Pedro Pascal as Marcus Moreno in Netflix family film "We Can Be Heroes"

Why Netflix changed their measurement system

Netflix, which used to protect its ratings from audiences like the Mona Lisa, is changing its viewing metrics for more transparency. (Then again, Netflix was also against advertising.)

Previously, the streaming giant ranked its top 10 shows and movies by hours watched. It also cut the all-time most popular lists to 28 days of available views. Now, the Weekly Top 10 will be ranked by “views” (hours watched divided by runtime), and the all-time lists will be lengthened by nine weeks, to 91 days.

That’s a full quarter of a year, the same basis Netflix and other publicly traded companies report their financial results on. For Netflix it is important that the number is divisible by seven, to capture a whole number of weeks. That’s why the old way was 28 days, not 30 or 31, and why it’s now 91, not 90.

Our culture of delayed viewing gives credence to those additional 63 days. It’s true, as Netflix stated in a blog post on Tuesday (see below), that “many” Netflix shows and movies “grow significantly over time.” That context is valid and important, but let’s be honest: It also drives Netflix’s numbers crazy in a rather selfish way.

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In recent weeks, Netflix has started spraying “views” with its regular metrics in emails to print. An example from last Tuesday: “’Never Have I Ever’ returned for its fourth and final season with 76.21 million hours viewed. Starring Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, the training series has had over 15 million views (76.2 million hours viewed divided by 4.9 hours of playtime).

The feedback has been positive, from both media and creators, a Netflix insider told IndieWire. After all, the concept of “sight” is much more digestible than a gigantic number of (millions of) hours. (Not an entirely different concept as Nielsen rating points versus total viewers. The general public doesn’t understand a rating point, but they do understand 3 million viewers.) Also, the smaller post-split numbers are easier for the eyes and the brain.

It’s probably no coincidence, at least in timing, that the WGA and other corporations are currently battling with studios over, among other things, more transparency from streamers, especially Netflix. This may not necessarily be more transparent, but it is cleaner.

It’s even fairer. The old way disproportionately rewarded longer run times, making third-party procedurals feel far punchier than the more culturally relevant limited series.

Semantics – and arithmetic – make the difference. ‘Wednesday’ season 1 is now Netflix’s most watched show of all time, not ‘Stranger Things 4’. Also, “The Queen’s Gambit” is now fifth all-time; the limited series wasn’t even listed before.

As for movies, Mark Wahlberg’s film ‘Spenser Confidential’ and family film ‘We Can Be Heroes’ are now among the most popular films. Both newcomers have runtimes under two hours, which previously posed a challenge. Read more instant changes to the most popular lists here.

No matter how you slice it, the South Korean series “Squid Game” Season 1 is still the greatest content Netflix has ever had. Netflix will not review the weekly lists it’s been out since June 2021, a spokesperson told us.

Red alert
“Red Alert”Netflix

Netflix summarized today’s changes in a blog post; read it below.

We’ve heard feedback that providing just the hours watched in our Top 10 lists was hard to put into context, so in the last few months we’ve started sharing views for a good number of our titles (i.e. the number of hours watched divided by the runtime total ).

This has proved to be a more relatable metric for many people, so starting today, while we will continue to show displayed hours by title, our Top10 lists will now be categorized by views. We will also be extending the qualifying time for our most popular lists from approximately one month (28 days) to three months (91 days) as many of our shows and movies grow significantly over time.

As we’ve always said, there is no perfect streaming metric. However, we think views combined with total hours viewed are a good evolution because:

  • Anchored in Engagement: Our best measure of member satisfaction and a key driver of retention (which in turn drives our business);
  • Ensures that longer titles don’t get a head start; AND
  • It allows third parties to compare the relative impact of movies and series, despite different running times.

Our hope is that by being consistent and transparent about what people watch, Netflix can give everyone—consumers, creators, analysts, and press—better insights into what successful streaming looks like in general. We will continue to share more detailed and specific data on the title with the creators and, as always, we will continue to listen to the feedback.