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Netflix claims The Witcher is already one of its most popular shows of 2019

Netflix claims The Witcher is already one of its most popular shows of 2019


Looking at the methodology behind Netflix’s end of year list

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The Witcher
Image: Netflix

Netflix released its list of the most popular movies and TV shows of 2019 and, with the exception of Disney Pixar’s Incredibles 2, every title on the list is a Netflix original.

Most notable is Adam Sandler’s Murder Mystery, which Netflix declared as the most watched title in 2019. The Sandler and Jennifer Aniston-starring comedy broke records when it first hit Netflix back in June, generating more than 30 million account views within its first three days. It marked the biggest opening weekend for a Netflix film in the company’s history.

Some of the other entires on the list, seen below, also saw record-breaking weekends or weeks for Netflix. A couple – including Henry Cavill’s The Witcher — only just came out.

  1. Murder Mystery
  2. Stranger Things 3
  3. 6 Underground
  4. The Incredibles 2
  5. The Irishman
  6. The Witcher
  7. The Triple Frontier
  8. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
  9. The Umbrella Academy
  10. The Highwaymen

The list suggests that Netflix originals dominate what subscribers are most interested in watching. It’s a good impression to leave subscribers and investors with right now. Companies like Disney, NBCUniversal, and WarnerMedia are in the middle of launching their own streaming services (Disney+ launched in November), and are removing some of the most watched shows and films on Netflix. Friends and The Office are still two of the most watched shows on Netflix, for example, but weren’t included on the list because they weren’t released in 2019.

Unfortunately, Netflix doesn’t release viewership statistics. It’s impossible to tell just what popular means for many of these titles, even if some received congratulatory public messages upon the first week of their release. Instead, Netflix stated that rankings were determined by counting the total number of accounts that streamed a title for a minimum of two minutes during the first 28 days of its release.

A couple of titles on the list were only released this month; The Witcher is listed as the sixth most popular title even though it only hit Netflix a few days ago. Some of the titles added are based on viewing predictions, according to Netflix. The company relied on early data to estimate 28-day viewership numbers, similar to disclosures the company has made in earnings calls when it comes to predicting viewership data.

Two minutes of stream time might not seem like much. It’s the equivalent of choosing to sit down and watch something before switching it off, or letting Netflix’s autoplay feature after the credits take the reins while dozing off. It is, however, part of a metric that Netflix uses internally and will sometimes share with producers. Starters are “households that watch two minutes of a film or one episode” in a series. Completers are “households that watch 90 percent of a film or season of a series.” Households that watch 70 percent of a movie or one episode in a TV series are considered “watchers.”

Two-minutes of stream time might not seem like much

The last category is the number Netflix touts in quarterly earnings letters to shareholders and sometimes shares with the public. The bigger question is whether the difference between a starter (two-minutes) and a watcher (70 percent of a title) is significant. The answer remains unclear because Netflix doesn’t release traditional numbers.

Choosing to go with a lower metric does make sense for a promotional end-of-year list, which is what this top 10 ranking operates as, but doesn’t paint the whole story of what’s being watched on Netflix, not just started. As Variety points out, “Netflix’s definitions and methodologies make its ‘most popular’ lists impossible to compare on an apples-to-apples basis with traditional TV ratings.”

Methodologies probably don’t matter to most subscribers. The list accomplishes its goal of reinforcing that Netflix originals are worth keeping the streamer in your monthly rotation of subscription services. These aren’t just a collection of titles from other distributors and studios, like past lists may have included. The company’s top 10 list signals a collection of movies and TV shows that people may have watched, but just as importantly, will want to catch up on.

End of year lists are marketing plays; informative and fun, but exist as a means to remind us why a product is good. It’s equally important to keep in mind that while it’s likely many of these are some of the most watched Netflix originals of 2019, based on the way Netflix collected data, they remain the most started.