According to Nielsen data covering the 12 months that ended this past July, Netflix users during that span watched The Office for 45.8 billion minutes.
That’s according to a new report today from The Wall Street Journal, which is topped by the on-again, off-again news that Netflix may finally be poised to lose what looks to be its number 1 show — the NBC mockumentary about the daily goings on inside a regional office of a middling paper supply company. NBC, according to the report, has apparently begun talks to pull The Office from Netflix once the licensing contract with the streamer expires in 2021, something that, as the statistic in the first paragraph should make clear, would be a huge loss for Netflix.
The series, which ran for nine seasons on NBC, would become a staple of the streaming service that NBCUniversal is preparing to launch, which comes at a time when legacy media conglomerates like NBC are racing to grab as many consumer subscription dollars as they can. Meanwhile, Netflix is likewise racing to build out a library of its own exclusive original content as fast as it can to help compensate for the loss of third-party content as companies move their licensed properties, like The Office, back to their own services.
To be sure, Netflix has done an admirable job so far of building out a library of its own original content. Shows like Stranger Things and The Crown have solid fanbases built around them — though they don’t hold a candle to how passionately fans of The Office feel about the beloved workplace comedy.
Indeed, there is real danger for Netflix here. According to the Journal’s report, eight of the 10 shows people spent the most time watching on Netflix last year in the US were reruns of old favorites like Parks and Recreation, Friends and The Office.
Per the WSJ: “Although Netflix has burnished its brand with a flood of original programs such as Stranger Things and The Crown — and spends most of its time on quarterly earnings calls discussing that content — nonoriginal ‘library programming’ made up 72% of the minutes people spent watching Netflix as of October, according to the Nielsen data. That means reruns, and most of them are made by Netflix’s rivals.”
Internal data at Netflix shows that original programming (and the buzz around it) drives new subscriptions. However, as the above paragraph shows, the originals don’t drive viewership. The streaming giant needs as much of the retro stuff as possible to keep customers sticking around, which is why Netflix is about to enter what may be one of the most precarious periods yet in its history.
The fact that the company is close to losing what may be its most popular nonoriginal title in the form of The Office, now that NBC is finally preparing to take it back, certainly won’t make Netflix’s job any easier.
A Netflix spokesperson, meanwhile, says the situation it’s facing may not be quite as dire as the scenario portrayed in the Journal’s piece. The paper stacked up Netflix originals against multi-season third-party shows, something Netflix says can skew things a bit, since many Netflix originals only have, say, two or three seasons to compare against a show like The Office, which has a total of nine.
“Looking at overall watch time skews towards titles with many seasons,” the spokesperson said in a comment to us that was also released to the Journal. “Most Netflix originals have three or fewer seasons at most. It’s why we focus on the individual shows or films members watch, as opposed to how much time they spend on one series versus another. And if you look at most watched titles, Netflix originals accounted for 10 out of 10 in the last quarter, or 21 out of the top 25.”