Do Netflix viewing figures map onto cultural relevance?

Do Netflix viewing figures map onto cultural relevance?

7th February 2024


How does the viewership of a show correspond to the amount of conversation it generates online, and what can we learn from the patterns we find?

The release of Netflix’s “What We Watch: A Netflix Engagement Report” gave the world its most comprehensive picture so far of audience consumption across the thousands of series and movies available on the service.

For Pulsar, this provided a unique opportunity to compare the other forms of audience engagement that we analyze every day—including social conversation & news coverage—with the scale of direct engagement on Netflix itself.

Before we share what we found, a quick note on the visualizations you're about to see - they can all be explored in more depth by passing your cursor over the individual bubbles, as seen in the gif below:

Do Netflix viewing figures map onto cultural relevance?

For our initial exploration, we used Pulsar’s TRENDS tool to analyze the online conversation footprint of Netflix’s 30 most-viewed new releases in the first half of 2023, covering Online News volume and X as an indicator of social media volume.

First, we compared the total conversation footprint of each title against its total viewing hours on Netflix:

The high degree of variance indicates that there are additional variables besides viewership that determine the size of a show’s online conversation footprint.

For example, BEEF generated nearly 100,000 posts in the six-month period—more than twice as much conversation as The Night Agent—even though the latter clocked nearly 4x as much viewership (topping the list at over 800 million hours). 

Later in this series, we’ll utilize Pulsar’s powerful TRAC platform to dive into additional layers—such as content engagement, audience structure, conversation topics and narratives—which will enable us to uncover why certain shows resonated to a greater degree than others online. For now, a high-level overview can still offer several takeaways. 

In the case of BEEF, its recent standout performance at the Emmys suggests that the show’s quality and industry appeal may have contributed to a heightened level of online attention, benefiting from the strong existing reputation and loyal fanbase of studio A24.

As with any title, word-of-mouth can build to create a virtuous circle of more social viewers and conversation:

On the other hand, some conversation arose from controversy around one of its actors, offering an example of why more online buzz may not always be a wholly positive sign (and, by the same token, why it is important for PR, marketing, and creative teams to stay constantly informed of the online narrative around a show).

Other titles that sparked outsized shares of conversation suggest additional areas for further investigation. The first is exploring alternatives to the binge release model. Pulsar Research’s past work has indicated that episodic releases tend to drive more social conversation over time than binge releases.

Parceling out episodes over time can extend the conversation and allow more viewers to catch up before the wave of general interest passes them by.

The most-mentioned show here, South Korean drama The Glory, was released in two episode drops—a strategy that Netflix has not extensively pursued with US releases since Season 4 of Stranger Things in 2022.

Love is Blind’s episodic release over four weeks—coupled with the nature of the reality dating show genre—encouraged ongoing discussion, speculation, and recaps, leading to the second-highest conversation footprint overall.

The presence of fandoms is another factor that can greatly influence the conversation around a show. In comparison to other established series airing additional seasons, Shadow and Bone may have had a leg up in generating social buzz due to a relatively longstanding fandom community that originated with the 2012 novel.

Indeed, when we compare the social and news components of our data set, Shadow and Bone Season 2 stands out on the social side of the spectrum, with a ratio of nearly 37 social posts for every news article.

Fandom accounts engage in an ongoing conversation within their community, often with little context needed—suggesting that the true social volume for this show was likely far higher than what we could capture by searching for just the title.


On the other hand, viewed the opposite way, Shadow and Bone could be assessed as under-performing in viewership compared to other established scripted shows with a high level of online attention, and this would seem to be the case for Netflix, which subsequently canceled it.

However, as previously explored in Pulsar’s collaboration with Samba TV and X/Twitter, fandom presence is generally correlated not just with lots of social buzz, but higher tune-in as well

Drawing from our two charts, several of the other titles that sit in the “sweet spot” of both high viewership and high conversation appeared to benefit from existing fans, whether by building on a successful show with a new season or spin-off (You, Outer Banks, and Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story), or tapping into the following of well-established stars (as with Jennifer Lopez in The Mother and Arnold Schwarzenegger in FUBAR).

The latter category sits on the more news-heavy side of the spectrum, demonstrating the value of a known name in grabbing headlines; however, social posts still represent the majority of online conversation around these shows and offer the potential for analyzing their audiences.

There is much more to explore with release patterns and audience composition. Stay tuned for more in this series, as we explore the distinct audience mechanics behind some of the most successful shows currently on our screens.


And in the meantime, if you’re interested in learning more about this dataset, or discovering how social data can lead to insights into streaming series and movies, simply fill out the form below.