Netflix sure does like to play coy about numbers. But lately, when it serves the company’s best interests, the streaming service will throw out some viewing totals to show how popular some content is. This was made famous by those early numbers for the Sandra Bullock film “Bird Box,” which touted viewership in the tens of millions. And now, Netflix seems to be doing it again for a couple of the company’s newest series. But what the hell does it mean?
First, we’ll tell you the numbers that Netflix has been throwing out before we take a look at what they really mean. This week alone, the streaming service has updated its “Bird Box” viewership numbers by saying the film has been streamed by over 80 million member households in its first four weeks, via Variety. You read that right, 80 million. That’s absolutely nuts. But perhaps not as crazy as what the company is saying about a couple new series.
Drama-thriller “You” is apparently on pace to attract 40 million households by the end of its initial four-week run on the streaming service. The same number is expected to also watch the new original series “Sex Education” in its four weeks.
Now, astute readers might immediately see the difference between those “Bird Box” numbers and the numbers for “You” and “Sex Education.” Netflix is touting actual numbers of people who have seen the film for “Bird Box,” but is predicting viewership for the latter two series. That’s a big, big leap and worth discussing further.
The “Bird Box” numbers have already been scrutinized pretty heavily by independent researchers. Some question the numbers because Netflix doesn’t provide any data other than the total. And the company plays it close to the vest with what it actually means to have “viewed” a film. Does that mean it was started and never completed or is it only counting complete views?
Then those series “You” and “Sex Education” have viewership numbers that are expected to watch. How do they calculate that? Does that mean the series will be viewed in their respective entireties or is it just one episode? Or maybe it’s just a portion of one episode?
And just for some additional speculation, how about the auto-play numbers? Netflix is notorious for just playing something random after something you’re watching ends. Are these numbers inflated due to that? Does Netflix want users to watch “Bird Box” so badly that they’ll auto-play it after something else?
We’ll probably never know the answers to any of these questions. And ultimately, that’s fine. The moral of the story is to not take these numbers as the gospel and question them. It’s never good enough for a company to withhold data and only give out bits and pieces when it suits them. Until third party companies are allowed to analyze (as they do with feature film box office totals), then these are always going to be skewed.
Regardless, it’s safe to say those three titles are hits for the streaming service, so good for them.