Netflix has released a trove of viewing data, but to what end?

Netflix has released a trove of viewing data, but to what end?

Since 2021, Netflix has been sharing weekly top 10 and most popular lists, giving a window into the content being consumed on the streaming platform. Its new bi-annual “What We Watched” report goes a step further, with comprehensive viewership data showing how new fare like The Night Manager, as well as older, licensed titles like Breaking Bad and Suits, thrive on the platform.

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A major bone of contention in the Hollywood writers union’s strike was that creators aren’t privy to streaming numbers, and they suspected they were not being compensated according to the revenues. The Writers Guild of America’s new contract stipulates that streamers must provide data around the performance of shows.

The historic lack of transparency “created an atmosphere of mistrust over time with producers and creators and the press about what was happening,” Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos acknowledged on a media call on Dec. 12. But he denied releasing data in response to the strikes and said Netflix was heading in the direction of increased transparency anyway.

The new report lists 18,000 titles line by line on an Excel spreadsheet, covering 99% of all viewing on Netflix and nearly 100 billion hours viewed. But how can these numbers be assessed and what can they really help anyone evaluate? Viewing time and repeat watch value of longer series and shorter movies can’t be an apples-to-apple comparison—release dates play a big part in consumption levels. Also, when competitors aren’t releasing similar data, there’s no real barometer to figure out what the data points mean.

Charted: The Night Agent was Netflix’s most-watched title in the first half of 2023

Setting down the gauntlet

Netflix, which has the largest global streaming audience by far at nearly 250 million subscribers, ideally would lead charge on transparency and encourage other streamers to share their own analytics. But some observers suspect there’s more to the new report than meets the eye.

“I think it’s about setting the gauntlet down and offering something else to point to with transparency complaints,” Kasey Moore, who runs the site What’s on Netflix, pointed out in a post on X. “They know other streamers won’t follow because if they did, it’s going to be a lot more embarrassing for them.”

One big number: 30%

That’s the share of all Netflix viewing measured in the report that came from non-English content.

Quotable: Opening the black box

“Lots of brands want more visibility into the types of program at a genre and title level that are engaging consumers—because that’s what they get from regular TV, and streaming has traditionally been a black box.”

—Kevin Krim, president and CEO of EDO, which measures the impact of TV and streaming ads, in a report from Business Insider

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