
The top 10 streaming movies of 2023 are also a testament to the importance of library titles — particularly when it comes to films aimed at kids and families. The two biggest movies, Moana (11.6 billion minutes of viewing) and Encanto (9.7 billion), have been on Disney+ for more than two years and are champions of repeat viewing. So are titles like Minions: The Rise of Gru (No. 5, 7.1 billion minutes) and Frozen (No. 7, 6.5 billion) — the latter of which didn’t crack Nielsen’s top 10 charts all year but averaged a steady 122 million minutes of viewing per week.
Nielsen’s year-end streaming top 10s for 2023 are below. The overall top 10 correlates entirely with the acquired series top 10.
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