Netflix Touts Huge Viewership for ‘6 Underground’, ‘The Witcher’—But New Metric Renders Numbers Meaningless

     January 21, 2020

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Netflix released some viewership data today, but the new way the streamer has chosen to count its viewer numbers puts the actual success of these films and shows into question. According to Netflix (via THR), Michael Bay’s new action film 6 Underground was watched by 83 million member households in its first four weeks of release. And the first season of the buzzworthy fantasy series The Witcher was watched by 76 million member households through its first four weeks of release.

Those are pretty stellar numbers. Except they don’t count everyone that actually watched the movie or TV show. Previously, Netflix counted only those who completed watching at least 70% of a film or TV episode as a view. Now, the streaming service has changed metrics to count anyone who watches at least two minutes as a view. Which is, uh, insane.

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Image via Netflix

For one, Netflix’s autoplay feature no doubt racks up tons of views before people decide to look away from their phone long enough to change the channel. So how many of those 83 million views for 6 Underground were merely a suggested “what to watch next” after people finished watching Triple Frontier or Limitless or something entirely different?

But more importantly, how in the world does two minutes of viewing time count as someone watching a thing? Why not go to 30 minutes, which at least counts viewers who gave the first act a shot? Or, crazy idea, why not count the full running time?

Netflix says this new metric is to level the playing field, and essentially shift from “watched” to “chose to watch.” Here’s their explanation via EW:

“As we’ve expanded our original content, we’ve been working on how to best share content highlights that demonstrate popularity,” the shareholder letter reads. “Given that we now have titles with widely varying lengths — from short episodes (e.g. Special at around 15 minutes) to long films (e.g. The Highwaymen at 132 minutes) — we believe that reporting households viewing a title based on 70 percent of a single episode of a series or of an entire film, which we have been doing, makes less sense. We are now reporting on households (accounts) that chose to watch a given title.”

The streamer went further, aligning this practice with that of BBC iPlayer, the New York Times’ “most popular” stories, and YouTube view counts. So basically Netflix is counting those who view its films and shows less like box office or TV ratings and more like internet content.

Notably, Netflix did not provide any viewership data for Marriage Story or The Irishman, which are both in the thick of the Oscar race and don’t need any excuse for negative campaigning to get in the way of potential wins. The streaming service did, however, say the animated film Klaus—which is up for the Best Animated Feature Oscar—was watched by 40 million households in its first 28 days. Or, more accurately, 40 million households watched at least two minutes of Klaus.

I don’t know, this whole thing is very frustrating. Netflix makes some great content—they’ve made some of the best films of the year! The Witcher is a delight! They’re attempting to be more transparent about viewership data, since there’s no significant box office or TV ratings to compare Netflix originals to traditionally released films and TV shows. But this “two minutes = a view” thing is baloney. Either you’re releasing meaningful data or you’re not. And I don’t begrudge Netflix for being in the subscriber game—that’s really the only metric that is significant to them. But just be upfront with that rather than offering up relatively meaningless viewership data.

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