The ‘Bird Box’ and how Netflix created a worldwide hype

During the festive season, the Netflix film Bird Box has kicked the creepy-lauded creep into a worldwide hype. The film with Sandra Bullock broke all records in his first week and seemed to be able to measure herself with the success of films like Black Panther in the cinema.

“This morning I took off my blindfold and I saw that Bird Box had already been watched by 45,037,125 Netflix accounts.” We do not know who the PR employee is behind the official Netflix Film account. But thanks to that person we now know that Bird Box, a piece of psychological horror, has written a small piece of film history. Within the week after the release on 21 December, the film has scored over 45 million views. “Best seven days for a Netflix movie ever!”

By familiarizing the news with a meme, Netflix also seems to be responding to the hype that has arisen around the film on social media. Instagram and Twitter are full of Bird Box memes, and in the meantime the internet is also under the spell of the Bird Box Challenge: people film themselves while blindfolded to carry out their daily routine. Reaction from Netflix on Twitter: “We appreciate love, but see that you do not start the year at the hospital!”

In Bird Box the blindfold plays an important role – as both tweets suggest. The world is namely to the sharks, after a mysterious power has struck. Anyone who dares to look into the dark power, strikes through and commits suicide, in as creepy a way as possible. That is why Sandra Bullock, hero of service (in a topcast that includes John Malkovich and Jacki Weaver), is walking around with a blindfold. Then the danger is averted.

Nevertheless, the necessary scepticism about the impressive figure sent to the world by Netflix. Can we really believe Netflix at his word? Otherwise, the streaming giant barely lets anything loose about how well (or badly) their ‘originals’ do on the platform. Or as The Hollywood Reporter journalist Daniel Feinberg noted: is such a record claim, without data about all those other films on Netflix to compare with, not just nonsense? And what does ‘watched’ on Netflix mean? If you only finished the first scene of the film, before just looking at Friends of House or Card, does that count?

In order to counter the criticism, Netflix, who would lose his reputation in the film industry by lying, has already come up with a word of explanation. ‘Watched’ means, according to the platform, that an account has seen at least 70 percent of the film, a spokesperson explained to The Verge. Looking multiple times from the same account still counts as one view.

Taking that explanation into account (and judging from the hype on social media and the number of quotes for the film on IMDb), Bird Box seems to have put down a performance bump. A few months ago, Netflix announced that the worldwide streaming platform has more than 137 million subscribers – about 58 million of them are in the US, and so there are still 79 million in the rest of the world. If 45 million accounts have seen at least 87 minutes of the film, this means that one in three of all subscribers have ‘watched’ in a week. “The figures would mean that one in three of all subscribers have watched in a week.”

By way of comparison, 45 million is about how many visitors to Black Panther travelled worldwide in its first week at the cinema. Admittedly, that was not in the Christmas holidays, and for every movie you must of course pay separately (and your lazy seat come out), but it shows how successful the release of the film on Netflix was. By the way, with the holidays many of those accounts probably do not just have netflixing-and-chilling, so the number of people who have seen the film in all likelihood is much higher than 45 million.

Straight to Netflix

That Netflix is so proud of this figure is therefore not illogical. Moreover, it seems like a way to say to the rest of the entertainment industry: look what we can do for you if you join us.

Matthew Ball, a former strategist for Amazon Studios (which produces films and series for Netflix competitor Amazon Prime Video), even calls the top spot on the Netflix menu the “most valuable piece of promotional real estate in the world”. The reasoning: everyone who opens Netflix gets to see that first. While other film distributors sometimes spend up to $100 million per film on expensive billboards, newspaper ads and TV commercials, Netflix sends its 137 million subscribers a title at the top of its menu or home page. Cost price: nothing. Efficiency: many times, as much.

The success of Bird Box also suggests the ‘straight to Netflix’ story: the idea that only lesser films come directly on Netflix, instead of first in the cinema. Similar to what was straight to video in the past. If Netflix films pop into the living rooms so successfully, the negative connotation of ‘straight to Netflix’ also melts away.

“It’s simple,” Ball concludes on Twitter. “If Netflix makes something that the public wants to see and really shrugs, it can reach more people than anyone else, and for less money.”

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