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'Orange Is The New Black' Is Netflix's Most-Watched Original Series Ever - Likely Thanks To You

Television
by Tambay A. Obenson
October 21, 2013 7:10 PM
3 Comments
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Danielle Brooks, Taylor Schilling, Vicky Jeudy, Samira Wiley
Orange is the New Black has been a tremendous success for us. It will end the year as our most watched original series ever and, as with each of our other previously launched originals, enjoys an audience comparable with successful shows on cable and broadcast TV. We have seen sustained social media buzz in the months after its debut and it is also one of the most critically well received TV shows of 2013. Orange is the New Black was not eligible for the Emmys in 2013, but Season 1 will be eligible next year and we believe the audience for Season 2 will grow substantially.

Words from a Netflix shareholder letter published this afternoon, signed by CEO Reed Hastings and CFO David Wells.

One of a handful of new original series on the on-demand service, Orange Is the New Black has indeed been the talk of this town, as every item we publish about the series has been met with much praise and excitement (and some criticism of course), suggesting that there's a healthy black audience watching the series - maybe more-so than any other Netflix original series; at least, that's what I speculate based on available evidence.

It's really the only Netlfix series with more social media activity, as observed on my Facebook and Twitter feeds (as well as the S&A Facebook and Twitter feeds), than any other this year (as the quote above suggests). Far more than high-profile titles like House of Cards, Hemlock Grove, and even Arrested Development and Lilyhammer.

And this significant black audience draw is likely influenced by the fact that there are several black actresses who make up the series' cast - an audience that we could argue helped it become Netflix's most-watched original series ever, as the CEO and CFO state.

I even took a survey on the S&A Facebook page earlier this morning, asking how many, who didn't already have Netflix accounts prior to Orange Is The New Black's debut, signed up just to watch the series. And more than a few folks revealed that they did just that!

Obviously, this is all very "unscientific" because I don't have exact figures to quote, and I welcome push-back on my speculation. Unfortunately, Netflix still does not release exact ratings/audience draw numbers, opting to instead measure those metrics over a longer period of time, given the platform, instead of on a weekly basis as traditional TV does. 

But we can certainly guess, based, again, on the quote above; specifically, the following sentence: 

"...  enjoys an audience comparable with successful shows on cable and broadcast TV..."

Therefore, taking into consideration how well hit shows on cable and broadcast TV perform, we can speculate that Orange Is The New Black has drawn, on average, somewhere between 8 million and 15 million viewers per episode, using successful shows like Scandal and Grey's Anatomy (on the lower end), and The Walking Dead and The Big Bang Theory (on the high), as measure.

In reading over Netflix's shareholder letter on Orange Is The New Black, I immediately recalled the new study from UCLA's Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, which I published last week, which revealed that TV shows with ethnically diverse cast members and writers, attract much larger audiences than shows with less diversity in their cast and crew. 

While it shouldn't be a surprise, it might take a study like this (titled "Hollywood Diversity Brief: Spotlight on Cable Television") to convince studio decision makers that there is indeed enough of a reason to build more TV series (and movies), around the lives of diverse groups of characters - like Orange Is The New Black (and they don't all have to be set in prisons either!).

The study comes to us despite the fact that, as other studies continue to report each year, women and minorities are still terribly underrepresented in leading roles and staff positions, on both cable and broadcast TV programs.

We can only hope that Netflix brass recognizes that there is indeed a direct relationship between diversity among cast members and writers, and the company's bottom line (as demonstrated by its strong 3rd quarter earnings results, announced this afternoon, which sent the company's stock price flying to new highs today).

I recently half-joked about how instrumental the additions of Angela Bassett and Gabourey Sidibe to the cast of this season of American Horror Story were, in helping its premiere episode become the most-watched telecast ever of the American Horror Story franchise, recording 5.54 million total viewers, ranking #1 for the night in Adults 18-34 against all broadcast competition in primetime (8-11pm). 

And away from the small screen, to the big screen, one of the most successful movie franchises in cinema history, Fast & Furious, has seen its box office earnings continue to impress with each installment, which, as we've noted in previous posts, is likely due in some part to the movie's diverse cast and crew.

The overall complexion of the world - specifically the USA - is gradually changing, and it's something that should not be ignored, especially if you're creating content for a mass, mainstream audience. We all want to see ourselves on screen - at least I certainly think so. Quite a bold concept, isn't it?

It was in 1945 that research was first used to aid in defining Blacks as consumers. The study was initiated by the Afro-American Newspaper Group, in collaboration with the Urban League. A summary of the findings confirmed that blacks were a viable market segment (Wow, really? Who knew?), but the racial attitudes of the time prevented most marketers from pursuing the opportunity to fully exploit that very viable market segment.

Almost 70 years later, with African American buying power specifically, said to be something like $1.5 trillion annually (some of that going into Netflix's piggy-bank) , it's incredible that many (in this industry especially) are still very much ignoring the African American market (in all its diversity, which is key). There's still a lot of money to be made from that market, if only more were willing to take what would likely be considered risks.

Orange Is The New Black was renewed for a second season, thanks to its immensely successful first season, with fan favorite Uzo Aduba and Danielle Brooks promoted to series regulars for the upcoming season 2 of the Lionsgate-produced dramedy.

The series also beefed up its cast, adding veteran actress Lorraine Toussaint, who will play a character named Vee, described as a street-tough inmate who used to run a drug business, using kids are runners.

Those 3 black actresses are part of a cast that includes other actresses of African descent that include Samira Wiley, Vicky JeudyLolita Foster, Michelle HurstAdrienne C. MooreLaverne Cox, and Dascha Polanco.

Created by Jenji Kohan (Weeds), the dramedy stars Taylor Schilling and is set in a women's prison. As Netflix did with its previous original series, all thirteen one-hour episodes in the series were made available at launch.

Season 2 is set for a 2014 debut.

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3 Comments

  • Troy | October 23, 2013 12:28 AMReply

    For me this is not news. Black hair care products, magazines, and other things targeting woman of color taught me this growing. I looked at the amount of commercial products targeting my mother compared to those targeting my father and there was a big difference. Almost everything targeting my father's was something targeting white except for his hair products none of it with a man that looked like him. The same couldn't be said for my mom and sister. Tyler Perry has never created anything for a platform like this so it is unfair judging more consumer based commercial properties. Sitcoms are all very stereotypical. I don't think these producers can make a more successful commercial film at this point that Tyler Perry's higher grossing Madea films. The same women I introduced to critically acclaimed films with 3 dimensional characters couldn't stay into or awake. Here we have an off television serialized dramedy of over sensationalized female characters much akin to reality television. Except people would rather see classically trained actresses act ratchet for a living than women deemed ratchet for seeking fame and wealth acting more ratchet than they actually are. Their stories on this show are juicy, messy, and haha funny because that isn't your life similar scenario as reality tv. Also like able white female characters is a major draw for women of color. Similar to how young black males like strong butt kicking white male leads. Black women like strong, butt kicking white female leads especially in conjunction with a women of color supporting. I have seen and heard them rooting for the sidekick to show what she is made of too, hoping she emerges from the shadows to become the true star. Pretty more of the same way they see their lives already. When the Girlfriends or the Game of cable dramas are created the question should be will white and hispanic women and men tune in. Black men go to the movies and watch the shows their women want to see. Scandal's success may seem to suggest yes but I haven't met a white that mentions watching Scandal. The gay white male demo will probably have to be captured at a very high percentage.

  • Monique A Williams | October 22, 2013 12:48 PMReply

    Yes! Such a great, diverse and interesting show. Geeked for season 2!

  • Marie | October 22, 2013 9:30 AMReply

    This is great news considering the cast is largely women of color. It's proof for the doubters that there's a large pool of talented actresses of color. OiTNB, unlike Tyler Perry's work, gives these actresses an opportunity to play outside of stereotypes, create 3-dimensional characters and get noticed by the industry which will hopefully lead to even more opportunities. I look forward to the second season.

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