When Netflix ushered in the streaming video era, it helped kill traditional TV ratings. Now the company says it will bring them back, sort of: the streaming giant will start publishing lists of its most popular TV shows and movies, which it will update weekly.
Netflix’s data will appear on its own website, where it will offer several top 10 lists that rank titles according to the number of hours the company’s subscribers have spent watching them. The company will have global rankings for TV shows and movies as well as top 10 lists for 90 different countries. Netflix also says it will get auditing firm Ernst & Young to revise its numbers, and will publish a report from that company next year.
This will have almost no effect on the way you watch Netflix – unless you are tracking data about the way other people watch Netflix. Which, to be fair, some people are.
Here’s an example of what Netflix’s ratings will look like – these charts rank Netflix’s global view for the second week of November and include things Netflix owns, as well as things it licenses from other companies:
A streaming company that regularly publishes its own viewer data is not the same as the old TV world, where Nielsen regularly tracked viewer consumption for all TV networks and made this data widely available.
But we do not live in that world anymore. Instead, video viewing is increasingly being fragmented into various streaming services owned by different companies who choose audience data to share when they think they have something to brag about.
Netflix does not differ from its competitors in this respect: it puts these new numbers out because they think they reflect well on Netflix.
And while those numbers may be of interest to you, someone watching Netflix, the numbers are really aimed at a professional audience. It includes investors who want to see if the billions of dollars Netflix spends on content are turned into Things People Watch (note that the two Top 10 lists above are dominated by things Netflix has made instead of renting) . It also means Hollywood talents who want to be sure that things they do for Netflix are seen by many people.
The numbers also represent an unspoken challenge for rival streaming services such as Disney +, Hulu and Peacock: We challenge you to publish your numbers using the same method because we bet they are much smaller than ours. It’s also worth noting that the main audience for traditional TV rating figures – advertisers who wanted to know where to spend their money – is not significant here, as Netflix does not run ads.
Netflix used to keep all of its viewing data to itself, and initially it stuttered as outsiders tried to measure shows on their own. But two years ago, it began selectively and periodically releasing some of its own numbers – always the ones that flattered the company.
The figures also drew scorn from competitors and critics. This is partly because there was no real transparency in the reporting, and partly because of Netflix’s strange and shifting definition of what a “view” is. First, Netflix said a show happened if someone watched 70 percent of a TV show; then the company revised it and said that anyone who saw at least two minutes of a show counts as a viewer.
Now Netflix is simply tracking how much time its viewers spend on a show or movie together. This means in theory that two people are watching Red message, its miserable but popular action movie starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot, would count the same as a single person watching the movie twice.
So let’s say Netflix makes one Red message successor. (Pro: The film, which reportedly had a budget of $ 200 million, is supposed to be Netflix’s attempt to make its own action franchise; Con: It looks and feels like it’s made into a lot less than $ 200 million.) But with the new numbers Netflix is releasing, you do not have to rely on context-free bragging like this to assess whether it’s a good idea:
On the other hand, consumer fetishization of behind-the-scenes info about the entertainment they consume does not necessarily provide a better experience. We used to watch TV shows and movies with almost no idea how many others were watching and that was just fine. Feel free to ignore all this.