Does Netflix Brag Too Much About Its Number of Viewers?

Bird Box
Netflix loves to talk about Bird Box | Netflix via YouTube

Just a decade ago, Netflix was nothing more than a small streaming service that was slowly gaining momentum as a new way to watch television. Now, they are not only an incredibly popular streaming service enjoyed by over 139 million people worldwide, but they’ve also expanded into production.

Netflix original movies and television series are well-watched and increasingly more popular. But is Netflix as popular as they’ve led people to believe?

For the longest time, Netflix viewership ratings were kept secret and data was unavailable. Now, Netflix proudly boasts it’s viewership in increasingly high (and seemingly unachievable) numbers. But are these 40+ million show viewership ratings accurate? Or is Netflix bragging too much about its number of views?

Netflix and its Silicon Valley ratings

John Landgraf, FX CEO, recently spoke out against Netflix. He said that while he doesn’t begrudge the streaming service for its existence, he’s getting fed up with their “Silicon Valley ratings.” But what does he mean by this?

Landgraf is speaking about a way of rating viewership that is both inaccurate and truthful. The ratings are based on the number of individuals who even started the show. This means that a Netflix subscriber could have watched five to ten seconds of the show before turning it off, and Netflix will still count that as their viewership.

This is obviously inaccurate, as those individuals who watched only a few seconds – or even a few minutes – of a television show or movie have not watched it. They simply wanted to watch it and became too busy or decided that it wasn’t in their field of interest, after all.

What Netflix says versus what Nielsen says

Joe in his car
Is Netflix giving ‘You’ too much credit? | Netflix/YouTube

When it comes to television ratings, Nielsen is the name which comes to mind. They’ve handled the vast majority of viewership ratings for decades, and they have a distinctly different take on the actual viewers for some of Netflix’s “best-watched shows.”

The numbers are still quite good, but generally, Nielsen states they’re not nearly as good as Netflix claims. The television shows, You and Sex Education were said to have 40 million views each. Nielsen disagrees, stating that they had 8 million and 3.1 million, respectively. Netflix claimed that Bird Box had 45 million viewers. Nielsen agreed that Bird Box was an unrivaled hit, but did not agree with the numbers. They said the movie only had 26 million viewers.

The three original Netflix series – Fuller House, House of Cards, and The Defenders – are estimated to have reached only about 59% of American households. Netflix did not release exact numbers for these television series, but did dispute Nielsen’s ratings by stating the actual reach was significantly higher.

Nielsen isn’t accurate, either

The problem is that with the introduction of streaming services, Nielsen’s ratings aren’t entirely accurate either. The television rating company can’t track those views which come from mobile applications or computers – which is how many Netflix subscribers use the service.

Nielsen has admitted their way of measuring viewership isn’t applicable for streaming services like Netflix or Hulu. It’s a problem the company is working on, albeit slowly.

Will Netflix find middle ground?

The reality is the actual number of viewers for any given television series or original movie on Netflix probably falls somewhere between what the streaming service says and what Nielsen says.

With the Netflix ratings, views of less than half the total time of any given show (at least) should be subtracted from their incredibly large numbers. But with Nielsen ratings, the given number needs to have the total number of views on both mobile applications and computers, also.