By Joe Flint
This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (December 31, 2019).
Netflix Inc. said its original shows and movies were watched more than any other content released on the streaming service in 2019, a sign of the company's aggressive investment in its own content in anticipation of getting fewer programs from traditional Hollywood suppliers.
The company said its most popular release this year in the U.S. was "Murder Mystery," a comedy starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston, topping the third season of "Stranger Things." The only program on the streaming service's top 10 for this year that wasn't originated by Netflix was "The Incredibles 2" from Walt Disney Co.'s Pixar unit.
The rankings don't include the most popular content on Netflix -- only the most popular that debuted in 2019. Netflix didn't disclose how much original and acquired programming the company released in 2019 and didn't provide actual viewing numbers for its rankings.
A spokesman for Netflix said the information is "a fun way to celebrate the most popular shows and films on Netflix" released this year. The spokesman said its rankings are based on "at least two minutes of viewing."
Netflix's lack of complete transparency on its viewing patterns has been criticized by rival media companies. Netflix has said that since it doesn't sell advertising, providing exact viewing numbers isn't necessary.
Netflix's aggressive investment spree in original content -- estimated at $15 billion this year alone -- comes as Walt Disney is no longer selling to Netflix. The company is focusing its efforts on its Disney+ streaming service that launched last month. Next year, Comcast Corp.'s NBCUniversal and AT&T Inc.'s WarnerMedia will unveil their Peacock and HBO Max streaming platforms and are also expected to sell less to Netflix.
Netflix movies are also garnering more critical acclaim. This year, the Spanish-language movie "Roma" won three Oscars. Recent releases "The Irishman" and "Marriage Story" received multiple Golden Globe nominations and are expected to receive Oscar nominations as well.
Netflix films the company said will finish in the top 10 this year include the recently released Michael Bay-directed action thriller "6 Underground" and the Martin Scorsese-directed mob drama "The Irishman."
The three television series cracking Netflix's top 10 in the U.S. were the third season of "Stranger Things" and new shows "The Witcher" and "The Umbrella Academy," all Netflix originals. Among Netflix TV shows, other popular programs this year include "Dead to Me" and the second season of the stalker drama "You."
Often Netflix has provided more detailed viewing data, typically when it is reporting its financial results. In those cases, Netflix has counted a viewer as someone who watched at least 70% of a movie or TV show. The two-minute methodology, the spokesman said, eliminates the bias toward short-form content, compared with longer shows and movies, that the 70% threshold has, so is better suited when ranking popularity.
Unlike traditional broadcast and cable networks, Netflix doesn't support third-party measurement by Nielsen. While Nielsen does attempt to measure Netflix viewing, the company has in the past questioned its numbers. The Netflix spokesman declined to comment on Nielsen's numbers.
According to Nielsen data, eight of the top 10 most-viewed shows on Netflix overall are reruns of broadcast TV programs, including "Friends" and "The Office" -- a sign that while original content is growing in popularity in the U.S., acquired programming remains the most popular on Netflix.
Both "Friends" and "The Office" are leaving Netflix in the U.S. with "Friends" moving to HBO Max after this year and "The Office" leaving for Peacock in 2021.
The company on Monday also detailed its most popular content outside the U.S. Netflix has begun emphasizing its international expansion as its growth in the U.S. slows and competition increases. Earlier this month, Netflix disclosed that its subscriber numbers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa have more than doubled since 2017. Latin America has also seen strong growth over the past two years.
Netflix said its original films were dominant when it measured the popularity of its 2019-released content in all but a handful of 33 countries outside the U.S. The company has previously said movies account for about one-third of its total viewership in the U.S. and overseas. Netflix has about 160 million subscribers world-wide.
"Murder Mystery" was the favorite in eight other countries including Australia, Mexico and Singapore. "6 Underground" is on top in four countries: the Philippines, Malaysia, Switzerland and South Africa.
Popular Netflix television shows abroad include "The Witcher" -- which was only released on Dec. 20, but already is projected to be No. 1 for the year in Germany, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Taiwan and Poland.
Another international TV hit is the third season of the Spanish-language crime drama "Money Heist," which is the most-watched series in Spain, France, Brazil, Israel and Belgium.
In many countries, Netflix's original programming made for a particular area held the top spot, including Japan where "The Naked Director," based on the life of an adult filmmaker Toru Muranishi, was the most popular. In India, top shows included local productions "Sacred Games," a police drama set in Mumbai, and the movie "Kabir Singh," about the dark side of a doctor.
Write to Joe Flint at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
December 31, 2019 02:47 ET (07:47 GMT)Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.