Here’s What Netflix Means When It Says More Than 45 Million People Watched ‘Bird Box’

For streamers like Netflix, how long its customers are spending on the platform is an important measure of success

Last Updated: January 16, 2019 @ 11:12 AM

Netflix garnered attention last weekend when it announced that its Sandra Bullock-led film “Bird Box” was viewed by more than 45 million different accounts during its first 7 days on the platform, which drew both cheers and snickers from many.

The streaming giant resists releasing numerical viewing figures for its shows and movies, except for carefully curated ones like this 45 million figure for “Bird Box.” That causes intrigue and skepticism whenever they decide to actually put out a numerical figure on anything, which is what they did in the below tweet.

But hidden in that 45 million figure is something else that has become more important to Netflix: How long are people watching Netflix?

Netflix counts a “view” for its movies as an account having watched at least 70 percent of the film’s runtime, including the credits, an individual with knowledge of the data tells TheWrap. Because “Bird Box” is 124 minutes long, that means Netflix is saying over 45 million different accounts watched at least 87 minutes of the drama.

The source tells TheWrap each of those different accounts was only included once in Netflix’s tally, even if, say, “Bird Box” was watched by three different people at three different times on the same account.

While that number may not be attractive to the filmmakers, who probably want people to see their whole movie, it’s important to Netflix. For the streamer, it’s just as crucial to make sure its customers are finding something on their platform that is worth watching enough to keep paying their monthly fee. After all, the “Black Mirror” film “Bandersnatch” with its choose-your-own-adventure narrative that Netflix released last Friday is designed to keep subscribers watching (or playing) it multiple times, as TheWrap did.

For Netflix and other tech companies, including Facebook and Snap, “time spent on platform” is a key figure to investors, who prioritize growth over all else. However, when it comes to time spent on the platform, Netflix doesn’t release those numbers either — except for reporting in 2017 that its average viewing time on the platform had increased 9 percent from the prior year.

But CEO Reed Hastings noted the importance of that metric. “We’re still a small fraction of every society’s overall viewing,” he said during the company’s 2nd quarter earnings call earlier this summer. “So I think there’s still room to go there.”

Marketing insight firm GBH Insights told CNBC in July that their own research found that the average Netflix customer spends 10 hours per week on its platform, compared to 5 hours for Amazon and Hulu.

However, Netflix is trying to fashion itself as a major player in the film industry, having already cornered a major part of the TV space. But touting that over 45 million people watched most of a movie seems like a strange way to court filmmakers and actors who’ve plied their trade at the box office.

After all it’s much easier to gauge success when you put a numerical value on it. For example, Warner Bros. knows that “Aquaman,” which has topped the box office in its first two weekends, has brought in more than $750 million globally.

That’s a finite value they can place on it, and we’re pretty sure those ticket buyers stayed through the whole movie.

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