Why The ‘Pokémon’ Franchise Matters To Netflix

Stuffed toys featuring Pokémon characters are seen at the 72nd toy fair (Spielwarenmesse) in Nuremberg, southern Germany, on February 2, 2023. Pokémon is one of the most successful animated series and still going strong today. CHRISTOF STACHE/BENZINGA
Stuffed toys featuring Pokémon characters are seen at the 72nd toy fair (Spielwarenmesse) in Nuremberg, southern Germany, on February 2, 2023. Pokémon is one of the most successful animated series and still going strong today. CHRISTOF STACHE/BENZINGA

By Rick Ellis

I have a 17-year-old son and like most modern American teenagers, he spends the majority of his spare time not watching traditional television. He’ll watch at least some of his beloved Islanders games live, but most of the time he is following the seasons of his favorite teams by watching the official daily highlight videos posted on YouTube by the various sports leagues. 

In fact, YouTube is where he spends most of his video screen time. He watches compilations of “fail” videos, game hints and walkthroughs and an amazing number of YouTube personalities doing their thing. It’s not that he never watches traditional television. But if linear TV comprised 10% of his screen time, I’d be shocked.

A boy is flipping through his Pokémon card scrapbook. Pokémon has been a major success in both television and gaming. STEFANIE REX/BENZINGA

Even his time on the various SVOD platforms is hit-and-miss. Despite living in a household with pretty much every possible paid video service, he’s at best an intermittent user. He’ll watch game shows with my wife, a few shows like The Mandalorian or The Curse Of Oak Island with me. 

The one genre he does watch with an almost obsession is anime. Lots of anime. He recently told me he had something along the lines of 170 anime shows and honestly, I can’t decide if that’s impressive or scary. But of everything he watches, few shows compare in his mind to the various Pokémon TV shows. He’s watched them since he was a child and while he won’t re-watch them again, he impatiently waits for the next round of new episodes. And since the 2020 deal, that secured the streamer the rights to be the exclusive home of new episodes of the Pokémon animated series in the United States, that has meant watching Netflix.

As is the case with many of their animated shows, Netflix splits a traditional season of shows into 3-4 “chapters” of episodes, with each chapter dropping at one time. And when they do, my son blasts through them with a remarkable efficiency. He watches them on TV, watches them on his phone as he’s walking around..he’d watch them in the shower if we let him. And within a day or so, he’s done with the chapter and eagerly awaiting the next round of new episodes.

Seeing his behavior made me wonder whether his love of the show was a widespread phenomenon or whether the various Pokémon animated shows were more popular than I realized. I hadn’t ever seen the show jump into any Netflix Top 10 list when new episodes were released. On the other hand, Netflix recently signed a deal with the Pokémon Company to partner on a new stop-action series. So there is obviously some level of interest with Netflix subscribers.

To find an answer to the question, I reached out to data analytics firm Parrot Analytics, which among other things collects what it describes as “global audience demand” data. Basically, they collect a wide range of data points from across the industry. Everything from official viewing numbers and social media interest to data culled from viewer interactions on search engines, IMDb, even pirate sites that offer the option of illegally downloading titles. They are then able to estimate a “demand” number, which allows customers to not only see how much interest there is in a specific title, but also compare it to other competing titles. 

I won’t claim to understand all the intricacies of their number crunching, but based on what I’ve heard from people working at the various streamers, they have a pretty good model. And when I posed this question to Parrot, they provided a wide range of interesting data points to consider. It can’t answer the specific financial question of how much the Pokémon shows are worth to Netflix, particularly because we don’t know the terms of the deal between the two companies. But it should help us determine how popular the show might be with Netflix customers.

As a starting point, Parrot data notes that anime was the No. 1 ranked subgenre in audience demand globally throughout all of 2022 overall. And more importantly, in a popular genre, episodes of the three new Pokémon shows that have premiered on Netflix have been exceptionally popular.

All three series were described as having either “outstanding” or “exceptional” demand and that characterization depends on the overall popularity of the show compared to other Netflix shows in the same region. 

A biker dressed as Pokémon participates in the parade of flags at the Pinguinos motorcycle rally on January 14, 2023, in Cantalejo, Segovia, Castilla y Leon, Spain. This year marks the 41st edition of the Pinguinos motorcycle rally, organized by Club Turismoto. CLAUDIA ALBA/BENZINGA

The following data takes a look at the performance of all three shows throughout all of 2022, and the overall number represents how many more times in-demand the show was than the average series in that region and time frame. So, for example, Ultimate Journeys was 20.99 times more in demand than the average series in the US over the course of its run. 

The peak number for the U.S. and worldwide are even higher, but it feels as if the overall number is a better representation of the show’s popularity. Pokémon is a very popular show in a very popular genre.

But what likely makes Pokémon even more important to Netflix is its overall subscriber engagement. Some other Netflix animated originals grab substantial demand, but that demand rises and falls depending on the release of new episodes. While Pokémon titles see the same ups and downs of demand, the shifts are less pronounced when compared to some other titles. 

For instance, take a look at this comparison between Pokémon’s demand in the U.S. compared to that of Big Mouth, another Netflix animated original:

The daily demand for Pokémon is relatively stable, whether new episodes are released. In the case of Big Mouth, you see a big jump around October 2022, when the latest season of the show was released. Overall, from January 1st, 2022-March 21st, 2023, Pokémon peaked as the 25th most in-demand TV series in the US while Big Mouth peaked at 106th. 

Those number reflect what I was told on background from a data analyst at Netflix, who noted that a substantial portion of Pokémon viewers watched episodes more than once. And even more importantly to the streamer, they were more likely to engage with other animated titles on Netflix. And while the average Pokémon viewer might watch less non-animated Netflix content than the average Netflix viewer with the same demos, they were valuable to Netflix because anime is a genre that the streamer sees as important to its future growth, especially in less-mature markets.

And the data from Parrot seems to bear that out, since it shows that while the show is popular with anime fans in the United States, it’s also important to subscribers globally.

Compare these two charts that show animated series demand on Netflix in the U.S. and worldwide over the past 60 days.  Both in the US and globally, Pokémon ranked among the 10 most in-demand animated shows housed on Netflix:

When you look at the demand data country-by-country, some of the numbers are surprising. The year-to-date peak rank of the Pokémon shows in the U.S. is #61, which is roughly the same popularity that you see with subscribers in France. But it’s much higher in Canada (#35) and not surprisingly much lower in India (#152)

From Netflix’s perspective, one of the attractive aspects of the

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