The Most-Streamed Series Of 2021 Wasn't Squid Game, Believe It Or Not

It's harder than ever to tell which movies and TV shows are truly the most popular in the era of streaming. Netflix was already shady about the way it measured its viewership (counting a "view" as a subscriber having watched at least two minutes of a film or series) before it shifted to its current system of reporting the total amount of hours its subscribers spent watching a specific title, which is suspect for reasons we will get into shortly. Meanwhile, platforms like HBO Max and Disney+ are even less forthcoming when it comes to their viewership, typically leaving it to third-parties like Nielsen to provide reliable information about streaming.

In its report on the top streaming titles for 2021 (via Deadline), Nielsen revealed that Netflix's "Squid Game" was, unsurprisingly, one of the most streamed series of the year. What was surprising, however, was that it came in second place with 16.4 billion minutes streamed behind "Lucifer" with 18.3 billion in the number one spot. The latter show, which was inspired by the DC Comics character of the same name, aired its first three seasons on Fox before being canceled by the network and then revived by Netflix for an extra three seasons. It seems a lot of viewers took the time to catch-up on the show last year prior to its sixth and final season's debut on September 10, 2021.

Indeed, this calls attention to one of the core problems with Netflix's in-house metrics: Because the company only counted the viewership for the final 10-episode season of "Lucifer" and not the 83 episodes before it, the show failed to make its top 10 charts for its global programming in 2021. This also illustrates why it's so tricky to determine which series are really the most "popular," given that "Squid Game" only has nine episodes so far, as opposed to 93 for "Lucifer" and 75 for "The Great British Baking Show" on Netflix (which claimed third place on Nielsen's chart for the most streamed series in 2021).

Silenzio Bruno!

Nielsen's ranking of the most streamed movies in 2021 paints a similarly complicated picture of the streaming landscape. The top spot went to Pixar's animated movie "Luca," which amassed about 10.6 billion minutes of viewing on Disney+. What's more, Disney+ had all but two of the top 10 most-streamed films last year, including new releases like "Raya and the Last Dragon," "Cruella," and "Jungle Cruise." (For those who are curious: "Encanto" only streamed on the service for a week in 2021, so Nielsen has yet to report on how the movie has performed compared to these other titles.) Netflix did manage to break the top 10 thanks to "Red Notice" and "The Mitchells vs the Machines," which secured the number five and nine spots, respectively. At the same time, "Moana" and "Frozen II" claimed the number two and four spots, despite having been available on the home market for years.

The big thing to remember here is that families with kids tend to stream the same movies over and over again for their children to watch, which is how beloved films like "Moana" end up garnering so many streaming hours over the course of a year (not least of all 2021, when so many kids were at home more than usual). It's also worth noting that Disney, Hulu, Prime Video, Apple TV+, and Netflix are the only streamers being monitored by Nielsen, so it's unclear how services like HBO Max, Paramount+, and Peacock are performing compared to their competitors when it comes to their own programming. Like I said: The question of what's "popular" in the age of streaming is a hard one to answer, even when you have genuinely useful data in hand.