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‘Ted Lasso’ Was 2023’s Most-Watched Streaming Original In U.S. As ‘Suits’ Led Acquired Content Boom, Nielsen Says

Ted Lasso went out on a high note at Apple TV+.

According to Nielsen, the series was the most-watched streaming original last year, despite the fact that Apple TV+ has the fewest subscribers among the streamers that saw their content ranked in Nielsen’s streaming Top 10.

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Apple’s small footprint didn’t keep the Jason Sudeikis-fronted series from putting up 16.9B minutes across all 24 episodes in 2023. That’s 2.5B more than second place, which went to Netflix’s The Night Agent. In fact, Netflix claimed most of the ten most-streamed originals last year, only giving away two more spots — one to Prime Video for Jack Ryan and another to Disney+ for The Mandalorian.

Ted Lasso snuck to No. 1 with consistently strong, though not eye-catching weekly totals, only ever surpassing 1B minutes once, after the Season 3 finale debuted.

“It was people coming back, not necessarily watching a huge amount at a time,” Brian Fuhrer, Nielsen’s SVP of Product Strategy, told Deadline.

He added that the incremental increase in the duration of the episodes over the course of three seasons, capped with a 76-minute finale, also helped Ted Lasso sneakily increase its total.

Even the most-watched streaming original couldn’t touch No. 10 on the acquired titles list, which Supernatural secured with 22.8B viewing minutes, indicating that the streaming platforms are still very much buoyed by their library content.

Of course, the most-streamed title of the year was Suits. The USA Network legal drama put up 57.7B viewing minutes in 2023, spending 12 consecutive weeks at the top of Nielsen’s charts after it landed on Netflix in June.

Suits may have put up the highest total, but it wasn’t the only procedural that saw massive viewership last year. NCIS and Grey’s Anatomy were also unsung heroes of the streaming landscape, tallying 39.4B and 38.6B viewing minutes, respectively. Both titles were consistently on Nielsen’s weekly Top 10, further demonstrating the power of licensed content, especially on Netflix.

Part of the reason that streaming originals can’t hold a candle to the acquired content is simply the “real estate,” Fuhrer said. In the case of Suits, Netflix negotiated the rights to eight out of nine seasons, which totaled around 124 episodes. With typical 40-minute runtimes per episode, that’s more than enough to keep these procedurals trending for months at a time. The same goes for Friends, Gilmore Girls and The Big Bang Theory, which are also among the yearly Top 10.

There are some outliers in the form of streaming originals that will manage astoundingly large weekly viewership even with such few episodes, but the difference is they’re usually unable to find any longevity. Instead, they rise and fall rather quickly.

“Originals are sprinters, like Usain Bolt getting that quick run, and the acquired titles are more distance runners,” Fuhrer explained.

The depth of the streamers’ library content came in handy last year, when the dual Hollywood strikes put new projects on hold for most of the year, which accelerated the natural contraction in content that was already happening as the studios shifted their approach to streaming to focus on profitability and monetization.

During this time, the industry saw the old become new again, as more studios began licensing content to Netflix. It wasn’t just Suits. HBO struck a deal with Netflix for several titles including Band of Brothers, Insecure, Ballers, The Pacific and more. Nearly all of them benefitted from their availability on Netflix, managing to penetrate the Nielsen charts.

Whether the other studios like it or not, the Netflix effect is fairly undeniable. As Fuhrer said, “Netflix has an 80% penetration across the U.S. — by far the biggest footprint of any of the streamers…That’s incredible strength.”

The other unsung hero of the streaming landscape is kids content, as illustrated by both Bluey and Cocomelon each earning a spot on Nielsen’s yearly Top 10. It’s also quite obvious on the film list, where family friendly content reigns.

Moana and Encanto took the top two spots, with the former tallying 11.6B viewing minutes. Since Nielsen began measuring streaming, audiences have watched nearly 80B minutes of Moana, which translates to watching the full movie 775M times. With just under 10B viewing minutes this year, Encanto was also a strong and consistent Top 10 film.

Elemental, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Frozen, Sing 2 and Minions: Rise of Gru were also on Nielsen’s list. All of them have the repeat-viewing children are so fond of to thank for their yearly totals.

“After adults watch, they’re done. They’re onto the next. You don’t watch Leave The World Behind more than once,” Fuhrer said. “The kids watch it over and over…watch it every day, and every week, and that’s why we see Moana, year over year over year, being so popular.”

Many of these trends are likely to continue over the next year, as Nielsen reports that U.S. audiences’ streaming usage was up 21% over 2022. That’s while TV usage generally stayed even year-over-year, meaning that streaming continues to take over. But, streaming isn’t only benefitting from the breadth of on-demand content available to audiences.

Nielsen says 80% of houses that access TV content from an internet connection watched some form of linear programming in 2023, indicating that streaming is becoming the top choice for accessing all forms of content.

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