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Nielsen’s ratings for Bird Box on Netflix show the power of memes

Nielsen’s ratings for Bird Box on Netflix show the power of memes
[Photo: courtesy of Netflix]

Last week, social media was ablaze with memes about Netflix’s Bird Box, an honestly pretty bad movie that features Sandra Bullock yelling at little children and writhing while blindfolded in a stupid post-apocalyptic world. Then news hit that a lot of people were watching the movie. Netflix, in fact, said that more than 45 million accounts watched it–which is truly astonishing, although Netflix provided little context.

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Now new data from Nielsen reveals the unusual consumption patterns behind this bizarre (and, again, bad!) movie. According to the data, Bird Box had an average-minute viewership of 24.2 million in the United States in its first seven days. By the end of the first 10 days, that statistic hit over 36 million.

The new data comes from Nielsen’s SVOD Content Ratings, a service it launched in 2017 in an attempt to shed light on viewership on streaming platforms.

Interestingly, Nielsen says Bird Box didn’t hit fever pitch until a few days after its release. Only 3.5 million viewers watched it the first day it was available. Nielsen helpfully compares it to another Netflix film, Bright, which saw a reach of 5.4 million viewers on its first day. But as Bird Box‘s big week went on, more people tuned in. By day eight, says Nielsen, Bird Box received its highest average-minute viewership for the day of 3.9 million. And before then, the daily viewing metrics had been incrementally going up.

What happened? During the first week of its release, Bird Box quickly became a meme. Many people made fun of it, and others began participating in a “challenge” (which, mind you, Netflix helped spur). The movie had become the butt of internet jokes, but that made people… want to watch it.

And the numbers clearly show this. As conversation became more prominent online–be it positive or negative–more people became curious and turned on Netflix. Google Trends shows that an uptick in people began searching “bird box” on December 20, the day before its release. Then it went viral, with online searches getting higher and higher and then peaking on the 29th. December 28 was the day Nielsen says Netflix had the most average-minute viewers.

A Google Trends graph for the term “bird box”
Source: Nielsen SVOD Content Ratings.

Meanwhile, the viewer demographics were also interesting. According to these new numbers, the viewership skewed generally toward younger people–the highest concentration (36%) of viewers were between the ages of 18 and 36. Moreover, 46% of the viewers were either Hispanic or African American, and 57% of the total viewers were female.

It’s easy to create potentially misleading narratives based on this data, but given the high proportion of young people, it’s pretty easy to surmise that a lot of the viewers were likely hooked in because of the digital hype. Given that there was a general consensus by reviewers that the movie was bad, and the fact that it took a few days for it to really take off–concurrently with the online memes and jokes–it seems what we have here is a viral internet phenomenon.

Netflix seems to know how to craft these moments that feel spontaneous and insider-y. The company capitalized on the online conversation associated with Stranger Things to make it an even bigger deal than it originally was. And it seemed to have the inklings that this movie, too, despite (or perhaps because of) its badness would also create a unique internet moment.

Whatever the case, the data sure is interesting. And perhaps it’s giving rise to a new formula: If you know your movie is bad, just make it into a meme and the eyeballs will follow anyway.

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