The charts will reflect total viewing time, rather than the company’s previous metric of at least two minutes of watch time counting as a view. Viewing of both original and licensed fare will be captured from Monday to Sunday the previous week for both original and licensed titles. Co-CEO Ted Sarandos first outlined the change of metrics at the Code Conference last September, releasing new charts of top titles. In addition to the four top 10 lists of films and series in English and not, the company will publish weekly rankings of top titles in more than 90 countries.
“This is an important step forward for Netflix, the creators we work with and our members,” Pablo Perez De Rosso, VP of content strategy, planning & analysis, wrote in a blog post. “People want to understand what success means in a streaming world, and these lists offer the clearest answer to that question in our industry.”
The plan is to publish four updated top 10 lists every Tuesday, with occasional one-off releases of viewing data along the way. Websites in English and Spanish will go live today, with other languages added down the line. Netflix said it has engaged independent accounting firm EY to vet its numbers. The firm will publish a report on Netflix viewing in 2022. Netflix will also update its all-time top lists, which reflect viewing during a title’s first 28 days on the service.
Over the past few years, Netflix has included viewership stats in its quarterly financial reports and also sometimes broken out numbers on a case-by-case basis. In one of the understatements of the century, Perez De Rosso observed that Netflix has gotten “a lot of feedback about our metrics over the years.” He cited labels like “nonsense,” “BS,” “cherry picked” and “unaudited.”
Early in its life as an original programmer, in the middle part of the 2010s, Netflix came under fire for not being transparent about viewing. Then, after it had started putting out numbers, critics questioned its shift to the two-minutes-is-a-view standard. It was an issue, some argued, that if someone pulled up the opening credits of the first episode of a series, that went in the books as them watching the whole thing.
Today, Netflix puts out more numbers than anyone, even if Sarandos conceded at Code that its overall cache of data remains in “a black box, mostly.” Misfires and hastily canceled series typically pass by without any statistical sunshining. But over the past two years, as rivals like Disney+, Apple TV+, HBO Max, Peacock and others hit the market, challengers have almost completely steered clear of concrete numbers. Instead, they tend to report only relative, superlative achievements, touting things like the “most-viewed original program.” Nielsen since 2020 has measured streaming via TV screens in the U.S., but those weekly rankings are just a tiny sliver of the global market. Other firms like Samba TV, Parrot Analytics, Antenna and Sensor Tower, all say they have actionable third-party insights, but are in truth able to track only slices of the overall landscape.
Andy Forssell, head of HBO Max, told Deadline last month that the marketplace is too “messy” to allow WarnerMedia to start putting out numbers anytime soon. “There’s a ton of data we could release, and it would be hell for all of you to figure out what’s apples-to-apples, how to compare it with everyone else, because it’s such a fluid market,” he said. “We have people watching our stuff on linear, we have people watching our stuff on HBO Max. For the SVOD providers, you have different parts of the total market they’re addressing as people roll out.”
Netflix, which has been streaming since 2007, expanded globally in 2015. To Forssell’s point, they reached a steady state of activity around the world a few years later, enabling reliable comparisons now that it is available nearly everywhere but China. By comparison, Disney+, HBO Max and other newer rivals are still getting established abroad.
Tech giants like Apple and Amazon, meanwhile, are stingy with streaming data for other reasons, mostly due to an institutional reflex to zealously guard internal information. Essentially, as long as their empires remain well-fortified, they will only report what the law requires. (It will be interesting to see how Amazon plans to handle its exclusive streams of NFL Thursday Night Football, which start next year. Those games will be supported by advertisers, who will be eager to learn how many viewers their messages reach.)
After going “back to the drawing board,” in the words of the blog post, Netflix opted for total view time as the new default because it is a “strong indicator of a title’s popularity.”
In the post, Perez De Rosso maintains, “Figuring out how best to measure success in streaming is hard, and there’s no one perfect metric. Traditional measures like box office or share of audience (which was designed to help advertisers understand success on linear TV) aren’t relevant to most streamers, including Netflix.”
Total hours of viewing “mirrors the way third parties measure popularity, encompasses rewatch (a strong sign of member joy) and can be consistently measured across different companies,” the post continued.
Longer series and films, of course, benefit from the metric. (Witness the number of well-established network shows like NCIS, Criminal Minds and Grey’s Anatomy, with hundreds of episodes, often high on the Nielsen list of U.S. viewing.)
Netflix last month reported reaching almost 214 million subscribers around the world. While skeptics have pointed to its flattening growth trajectory in some territories, including the U.S., execs insist they have hundreds of millions of global households yet to conquer.
In addition to pressing its advantage of releasing data when no rival is doing so, the new setup will also enable the company to keep promoting its global cross-pollination narrative. Squid Game, the most-viewed Netflix original yet, has been the poster child for that strategy. During the company’s third-quarter earnings interview in October, Sarandos called the show “an amazing proof point of the delivery system that helps people find content.”
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