11 FEB 2022

Was “Squid Game” the most outstanding content of 2021?

In looking at the bevy of content available to viewers in 2021, “Squid Game” is a clear standout, with nearly 16.5 billion minutes streamed and a massive appeal outside of Korea, Nielsen noted in its latest report.


“Squid Game” (Netflix)


While programs that attract a wide range of audiences have always been an effective way to drive viewership, streaming platforms are developing programming to differentiate themselves and attract more niche audiences, similar to how the cable networks were able to differentiate themselves over previous decades, Nielsen noted in its latest report.

In looking at the bevy of content available to viewers in 2021, “Squid Game” is a clear standout. First, it was the second-most viewed original series of the year, with nearly 16.5 billion minutes streamed on the list. Among male viewers, however, it moves up to first place. Among women, it falls to fifth (behind “Lucifer,” “Great British Baking Show,” “Virgin River,” and “Bridgerton”).

“Squid Game” also stands out for having massive appeal outside of Korea, as non-Korean audiences engaged with the series in dubbed or subtitled versions. International content is a fertile source for streamers, and with “Squid Game” being offered with both English-dubbed or native Korean with subtitles, 29% of the 18–34-year-old viewing (the highest percentage demo) was attributable to watching the Korean language version with subtitles feels like a material insight.

In addition to being popular with Asian viewers, “Squid Game” was the most-viewed original among Hispanics and African Americans. Among white non-Hispanic (and females overall) audiences, it came in at number five (behind “Lucifer,” “Great British Baking Show,” “Virgin River” and “Bridgerton”). The Korean language version accounted for 45% of the viewing minutes in Asian America homes and 33% in Hispanic households.

On the other hand, despite having a run on linear networks, a number of acquired titles amassed massive amounts of viewing time. The combination of “Criminal Minds,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “NCIS” garnered almost 100 billion viewing minutes of streaming in 2021. While “Criminal Minds” attracted the most viewing minutes over 322 available episodes, “Cocomelon,” with just 15 episodes available, is a true standout. It also drove a big acquisition deal for its studio. Broadly available across Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and YouTube, “Cocomelon” accounted for 33.3 billion minutes of viewing.

The reason for this success is a common trend Nielsen’s “Streaming Unwrapped” data revealed among kids programs: repeat viewing. In its core audience of 2-5 the average viewer watched each episode nearly three times in the fourth quarter alone, which looks more like 180 episodes when extrapolated over a year. In addition to its appeal among young children, “Cocomelon” was also a hit among multicultural audiences. With 56% of its audience coming from African American, Hispanic or Asian American homes, “Cocomelon” had the highest multicultural audience of any of the top 15 acquired titles. This broad cultural appeal and repeat viewing make “Cocomelon” likely the most-streamed kids title ever.

Regardless of genre or intended audience, the streaming content from 2021 highlights how critical it is that audiences see themselves in the content they seek out and consume. Inclusion and representation are becoming critical to success in the streaming world as well as in the broader media industry. A deep understanding of program audiences and how to engage them will be foundational to retaining existing viewers as well as attracting new ones.