Netflix Reports Huge Viewership, But The Metrics Are Iffy

One recent Netflix original action movie “Extraction,” which debuted April 2020, got an eye-opening 99 million “accounts” watching the film, according to the company, per a Bloomberg report.

Does that make sense? That would be a Super Bowl-like number -- at least in Nielsen-measured terms -- albeit at one daily showing. The 2020 NFL event pulled in a Nielsen-measured 99.2 million “viewers.”

Other recent Netflix movies, according to the company, also did well: “Bird Box” (December 2018), 82 million; “Spenser Confidential” (March 2020), 85 million; “6 Underground” (December 2019), 83 million; and “Murder Mystery” (June 2019), 83 million.

The Bloomberg report didn’t get into specifics as to how Netflix measured that viewing. But we’re guessing it’s not a Nielsen measurement.



In January, Netflix revamped its definition as counting a “view” after a customer takes in two minutes of any TV/movie piece of content. (And what about the other 118 minutes of a two-hour movie, or the 58 minutes of an hour-long TV drama?)

Previously, Netflix considered any customer streaming 70% or more of a single episode or film as a view. In December 2018, Netflix said “Bird Box” -- under that older metric -- registered viewing in 45 million “accounts” in seven days.

By way of comparison, Nielsen says “Bird Box” took in 26 million viewers in the first seven days after its premiere night. Nielsen says for just its premiere night, the movie had 3.5 million viewers.

Leaving aside the very different measures -- Nielsen’s panel measure, versus Netflix census-like data from its servers -- ask yourself what exactly Netflix is trying to sell here.

Netflix isn’t looking to compared these movies with competitors movies or TV shows. The comparison is with itself. All this comes as Netflix continues to be secretive about who is watching its content, offering up crumbs of viewing data here and there to keep TV producers and perhaps consumers guessing.

The wide-view picture shows Netflix maintaining its big deal status -- now 72-plus million U.S. and Canadian subscribers and nearly 200 million worldwide.

But couldn’t it do more, adding in more consistent data of movies and TV shows, on a weekly, monthly or daily basis? 

Already, Netflix hints at the “popularity,” showing top 10 most popular TV and movie content on its user interface when consumers scrolling through stuff. (It doesn’t offer any data here.)

We understand TV producers want to get a sense of how well their TV and movie content is doing on Netflix. Thus, there is need to release some viewing data -- either privately or publicly. But is there more to consider?

Even though Netflix has a head start over new streamers -- Disney+, HBO Max, Peacock -- from legacy TV/movie companies, at some point consumers may want to compare the popularity of shows to other services’ TV and moves, perhaps as an incentive to sign on. 

Maybe money is the better metric -- not viewing. For years, entertainment consumers have been getting box-office results for weekend movies. Hey Netflix, add some cha-ching?

1 comment about "Netflix Reports Huge Viewership, But The Metrics Are Iffy".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, July 20, 2020 at 5:52 p.m.

    Wayne, all that Netflix knows is whether a subscriber account accessed content and how long it was on screen. Netflix has no way of knowing whether anyone was present or actaully watching said content at any given moment in time. What they are using is a form of "super total audience" metric, which has long been available for TV via Nielsen but is never used in time buying and selling. Long ago, in the days when most shows had single sponsors, Nielsen reported the "total audience" of each telecast as well as an average minute rating, as it was assumed that the former had some value because there was, in many cases only one, well identified, advertiser, so why not count anyone who tuned in ---even for only part of the show? "Total Audience" was defined as homes that tuned in for six minutes or more and Nielsen also tossed in what I call, a "super total audience " rating, where any home that tuned in for one minute or more also qualified for special reporting.

    Needless to say the difference between shows in the three kinds of ratings---average minute, "total audience" and "super total audience" were fairly minimal for short duration content but grew rapidly for one- hour and longer fare. With so much dial switching and channels to explore these days and most sets in use having a single viewer---hence no need to cater to the preferrences of others, today's spread between average minute and "total audience" is far greater than in the past. I would guess that a movie-length content almost doubles it's exposure levels using the Netflix definition of audience, over an average minute calculation.

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