One of the core assumptions about Netflix is that, thanks to its popularity and ubiquity, the service can blur boundaries. From Nashua, N.H., to Newport Beach, Calif., Seattle to Sarasota, Fla., we’re all watching the same thing. (And that thing, it seems, is “The Crown.”)
Except it turns out we're not.
A researcher in Salt Lake City named Victoria Merinda has compiled the most searched-for Netflix shows in the country over this past year and proceeded to break them down by state. And it turns out, Americans are interested in very different shows depending on where they live.
To wit: No single series captured the top ranking in even one-fifth of states.
Equally surprising, 12 states — essentially a quarter of the country — had a favorite show that no other state had. Whether it was “Gilmore Girls: A Year In the Life” (North Dakota) or “Disenchantment” (Oregon), “House of Cards” (Tennessee) or “Mindhunter” (Pennsylvanians, those dark souls), these states all went their own way.
“I was interested to see whether certain regions liked one show and other regions liked a different show,” said Merinda, who helped conduct the research for the tech-comparison site HighSpeedInternet.com. “But it turned out that so many states had different results.”
Merinda and her colleagues took about 40 of the most high-profile shows available on the service, both licensed series and Netflix originals, keeping them mainly to those that generated new episodes within the past few years. Then she examined Google Trends in each state for 2018 to see which of the 40 ranked highest. (She admits 40 is a selective group, and that there are many lower-profile shows not included in the study. Also worth noting: Google Trends is but one marker of a show's digital heat.)
The highest trending of these Netflix series? “13 Reasons Why.” The Bakerian teen drama polarized viewers this past season but still was the most talked-about in seven states, including Illinois, New Jersey, North Carolina and Mississippi.
Right behind it with wins in six states — including places as far apart as Maine, Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina — was “The End of The F***ing World,” a drama about a pair of disaffected teens traveling across England. (If nothing else, the survey shows how much teens are driving this streaming conversation. That should make Netflix happy, if not its equally youth-seeking competitors.)
Those two shows aren't major surprises: They each saw the buzzy release of new seasons in 2018. And their broad popularity makes the individual states that chose them not especially meaningful.
But a number of states went for more geographically specific choices.
Some of those easily compute. You'd expect "Making a Murderer" to be popular in Wisconsin, where the story took place. "Ozark" for Missouri isn't a stretch. And the most sought-after shows in New Mexico were "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul," both of which are very clearly set there.
But others may require more creative explanations.
Like "Iron Fist," the Marvel series about a social outlier. Two of the three states in which it was most-popular? Alaska and Hawaii, the two states not on the U.S. mainland. (It was also popular in Delaware. Draw your own conclusions.)
Meanwhile, "Stranger Things" was popular in four states. But all of them were within a particular westerly bloc (Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Nebraska).
“Maybe there’s something to the idea that with all this space out here, people are more likely to turn to creepy mysteries and conspiracy theories like ‘Stranger Things,’” said Merinda, a Utah resident and a confessed devotee of the series. (The show’s popularity, it should be noted, might have been higher if it had come out with a new season this year.)
Population might play a role in the selection of another show out West. Wyoming went with "Lost In Space," the reboot of the classic 1960s TV series about a family fighting to survive in a frequently empty place. Wyoming, incidentally, is the least populous state by density in the Lower 48.
Then there's "Orange Is The New Black." Among the five states in which it was most popular were Oklahoma and Louisiana, states that have the country's two highest prison populations.
The results are surprisingly telling all around. Americans may stream shows they like. But what they like is often that which hits close to home.
There may be little way to explain "Jane The Virgin," a show so little viewed on network television it is sometimes watched by as few as 500,000 people. Yet the series finished above all others in California and Texas, the two most populous states in the country (total number of people: nearly 70 million). That validates the CW's argument, at least, that people are watching the series somewhere, somehow.
You'd have less trouble guessing which state chose a handcrafted, off-kilter series like "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" (it's Vermont) or lining up Massachusetts, state of British influence and a long history of police squaring off with crime syndicates, with its choice. "Peaky Blinders" contains both.
But maybe the least surprising result was Washington, D.C. The District saw a tie — 16 shows finished with the same top score on Google Trends. The jokes about gridlock write themselves.