In the first four weeks after Suits landed on Netflix, in mid-June, the seemingly forgettable USA Network procedural—perhaps best known for starring Meghan Markle—set a record for a licensed show, with more than three billion minutes streamed, per Nielsen. All of a sudden, it seemed, Suits was the surprise hit of the season for Netflix, which picked up non-exclusive rights and worked its algorithmic magic. Incredibly, Suits beat Manifest, which set a previous record on Netflix, and the third season premiere of The Witcher, starring Henry Cavill. Over the weekend, in fact, Suits attracted twice the audience of Witcher, says Nielsen.
What’s going on here? Suits has benefitted from a number of key factors that lead to success in the streaming age. The show dropped eight seasons at once, giving viewers—including the millions of Royals fans who might not have seen the show before Markle married Prince Harry—a lot to watch. Netflix has industry-leading scale and a track record for transforming underwatched series into grand slams. Suits also received an immense boost from social media: interest started picking up on TikTok a few weeks before the show hit Netflix, and then skyrocketed once it was available. Netflix curation teams are increasingly savvy at exploiting these signals: When clips from Maid began recirculating on TikTok in May, long after it had retreated into the streaming ether, Netflix threw it back on the homepage and it quickly reappeared in the Top 10.
The three billion minutes viewed generated a lot of headlines. But what does that really mean when more than 120 episodes were all made available at once? (By comparison, The Lincoln Lawyer, also on Netflix, generated 1.4 billion view minutes in its first week on Nielsen’s Top 10, with just 15 episodes.) Discerning the truth about how and why a show is performing on streaming is tough but not impossible: it requires honing in on three key metrics. And Suits, in many ways, is a perfect illustration of how to measure success in this new age.