Does Netflix have a ‘long tail’?

About our clickstream data
This article uses our unique clickstream dataset to analyse the viewing patterns of audiences on Netflix between January 2016 and June 2019. This data has some powerful qualities and unusual limitations so be sure to check out the notes at the end of the article.

For each title, we calculate a Popularity Score, taking into account the total number of views and the length of time the title has been available to viewers in the relevant country. It is expressed as a number between 0 and 100, with the most successful movie in that country receiving a score of 100. Therefore, a movie with a score of 50 is half as popular as the top movie. You can read a full breakdown of how we calculate these scores here.

The film business has long been one dominated by outliers and power laws. Put simply, a small number of titles account for a large share of the money, attention and success.

Just 10% of movies account for half of the domestic box office gross and just 6% of Hollywood studio movies account for half of all the profits generated.

Some have suggested that the new world of VOD could change this. Gone are the real-world limitations of manufacturing, physical distribution and shelf space and in their place we have an (effectively) infinite space in which all movies can be equally offered to audiences.

This idea was first introduced in a 2004 Wired article entitled “The Long Tail” in which Chris Anderson posits that “…the emerging digital entertainment economy is going to be radically different from today’s mass market. If the 20th-century entertainment industry was about hits, the 21st will be equally about misses“.

With vast audiences having access to large inventories of content, will most people still gravitate towards a small number of top titles, or will most of the views come from the ‘long tail’?

Fortunately for us, our dataset reveals what happened on Netflix.

Does Netflix have a long tail?

In a word, no. Well, it’s fairer to say that it has less of a long tail than box office gross. The top 7% of movies on Netflix accounted for 50% of the views (normalised for time on the platform) in the US.

Not only that, but the difference in success between the top-ranking movie and the second-ranking movie is much larger than the difference between the third and fourth-ranking movies on Netflix and the domestic box office.


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What is VOD Clickstream?

Our unique clickstream data allows us to analyse viewing patterns on Netflix between January 2016 and June 2019.

This data has some powerful qualities and unusual limitations so be sure to check out the details here.

This is wholly independent research. We’re not affiliated with Netflix or any other streaming platform or studio.