Netflix is notoriously secretive about its viewership numbers, and made headlines last year by revealing that the Sandra Bullock-starring “Bird Box” was viewed by a jaw-dropping 80 million people in its first four weeks of release.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Netflix’s quarterly earnings report, released on Tuesday, reveals even more numbers, and they sure do seem impressive.
In its report, Netflix claims that Vancouver-shot superhero series “The Umbrella Academy”, for example, was viewed in 45 million households in its first month (in its methodology, Netflix says a viewer must have watched a minimum of 70 per cent of a show in order to count that viewer).
Also bringing in big numbers are “Triple Frontier” (the military heist drama headlined by Ben Affleck), estimated to be viewed in 52 million households, the climate change-fuelled nature docu-series “Our Planet” (25 million), and “The Highwaymen” (starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson as two lawmen on the trail of Bonnie and Clyde), watched by 40 million households in its first four weeks.
Unlike broadcast networks and cable channels, which have viewership measured by Nielsen, Netflix’s numbers have resulted in some skepticism within the TV industry.
FX president John Langraf spoke about the streaming giant’s viewership claims in a presentation at the Television Critics Association press tour in February, and admitted he was somewhat dubious.
“And finally, speaking of blurry lines, recently Netflix has selectively begun to release some viewership numbers for a few of their successful original programs. The source of those numbers? Netflix,” he said, eliciting laughter from the journalists in attendance.
“And what do you know? The numbers look really big and promote the notion that many shows on their platform are gigantic hits that are watched more than shows on broadcast, premium or basic cable,” he continued.
“A few weeks ago Netflix stated, and I quote, ‘We are very pleased with our launch of ‘You’ three weeks ago. We estimate it will be watched by over 40 million member households in its first four weeks on Netflix.’ Sounds like they have a huge hit on their hands,” Langraf added. “However, if you dig a little deeper, Netflix is not telling you the whole story, because the numbers they issued do not follow the universally understood television metric — the one you and prior generations of reporters have been using for their whole careers — which is ‘average audience.'”
However, using applying standard television metrics (“which is calculated by adding up every minute viewed of an episode or season and dividing it by the total duration of the program,” he explained), Langraf contends that the first season of “You” was viewed by about “one-fifth of what Netflix’s number implies.”
Langraf concluded his presentation by asking journalists to be cautious when reporting Netflix viewership. “If you choose to accept anyone’s cherry-picked and unverified internal data, you should at least insist they give you an average audience number so that the readers are not misled,” he said.