Netflix’s fourth quarter 2019 earnings are here, and so are the first official numbers for Netflix’s latest streaming hit The Witcher. The company says the series was watched by 76 million households, making it the most-watched first season of television ever for Netflix. That’s according to Netflix’s newly unveiled definition of “watched,” which it changed from “watched 70 percent of a single episode of a series” to anyone who “chose to watch and did watch for at least 2 minutes.”
In explaining the new metric, Netflix notes that the two-minute time period is meant to be “long enough to indicate the choice was intentional,” and it says that it follows similar metrics used by BBC’s iPlayer, YouTube, and The New York Times’ measurements of page views. But the reasoning behind the change is obvious: to juice viewer numbers, with Netflix acknowledging that the new two-minute metric is “about 35% higher on average than the prior metric.”
What counts as a “watch,” anyway?
To put that number in perspective, two minutes of The Witcher is less time than it takes to reach the opening credits of the first episode; the action-packed cold opening is coincidentally two minutes and 16 seconds long. By Netflix’s new metric, anyone who watched just the opening scene of the episode (or 3.2 percent of the total runtime of the episode, which is itself one of eight episodes) is now counted as a view for the entire season. That is also shorter than the amount of time it would take to listen to the hit song “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher,” which is also featured in the series.
Still, no matter how you slice it, 76 million households in the first four weeks is a lot of eyes on The Witcher, which Netflix says is “tracking to be our biggest season one TV series ever.” And apparently that’s enough for Netflix to invest in the show for the long haul, as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said The Witcher is a “massive new franchise that we’ll develop season after season” in a video interview today. It was renewed for a second season before season one aired, but Hastings’ comments seem to indicate that it will be a multi-season show.
The company also announced that 6 Underground from director Michael Bay and starring Ryan Reynolds was viewed by 83 million households in its first four weeks (using the company’s new metric). By comparison, Netflix expected The Irishman to hit just 40 million views in its first month out, although that doesn’t factor in the 35 percent boost 6 Underground’s numbers get from the new two-minute metric.
Update January 21st, 7:05PM ET: Added quote about The Witcher’s future from CEO Reed Hastings.