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Netflix chirps Bird Box success in hope of migrating more big talent to the small screen

Contributed by
Jan 7, 2019

Love it, hate it, or just plain use it as a reason to try something koo-koo, Bird Box has been a breakout original movie hit for Netflix, ruffling feathers on social media and cutting across its broad subscriber demographic to attract interest from just about every type of viewer.

The fact Netflix is willing to tout actual viewership numbers for Bird Box — a statistic it typically doesn’t make public — shows just how confident the streaming giant is in the Sandra Bullock thriller’s soaring performance. In its first week on the platform, more than 45 million user accounts (and, by implication, tons more actual viewers) tuned in, according to a preening Netflix tweet last month.

That's a figure that seems to generally agree with Nielsen, which estimates 26 million Netflix accounts in the U.S. alone tuned in for Bird Box's first week. By Nielsen's count, via Variety, Bird Box has had the second-strongest debut week of any of the Netflix originas it's analyzed for the platform, coming in behind only the second season debut of Stranger Things

There’s a reason Netflix is suddenly willing to throw Bird Box’s sky-high numbers around, though: it makes for great leverage within the increasingly competitive entertainment industry, where an ongoing debate still rages over the relative merits of debuting bigger-budget movies (and bigger-budget talent) on the small screen instead of, or in addition to, the theater. The more success that Netflix can score with movies like Bird Box, the thinking goes, the more talent it can continue to attract from within the film industry.

“If something is dominating the social conversation, then it is a win,” longtime film executive Tom Ortenberg recently told The Wall Street Journal in an article highlighting Bird Box’s success. “There’s no question in my mind that Bird Box would have been successful as a theatrical feature or a Netflix original.”

Netflix continues to grapple with the conventional studio system over its rightful place in the movie distribution chain (see its epic Twitter troll of last night’s Golden Globe Awards for the latest salvo.) But it’s clear that strutting like a peacock over Bird Box’s big numbers isn’t about winning critical acclaim so much as winning the competition for eyeballs — and the appeal that can hold for creative holdouts.

That’s exactly the idea, Netflix original films chief Scott Stuber told WSJ, saying the platform is touting its Bird Box viewer data because “[w]e wanted to make sure we were loud and proud,” and to show the industry “how significant we can be” as a feature film powerhouse.

It’s hard to argue with the numbers, even if they’re hard to compare against other Netflix originals for which there’s no hard viewer data. And in case you’re among the small flock of people who hasn’t yet had a chance to see what all the fuss is about, there’s an easy fix: Bird Box is nesting comfortably and just waiting to be added to your queue right now over at Netflix.

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