Netflix released its latest earnings report Tuesday, the first since it started competing with Apple and Disney’s streaming services. There was a lot of talk about its show “The Witcher,” a medieval fantasy — Netflix said it’s the most-watched debut for one of its shows.
But the way Netflix is adding up those views could be a fantasy all its own.
“The Witcher” starts with Henry Cavill and his chiseled jaw battling a gurgling swamp monster. According to Netflix, 76 million member households watched at least this far.
Netflix counts people who watch the first two minutes of the show as viewers. So if you moved onto something else, you still boosted Netflix’s ratings.
“That two-minute period is enough of an indicator for them to [have a] very clear indication of people completing it,” said Courtney Williams, head of partnerships at Parrot Analytics. “So they don’t have to go all the way through.”
In medieval times, when TV shows were beholden to advertisers, ratings measured who watched entire shows. But Netflix is commercial free and doesn’t need to convince advertisers.
Carnegie Mellon professor Pedro Ferreira said with so many shows craving our attention, sticking around for two minutes is a lot.
“There’s just too much competition,” Ferreira said. “As a consumer, you know very well that if you don’t like the first 30 seconds or one minute, you can just move on to the next one.”
But Netflix still has investors who want to know who kept watching.
“It is proverbially grading one’s own homework, and there has to be a bit more transparency,” said Tim Hanlon, CEO of media advisory investment group Vertere.
Netflix probably knows how many people finished “The Witcher.” But unless investors press for more details, we never will.
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