Why would Netflix make a singing competition show?

Streaming joins the competition.
Streaming joins the competition.
Image: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni
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In its first foray into the world of TV talent shows, Netflix is launching Rhythm + Flow, a hip-hop-focused singing competition series with a star-studded panel of judges.

Debuting Oct. 9, the 10-episode series will feature Cardi B, Chance the Rapper, and T.I. as judges. The format is similar to shows such as American Idol and The Voice, with an audition week, performance rounds, and collaborations with established artists. But the focus on hip-hop means that “cyphers, rap battles, and music videos” will also feature, writes the Verge.

Netflix’s venture into the world of singing competitions makes sense: Reality shows, generally less expensive to produce than scripted series, are a safe bet when it comes to viewers. The streaming behemoth, now facing competition from the likes of Disney+ and Apple TV+—as well as the impending exit of popular offerings like  Friends and The Office—would do well to double down on reliable content.

Singing competitions have been a staple for the past two decades. American Idol has had a nearly 20-year run and hits like America’s Got Talent and The Voice have been premiering since the early aughts. Globally, the format can translate across cultures. The X Factor debuted in the UK before coming to the US in 2011; Indian Idol, India’s version of Britain’s Pop Idol and American Idol, premiered shortly after the debut of the UK and US versions. Fox’s The Masked Singer is adapted from a South Korean show, and Japan’s NHK Nodo Jiman has been premiering since the early 1950s.

And new singing competition shows are reliable when it comes to viewership. The most recent example of this is The Masked Singer, which debuted in early 2019 and became US broadcast TV’s number-one series in the 18-49 demographic for 2018-19.

The longer-running American Idol and The Voice have seen viewership numbers among the same demographic decline by double digits. Yet both—along with America’s Got Talent—placed in the top 30 US broadcast shows and are being renewed for 2020 runs.

Since Rhythm + Flow is the first show of its kind to come to a streaming service, it’s unclear, per Netflix’s press release about the show, whether all 10 episodes will drop at once or if they’ll be released weekly. Furthermore, we don’t know if at-home audiences will be able to participate in live voting for competitors, which is one of the novelties typical of traditional singing competition shows.