The Top TV Shows Of 2017, And The Inexorable Rise Of Netflix

This is a guest post by MIDiA’s Tim Mulligan (also my brother!)

For the past 15 months MIDiA Research has been tracking every quarter more than 60 leading TV shows across the US, UK, Canada and Australia. With the fragmentation of TV audiences and the rise of streaming video services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video that are notoriously guarded with their data, it is becoming progressively more difficult for TV companies and advertisers to know just how popular individual TV shows actually are. Many are increasingly turning to social media as a guide to popularity, but these are demographically skewed. For example, the audiences of Facebook and Twitter are both older, so rankings based on these platforms skew results towards shows that are popular among older consumers. This is why the likes of The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones usually top such rankings. (More than half of the audiences for both shows are aged 35 and above, compared to, for example, just 36% for 13 Reasons Why).

This is why we developed the MIDiA TV Show Brand Tracker, surveying 3,500 consumers, to track popularity of shows with a neutral and objective methodology. The results provide a unique view of which shows are resonating with consumers in the streaming era.

MIDiA Research Top TV Shows Of 2017CBS’s The Big Bang Theory tops MIDiA’s Brand Tracker rankings with an average 45% fan penetration across all of 2017. The Big Bang Theory tends to underreport on Twitter and Facebook rankings but has topped our list in each quarter in every market except for the UK where it is shunted into third place by the BBC’s Sherlock and ITV’s Broadchurch. CBS also takes second spot with 41% fan penetration, holding the same position in the US and Australia, but slipping to third in Canada and sixth in the UK.

2017 was a massive year for HBO’s Game of Thrones with season 7 premiering in July, which drove a three-percentage-point spike in fandom in Q3 – up to 33%. Game of Thrones is a top-four show across all four markets surveyed. Although Game of Thrones is HBO’s only show in the top 20, the network has three other shows in the Top 40 including Westworld (which maintained strong fandom despite having aired in December 2016, suggesting that season 2 will get off to a strong start in 2018).

The BBC is one of the strongest performing networks with three shows in the top 20. AMC’s The Walking Dead takes sixth position with 27% penetration, but fandom varies markedly by market, slipping to just 10th in the UK.

Perhaps the biggest story of 2017 is the rise of Netflix as a TV network. Netflix, with seven, has more shows than any other in the top 40, though only two are in the top 20 (Stranger Things and House of Cards). Superhero shows have been a big win for Netflix with Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Daredevil all in the top 40. But, the one to pay attention to is 13 Reasons Why at number 23, driven largely by 16-24-year-old viewers. In the post-linear schedule world Netflix has learned how to super serve audience segments with shows that are ‘prime time’ titles within its service that would not be able to occupy prime time slots on broadcast TV because their appeal to older audiences is limited.

Stranger Things was Netflix’s biggest hit of 2017, taking eighth spot overall, but first among 16-19 year olds and second place for 20-24 year olds. Netflix might have built its revenue business around 25-44 year olds but it is winning the programming battle for younger millennials. Traditional TV networks should pay heed.

If you would like to learn more about MIDiA’s TV Brand Tracker and how to get access to the data, email us at 

7 thoughts on “The Top TV Shows Of 2017, And The Inexorable Rise Of Netflix

  1. Some decent points here as ever Mark but I have take issue with a few things…

    1) Whilst I’d agree Twitter has some skew towards older audiences, this is shifting whilst the idea that Facebook is ‘only for older audiences’ is a complete media myth. Globally their audience share is around the same in the 18 – 25 and 25 – 34 groups, both of which have a noticeably larger share than the older groups using the platform – confirmed both via and also their own on-channel data (which I cannot link to but can share screengrabs of).

    2) Consequently, Facebook’s own data actually confirms that largest audience group on the platform who follow and talk about ‘The Big Bang Theory’ is actually 25 – 34, which makes sense for a show that’s been now running for a decade and whose audience has grown up with it

    3) I’d agree that under 17’s aren’t really using the platforms – but fact is, under 17’s have seemingly abandoned TV for the likes of YouTube and Twitch anyway!

    4) 3,500 might just be a bit on the small side for a global audience sample used for tracking the popularity of TV shows but I’m guessing this covers US, UK, Canada and Australia, as suggested at the beginning of the article?

    Anyways – that aside, have yourself an awesome Xmas man!

  2. Edward – thanks for you comments. Unfortunately there are a few misplaced assumptions there:

    Facebook and Twitter are absolutely skewed towards older users:
    Share of WAU audience aged 35+:
    Facebook: 65%
    Twitter: 50%
    Snapchat: 25%

    WAU penetration among 16-19s:
    Facebook: 6%
    Twitter: 13%
    Snapchat: 23%

    As you can see, the Facebook ‘myth’ is grounded firmly in reality. And even those stats hide the true extent of the problem for Facebook. The younger users that are on Facebook tend to use it like their version of Linkedin. It’s the place they need to be for relatives, employers etc. But their real social expression happens on Snapchat and Instagram.

    Also, it’s worth treating Statista data with some caution. For example, you cannot tell on the data you linked to what the activity measure is (daily?weekly?monthly?) nor the source. FYI the data I have posted here is from MIDiA’s September Brand Tracker.

    Teens are in fact a major user group for Netflix, with most accessing via a family member’s account. This is why shows like 13 Reasons Why have performed so well. As for Twitch, it has just 4% audience penetration and skews heavily to males, and obviously gaming males. So is far from a mainstream destination for teens. YouTube is interesting. Tweens spend a huge amount of time on there, with YouTubers. But as they get to their teens they start to spend much more time on long form platforms like Netflix. Which is why YouTubers are now making shows for Netflix and of course is part of why YouTube Red exists. This doesn’t mean that they abandon YouTube, just that they spend more viewing time elsewhere.

    Finally, the sample for our survey is 3,500 across those 4 markets you mentioned. So a pretty decent sample size. And of course, nationally representative.


  3. Thanks Mark – to your point around WAU’s of Facebook, weekly use data from GWI we’ve seen suggests a different picture, with a larger share for younger age ranges.

    One of the key things to remember here is that the average user, younger ones especially, makes use of a number of social platforms in their daily lives. The rather hackneyed and media perpetuated ‘more of this = less of that’ assessment of social media usage is in fact wide of the mark and it is a real shame that people default to it when talking about a relatively new medium.

    Just because younger audiences are increasingly using Instagram and Snapchat it doesn’t mean their natural usage of Facebook completely decreases – in fact it is more likely that they are now increasingly using time that would be traditionally been spent on non-digital activities on digital ones in order to accommodate use of multiple platforms.

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  5. Edward – it’s not that younger users are using Facebook less, they just never used it much in the first place. The problem with viewing millennial social media use through our older eyes is inadvertently applying our own world views, such as Facebook being an integral part of digital activity. For Gen Z it simply isn’t.

    Also, the idea that there is an unlimited amount of time people can spend is in fact an old one that is becoming obsolete now that we are entering peak in the attention economy.

    An accurate and objective view of where digital consumption is heading in 2018 requires a much more critical interpretation of metrics that had previously served us well.

  6. A stimulating conversation Mark but we’re going to have to agree to disagree on your first point at least – the data I’ve seen both on and off platform through countless projects just doesn’t support that view.

    You also box all social data into ‘Facebook and Twitter’ in your post – so I’m guessing perhaps you’re not aware perhaps that it is entirely possible to analyse audience conversation from Reddit, Instagram, VKontake, Sina Weibo and countless other platforms too alongside data from FB & Twitter.

    Many of these platforms have younger audiences – doesn’t that invalidate your point somewhat?

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