Earlier this year, Netflix started doing something it had not done since it started streaming shows of its own in 2012: Disclosing viewership figures for its original series and movies.
The streaming giant, which has more than 158 million subscribers worldwide, didn’t make a big deal of it, tucking the data into its quarterly letters to shareholders, starting in January.
By Wednesday afternoon, with the release of its third-quarter earnings for 2019, Netflix had gone public with the viewership data for a year’s worth of its most-watched original movies and television shows, from October 2018 through September 2019.
And a pair of top 10 lists emerged.
Though the lists don’t show how Netflix’s original programs rank in comparison with, say, HBO’s “Game of Thrones” or NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” they do provide — for the first time — some insight into the popularity of its original shows and films.
At the top of the list for its television series is, no surprise, the supernatural, ’80s-besotted series “Stranger Things,” with 64 million plays. In second place — who would have guessed? — is “The Umbrella Academy,” with 45 million views.
For Netflix original movies, the most-watched are the Sandra Bullock thriller “Birdbox,” with an eye-opening 80 million views, and the Adam Sandler comedy “Murder Mystery,” with 73 million.
The data shows broader trends, too. High school comedies are especially popular on the service, both for television and movies, as are some Spanish-language series.
Hollywood has expressed irritation with Netflix’s selective disclosures of its viewership numbers from the moment the company started going public with them. Executives at other entertainment companies — whose shows succeed or fail based largely on ratings measured by the research firm Nielsen — have groused that the Netflix numbers did not correspond to any traditional statistics, that they were inflated and that they highlighted successes while ignoring the scores of series and movies that failed to attract significant audiences.
But the decision to go public with even some of its data was something of an about-face for Netflix, which once claimed it never wanted to get involved in the weekly Hollywood competition based on ratings or box office receipts.
For a movie, according to the statistics that have appeared in the earnings reports, a view denotes that 70 percent of it was watched within four weeks of its premiere. For a television series, the company counts a view as a streaming of 70 percent of one episode within four weeks of the day it appeared on the service.
The Netflix numbers do not correspond to any traditional metric used by the entertainment industry.
For instance, Netflix reported in January that 40 million households watched “You,” a drama from the prolific producer Greg Berlanti. By the Nielsen measure, a typical episode of “You” would have an audience of 8 million viewers in the United States, according to the cable network FX, which has access to the Nielsen data.
“An average audience of 8 million viewers is good, but it’s not an average audience of 40 million total viewers, which would make ‘You’ the No. 1 show on American television,” said John Landgraf, the head of FX, earlier this year, when he revealed the Nielsen number.
Netflix would not confirm that the data in its earnings reports has amounted to official most-watched lists for its movies and shows. “We select a few titles to highlight each quarter, but they are not meant to be a comprehensive list of top performers,” a Netflix spokesman said.
In a call with investors on Wednesday, the Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos suggested that the company could start making information about its most popular shows more widely available, potentially going beyond the “Popular on Netflix” and “Now Trending” sections of the welcome screen for subscribers in the United States. The reason? Viewers like knowing what’s popular.
“If they want to use that as a tool to help guide their decision making, we want to help them do it,” he said on the earnings call.
Netflix has started testing the use of Top 10 lists for subscribers in the United Kingdom and Mexico. Last month, users in those regions were presented with titles for the most popular Netflix shows on any given day, the Netflix spokesman said. Those lists included the entire library of content on the service at that moment, with licensed programs like “Friends” appearing alongside Netflix originals like “Dead to Me.”
In the final three months of the year, Netflix has several series and movies that could elbow their way onto a top 10 list, including “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” the third season of “The Crown,” Ryan Murphy’s first streaming series, “The Politician,” (which debuted on Sept. 27) and Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.”
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