Look What Teddy Claus Gave Us For The Holidays

In the middle of Chanukah, and just 12 days before the 12 days of Christmas, research geeks and media pundits around the world were given a big, shiny data dump as a holiday gift, courtesy of Netflix.

Why thank you, Teddy.  How thoughtful of you.  And only in a world where the mystique and aura of Netflix data has been given the reverence and attention that it has received, particularly since Netflix began what they consider to be a quixotic quest for transparency a little over two years, would this qualify as a news event.

As Netflix’s website trumpeted :

Starting today we will publish What We Watched: A Netflix Engagement Report twice a year. This is a comprehensive report of what people watched on Netflix over a six month period1, including: 

  • Hours viewed for every title — original and licensed — watched for over 50,000 hours2
  • The premiere date3 for any Netflix TV series or film; and 
  • Whether a title was available globally. 

No less than co-CEO Ted Sarandos and, for a change, a public dissertation from an auspiced data analyst, longtime ally Lauren Smith, presided over a nearly 28-minute conference call with journos from media, finance and tech, and they even provided a handy dandy Excel spreadsheet with more than 18,000 lines of data.  And it sure provided an awful lot of folks hours of parsing and assuming on an otherwise meh weekday.  And not just me, for a change.

Some, like CNN’s aspiring starlet Elizabeth Wagmeister, took the data as gospel and essentially regurgitated Netflix’ self-selected talking points:

If you’ve been binging “Ginny & Georgia” or “Love Is Blind,” you are not alone.  The FBI thriller “The Night Agent,” the first two seasons of “Ginny & Georgia,” Korean drama “The Glory,” Jenna Ortega’s “Wednesday,” “Bridgerton” spinoff “Queen Charlotte,” the fourth season of Penn Badgley’s “You,” the third season of Spanish telenovela “La Reina del Sur,” the third season of “Outer Banks” and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “FUBAR” rank as the ten most-viewed shows or movies on Netflix from January to June 2023, according to the streamer.

Somewhat more perceptive journos took the liberty of somewhat deeper dives and provided some cavears, such as THE WRAP’s Kayla Cobb:

The biggest Netflix show over the last six months may be “The Night Agent” at 812 million hours viewed, but don’t sleep on the streamer’s library titles.

new semi-annual viewership report released by Netflix on Tuesday revealed that “Breaking Bad,” “The Walking Dead,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Suits” all generated significant viewership numbers for the platform. Each one generated “over 500 million hours of viewing” in just six months from January-June 2023.

And at DEADLINE, Katie Campione provided some other important caveats:

While there is valuable insight to be found by digging through this treasure trove of data, there are also some stipulations. Netflix has chosen to release the hours viewed for each title, rather than “views,” which is the metric that it began using this year to rank its Top 10 lists. Views is still an estimated figure calculated as hours viewed divided by runtime, but it did even the playing field for all series and films. Hours viewed puts shorter content at a significant disadvantage, while longer series (usually dramas) stand to benefit greatly.

Much like “views,” reporting data in hours viewed also gives no insight into how many accounts completed a title, or even engaged with it past the first episode. This is information that all streamers, especially Netflix, use to determine the success of their content.  It is also important to remember that this list only spans the first six months of 2023. This puts the performance of all titles into context as, naturally, content released within that period stands a better chance at racking up higher viewership. 

And that’s all the more significant given the tone that Sarandos took on during this conference call.  Sarandos continues to position Netflix as some sort of champion of data transparency, a postulance that has been echoed by his other lieutenants and seems to be the by-product of media coaching.  Smith delivered variances on the catch phrase “hit play, then stay” on several occasions to the point where it sounded forced.  And when grilled, Sarandos’ tone of defensiveness was patently obvious, offering crocodile tears for the many years where the industry was kept in the dark (“we didn’t want our creators to be distracted, nor did we want to give a road map to our competitors”) and brushed off any requests for other cuts that those in the know realize are the REAL metrics Netflix uses to determine success or failure, not to mention their spin to Wall Street.

Sorry, Teddy, when you throw chum in the water to starving sharks, don’t expect them to be fully satiated.

Now, to be sure, Smith did provide some of those talking points when she was given control of the narrative.  And, yes, we are seeing MUCH more from Netflix than those still-struggling competitors.  Their weekly Top 10 lists, parsed by their admittedly more accurate “view” metric that offers controls for number of episodes and run times, delivered weeks earlier than anything Nielsen can provide, and, of course, representing the full breadth of their availability both globally and technically, are superior to anything else being offered anywhere else.  At least Netflix provides some substance with their spin.

I, for one, remain fascinated by the point that in just six months, a bit more than 4300 actual hours of time, Netflix alone generated more than 93 BILLION hours of global viewership.  That’s an awful lot of time being sucked out of the world, not to mention those pesky competitors that indeed this would indicate Netflix viewership all but dwarfs.

And yet, when it comes to how much their own house is in order, its pursuit of an ad-supported and more affordable price point to keep more of their 247 million subscribers intact, Sarandos all but dismissed this data’s relevance.  He continued to insist that advertisers are reliant on third party providers, in as dismissive a tone as could be conveyed on a conference call.  And, naturally, they was no mention of this story which INDIE WIRE’s Brian West dropped last week which indicates they’ve got a long way to go toward making real progress on that front:

It’s been a little over a year since ads launched on Netflix, turning the tide for the streaming giant after it reported subscriber losses early in 2022 and launching a streaming trend. However, a new survey suggests that many current Netflix subscribers don’t even know a cheaper pricing option exists.

Analysts from Evercore in a December 6 note (obtained by IndieWire) conducted their quarterly survey of Netflix subscribers and found that, as of November, only 59 percent “are aware of the company’s ad-supported offering.” If anything, the awareness level could be in decline: In September, 62 percent of those surveyed said they knew about the cheaper tier.

Per a November DEADLINE story from Dade Hayes, roughly 6 per cent of Netflix’s global subscribers can receive ads.  And their pursuit of building that base remains a key concern of the investment community, especially in light of recent price hikes for all of its tiers.  Given the findings from the Evercore study, it would appear that Sarandos’ spiel needs to be heard by way more folks than just the press.

And, as Campione reminded, as that pursuit for a more stable subscriber base continues, future data dumps will be even more eagerly anticipated.  Especially in light of the fact that more and more product with a track record will be finding its way onto the platform, and, of course, that opens up still more cans of worms:

Where is Suits? Well, Season 1 came in at No. 67 with 129M hours viewed, which might seem low, but remember the series only became available on Netflix on June 17. So, there’s only about two weeks worth of data here. All eight seasons that are available globally ranked within the Top 500, and it’s likely they will soar toward the top of these rankings when Netflix releases the data for the second half of the year.

Another interesting data point to keep an eye out for in the next bi-annual report will be how well some of HBO’s licensed content fared on Netflix. Shows like Insecure, Band of Brothers and Ballers began arriving on the platform in July and, according to Nielsen, they’ve seemingly found new life there.

And just this week, Disney became the latest “arms dealer” to unload product on Netflix, including titles that offer the kind of promise that SUITS fulfilled, including its onetime USA “blue sky” companion piece WHITE COLLAR, plus others.  As VARIETY’s Todd Spengler reported, in exchange, Disney+ and Hulu will be able to non-exclusively tap into the 20 seasons of GREY’S ANATOMY, the first 19 of which have been proven winners for Netflix.  Even nearly two decades after its premiere, the show’s second season racked up more than 50 million hours of viewing during the first half of 2023, and as Sarandos chided, the fact that SUITS had been available on Peacock and Amazon prior to its breakout on Netflix will eventually provide an intriguing analysis as to whether or not more established competitors can make any dent of their own–or not.

Because should the pattern of the Netflix halo effect hold, it will likely cause even greater repercussions with expectations and staffing, and I suspect there will be even more research geeks circling the waters when subsequent releases of WHAT WE WATCHED are offered up.  Indeed, the fact that Netflix has had this much of an impact is a major reason why a lot of us have all that time on our hands, and, frankly, we’re a harder group to please than even the journalists that spent yesterday slicing and dicing all of this.

So thanks again for the holiday goodies, Teddy.  But fair warning.  We’ll be back for more.

Until next time…

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