Netflix Just Totally Scooped Nielsen on Streaming Ratings

Streaming service beats measurement company at its own game — sort of

netlfix ratings
"Red Notice;" "Narcos: Mexico" (Netflix)

Welp, they finally did it: Netflix has launched a weekly “Top 10 on Netflix” website to report its own viewership data based on hours watched of its films and TV shows, counting both English and non-English language titles.

In making the long, long, long-awaited move into more frequent and transparent disclosure of its own viewership numbers with, the streaming giant has made Nielsen’s weekly SVOD charts, which debuted last year, runner-up in the streaming-ratings game. At least when it comes to Netflix titles.

Nielsen’s streaming ratings come in on a five-week delay. Netflix’s own ratings take as little as two (and as many as eight) days to come out.

Nielsen’s Top 10 streaming lists tend to be dominated by Netflix content anyway. All of the Top 10 SVOD programs from Nielsen’s most recent streaming data — Oct. 11 to Oct. 17 — were Netflix shows (this held true when including all shows or just acquired properties). On its chart of originals-only — excluding acquisitions — eight of Nielsen’s top 10 were from Netflix (Apple TV+ series “Ted Lasso” and Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building” broke up the monopoly).

Movies tend to let in rival streamers on the most-watched charts, though in Nielsen’s most recent data, Netflix still tied Disney+ with five films in the Top 10.

Thanks to the changes in the way Netflix now reports its own viewership, both Nielsen and Netflix’s ratings are focused on minutes consumed. Nielsen counts the total minutes consumed by anyone age 2 or older. Netflix, which used to focus on subscriber households that tuned in to at least two minutes of a program (and previously only counted those who watched 70% of the program), is now formally shifting to total hours viewed as its standard metric.

“Figuring out how best to measure success in streaming is hard, and there’s no one perfect metric,” Pablo Perez De Rosso, Netflix’s vice president of content strategy, planning & analysis, said in the Tuesday blog post announcing the new weekly rankings. “Traditional measures like box office or share of audience (which was designed to help advertisers understand success on linear TV) aren’t relevant to most streamers, including Netflix. Having looked at the different options, we believe engagement as measured by hours viewed is a strong indicator of a title’s popularity, as well as overall member satisfaction, which is important for retention in subscription services. In addition, hours viewed mirrors the way third parties measure popularity, encompasses rewatch (a strong sign of member joy) and can be consistently measured across different companies.”

A rep for Nielsen had no comment for this story.

One key difference is that Nielsen only reports U.S. viewership, whereas Netflix goes global. This is an advantage for Netflix in three (more) ways: 1) The number is going to be much larger, 2) It is more inclusive and 3) It really can’t be matched by Nielsen.

Here’s another way Netflix is scooping Nielsen: Netflix’s new data will be coming out on Tuesdays, while Nielsen drops its numbers on Wednesdays. Don’t tell us that’s a coincidence.

And Netflix’s new system breaks out specific seasons of shows, with “Narcos: Mexico” Season 3 leading the first English-language TV list. This is a much more targeted way of reporting, as Nielsen rolls up all episodes viewed for a title in its rankings. So for Netflix’s list, you’ll see hours watched for “You” Season 2 and “You” Season 3 if both make the cut, whereas if “You” appears on Nielsen’s list (which it has) you’d just see total time spent watching across all episodes available that week, whatever season happened to be watched.

It’s only fair to point out here that Netflix, which for years was completely protective of its data, probably would have never become so transparent without Nielsen measuring viewership on the platform (as best it could) and releasing those numbers to clients, the media and the public.

In an attempt to take its transparency to the next level after this initial move to weekly reports, Netflix has engaged EY, an independent accounting firm, to review its new viewing metrics and confirm their accuracy. The third-party report will be published by Netflix in 2022.

Of course, Netflix’s new system is by no means going to be considered a perfect system to measure streaming viewership in several ways, a few of which the company acknowledged on Tuesday. “We recognize, however, that hours viewed does favor longer series and films,” De Rosso said. (The one-hour, 55 minute “Red Notice” topped the English-language movie list.) “Because it’s hard to capture the nuances of different types of entertainment with one metric, we will also occasionally publish speciality lists — for example, top documentary features or reality shows, which our members love but may appear less prominently in these lists.”

And De Rosso also anticipated another complaint about the new methodology, which won’t track subscribers who watch to the end of a movie or the final episode of a season. “Some people will ask why we don’t also report the number of members that finish a show or film,” he wrote. “We believe that whether you miss the end of one episode in a 10-hour series (a crying baby or Netflix and chill), or you don’t wait for the easter egg in the credits sequence, or you rewatch one scene multiple times rather than the whole film, all that viewing should be reflected in the popularity of the title.”