Netflix has gained a reputation for being painfully secret about viewership numbers for its original shows and films, but the company apparently intends to change that policy, as it promises more transparency.
Chief content officer Ted Sarandos spoke about the company’s new transparency initiative during an investors call on Tuesday. Sarandos told investors that the company will start releasing “more specific and granular data and reporting” to different groups soon. Producers will receive those numbers first, followed by subscribers, then press. The goal is to be “more fully transparent about what people are watching on Netflix around the world,” according to Sarandos.
Netflix has already slowly started to release more data. The company announced in December that more than 45 million accounts watched its horror movie Bird Box within the first seven days of its release. A spokesperson for the company told The Verge at the time that an account must surpass “70 percent of the total running time (including credits)” to be counted as a view. The spokesperson added that “each ‘account’ may include multiple views and viewers, but is only counted once.”
Neither Sarandos nor CEO Reed Hastings expanded on how Netflix data is collected, or what type of information would be released. But Hastings acknowledged that the company will lean into being more transparent “quarter by quarter.”
“The real metric is, can we keep our members happy and grow that subscriber base as we did so strongly in Q1?” Hastings added.
Deciding to be more transparent would be a considerable move for Netflix. The company has declined multiple times in the past to open up about its members’ viewing habits. That led analysts and investors to question just how many people were watching Friends, given that Netflix executives felt justified in paying $100 million for the 2019 streaming rights to the show. Unlike traditional cable companies, whose numbers are released through Nielsen because of advertiser demands, Netflix has never had to release its numbers. But the company has faced considerable criticism for combining secrecy about its ratings with occasional self-aggrandizing claims about how strong those ratings are — for instance, in 2015, when it claimed its series Narcos had a larger viewership than Game of Thrones.
“I would look at it like these are less financial metrics as they are cultural metrics,” Sarandos said during a previous earnings call in January. “I think it’s important for artists to understand, to have the audience also understand the size of the reach of their work. So that’s why you’ll see us ramping up a little bit more and more and giving out — sharing a little more of that information.”
Netflix releasing its own numbers also helps the company get around Nielsen’s current guessing-game system. As the Los Angeles Times previously reported:
Nielsen and other research firms have developed an industry of guesstimating Netflix viewership and trends through their own proprietary methods, often relying on sampling. These firms then sell their reports to studios, networks and agencies.
Netflix’s executive team has often discounted these numbers, but without providing contradictory data. It’s still unclear whether the company will release viewership data for all its series and original films, or only a select few. During the most recent investors’ call, Netflix released numbers for only a handful of titles, including Triple Frontier (52 million accounts), The Umbrella Academy (45 million accounts), and The Highwaymen (will surpass 40 million accounts).
Netflix is also testing a new “Top 10” feature that will show the 10 most popular TV series and films being watched by Netflix users. Although this isn’t exact data, it’s a way for other Netflix subscribers to see what the rest of the country (or world) is watching. Netflix is testing the feature in the United Kingdom first, and will use data collected from the beta test to see whether it’s worth rolling out to other countries.