Netflix Reveals How They Classify Their Viewers To Determine Their Own Ratings

When it comes to Netflix original movies and television shows, there has been some question as to how the streaming service collects and reports their viewership statistics. There have been a number of impressive reports of viewership for movies like Bright and shows like Stranger Things, but without any details about the metrics by which a given program's viewership is recorded, no one has fully trusted the company's internal numbers. But thankfully, some new information gives us a better idea of how to interpret the internal numbers that Netflix records and reports.

The Verge tracked down a letter from Netflix sent to the United Kingdom Parliament committee that breaks down how Netflix classifies viewers and uses that to inform how they count towards the viewership numbers. Here are the three different classifications:

  • Starters – Households that watch two minutes of a film or series episode
  • Watchers – Households that watch 70% of a film or single episode of a series
  • Completers – Households that watch at least 90% of a film or season of a series
  • This is how Netflix breaks down viewership to their content creators, and it's the "watchers" category that's the most important to understand. That's because when Netflix delivers their viewership numbers and say so many millions of people "watched" a given movie or TV series, that means they gave it a whirl, but didn't always quite finish. That's much more significant when it comes to reporting TV series numbers than movies, because watching 70% of one episode of a series is nothing. And that's bad news for that show, because it means it wasn't captivating enough to keep watching even a single episode.

    This information surfaces as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and chief content officer Ted Sarandos promised to be more transparent about how they determine their viewership ratings. That decision came after several creators, mostly those with canceled shows, expressed frustration with a lack of proper evidence for the reasoning behind their shows getting axed.

    As it stands, Netflix uses some kind of unknown "efficiency metric" to determine whether a show is worth renewing based on the cost of the show when compared to the viewership. Another important factor is whether the series is one that keeps subscribers from canceling their Netflix membership or helps bring in new ones. For example, a show like Stranger Things, which gets tens of millions of watchers in its first few days, is integral to keeping subscribers around. Meanwhile, something like The OA, Tuca and Bertie, or The Santa Clarita Diet does not have the same pull, and that's why they got canceled.

    This information certainly helps us in registering how big of a deal certain Netflix originals are. But it would be nice to have more specific information. Why can't Netflix tell us the number of "watchers" who are also "completers" of a given movie or TV series? The easy answer is that those numbers won't be nearly as big and impressive, but if Netflix really is trying to be more transparent, maybe they need to start releasing more specific statistics instead of these much more vague numbers.