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What’s hot on Netflix right now? It depends on which list you check

Updated Feb 26th, 2020 3:36PM EST
Most watched shows on Netflix
Image: Keystone-SDA/Shutterstock

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Netflix really, really wants you to know what’s hot on the massive streamer right now, because thanks to its announcement earlier this week about the launch of a new Top 10 list that will serve as yet another row of content you see on your Netflix homepage, there’s now no less than three different rankings that Netflix provides for what’s popular on the service right now.

There’s the row of content labeled “Popular on Netflix.” Right below that right, at least in the configuration within my app right now (because it seems to change semi-regularly), is a row labeled “Trending Now.” And then, as we alluded to a moment ago, there’s the new Top 10 ranking — if you tap from the main menu into either “TV Shows” or “Movies,” halfway or so down the page you’ll see a new row that identifies the 10 most popular shows or movies (depending on which section you’re in) for the US that day. It will, per Netflix, be updated daily and include both Netflix originals as well as shows and films that the streamer licenses. Got all that? Confused yet?

Netflix knows you might be, because it’s reportedly considering giving new names to the first two rows of content above to help users get a clearer sense of what they represent compared to the new Top 10 lists.

Speaking of all three categories, you might be wondering — just what do they represent?

Let’s take the “Popular” and “Trending” categories first. You might think the rows of content you see in your app for each of those would be the same as everybody else’s. Popular means what’s universally popular, right? In actuality, the content you see in your app labeled “Popular on Netflix” is really the content that’s most popular right now based on people who have similar tastes as you. In my Netflix app right now, for example, a fantastic Italian TV drama about mobsters called Gomorrah is listed in the first slot in the “Popular on Netflix” row. In all likelihood, you’ve got something different right there. What’s more, this row harkens back to why Netflix went all-in on streaming years ago, back when the company realized that it could offer an infinitely personalized version of the video rental store that’s tailored to each individual user.

Okay, what about the “Trending” row? Here’s how a former Netflix engineer explained what it represents, in an answer he posted to Quora:

Think of it like cars on the road. Popular are the cars that are moving the fastest, while trending are the cars that are accelerating the hardest. Chances are if those cars keep accelerating, then they will be the fastest ones pretty soon, and some of them are probably already the fastest cars.

But basically trending is a prediction of what is about to be popular.

So, to recap — we’ve got content that’s popular among people like you, and we’ve got content that’s about to be quote-unquote popular. Which brings us now to Netflix’s new Top 10 lists.

The cynical take about them is that they might not be as meaningful as you’d assume, given Netflix’s methodology it defined with its fourth-quarter earnings release. As of today, Netflix is labeling the new dating reality show Love is Blind as the most popular TV series in the US, but that may simply mean that most people watched it for at least two minutes over the past 24 hours compared to anything else. While using that methodology could make a particular piece of content’s placement on a Top 10 list debatable, here’s where I think the new Top 10 lists will shine for Netflix:

Image source: Netflix

In addition to the Top 10 lists getting their own dedicated rows within both the TV and Movie sections of the app, as you scroll through the rest of the app you’ll also now find yourself stumbling across individual pieces of content that are on the lists. That fact will be delineated by a red Top 10 ribbon in the top corner when you come across a TV show or movie.

I’m not so sure the addition of a new row within the app means users will definitely pay attention to it. Habits are too powerful, and so is the feeling of being overwhelmed by too much choice. Do you make a point of wandering down every single aisle at the grocery store whenever you visit and perusing every single item on the shelf? In my opinion, though, it might be useful if your shopping trip, to continue my metaphor, was interrupted every now and then by notifications of a sale — or, in this case, a reminder that a certain TV show or movie you’re considering is the most popular in the US that day.

Hopefully, all that provides some additional helpful context around how Netflix ranks and categorizes all the content you enjoy. And in case you haven’t checked yet, here are the TV shows and movies that comprised Netflix’s first-ever Top 10 lists for each:

Top 10 TV Shows

  1. Love Is Blind
  2. Narcos: Mexico
  3. Locke & Key
  4. Gentefied
  5. Better Call Saul
  6. Babies
  7. The Office
  8. The Stranger
  9. The Chef Show
  10. I Am a Killer

Top 10 Movies

  1. The Last Thing He Wanted
  2. The Foreigner
  3. A Haunted House
  4. Girl on the Third Floor
  5. To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You
  6. A Bad Moms Christmas
  7. Mr. Right
  8. The Other Guys
  9. Farmageddon
  10. The Grinch (2018)
Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.

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