Farhad Manjoo says Netflix has deepened our cultural echo chambers, that there are no longer TV shows that have broad cultural reach, and that with our ability to binge-watch streaming shows whenever we want, we’ve lost the commonality that used to come with a successful production everyone talked about the next day.
As the broadcast era changed into one of cable and then streaming, TV was transformed from a wasteland into a bubbling sea of creativity. But it has become a sea in which everyone swims in smaller schools.
Only around 12 percent of television households, or about 14 million to 15 million people, regularly tuned into “NCIS” and “The Big Bang Theory,” the two most popular network shows of the 2015-16 season, according to Nielsen. Before 2000, those ratings would not even have qualified them as Top 10 shows. HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is the biggest prestige drama on cable, but its record-breaking finale drew only around nine million viewers.
Netflix does not release viewership numbers, but a few independent measurement companies have come up with ways to estimate them. One such company, Symphony Advanced Media, said Netflix’s biggest original drama last year, “Stranger Things,” was seen by about 14 million adults in the month after it first aired. “Fuller House,” Netflix’s reboot of the broadcast sitcom “Full House,” attracted an audience of nearly 16 million. On Wednesday, Symphony said that about 300,000 viewers watched the new “One Day at a Time” in its first three days on Netflix. (These numbers are for the entire season, not for single episodes.)
For perspective, during much of the 1980s, a broadcast show that attracted 14 million to 16 million viewers would have been in danger of cancellation.