The Trouble With Netflix’s New Viewership Metric

Netflix viewing metrics
Cheyne Gateley/VIP+

Netflix’s recent announcement that it will soon begin reporting the number of hours that its titles have been viewed within 28 days of release, rather than the number of accounts reached for two minutes within that time frame, felt like a ruse.  

The planned switch was framed as an initiative that will help more accurately portray the success of titles on Netflix. But folks who have been following the top-10 titles scoreboard on the streaming giant’s homepage shouldn’t really be that much better off once the hours-viewed stat starts regularly getting reported.  

One issue is that the hours-viewed metric advantages TV series with longer runtimes and more episodes. Just look at Netflix’s top 10 TV series when measured by hours viewed within 28 days and Netflix’s top 10 TV series when measured by accounts reached within that same time frame. 

The average total runtime of series included in the former ranking is about 515 minutes, about 35% higher than the average runtime (roughly 381 minutes) of series included in the latter, VIP+ analysis found. 

The difference in average number of episodes in the series included in both rankings was less significant (9.5 for the ranking by hours viewed vs. 7.8 for the ranking by accounts reached). But it’s not hard to imagine how a TV series with, say, five episodes would find it tough to attract the same number of viewing hours within 28 days of debut that a TV series with 10 episodes did.  

Ranking TV series by the number of hours they were viewed within a month of release also disadvantages shows that are released on a weekly basis, as a weekly release show might not have all its episodes out within four weeks.  

Meanwhile, the average runtime of titles in Netflix’s top 10 films by hours viewed was about 132 minutes, about 10% higher than the average runtime (roughly 120 minutes) of titles included in Netflix’s top 10 films by households reached. 

It’s not all bad with the metric switch. Under the households reached metric, a series that was viewed for two minutes by, say, 100 million households and a series that was viewed for 2,000 minutes by the same number of households would appear equally successful. 

But with the hours-viewed metric, we would get the nuance that the latter show was more engaging.  

Moreover, the new hours-viewed metric gives us a better idea of which titles viewers chose to replay.  

For example, note that every show in Netflix’s top 10 TV series ranking by hours viewed has eight episodes or more. It could be reasoned that a series with just four episodes that broke into that ranking was only able to do so because viewers re-watched many of the series’ episodes in the month following its debut. 

But no matter what new insights this new hours-viewed metric provides us with, the issue remains that we will only receive metrics for titles that Netflix wants us to know about. The streamer did say it will start to more regularly release viewership metrics, but given the volume of originals that Netflix churns out, there will still likely remain a great deal of titles we don’t hear figures for.  

Moreover, it’s highly doubtful that video streaming rivals like HBO Max or Disney+ will start releasing viewership figures for their shows that are comparable to Netflix’s new viewership metric. Even having the viewership figures for every single Netflix title is limited in usefulness when they can’t be compared to the greatest hits of other streaming companies that fight for time spent.  

That’s really why any new metric adopted by Netflix alone probably won’t feel that groundbreaking, either.   

With the lack of an industry-standard reporting metric, assessing the winners of the video streaming landscape will remain a detective’s exercise, where third-party measurement companies have to get involved.