If I had a time machine, one of the first things I’d do is visit a Blockbuster Video in the year 1995. I’d walk up to a customer and casually remark, “You know, one day, the company that puts this store out of business is going to win 112 Emmys. And eight Oscars.” They’d probably call the police, whom I’d escape using my futuristic jetpack.
But I wouldn’t be wrong.
Netflix rules the world. According to some estimates, streaming video through Netflix uses 15 percent of the entire internet1. Process that for a second. If you took a random sample of 20 servers from anywhere on Earth, chances are that three of them would be partly or wholly dedicated to streaming Netflix.
Nowadays, the meteoric 25-year history of Netflix looks inevitable. But was it really? Was a mail-order online video store destined to change the entire face of entertainment, or is there an alternate universe where we watch Ozark on Blockbuster Instant?
Hang on for the ride as we take you through 20 of the most unbelievable Netflix statistics and facts. It’s a tale of twists and turns worthy of Netflix’s finest shows.
An Overview of Netflix Statistics, Trends and Facts
Netflix is so ubiquitous right now that it’s worked its way into everyday language. “Netflix and chill” is the official Millennial way to slyly offer a night of unbridled passion — the Next-Gen version of “let’s have a cup of coffee” or “want to see my etchings?”
Hard as it is to believe, the company that pioneered streaming video and casual sex used to run on snail mail. When Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph founded Netflix in 1997, they envisioned it as an alternative to the local video store. For a per-rental fee, users ordered DVDs from the website, got them in the mail, and sent them back when they were done watching.
It may not sound radical, but consider that in 1997, DVDs had only been a thing for two years. Hastings and Randolph’s gamble was like a Neanderthal opening a seafood grill a few months after they discovered how to make fire.
Its pricing model was a risk as well. Home video in the ‘90s was dominated by the Blockbuster system of individual rentals: you paid a fee for a video, and if you didn’t return it by a certain date, you paid a late fee. Netflix never charged late fees. You just couldn’t get another movie until you returned the one you had.
Barely 10 years later in 2007, Netflix launched into another massive pivot: streaming video. Subscribers could now watch movies and TV shows directly from their browsers. Pickings were slim for a while — The Onion once made fun of how hard it was to find a decent movie on Netflix — but streaming soon far outpaced their old business model.
The pivoting wasn’t over yet. In 2013, Netflix became a content creator with House of Cards, their first original series. They followed that up with Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, Bojack Horseman and a seemingly endless stream of other Emmy-grabbing hits.
Netflix’s original programming drew viewers mainly because of its originality. They could produce shows and movies with the budget of a major network, but without the need to appeal to every demographic. By 2018, the new joke about Netflix was that they would greenlight (almost) anything.
Other streaming services like Hulu and Amazon Prime Video have since built up libraries of content that can stand against Netflix, but even in a fragmented market, Netflix retains a commanding share2.
The 20 Top Netflix Statistics & Facts
Now that you’re familiar with how Netflix got here, let’s take a closer look at some of our favorite Netflix statistics about the streaming giant.
1. Netflix May Have Been Founded Because of a $40 Late Fee
According to Netflix co-founder and CEO Reed Hastings, he came up with the idea for Netflix when Blockbuster charged him a $40 late fee for the movie Apollo 133. That might explain why Netflix has never made money off late fees, and probably never will.
However, Gina Keating, author of a book about the history of Netflix, suggests that the Apollo 13 story is a myth intended to cover up the company’s actual (far more boring) origins4. This isn’t exactly unbelievable, since Hastings’ entire job is selling stories.
2. Blockbuster Had a Chance to Buy Netflix for $50 Million
In 2000 — three years after founding Netflix — Hastings found that despite ballooning subscriber numbers, Netflix was losing money. Eyeing a profitable exit, he approached Blockbuster CEO John Antioco and offered to sell Netflix for $50 million5. Antioco refused, assuming there was no way people would rather have movies sent to their homes than go out to rent them from stores.
Today, Antioco is the chairman of the board at frozen yogurt chain Red Mango. Presumably, if someone offers to sell him a company that streams frozen yogurt directly into customers’ homes, he won’t make the same mistake twice.
3. Netflix Has Been Using Machine-Learning Algorithms for Personalization Since 2000
Netflix has been using machine learning algorithms to recommend shows and movies to subscribers since 2000. Their lauded recommendation engine, the result of two decades of refinement, is kept under tighter wraps than the nuclear launch codes and the KFC spice mix.
While you probably know that Netflix makes recommendations with algorithms based on your past activity, you may not know how finely those algorithms control your experience. The recommendation engine doesn’t just control what genres of shows appear on your front page — it reassigns shows to those genres in real time to appeal to your personal tastes.
That’s how you get categories as granular as “campy movies,” “social issue dramas,” and “movies for ages 11 to 12.” The engine even changes what screenshots and clips you’ll see on the link for each series.
4. When Netflix Streaming Started, Its Library Contained Only 1,000 Titles
The number is harder to determine today, since content is slightly different in each country, but the total number of shows and movies on Netflix is now over 15,0006.
5. The Qwikster Fiasco Cost Netflix 600,000 Subscribers
Qwikster, a forgotten name today, is proof that even Netflix can make gambles that don’t pay off. In 2011, Hastings decided to spin off DVD rentals into a subsidiary brand called Qwikster, while Netflix would focus solely on streaming. Customers who had previously paid $10 per month for both services now had to pay $8 for each — a 60 percent price hike for those who wanted both7.
Immediately, Netflix started hemorrhaging users. Shareholders threatened to force Hastings out if he didn’t abandon the plan. In November 2011, the Qwikster brand was quietly scrapped.
6. Netflix Still Mails out DVDs
Despite the trainwreck that was Qwikster, Netflix’s DVD mailing and streaming services stayed divorced. However, both persisted. You can still get a DVD mailed to you in Netflix’s iconic red envelope, which is absolutely bonkers to us, like finding out that Nintendo still puts out decks of playing cards.
(Apparently Nintendo does still make playing cards. Huh. Someone should check and see if IBM still makes computers that run on punch cards.)
7. Netflix Programming Has Won 112 Emmy Awards
Since 2013, when they won their first Primetime Emmy Award for the first season of House of Cards, Netflix has racked up an impressive 612 Emmy nominations and 112 wins8. Their most decorated shows include Orange Is the New Black, House of Cards, The Crown, Stranger Things, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Making a Murderer.
8. Netflix Has Subscribers in 190 Countries
When it first launched, Netflix only served the United States. Today, it’s easier to list the countries where you can’t watch Netflix.
There’s mainland China, where the government prefers to issue streaming licenses only to native companies (though Netflix is working on that). Then there’s Syria and the disputed region of Crimea, where U.S. sanctions block Netflix from doing business, and of course North Korea, which always has to make everything weird9.
9. Netflix Won Its First Academy Award in 2017
It’s ironic that they can’t stream Netflix in Syria, since events in Syria were responsible for Netflix’s first Oscar — awarded to the documentary The White Helmets in 201710. Since then, Netflix-produced films like Roma, The Irishman and Marriage Story have racked up eight Academy Awards.
10. In 2018, Netflix Launched a TV Show Into Space
Every year, Netflix hosts Hack Day, an event that gives its engineers free rein to work on the goofiest projects they can think of. Highlights include getting House of Cards to play on the original Nintendo console, an app that makes the eyes of characters in thumbnails follow your cursor, and an interface for searching Netflix using morse code.
But our favorite has to be the team from 2018 that fired an episode of Star Trek: Discovery into space. Oddly enough, Discovery isn’t a Netflix show, though the platform has the rights to stream it outside the U.S. and Canada.
11. As of 2021, Over 203 Million People Subscribe to Netflix
At the end of 2020, 203.67 million people worldwide were Netflix subscribers11. That’s in spite of strong competition from the likes of Disney+ and HBO Max.
North America is home to 73.9 million of those subscribers, with 63.1 million in the United States alone. The smallest geographic market for Netflix is the Asia-Pacific region, with “only” 25.49 million subscribers — likely because they haven’t yet managed to penetrate China11.
12. In 2020, Netflix Had a Positive Cash Flow for the First Time Ever
Hastings’ instinct is to reinvest everything Netflix makes, so despite its smashing success in multiple industries, Netflix lost money every year it existed — until last year. With $25 billion in revenue driven by bored people sitting in quarantine11, Netflix finally became profitable in 2020, having their best year by making everybody else’s year a little less awful.
13. In the Same Year, They Spent Over $17 Billion Producing Content
The fragmentation of streaming is a serious threat to Netflix. Channels that once sold Netflix the rights to stream their shows are now pulling those shows back to their own Balkanized platforms. Losing the rights to Marvel properties after developing the acclaimed series Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage was a particularly deep cut.
But Netflix has a strategy to ride out the streaming wars: double down on their own original content. Of the $25 billion it made last year, $13.9 billion went right back into Netflix originals11, giving us The Queen’s Gambit, Ratched and of course, the infamous Tiger King.
14. 41 Percent of Netflix Users Watch Without Paying
Remember way back in the glory days of fact #11? We remember. We told you that Netflix has 203.67 million subscribers worldwide.
However, thanks to the well-known practice of sharing your Netflix password with people who don’t pay for an account, the number of people actually watching Netflix on a regular basis is much higher. In fact, it’s over twice as high, as a 2019 survey showed that 52 percent of subscribers shared the password with at least one other person12.
15. The Average American Netflix Subscriber Spends Over Two Hours a Day Streaming Content on the Platform
Nielsen, the company that releases ratings for all TV programming in the U.S., calculated that the average Netflix subscriber watched over two hours of content per day on the platform in 2019.
That number isn’t available for 2020 yet, but according to Nielsen’s studies of previous social disruptions like blizzards and hurricanes, they project the number could grow by 61 percent13. That’s over 3.2 hours of Netflix per day.
The average American who lived here through 2020 would probably say that seems a bit low.
16. Netflix Once Had to Pay to Stop Comcast From Throttling Its Traffic
In 2014, Netflix found itself in a scuffle with internet service titan Comcast when Comcast’s users complained of sharp drops in the quality of their Netflix streams.
Ordinarily, ISPs and corporate bandwidth providers have a handshake agreement to keep traffic flowing. ISPs open additional ports when there’s an influx of downloaded data, while the bandwidth providers do the same to handle a surge in uploads.
The problem is that end users never upload anything to Netflix. All the other heavy hitters — Google, Facebook, Amazon, YouTube — have content flowing in both directions, but Netflix doesn’t host user-created content.
Comcast felt it was doing Netflix a big favor and getting nothing in return, so it stopped opening the extra ports. Ultimately, the companies reached an agreement where Netflix would pay Comcast in exchange for a “more direct connection” between the two14.
17. Netflix Is in a Running Battle With VPNs
Because there’s no such thing as international copyright law, Netflix has to secure separate rights for its content in every country. It’s not always cost-effective to license a show everywhere; for example, sitcoms focused on American culture aren’t going to draw subscribers in Japan.
Inevitably, this means people want to watch shows that aren’t available in their country. One solution is to use a virtual private network, or a VPN, to spoof a server from the country with the content you want.
This practice could land Netflix in legal trouble, so they’ve cracked down hard. If Netflix determines you’re on the site using a VPN, you might not be able to stream at all. But VPNs are nothing if not adaptable, and a good VPN for streaming — including ExpressVPN, the best VPN for Netflix — is designed to get you through Netflix’s filter.
18. So Many People Used Netflix to Cope With COVID-19 That the Company Had to Reduce Video Quality to Meet Demand
Can you imagine weathering the pandemic without Netflix? Most of our friends used its shows to mark time during 2020. “Let’s see, that was after Tiger King but before Queen’s Gambit, so…”
Before lockdowns got serious, Netflix made plans to reduce video quality in markets including Europe and Australia15 to handle an expected uptick in demand. Interestingly enough, this never happened in the United States, perhaps because lockdowns there were significantly less stringent.
19. Netflix Is One of the Biggest Customers of Amazon Web Services
Netflix has been competing with Amazon almost since the moment it entered the streaming market.
Amazon Instant Video (later Amazon Prime Video) launched in 2011, the same year as the Qwikster incident. Two years after the House of Cards Emmy win, Amazon won its own first award for original programming with Transparent. It’s the greatest tech rivalry since Apple and Microsoft butted heads.
Or so it would seem. But starting in 2009, Netflix began hosting its content on Amazon Web Services, and by 2016 had migrated its entire library to AWS16. They pay their competitor about $9.6 million a month for the privilege.
So the two rivals are closely interlinked, which is pretty mature of Amazon. If I were in its position, I wouldn’t be able to resist snatching a show or two from the cloud servers.
20. Want the Widest Netflix Selection? Move to Ireland (Or Use a VPN)
Back in #17, we explained why Netflix is different in every country. Copyright laws don’t cross borders, and different people want different content. In effect, this means some populations are getting wildly divergent experiences out of their Netflix subscriptions.
If you want the largest selection possible, watch Netflix in Ireland, where (as of 2021) they enjoy a choice of 6,379 titles17. Stay away from Greece, though, which has the smallest library at only 3,355 options.
The advent of Netflix is truly an unprecedented event in the history of pop culture. For most of the 20th century, the glamour of Hollywood film production seemed as far from the bespectacled nerdiness of the tech industry as anything could be.
But now, tech moguls are producing the hottest TV shows, and genuine stars — from Robin Wright to Martin Scorcese to Alfonso Cuaron — are lining up to work with them. It’s a seismic shift in culture, and in large part, Netflix is responsible.
Where does Netflix go from here? It’s hard to say. Covid-19 made streaming more central to everyday life than ever, but Netflix is also facing sharp competition from other platforms, especially the juggernaut of Disney+.
One thing is for sure, though. Whoever comes out on top, the people who watch TV are going to win. Netflix opened the door for television to become more daring, experimental, inclusive and exciting. That’s the streaming platform’s greatest legacy, far more than putting Blockbuster out of business.
What did you think of our Netflix statistics and facts? Which fact was your favorite or really surprised you? Are there other stats that you think should be added to this article? Let me know! Thanks for reading.