The company behind the most popular digital entertainment service in the world, Netflix, made a lot of headlines by doing something that was both unexpected and long overdue: it revealed a website, available to everyone, that lists its currently most popular films and TV shows based on hard data (which the company will also be sharing from now on). It is a stark departure from the approach Netflix used to follow in the past, which was — at different times — secretive, opaque, PR-driven or all of the above. As such, this new approach is welcome. It also serves… other purposes.
The website is called “Top 10 on Netflix” and its title is, well, self-explanatory. It presents the ten most popular movies and TV shows available on the service at the moment globally while also offering each country’s “Top 10” separately (the differences between those are probably worth a story on their own). English and foreign-language films and shows also get separate Top 10 listings, so… yeah, that is a lot of information to go through. What is even more important, though, is the data accompanying it: Netflix is putting out there a new metric, “total hours viewed” for each and every feature it will be listing.
This is probably the most useful type of data Netflix has made publicly available so far. Instead of the ridiculous “unique views” metric per film or show (which considered two minutes of watched time as one “view”) or the “views during the first month” or “views during the first 100 days” and other such nonsense, we now have a solid number we can compare different movies or series with. Netflix’s website also displays the number of weeks each production has been included in each Top 10 along with that number so, obviously, a film or show scoring impressively high views in just a week or two is extremely popular (like Red Notice is doing these past few days).
Does that “total hours viewed” number correspond to actual hours of content watching? Not necessarily: people have been known to fall asleep or, you know “Netflix and chill” *ahem* ten minutes into a movie without shutting down the TV after all. Does that number also correspond to an equal number of viewers as tickets do in movie theatres? Again, no: while many of us often watch Netflix’s content alone, many more do so with one or more people on the same TV (so one “view” of a film might actually correspond to a whole family of viewers). Such are the fluid conditions of home entertainment, though, so we’ll take the “total hours viewed” metric as the most useful one Netflix has offered so far.
These millions of hours of content watched, though, as listed on Netflix’s website, are more than a way to highlight what consumers seem to be interested in. It is also a way to evaluate how successful the company’s investment in various productions has been — it’s no accident that most entries in those Top 10 lists are Netflix films or series after all — in the eyes of the company’s investors. It’s also a way to get an idea about Netflix’s possible future plans regardless of what the media think of the company’s efforts: you can safely bet, for instance, that Red Notice will get a sequel despite its low Rotten Tomatoes score. Subscribers loved it (92% audience score vs 35% critics score) so… yeah. Why not?
More than anything, though, Netflix getting so open all of a sudden about the performance of its productions — and making viewership data public as never before — is a power move. The company feels that it can release those numbers because they presumably are far higher than what its main competitors — Disney Plus, HBO Max, Amazon Prime Video, and Peacock — can achieve at this point with their own content. Netflix’s large user base, all 205 million of it, offers a clear advantage on that front. Its subscribers are also practically “trained” to watch most of the new films and TV shows the company offers every month, even if only because they have already watched everything else.
In essence, with numbers like the ones Red Notice is able to achieve (almost 150 million hours watched at the time of publication), Netflix seems to be throwing down the gauntlet to its competitors: “Will you release your numbers, then? I dare you”. It will be interesting to see whether they — especially Disney — actually respond, no?