Netflix is notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to how many people watch their TV shows and how they consume entertainment across the streaming service. While Nielsen has started trying to track audience numbers for them and other services like it, accuracy remains unclear. While they did report that audiences devoured the second season of Stranger Things, people have been interested to know how other shows outside of the obvious successes have been performing and that’s still murky.
Netflix, meanwhile, seems fine with the secrecy. So long as no one knows for sure what their audience numbers look like, they can pretty much say whatever they want. Even if they’re using actual data, they’re free to bend and shape it however they see fit in order to maximize the message they want to send.
@Unfortunate is part of the top 10 in @netflix's lists of "The shows we savored in 2017" (Number 4) & "The shows that brought us together in 2017" (Number 3). Congratulations! #ASOUE pic.twitter.com/RpBwkk8wzq
— A Series of Unfortunate Events (@asouetv) December 11, 2017
Take, for example, their “The Year in Bingeing” infographic that the company just released to provide a snapshot of user viewing habits in 2017. They reached their conclusions by tracking 60,000 viewers across 32 countries who watched Netflix programming between Nov. 1, 2016, and Nov. 1, 2017. They were smart enough to include some fun anecdotes about specific user habits (one person watched Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl every single day for reasons we need to understand), which have become the most shareable aspect of the information. In the U.K. version of the release, they noted that one person watched Bee Movie 357 times, for reasons we perhaps don’t want to understand.
While that kind of data seems (somehow) legitimate and interesting, the main portion of the infographic is a bit harder to swallow. It breaks down popular programming into four categories (shows that people binged ASAP, shows that people savored over time, shows that people watched without waiting for their significant other, and shows that people watched with family). There are some really interesting insights to be gathered here but when you actually look at the lists, you can’t help but feel like Netflix is playing it just a little fast and loose with their top tens.
Of the ten shows or series included under “The Shows We Devoured,” eight of them are produced or distributed by Netflix. In the “Shows We Savored” category, it’s nine out of ten. All ten of “The Shows That Got Us Cheating” are Netflix-owned or distributed while eight of “The Shows We Watched Together” are in the same boat.
While it’s entirely possible, given the way that Netflix promotes its own properties over those it doesn’t have a financial interest in, that Netflix-related shows and series rose above most of the others, it just seems a bit dubious especially given the lack of hard data to back this up. Not to mention Netflix’s penchant for refusing to let others see what their numbers say. Were Netflix viewers really “savoring” Disjointed? Was Stranger Things watched so much that it was top three in both “watched alone” and “watched together” categories across every show on the service? Did Netflix purposefully leave House of Cards, one of its most heralded original programs, off of this list because of all the negative publicity surrounding the show?
The point is that we don’t know because Netflix won’t tell us. That’s their right, for now, but it also sows seeds of distrust when they try to tell us what is popular. It becomes impossible to tell if they’re telling the truth or just using these rankings as a backdoor way to promote their own programming.