Updated: Oct 18, 2021
On Aug. 28, the first two seasons of The Karate Kid spinoff series Cobra Kai premiered on Netflix as an original show. Cobra Kai takes place 34 years after the events of 1989’s The Karate Kid and tells the story from the point of view of Johnny Lawrence (played by William Zabka), the antagonist of the original film.
Lawrence’s decision to reopen the Cobra Kai karate dojo from his youth leads to a rejuvenated rivalry between him and The Karate Kid’s protagonist Daniel Larusso (played by Ralph Macchio). Immediately after its release, the show ascended to hit-status as it topped Netflix’s ‘Top 10 Most-Watched’ chart in most countries and became the fifth most in-demand show in the world.
However, while Cobra Kai may have made major waves on Netflix, its original home is actually Youtube Red, now known as Youtube Premium. In its two years on Youtube’s subscription service, Cobra Kai garnered acclaim from critics and audiences alike but nonetheless found itself mostly under the radar. Only once Youtube abandoned its scripted original content-creation efforts, and Cobra Kai moved from Youtube Premium’s 20 million subscribers to Netflix’s enormous 182.8 million subscriber base did the show truly boom.
Cobra Kai is not the first example of a show receiving a boost from its presence on Netflix, nor is it the most profound. Rather, it is merely the newest entry in the long line of beneficiaries from a phenomenon known as the “Netflix bump.” The term dates back to 2011 when Breaking Bad — from television channel AMC — surged in popularity on Netflix after lacking viewership for its first three seasons. From there, Breaking Bad’s live viewer count rapidly increased, and by the final season, the show was averaging double its initial viewership and had cemented its place among the greatest series of all time. “I think Netflix kept us on the air. Not only are we standing up here, I don’t think our show would have even lasted beyond Season 2,” show creator Vince Gilligan said in his first Emmy acceptance speech for Best Drama Series.
Since Breaking Bad, Netflix has had a similarly positive impact on shows such as Lifetime’s You and CW’s All-American. Most recently, the streaming service bolstered viewership for comedy series Schitt’s Creek, which aired on relatively unknown cable channel Pop TV. The show’s awareness significantly improved following its Netflix release in early 2017. Now, in 2020, Schitt’s Creek is the favorite to take home the Emmy Award for Best Comedy Series, among other accolades for its sixth and final season.
Cobra Kai is unique among other recipients of the Netflix bump in that it premiered on Netflix after airing on another streaming service — a television channel initially distributed all other aforementioned shows.
In that regard, Cobra Kai inevitably exposes the gap between Netflix and competing streaming services. While other streaming services have witnessed their versions of the “Netflix bump,” they cannot compare to the impact that Netflix has on its own imported hits. This failure is undoubtedly due to the vast gap in subscribers between Netflix and its competitors. For example, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix’s closest competitor, has 80 million fewer subscribers than Netflix.
Through Teen Lenses: Why do you think Netflix has such an impact on previously unnoticed shows such as Cobra Kai? Are you a fan of this phenomenon?
“I think Netflix has a huge impact on unnoticed shows because it gives shows exposure to a larger audience as it is a widely used source of media within the youth.” Sreenidhi Sankararaman, Senior at Thomas Jefferson High School, 17, Herndon, Virginia
“While Netflix inherently increases the popularity of shows, I’m skeptical of the company’s practices. It appears to suction any movie or show into its collection, which seems kind of anti-competitive to me. Netflix should focus more on producing its own content and less on taking it from others.” Ananda Kalukin, Junior at Thomas Jefferson High School, 16, Arlington, Virginia
“Netflix is an enormous player in the streaming services, therefore has the capacity to reach more viewers and audience members in the same way Youtube has. Although Netflix is a paid service, it has gained a cult-like following that allows smaller shows to be branded and acquire notoriety. Although I haven’t been consciously aware of the phenomenon, it is very evident when small movies are much better publicized and enticing to watch once on Netflix.” Sean Nguyen, Senior at Thomas Jefferson High School, 17, Fairfax, Virginia