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Netflix to Test Top 10 Lists of Most Popular Content

Netflix is getting ready to reveal even more data about the performance of movies and TV shows on its service. The company will begin to test Top 10 lists of the most popular content across multiple categories in the U.K. this quarter, executives revealed in their letter to shareholders on Tuesday. The test is part of an effort to become more transparent with the company’s audience as well as producers about viewing trends.

“For those who want to watch what others are watching, this may make choosing titles even easier,” they explained in the shareholder letter. “After a few months we’ll decide whether to end or expand the test.”

Netflix chief product officer Greg Peters said during the company’s earnings call Tuesday afternoon that the test was one of hundreds the company was doing per quarter, adding on an upbeat note: “We are quite bullish on that, and we’ll see how it does.”

Netflix announced this new test as part of its earnings release for Q1 of 2019. During the quarter, the company added 9.6 million new subscribers — more than ever before. Investors nonetheless sent the company’s stock price down due to a weaker-than-anticipated Q2 forecast.

Executives also used the shareholder letter to once again selectively highlight the performance of some of its biggest titles. “The Umbrella Academy,” which premiered on Netflix on Feb. 15, has been watched by 45 million member households in the first four weeks following its release; “Triple Frontier,” a movie starring Ben Affleck that went live on Netflix on March 13, has been watched by over 52 million member households in its first four weeks on the service.

“The Highwaymen,” which stars Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson, is on track to being watched by over 40 million member households in its first month, according to Netflix. The company’s Fyre Festival doc has been viewed by more than 20 million households in its first month, and the nature documentary series “Our Planet” is on track to attract over 25 million viewer households in its first month, Netflix said.

Netflix’s selective release of these data points, as well as its test of viewer charts, stands in stark contrast to the company’s aversion to data sharing in the past. Up until recently, Netflix executives regularly argued that they didn’t need to share any viewership data with anyone, simply because Netflix was not an ad-supported service that relied on ratings to attract brands.

But on Tuesday, chief content officer Ted Sarandos said that this was about to change. “Over the next several months, we are going to be rolling out more specific, granular reporting,” Sarandos said. “First to our producers, and then to our members, and be more fully transparent about what people are watching on Netflix around the world.”

The new trend to selectively share data can be explained as a way to assure investors that Netflix’s originals strategy is working, even as other studios are moving their franchises to their own services. “The Umbrella Academy,” for instance, has been touted as a way for Netflix to replace its Marvel shows, many of which it canceled last year. Likewise, sharing audience data for movies can be seen as a way to show the markets that expensive tentpole titles can attract sizable audiences.

But with the introduction of Top 10 lists, Netflix is also looking to further use the momentum of some of its best-performing titles to keep its audience engaged, and help them decide on what to watch next. That again is a bit of a departure for the company, which has in the past relied on hyper-personalized curation. For instance, Netflix is even showing different preview images for the same movie to different viewers to optimize their performance among distinct segments of its audience.

Sarandos used the company’s earnings call Tuesday afternoon to highlight another reason the company may be using Top 10 lists going forward: As the company increases its investments in originals, these success stories also become branding exercises. “Our top ten most-watched shows on Netflix, they’re all Netflix original brands,” Sarandos said.

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