Netflix’s New Top 10 Lists Project the Illusion of Transparency

Netflix’s New Top 10 Lists Project the Illusion of Transparency
Cheyne Gateley/VIP+

Another day, another Netflix stat that’s kinda-sorta useful.  

That’s thanks to Netflix’s just-launched, the service’s new hub for its movies and TV series leaderboards. 

Every Tuesday, will report the service’s most-watched titles when measured by hours viewed during the previous Monday-Sunday among subscribers globally. Four global top 10 lists (English-language movies, English-language TV series, non-English movies and non-English TV) will be published every week. 

All genres of movies and TV series (across Netflix’s originals and licensed content) are eligible to make these weekly lists. Netflix had already been displaying rows for daily top 10 TV series and movies on its streaming service, but those lacked viewership metrics. 

But even though this may seem like something that makes Netflix measurement significantly less opaque, these new statistics really aren’t all that revealing.  

For starters, lists lack the granularity needed to adequately assess how well individual titles performed in specific territories. The site will regularly publish lists for the top 10 movies and series across 90 countries, but hours that a title was viewed will not be reported on a country level. 

This poses an issue for, say, a director who finds their Netflix title among Netflix’s top 10 global non-English movies list in many weeks but wants to decipher what portion of that global viewership came from Korea.  

Perhaps that director wants that Korea-specific viewership information to justify a certain sale price of his or her upcoming Korean-language film to another streamer that’s seeking to expand in Korea.  

Meanwhile, there are also issues with the stats that are being reported on 

VIP+ broke down the pitfalls of the hours-viewed metric last month, such as longer content being advantaged (and Netflix also acknowledged this in its announcement).  

And with the hours-viewed metrics as they will be reported on, it’s still not exactly clear how popular a title was across the total Netflix audience, even if a title does make a global top 10 list. 

Sure, “The Harder They Fall” may have been viewed for 33.1M hours among global Netflix subs during the week of Nov. 8-Nov. 14 — but what does that really mean? It’s not like there are viewership metrics that have been released by HBO Max or Prime Video for some of their biggest hits that would help put that “Harder They Fall” stat in context.  

Moreover, does a high hours-viewed stat on mean a title was viewed by many unique subscribers one time across the globe? Does it mean that many unique subscribers in just some of Netflix’s biggest markets streamed the title more than once? Or does it mean that a title was viewed by many consumers sharing one Netflix account in some of Netflix’s biggest markets once? 

In many cases, it will probably be a combination of all these scenarios, but we won’t know for certain. So, it seems clear that the general popularity of Netflix titles remains obscured to some degree. 

As Netflix mentions in its press release, there is no one perfect metric for measuring streaming success. A truly transparent viewership metric move would have been to have sections on that have program rankings by multiple metrics like completion rate and unique accounts reached (it’s not like Netflix lacks additional title metrics to report).  

That’s probably too much to ask of Netflix at the moment though, which is still by far the most open about title performance among the major video streamers.  

While isn’t perfect, Hollywood stakeholders should still find some reason to rejoice in the site’s launch. The streamer previously released title performance metrics during earnings calls or selectively after pop-culturally relevant titles (like “The Irishman” or “Squid Game”) dropped. 

It still can help certain actors and directors gain more leverage in negotiations with Netflix for example, as they’re going to be given more data that they can point to (assuming they have a top 10-performing program in at least one given week).  

Moreover, a perhaps unintentional gift that will bring to certain production companies or directors is a better ability to question third-party data providers.  

For example, if a third-party data provider releases a “Most Viewed Streaming TV Series of Q4 2021” in January 2022 and ranks, say, “Emily in Paris S2” higher than “The Witcher S2,” when in fact showed that the former title racked up much fewer hours streamed than the latter in late December, that would be grounds for some follow-up questions with said third-party data provider.  

Just don’t expect streamers to follow Netflix’s suit en masse in the near future. If anything, will likely just deter some streamers from soon disclosing how many hours one of their titles was viewed in order to avoid comparisons to Netflix.