Reflecting in a Black Mirror, The Netflix Effect?

By Rupert Burnham | March 12, 2018

Season 4 of the acclaimed Black Mirror recently premiered on Netflix. As is the norm these days, all six episodes were released simultaneously on the 29th December 2017. Another new show for Netflix and yet further proof that not only are they the world’s leading streaming service, but they’re rapidly becoming one of its leading content providers.
Producing shows such as Black Mirror represents a far cry from Netflix’s original business model whereby they only had the option of acquiring other people’s content.
Now they develop and produce their own new content, think House of Cards, Altered Carbon, Daredevil, et al, and that’s just television series. They also have an eye for acquiring successful cult shows and giving them both a larger budget and wider audience – take ‘Black Mirror’ as a case in point.
But how does the show’s acquisition by Netflix, one of the world’s largest streaming services, affect it? Is there a Netflix effect? Naturally, it’s automatically going to have a larger audience, and with its new home comes the potential of greater production values if not greater amounts of investment. But has its acquisition resulted in an increase in the amount of torrents of the new season of show are downloaded? The short answer is yes, it has. Arguably the show’s new prominence and home have resulted in a marked increase in downloads of the newest season by those who do not have access to Netflix as the data below shows:

Unique downloads observed across the globe between the 3rd Jan – 4th Feb 2018

As can be seen, in the week following season 4’s release, there’s a clear spike in the amount of torrents of the season being downloaded. The amount of downloads peaks exactly one week after the season’s date of release, and this peak is then followed by a gradual decline in the amount of downloads over the rest of January. This in itself is unsurprising. Much publicity surrounded the season’s release, so one could expect exactly this to happen – a spike in downloads whilst it’s in the public’s consciousness, and then a slow ebb as the publicity does down and attention shifts elsewhere.
If season 4 of Black Mirror had premiered on it’s original home of Channel 4, it’s doubtful whether we would see such global interest, on official platforms or otherwise, and we can assume that amount of downloads would’ve been lower as a result.
But what of previous seasons of Black Mirror? With the increased levels of interest in the new season, has there been a corresponding increase in their viewing? Does the hype surrounding the release of a new season also translate to an increase in the amount of people accessing and viewing torrents of seasons 1-3? While it’s not possible to access or see Netflix’s viewing data, we can study the BitTorrent to ascertain whether there is, and if so, where from.

Unique downloads observed across the globe between the 3rd Jan – 4th Feb 2018
* Data collected from the 3rd Jan

Looking at the data, whilst not as pronounced, we do see a marked increase in the amount of torrents downloaded for all three previous seasons of the show in the week following the release of Season 4.
Similarly, as with season 4, there is a peak in the amount of torrents downloaded approximately one week after the release of Season 4, followed by a gradual decline as the month progresses. We can presume that this decline is for the exact same reasons as the decline in downloads of Season 4. A new season heralds much attention, but this decreases as the general publicity declines and attention turns to other shows and elsewhere.
This pattern, whereby interest in previous seasons of show rises when a new season arrives has not gone unnoticed by broadcasters. Keen to capitalise on this, they are now trying to create licensing deals which allow for a show’s older seasons to air at the same time. This stands to reason, why not take advantage of the increased interest.

In terms of where the show is being downloaded, the same countries are consistently in the top 10 irrespective of which season is being watched. Again, it is questionable as to whether the show’s global popularity would be as evident had the show remained on it’s original terrestrial home.

Top 10 Countries that downloaded Black Mirror - No. of  downloads per season between the 3rd Jan and 4th Feb 2018
The fact that there has been an increase in the amount of downloads of the show is interesting though. Is this a type of Netflix effect? Is it the case that Netflix’s large audience and global prominence is able to boost interest in previous seasons of shows that might’ve otherwise had a small audience, and therefore not much exposure? It certainly seems to have been the case with Black Mirror.
But let’s not forget, all that Netflix touches is not gold. Take the show Lovesick for example. After the show was originally aired on the UK’s Channel 4, it was made available by Netflix, who then commissioned a second series globally on 17 November 2016, where it was billed as a Netflix Original. The show was renewed for a third series, which was released exclusively on Netflix on 1 January 2018. Whilst relatively popular with its audience, the third season does not emulate the success and wide found popularity of Black Mirror if we look at the volume of downloads on the BitTorrent network. However, without access to Netflix’s official viewing figures, it’s difficult to ascertain its true success and popularity. In terms of the low amount of downloads these could be down to not as much publicity, or the demographics of who’s downloading.
However, to really test this hypothesis, a comparable show is needed to ascertain if there are similar patterns. Well, just such a show that could prove to be a useful comparison does exist, namely the cult favourite, Arrested Development. Narrated by Ron Howard, the series originally aired on Fox, in the USA, for three seasons between 2003-2006, before it was cancelled due to falling numbers of viewers. Netflix subsequently acquired it, and a resurgence in popularity led to their producing a releasing a fourth season in 2013. A different format meant that season 4 was a flop. But fans need not fear, it’s continued popularity and cult like status means that season 5 has been commissioned and will be released on the service sometime this year.
Will we see a similar upshift in downloads of previous seasons with the launch of Season 5 – stay tuned, or rather watch this space for further reflections.
Regardless of the success or not of the Netflix series discussed, one thing is for certain, they’ve managed to find them new audiences with the potential to be enjoyed by a far larger audience courtesy of the streaming giant.

Tags: black mirror netflix svod tv